Ah, pecan pie! Maple syrup, chocolate bourbon sauce, anything with coconut... Thanksgiving tables just beg for rich desserts, but a whole lot of us don’t feel particularly rich in this economy. So bypass the expensive nuts and flavorings, and go for desserts that’ll fill your belly without emptying your wallet. The good news? They’ll delight your taste buds just the same. Here are some tips and recipes from local chefs to help you do budget desserts this Thanksgiving.
Buy spices in bulk, says Gwen Hayes, owner of Capers catering company in Tacoma’s Proctor district. Buy only as much as you’ll need for the holiday season – even just two spoonfuls – and you won’t be spending your hard-earned cash on little glass jars. Good sources are Metropolitan Market in Tacoma or Bucks 5th Avenue Spices in Olympia. Mexican food sections in stores such as Top Foods also sell cheaper spices. And ask friends if they have herbs such as sage, mint or rosemary in their gardens, rather than buying them.
Watch now for sales. “Stock up on butter when you see a good price,” says Hayes. Or anything else you’ll need, like chocolate chips.
Check the price per pound. Sometimes the smaller box is actually cheaper per pound than the bigger one, Hayes points out.
Shop around. Cash and Carry stores are open to the public, notes Cindy Pantley, baker at Puyallup restaurant Toscano’s, and they sell in larger quantities.
Don’t buy cookbooks. “There are millions of recipes online,” says Hayes.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
Be brave and make your own pie crusts – and everything else. “In general, the less packaged food you use the less expensive it will be,” says Leanne Willard, director of Bayview School of Cooking in Olympia. “Sorry to all those frightened would-be pie makers out there, but it’s going to be much cheaper to make your own pie crust than to buy it ready-made.” This also goes for mixes, says Hayes, which are “a complete waste of money. You have to add eggs, butter and milk – so you’re paying all that for some flour? Baking from scratch is much cheaper.” And tastier, too. Bayview teacher Beth Storey says she can make three crusts for under $1 – plus they can be made one day ahead.
If you’ve grown your own pumpkins, that’s also cheaper than buying canned. Cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, bake them at 350 degrees until soft, then scoop out the pulp. Just don’t use the big jack-o-lanterns, says Hayes; they’re too watery. Small sugar pumpkins taste better.
And whip your own whipped cream. “It’s so much cheaper than buying Koolwhip,” says Storey, “and tastes better.”
CHOOSE SMART INGREDIENTS
Forget the pecans. “Pecans are ridiculously expensive right now,” Hayes says. “Besides, pecan pie is not a northern dessert.” Use local nuts, such as walnuts or hazelnuts, instead and save a lot of money.
Or go for fruit. Avoid the expense of nuts and make pies, crisps or crumbles with local, cheap fruit such as apples. Pumpkin is also inexpensive, or you can try canned fruit rather than expensive imports.
Substitute. Pantley recommends finding recipes that allow cheaper substitutes for butter, such as applesauce, buttermilk or vegetable oil. Hayes suggests subbing cream for heavy whipping cream (unless you need to whip it) or evaporated milk.
Go back to basics. Never underestimate the power of sugar and eggs, reminds Willard. They’re cheap and versatile.
CHOOSE CHEAPER DISHES
Make pies, crumbles or puddings. Asked which is simply the cheapest dessert to make, most chefs agree on fruit pies, crumbles or crisps, and pudding. Pantley serves bread pudding at Toscano’s: “With spices and raisins it’s a very hearty dessert, and you can top it with flavored syrups.” She advises finding cheap day-old bread at supermarkets or outlet stores, and using milk rather than cream. Powell loves crisps and crumbles for budget-friendly desserts to feed crowds, mixing Granny Smith with Honeycrisp apples, or using pears, and baking in 13-by-9-inch pans to serve buffet style.
Think beyond pies for a large crowd, says Willard. Pies, or even cheesecake, can feed up to 12 people with small slices, but if you’ll still need two or three you might want to make something that goes further. Hayes stocks Capers with pumpkin slice bars, which are a delicious and easy way to feed many. Butter or chocolate chip cookies can also be inexpensive, especially if you buy ingredients on sale.
