Michelin-star chefs share 8 desserts they love making for holiday dinners
Pumpkin pie might be the star of the dessert table at Thanksgiving, but Christmas feasts and other winter holiday dinners allow for a little more flexibility — and creativity.
So we asked Michelin-starred chefs to share the desserts that they love whipping up for the holidays in December. They also gave us tips for re-creating some of these dishes at home, while others can be purchased depending on where you're located.
From a seven-layer caramel cake to gingerbread cookies fit for Santa, these delicious desserts will definitely satisfy your sweet tooth no matter what winter holiday you celebrate.
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A Bûche de Noël will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit.
Bûche de Noël is a classic French dessert also commonly known as yule log cake. And Michelin-starred pastry chefs Dan Kleinhandler and Lauren Terrill both love whipping one up for the holidays.
"A Bûche de Noël is essentially a jelly roll cake, but it's got a cream filling instead of a fruit jam, and it can be whatever flavor you want," Terrill, the executive pastry chef at Sepia in Chicago, told Insider.
Terrill loves making her Bûche de Noël with chocolate cake and vanilla cream on the inside.
"Don't be intimidated," she added. "Making a Bûche de Noël seems like a scary thing to do and, chances are, the first time your cake might crack — but that's totally fine! It's still going to taste delicious, and who cares what it looks like if it tastes good."
Kleinhandler — who just launched Sugar, Butter, Chocolate — makes his Bûche de Noël with dark-chocolate devil's food cake and a milk-chocolate mousse. He tops everything off with chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, a dark-chocolate caramel ganache, and milk and dark-chocolate leaves.
If you're in New York, you can buy Kleinhandler's Bûche de Noël for $36.
Or take some inspiration from the UK and make sticky toffee pudding, a classic British dessert.
"Sticky toffee pudding is one of my favorites," Kleinhandler told Insider. "It's a date cake from England soaked in brown sugar and caramel sauce, and often spiked with a lot of alcohol — either rum, brandy, or whiskey."
Andrew Zimmerman, the executive chef of Sepia in Chicago, told Insider that he's also "a sucker for the traditional Christmastime dessert." He's even putting it on his restaurant's holiday menu this year.
"We're serving it with a smoked vanilla anglaise," Zimmerman said. "Which gives it a little extra something."
English sherry trifle is another British treat that will add some sparkle to your Christmas feast.
Brad Carter, of Carters of Moseley in Birmingham, England, told Insider that English sherry trifle is his "favorite dessert of all time." He even spent two years developing his own recipe for the classic dessert.
"It became fashionable in the 1970s," he said. "Basically, what I've done is I've just highlighted all the great things about it and made it better and lighter, in my opinion."
The bottom layer of the trifle features sponge fingers (also known as ladyfingers) that have been soaked in brewed green tea ("you could use Earl Gray tea as well"), lemon or lime juice, and some sherry. The next layer is fruit — Carter recommends raspberries or strawberries — followed by the custard.
"It's a traditional-style custard with eggs and milk, but instead of vanilla I use a wildflower called meadowsweet," Carter explained. "It's an English flower that grows in the summer, and we dry it out to preserve it for the rest of the year. It's really similar to honey and vanilla, so the custard has a little of that infused into it."
The last layer of the trifle is traditionally a thick and heavy cream, but Carter makes a lighter version by topping it with a syllabub (a sweet Cornish dish that combines cream with alcohol) instead.
"You take English cider, the zest of a lemon, some sherry, and add them to whipping cream," Carter said. "It's a dessert in its own right sometimes, but I use that on top of the trifle 'cause it sits really nice."
Then just top everything off with either some roasted flaked almonds or sprinkles.
Skip the pie and surprise your family with a Christmas pudding straight from the kitchen of a Michelin-starred chef.
Asimakis Chaniotis is making this Christmas pudding at Pied à Terre, his restaurant in London, and believes it's the perfect dessert for the holidays.
To make Chaniotis' pudding at home, you'll need: 100 grams of warm water, 10 grams of salt, 30 grams of sugar, 50 grams of yeast, 2 grams of cinnamon powder, ½ gram of clove powder, and some grated nutmeg.
Add them all into the bowl of a stand mixer. After everything has mixed together, start adding your flour (500 grams) and seven eggs to the mix. Then stop the mixer and add 150 grams of warm melted butter on top. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest.
Then, punch the dough down and use piping bags to fill up individual molds three-fourths of the way. Let it rest again (without covering your molds) for 20 minutes, then bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chaniotis tops his Christmas pudding with a Metaxa sauce, paying homage to his roots with the Greek amber spirit.
