Make These Desserts Ahead and Enjoy Your Holiday!

I’ve always considered desserts the simplest part of the holiday feast. That’s because you can get it all done–or at least, mostly done–a couple of days before the big day so you have plenty of time to attend to other chores and dishes.

make-ahead-desserts-framesHere are five delicious, seasonal desserts that you can make at least two to three days ahead and savor throughout the holidays.

  1. Apple Pie with Chinese Five Spice and Hazelnut Crumb Topping. Chinese five spice powder adds a surprising, bright note to the cooked caramel-y apple filling while a nutty crumb topping adds crunch. You can make the Toasted Nut Pastry Dough up to a week ahead, pop it in the fridge, and then cook the filling, blind-bake the crust and finish off the pie a couple of days before the holiday. (Pressed for time? Pick up a pre-made whole-wheat pastry crust. We won’t tell.)
  2. Spiced Pumpkin Harvest Bundt Cake with Pecans. Linda West Eckhardt created this homey, old-fashioned treat to celebrate NOURISH Evolution’s first birthday. It’s golden and rich with warm spices and a lemony glaze. Leftovers will make delightful snacks all weekend long.
  3. Chocolate Angel Food Cake. For some crowds, only chocolate will do, so whip up our angel food cake. Only instead of macerated strawberries, pair it with Grandma Friese’s Whole Cranberries, which are soaked in port. It’s a gorgeous holiday presentation.
  4. Small bites. Desserts don’t have to be lavish to end the feast on a high note, and your guests may well appreciate a selection of little treats. (Honestly, I’m tempted to go this route myself this year.) Decorated with dried cranberries and slivered almonds, Crunchy Ruby-Studded Meringue Buttons are light and festively pretty. Our Chocolate Orange Pistachio Biscotti are prefect for dunking in after-dinner coffee, while these Boozy Orange-Pecan Truffles are rich-tasting, impressive and not too heavy. Make extra and freeze ‘em to enjoy throughout the holiday season.
  5. Pumpkin Tart with Maple Whipped Cream and Toasted Walnuts. Graham crackers, sugar and butter add up to the world’s easiest crust for this tart. Add a simple, spicy pumpkin filling and you’re good to go. Bake the tart up to two days before the feast and store it in the fridge. You also can whip the cream a day or two in advance and refrigerate it. Toast the nuts a day or two ahead and stash them in an airtight container.

Have a happy–and sweet–holiday!

Our Hanukkah Menu

Cheryl’s story about her rowdy Hanukkah festivities inspired us! The holiday lasts eight nights, which means there’s still plenty of time to celebrate with our Hanukkah Menu. This lineup serves 4, so it’s ideal for a small celebration at home.

To start:

Alison’s Chicken Pate with Brandy is really just a dressed-up, lightened-up version of her grandma’s chopped liver from Kiev. And, yes, she still likes it best schmeared on rye.

The main event:

Roast chicken is a Hanukkah classic, and Lia’s five-ingredient Simplest Roast Chicken lives up to its name for simplicity and still delivers awesome flavor. Accompany it with a side of Root Veggie Latkes (served with a dollop of applesauce) and Spicy Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Golden Raisins.

Sweet finale:

Our Chocolate Angel Food Cake is a good make-ahead treat. Only instead of the strawberries called for in the recipe, substitute seasonal oranges or tangerines, cut up and macerated in a little sugar, lemon juice and Cointreau.

We wish you all a happy, nourishing, light-filled Hanukkah!

Heavenly Desserts: Indulgences That are Light by Nature

By Alison Ashton

Lately, I’ve preached the benefits of indulgences. I believe that if you eat what you really want, you’re less likely to overdo it in the long run. For me, that means saving room for dessert. Most of the time, however, all I really want is a little something to end a meal on a sweet grace note–a treat to enjoy, not make me groan, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

heavenly-dessertsThat point came home for me during the recent holiday season, when I offered to bring dessert for dinner at our friends’ house. I spent all day making a rich chocolate torte. With chocolate ganache. And pumpkinseed brittle. And cranberry coulis to brighten up the plate. It was delicious, but after our wonderful supper of heritage turkey and all the fixings, it was the last thing I wanted.

Instead, I craved something simple and light–a refreshing citrus sorbet, perhaps, or a selection of cookies to nibble with after-dinner coffee.

The best light desserts are those that aren’t too heavy to begin with; many of which are simple affairs. I’m a big fan of icy, refreshing sorbets or granitas, especially when they spotlight seasonal fruit. Fruit compote served over low-fat Greek yogurt is creamy and satisfying, and simple savory-sweet concoctions like Chocolate Crostini with Orange Zest and Sea Salt deliver big flavor in petite packages.

All Whipped Up

The main tool in the light baking arsenal is meringue, which is nothing more than egg whites beaten with sugar. There are three types of meringues, which you can use in any number of ways:

  • French: egg whites and sugar beaten as stiff as you like (anywhere from soft to stiff peaks). Because the eggs are raw, a French meringue must be cooked. If you beat a French meringue to stiff peaks, you can bake it into crunchy little cookies or into larger circles to use as a base for fruit-topped Pavlovas.
  • Italian: egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup to a creamy consistency. The hot syrup raises the temperature of the egg whites to a level that’s safe to consume without further cooking. An Italian meringue is stable enough to use as a naturally low-fat cake frosting.
  • Swiss: egg whites and sugar are heated in a double-boiler. This also brings the egg whites up to a safe temperature so the meringue requires no further cooking. Like an Italian meringue, this is a stable mixture that can be used to frost cakes, decorate tarts, and pies.

Angel food cake is a classic foam cake that is leavened by a French meringue for a heavenly light texture (most likely the source of its celestial name). Some food historians credit the Pennsylvania Dutch with the angel food cake’s creation, as a way to use leftover egg whites. Others believe it was perfected by African-American slaves, since beating the egg whites would have been a laborious chore before the invention of the electric mixer. Both stories sound plausible to me, but either way this old-time dessert is perfect for modern meals.

alison-thumbA longtime editor, writer, and recipe developer, Alison Ashton is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef. She has worked as a features editor for a national wire service and as senior food editor for a top food magazine. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, and Natural Health as well as on her blog, Eat Cheap, Eat Well, Eat Up.

Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Macerated Strawberries

Use room-temperature eggs, which will be easy to separate and beat to their full volume. (Hang onto the yolks to make Homemade Mayonnaise or Sweet Potato-Kale Bread Pudding.) Angel food cakes are made in an ungreased tube pan, which provides maximum surface area and traction for the cake to climb. The cake is cooled upside-down so it doesn’t lose volume as it cools. Some tube pans have little feet to hold the pan up off the counter while the cake cools. If yours doesn’t, simply invert the pan on the neck of a wine bottle or other bottle that fits into the hole of the tube pan.


1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
2/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
12 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract


1 pound strawberries, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Remaining ingredients

2 tablespoons slivered toasted almonds
Whipped cream (optional)
Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

To prepare cake, sift together 3/4 cup sugar, flour, and cocoa powder in a medium bowl.

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Add salt, vanilla, and almond extract; beat until stiff peaks form. Sprinkle one-third of flour mixture over beaten egg whites; gently fold flour mixture into egg whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture.

Scrape batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Gently swirl a knife through the batter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until cake springs back when touched. Invert pan (either on its “feet” or on the neck of a wine bottle) and cool completely. Run a knife around edges to loosen cake. Gently pull cake out of pan and slice with a serrated knife.

While cake cools, prepare strawberries. Combine strawberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, liqueur, and juice in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Serve with cake; sprinkle with almonds. Garnish with whipped cream and mint, if desired.

Serves 12