Thanksgiving desserts can be sweet – but having money left in your pocket afterwards can be even sweeter. Luckily, you can have both.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568
DESSERT RECIPES FROM SOUTH SOUND RESTAURANTS AND CATERERS:
Toscanos Bread Pudding
1-1/2 loaves raisin bread, torn into large pieces (or French bread, with added raisins)
5 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 cups sugar, mixed with 3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 can apple pie filling
2 cups red wine
1/2 cup simple syrup
Wine Sauce: Pour 2 cups red wine into pan, add 1/2 cup simple syrup and bring to a boil for about 7-10 minutes. Cool. To make simple syrup, boil 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water and cool.
Spray a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Place 1/2 of the torn raisin bread pieces into bottom of glass pan.
Sprinkle half the cinnamon sugar mix on top of the bread. Place loosely the remaining torn bread pieces. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar mix. Scatter apple pie filling over bread and cinnamon-sugar. Mix eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla. Carefully pour over bread.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool. Refrigerate. Cut into desired pieces, and pour a bit of wine sauce (or other flavored syrup) on top. Microwave 1-3 minutes, depending on size of bread pudding section.
Source: Cindy Pantley, Toscanos Cafe and Wine Bar
Toscanos Zuppa Inglese
1 pint whipping cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
1⁄2 cup confectioners sugar
1 large pound cake
1 chocolate bar
Small jar of jam (any flavor)
1⁄4 cup chopped hazelnuts
Rind of 1/2 orange
1⁄2 cup dried fruit
Rum, to taste
Marsala wine or flavored liquor
Using an electric beater, whip the cream adding the sugar and extract as you go. Refrigerate the cream for later.
Slice the cake into 1⁄2 inch-thick slices. Drizzle Marsala wine on half of the slices, and drizzle rum on the other half. Spread the jam on half the slices. Cut each slice of pound cake in half.
Chop the chocolate bar, the orange rind, and the dried fruit. Place half of the cream in a separate cool bowl. Set a small amount of the chocolate aside and blend the rest of the chopped ingredients into second bowl of cream. Place a layer of the pound cake onto the bottom of 6-8 martini glasses. Spoon the whipped cream chopped nuts and fruit mixture on top. Add another layer of cake and cream.
Refrigerate for at least two hours, then top with the plain whipped cream and the remaining chocolate.
Source: Cindy Pantley, Toscanos Cafe and Wine Bar
Serves around 18
1-3⁄4 cup oats
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 tablespoon cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
4 ounces unsalted butter
2-1⁄2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized chunks
2-1⁄2 pounds Honey Crisp apples, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Topping: In a stand mixer or in a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients for the topping. Mix together. Add cubed butter and mix until butter is incorporated and the mixture is clumpy. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and have a 9-by-13-inch pan ready.
Filling: In a large saute pan, melt the butter. Add in remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until apples are slightly cooked. They should be tender on the outside with a slight bite on the inside.
Spoon the warm filling into the 9-by-13-inch dish. Discard any excess liquid from the cooking process. The filling will likely release more liquid while it bakes.
Top with a layer of topping and bake until the topping turns a golden brown. If there is extra raw topping, it can be baked separately for a garnish, snacking or reserved chilled for a later use.
Serve while warm. This dessert can be served by itself, or with caramel, ice cream or whipped cream. Make individual desserts by baking filling in personal-size dishes.
Note: For additional flavors white chocolate or dried fruit can be added to the filling. Nuts can also be added to the topping if desired.
Source: Erin Powell, Pacific Grill
Meringue Cake with Caramel Sauce and Creme Anglaise
Butter for greasing
2-1/4 cups egg whites (15-17 egg whites)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 recipe caramel sauce (see recipe)
1 recipe creme anglaise sauce (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter the sides only of a 10-inch springform pan and line the sides with a 7-inch-tall piece of wax paper, tapping the outer ends together if needed. In a very large mixing bowl beat egg whites, vinegar, and cream of tartar until mixture is frothy (1 minute). Add sugar very slowly and beat 8-10 minutes or until soft peaks form and the tips fold over. Add vanilla. Beat for 5 minutes more or until egg whites are glossy and stiff peaks form. With a spatula, gently transfer mixture to prepared pan. Tap pan gently on counter top to remove trapped air.
Place on a 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan (cake may slightly leak out). Bake for 5 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 300 degrees; bake 15 minutes more. Turn off oven; let cake rest in the oven 15 minutes.
Remove from oven; let cool to room temperature. Cake may water out slightly and bead as it cools so keep it on the baking pan. Cake can be covered and chilled up to 24 hours.