First make the roux by mixing 50 grams of melted butter and 50 grams of plain flour. Cook your mixture on medium heat for three minutes.
Separately, bring 500 milliliters of light cream and 50 grams of sugar to a boil. Add it slowly to your roux until you have a thick cream. Add 120 milliliters of Metaxa and simmer the mixture for two minutes. Serve it instantly with your Christmas pudding, or refrigerate and use within three days.
Or whip up a chocolate marquise cake that will definitely impress your holiday dinner guests.
"A chocolate marquise is a very velvety and smooth flourless chocolate cake," Zimmerman told Insider. "Mostly you have chocolate, eggs, and butter."
"It's an opportunity to have a very delicious and decadent chocolate dessert," he added. "It's so rich you only want to have a little bit which, if you're like my family, is good cause you've probably had plenty of cookies and other treats already."
For those making a chocolate marquise at home, Zimmerman said using a water bath during the baking process is essential.
Get a pan that is larger than the one you'll be cooking the cake in and fill it up at least three-quarters of the way with hot water. Then place your cake pan inside.
"The water is going to help even out the overall temperature surrounding the cake, because ovens are notoriously uneven," Zimmerman explained. "It also prevents the cake from getting too much direct heat from the oven and evenly transfers that heat into the product, so you're cooking it more gently. It's really an essential thing to set yourself up for success."
Zimmerman also recommends cooking the cake "low and slow," as well as using a lined loaf pan.
"You're gonna want to line it with aluminum foil so you can get it out of the pan once it's chilled," he said. "Then you'll be able to peel the aluminum off the outside. If you do it just in the pan, you're gonna have a darn hard time getting it out."
Once it's time to serve, Zimmerman recommends pairing that rich chocolate with a Vietnamese coffee-flavored anglaise.
"I'm a big fan of coffee and chocolate together," he said. "Vietnamese coffee has that extra bump of buttery notes and chocolatey notes from it already, plus a little bit of this super smooth, decadent chocolate cake — that would be good for me."
This seven-layer caramel cake is a total showstopper on the table.
"I love rich desserts this time of year, and one of my all-time favorites is seven-layer caramel cake," Chris Morgan, who recently opened Bammy's in Washington, DC, told Insider. "My aunt used to buy hers from Caroline's in South Carolina and bring it to Christmas dinner every year. And wow is it good."
Caroline's Cakes, a bakery in Spartanburg, has been hailed as the "home of the world's best caramel cake." Caroline Ragsdale Reutter first served the seven-layer caramel cake at her son's christening in 1982. Her creation delighted so many guests that the cake became a national sensation.
While Morgan now whips up his own seven-layer caramel cake to practice his baking skills during the holidays, he still recommends Caroline's version for those who want to skip all that time in the kitchen.
"If you don't feel like taking the leap, the one they make at Caroline's is insane," he said. "Just make sure you have a nice place picked out to nap afterwards."
You can buy the seven-layer caramel cake from Caroline's on Goldbelly for $60.
Sugar cookies aren't just for Santa Claus to enjoy.
Terrill, a pastry chef, loves making sugar cookies for the holidays.
"It's really easy — just butter, sugar, flour, and there's usually a touch of white vinegar in there to help everything come together," she told Insider. "It comes together in the mixer in five minutes, assuming your butter is soft."
And Terrill recommends giving your sugar cookies just a "super quick bake."
"You don't want any color in them, so maybe six minutes in the oven — typically at 350 degrees Fahrenheit," Terrill said. "Then you can take the time to decorate them."
"It's so basic," she added. "But it's a classic for a reason. I always have cookies for both Thanksgiving and Christmas — it's very important to me!"
And you only need 30 minutes to make some delicious gingerbread cookies.
"That smell when you're baking gingerbread cookies in the house — that spice, the ginger, the cardamom — to me it says it's December, it's the holiday season," Kleinhandler told Insider.
To make Kleinhandler's gingerbread cookies, you'll need: 400 grams of butter, 200 grams of sugar, 242 grams of molasses, 1 egg, 12 grams of ground ginger, 6 grams of ground cinnamon, 1 gram of nutmeg, 1 gram of ground cardamom, 2 grams of salt, 880 grams of all-purpose flour, and 8 grams of baking soda.
After making the dough, Kleinhandler recommends putting it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes so that it can cool down. Then all you have to do is bake and decorate!
If you're a New Yorker with no time to spare, you can also buy Kleinhandler's decorated sugar and gingerbread cookies for $24.
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