By Donna Cornelius
If you’re looking for sweet new ideas for holiday desserts, who better to ask than some very talented bakers, all members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International’s Birmingham chapter?
LDEI is an organization of women who are leaders and experts in the food and beverage industries. The group is dedicated to growing, creating, promoting and sharing local food culture.
The Birmingham chapter was founded in 2013 with 55 members, making it one of the largest initial memberships in the organization’s history.
Members are chefs, restauranteurs, sommeliers, caterers, farmers, food retailers, event planners, cookbook authors, food writers and editors, registered dietitians, food photographers, food and prop stylists, winemakers and wine-industry professionals, food publicists, food-service professionals, culinary educators and hospitality executives.
LDEI Birmingham raises money for students, teachers, companies and organizations in the Birmingham area to support their education, fund projects for students, help local food businesses grow and assist local nonprofits.
The group usually hosts a sunset fundraising dinner each year, Southern Soiree. This year, with COVID-19 concerns in mind, LDEI Birmingham switched gears with Champagne & Fried Chicken, a drive-through, pickup picnic dinner.
Holiday gatherings may look a little different this year for all of us. But, however you’re celebrating, a yummy dessert is always one of the best presents you can give your family and friends.
Gia McCollister’s Gingerbread Bundt Cake
Gia McCollister is a former professional baker who studied and trained in New York and London. She’s now retired and enjoys being a grandmother, baking for her family, traveling, reading and learning something new every day. On five occasions, she participated in The Salon of Culinary Art of New York and won two first prizes, two second prizes and one third prize, all in the wedding cake category.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons gingerbread spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup water
For the glaze:
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon gingerbread spice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-12 cup Bundt pan.
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Stir in the molasses. Add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with rum or water. Mix just until smooth.
Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the glaze by stirring together all the ingredients. Set aside.
Remove the cake from the oven, cool it in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn it out onto a rack. Brush the cake with the glaze.
Anna Theoktisto’s Swedish Christmas Bread
Anna is a recipe developer and tester for Meredith Food Studios. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, she interned at Bon Appetit magazine. She later joined Hoffman Media as a recipe developer and food stylist and became food editor of the company’s Taste of the South and Southern Cast Iron magazines. This recipe was first published in Taste of the South.
Makes 2 loaves Ingredients:
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon whole milk, divided
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 110 degrees)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
5 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 large eggs, divided
3/4 cup candied cherries, chopped
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup chopped candied citron
Whipping Cream Glaze (recipe follows)
In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup milk over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, just until bubbles form around edges of pan. Remove from heat; add butter. Let cool for 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup warm water and yeast. Let stand until mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 5 cups flour, sugar, salt and cardamom. With mixer on low speed, add 2 eggs, milk mixture and yeast mixture, beating until a dough forms. Switch to the dough hook attachment; beat until dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes, adding remaining 1/3 cup flour as needed. Add cherries, raisins and citron, beating to combine.
Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let stand in a warm, draft-free place (75 degrees) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface, punch dough down, and divide in half. Divide each half into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 12-inch rope. Braid 3 ropes together, pinching ends to seal. Repeat with remaining 3 ropes.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place loaves 3 inches apart on prepared pan. Spray loaves with cooking spray; loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1 egg and remaining 1 teaspoon milk. Lightly brush over bread.
Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes, covering with foil during last 5 minutes of baking to prevent excess browning. Let cool on pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire racks. Drizzle with Whipping Cream Glaze.
Whipping Cream Glaze
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt until smooth. Drizzle glaze over cooled loaves.
Laura Zapalowski’s Oatmeal Pecan Pie
Laura Zapalowski is a chef, freelance food stylist, recipe developer and recipe tester. She’s been working in the culinary industry for the past 20 years, including Food Network, Emeril’s Restaurant in New Orleans, Emeril’s Homebase Corp., Southern Living and Health magazines, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Time Inc. Digital Studio, and Meredith Corporation Digital Studio. She also co-owns Homewood Gourmet, a fast-casual restaurant and catering company, with her husband.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 (8-inch) unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine brown sugar and remaining ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Pour evenly into prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Pam Lolley’s Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake
Pam Lolley is a recipe developer and tester at Meredith Food Studios. A native of Memphis, she studied at Mississippi University for Women. She bakes not only as part of her job but also for her family and friends.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
5 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
Praline topping (recipe follows)
Coarsely chopped pecan pie-glazed pecans (recipe follows)
Fresh sage leaves
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Press mixture on bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Beat cream cheese and next 2 ingredients at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until blended and smooth. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add pumpkin and lemon juice, beating until blended. Pour batter into prepared crust. (Pan will be very full.)
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until almost set. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake stand in oven, with door closed, 15 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and gently run a knife around outer edge of cheesecake to loosen from sides of pan. (Do not remove sides of pan.) Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Cover and chill 8-24 hours.
Remove sides and bottom of pan, and transfer cheesecake to a serving plate. Prepare praline topping; immediately pour slowly over top of cheesecake, spreading to within 1/4-inch of edge. Garnish, if desired.
For the praline topping: Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a one-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Boil, stirring occasionally, 1 minute; remove from heat. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Let stand 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Use immediately.
For the pecan pie-glazed pecans: Ingredients:
2 cups pecan halves
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons dark corn syrup
Stir together pecan halves, light brown sugar and dark corn syrup in a small bowl. Spread mixture in a lightly greased aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until glaze thickens, stirring every 4 minutes. Spread in a single layer on wax paper; cool completely, separating pecans as they cool. For the prettiest garnish, leave some in clusters. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.