To serve, remove sides of pan; carefully remove paper. Slice cake with a hot serrated knife and spoon creme anglaise sauce around each piece. Drizzle plates with some of the caramel sauce. Place a slice of cake on plate and drizzle cake with caramel sauce.
Caramel Sauce: In a large saucepan combine 1/2 cup water, 2 cups sugar and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, until it is a rich red-tan color (about 25 minutes). Remove from heat and very slowly add 1 cup of heavy whipping cream. Return to heat and stir until boiling (watch closely). Transfer sauce to a clean bowl. Let cool slightly. While the mixture is still warm, whisk in 1/4 butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside at room temperature until serving. (Sauce can be covered and chilled for up to 2 weeks). Warm through before serving.
Creme Anglaise Sauce: In a medium heavy saucepan, stir together 5 beaten egg yolks, 1-1/2 cups whole milk, and 1/4 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until mixture just coats the back of a clean metal spoon. Remove pan from heat. Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Quickly cool mixture by placing saucepan in a large bowl of ice water for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour mixture in a bowl. Cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.
Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Do not stir. Sauce can be covered and chilled for up to 3 days.
Source: Leanne Willard, Bayview School of Cooking
Caramel Apple Upside Down Olive Oil Cake Serves 10
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and quartered
5 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (substitute vegetable oil if necessary)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Garnish: 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt and lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Place oven rack in middle of oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter over low heat in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Stir in 3/4 cup sugar, combining well. Arrange apple slices in a circular pattern around the outside of the skillet, and fill in the center with additional slices. Increase heat to medium and cook without stirring, 15-20 minutes or until sugar turns golden.
Beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl of an electric mixer at high speed about 3 minutes or until thick and pale.
Reduce speed to medium, and slowly add olive oil and vanilla until well combined. Remove from mixer and stir in flour just to combine.
Place egg white and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a separate large bowl of an electric mixer, and beat at medium speed until frothy. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating just until soft peaks form. Fold one-third of the egg whites gently into the yolk mixture. Fold in remaining whites, being careful not to overmix.
Pour batter into skillet with apples. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake about 5 minutes, then run a knife around edges to loosen. Invert onto a large platter and, if desired, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon sea salt over the apples and caramel. Serve warm with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Source: Leanne Willard, Bayview School of Cooking
1 single crust lightly baked in a deep-dish pie plate (see below)
1-3⁄4 cups (15-ounce can) pumpkin puree
1⁄2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (lightly packed) dark brown sugar
1-1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons molasses
1-1⁄4 cups evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 recipe whipped cream for serving
1-1⁄2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 9 pieces
3 tablespoons ice water
For the pie crust: Process the flour and salt in a food processor for 20 seconds. (Or whisk them together by hand in a large missing bowl.)
Distribute butter evenly over the flour and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 15-20 seconds. (Or cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender.)
With the food processor running, add the ice water in a steady stream through the feed tube and process just until the dough comes together. (Or sprinkle the water over the mixture while tossing with a fork.)
Knead the dough for several turns on a light floured surface to bring it together.
Shape the dough into a thick disk, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
To roll out dough, place the chilled dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper and roll it out to a circle 2 inches bigger than your pie pan.
Fit the dough into a 9-inch deep dish pie pan and trim the edges. Refrigerate the crust for another 30 minutes before baking, then bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes
For the filling: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pumpkin puree, brown sugar, spices and salt in a large mixing bowl and blend together with a whisk. Add molasses, milk, and the eggs; stir vigorously with the whisk until smooth.
Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake the pie on the center oven rack until the top is shiny and set and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Cool the pie on a rack. Serve warm, cold or room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.
Source: Beth Storey, Bayview School of Cooking
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon maple flavoring
Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, beat the cream until frothy. Add the maple flavoring. Slowly add the sugar. Continue to beat until firm peaks are formed. (About 1 minute 15 seconds, depending on your mixer).
Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 24 bars
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
7 tablespoons melted butter
1⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil (canola, corn)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter, at room temp.
pinch of salt
2 1⁄4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Crust: Mix together crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a 15-inch-by-10-by-1-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or until it smells good.
Filling: Sift the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl beat the eggs with the sugar, pumpkin and oil. Stir in dry ingredients, and spread over the crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until puffed, and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Frosting: With an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the salt, powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Immediately spread over the cooled pumpkin bars.
Source: Gwen Hayes, Capers Cafe & Take Home