Making show-stealing sweets this holiday season doesn’t have to equal overcomplicated day-long affairs. For festive desserts that dazzle, here are some tips from three top Calgary chefs. Their insights on holiday baking can save you time, yet still result in irresistible desserts that will satisfy your dinner guests’ sweet tooth and leave them wanting more.
photos by Ingrid Kuenzel
Executive Chef Craig Nazareth – Fairmont Palliser
Paté seems to be making a comeback these days and Executive Chef Craig Nazareth of the Fairmont Palliser has a modern take that’s not your everyday dessert: chocolate paté.
“It’s very friendly to make at home and easy and is essentially just chocolate and cream together,” says Nazareth. He prefers using milk chocolate to dark because it has a bit more sweetness and keeps the paté nice and creamy.
“Using a double boiler is very important so you don’t burn your chocolate; just steaming it melts your chocolate,” he says. “Low and slow is the key also with the crème anglaise.”
Nazareth says one of the biggest mistakes is being too impatient and rushing the crème anglaise step. “If you rush, you’ll end up scrambling your eggs and make lots of lumps, which isn’t a nice creamy consistency.”
What makes this a good recipe for the holiday season, says Nazareth, is that it’s one dessert with multiple uses. “You can have it for dessert one night with the family and the next day, it makes great French toast,” he says. Stuff any leftover paté inside your French toast and use the remaining crème anglaise as your syrup — yes, please!
Chef Kevin Yang – MARKET Calgary
For Chef Kevin Yang at MARKET Calgary, baking is both chemistry and what he likes to call “science-y art.” So when it comes to Christmas baking, he likes the element of surprise and is known for his playful savoury desserts including this yam cake recipe.
By baking the yam on a bed of salt to create a puree, Yang says it makes the root vegetable fluffier, which matters when it comes to cake. “The salt acts as a medium that transfers and holds the heat so it bakes more evenly.”
Make sure your eggs are also at room temperature before adding them to the mix, says Yang. “Cold eggs make your cakes lumpy.” A quick fix: soak the eggs in warm tap water out of the fridge for about 5 minutes.
“Instead of butter, I also like to work with olive oil in my cake,” says Yang. While butter adds richness and makes it more crumbly, he says olive oil adds an interesting complement to the yam flavour and leaves the cake more dense and moist. While Yang made his bourbon-spiced eggnog from scratch, store-bought eggnog will also do if you’re short on time.
David Rousseau – Ollia Macarons & Tea
People tend to overcook, overbake and overstress around the holidays, so David Rousseau, of Ollia Macarons & Tea, is in favour of a holiday sweet that’s not heavy or time-consuming to make. He suggests whipping up a batch of light and crispy Florentines — thin and fine almond cookies that literally translate to “from Florence” in Italian but are actually French in origin.
“These are so simple and tasty and addictive,” says Rousseau. Put your batter in the fridge overnight so it hardens and is easier to work with. When forming the Florentine, Rousseau’s trick is to wet a fork to spread the batter so it doesn’t stick, leaving uneven portions. “Spread them very thinly,” says Rousseau. “You want them as thin as possible without holes in the batter.”
For toppings, melt chocolate to drizzle over the cookies or dip them half into melted chocolate or throw in hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans. If dried fruit is more your thing, add dried cranberries and cardamom to the mix.