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FOOD: Give these 3 holly, jolly holiday desserts

3 holly, jolly holiday desserts

By Emily Ryan, For Digital First Media

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

This season, deck the halls with boughs of holly and stack the dessert table with showstoppers like Black Forest cake, white chocolate mousse trifle and vanilla cheesecake with thyme-cherry compote.

“We have a magic wand. It takes all of the calories out. You don’t have to worry about it,” joked pastry chef Vanessa Casper of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square.

Served in The Café, “it’s my tried-and-true cheesecake recipe,” she said. “It’s very smooth, and it’s light. It’s not heavy.”

Ginger and cinnamon flavor the crust while thyme complements the compote.

“Thyme is a really friendly herb to introduce into desserts,” explained Casper, whose repertoire includes gingerbread whoopie pies, chocolate peppermint cake and passion fruit panna cotta with champagne gelée.

Her advice: “Invest in some nice plates” or a cake stand to “give some height to your desserts.”

Personal chef Lynn Lampe Lindquist adds ribbons for a festive touch, wrapping her white chocolate mousse trifle “like a gift.”

“You’re giving them a gift of your talents,” said the owner of Cook on Call, also an instructor at Delaware County Community College and Valley Forge Flowers. “It’s just so stunning looking.”

Wow guests with layers of mousse, fresh raspberries and pound cake, which soaks up the Chambord-flavored syrup “very nicely.”

Back at Longwood Gardens surrounded by holiday greenery, Casper offered one last suggestion for sweet baking success.

“Try not to get intimidated. Just read the recipe. A lot of it is following directions,” she described. “It’s like putting together an IKEA piece.”

Vanilla Cheesecake with Thyme-Cherry Compote

Yield: 1 (8-inch) cake, serves 8 to 12 people


Graham cracker crust:

¾ cup + 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs

2½ tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

Pinch salt

3½ tablespoons melted butter

Vanilla cheesecake batter:

2 (8-ounce packs) cream cheese

½ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

½ vanilla bean, scraped

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 eggs

Thyme-cherry compote:

2 cups cherries

1½ teaspoons lemon juice

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

Whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the crust: Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Add the melted butter and mix until it resembles wet sand. Press graham cracker crust into a parchment-lined 8-inch round pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 5 minutes.

For the batter: Using a mixer, cream together cream cheese, sugar and scraped vanilla bean. Mix until there are no lumps, scraping the bowl often. Add the sour cream, vanilla and lemon juice. Mix until it is all combined, remembering to scrape the bowl after the addition. Lastly, add eggs one at a time. Give the bowl one last scrape and mix until it’s all combined. Pour cheesecake into baked crust. Bake at 300 degrees in a water bath for about an hour. The cheesecake should be set when done. Let cool at room temperature to prevent the middle from sinking, then refrigerate.

For the compote: In a pot, combine cherries, lemon juice, sugar and thyme. On medium heat, cook until all the sugar is dissolved and the juice is coming out of the cherries. In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch and water. Add this mixture to the cherries and bring to a boil for 1 minute. The mixture should be thick at this point. Let cool and top the cheesecake.

For the whipped cream: In a bowl, whisk together cream, sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks. Serve with cheesecake.


White Chocolate Mousse Trifle


1 pint heavy cream

1 teaspoon gelatin

13 ounces white chocolate, chopped

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

4 egg yolks

1 quart fresh raspberries

2 pounds of pound cake, cut into large dice

1 cup simple syrup flavored with Chambord black raspberry liqueur


Assemble trifle bowl to be used as the serving container. Whip the cream to soft peak. Cover and reserve in refrigerator. Bloom the gelatin in ½ cup of water. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water. Bring the milk to a boil and gently stir into the melted chocolate. Melt gelatin in bowl over warm water or melt in microwave and add to the chocolate-milk mixture. Stir well. Combine the sugar and water in a small pot and boil until it reaches 250 degrees.

Meanwhile, whip the yolks on high speed with the whip attachment until light in color. Pour the sugar syrup into the yolks as they are whipping and whip until the mixture cools. Fold the yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the reserved whipped cream. Start to assemble the trifle. Spoon a small amount of mousse in the bottom of bowl. Sprinkle a handful of the pound cake and raspberries on mousse. Drizzle the simple syrup over the cake and berries. Add another layer of mousse, this time a bit thicker. Continue layering with the fruit, pound cake and syrup. End with a layer of mousse. Sprinkle with raspberries and shaved white chocolate. Tie a festive ribbon around the trifle bowl for presentation.

Note: You can easily double the mousse recipe. If you have extra, you can pipe or spoon the mousse into champagne glasses for another dessert.


Black Forest Cake


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2/3 cup butter

1 cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs

1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon ground almonds

1/3 cup +1 tablespoon flour

1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch

½ cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon baking powder


4 tablespoons cherry liqueur

2½ teaspoons gelatin

1 pound sour cherries, pitted

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2½ cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons superfine sugar


Shave 2 tablespoons of chocolate and melt the rest. Cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla. Separate the eggs. Mix the almonds with the flour, cornstarch, breadcrumbs and baking powder. Stir the egg yolks and the cooled, melted chocolate into the butter-sugar mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in with the dry ingredients. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch-wide, 3-inch-deep round pan (like a springform). Pour batter into pan and bake the cake 45 minutes on the lower rack of the oven. Allow to stand at least 3 hours, then cut into three layers with a long, serrated knife and sprinkle with cherry liqueur.

Dissolve the gelatin in a little cold water. Wash cherries and put in saucepan with ½ cup water and lemon juice; simmer 7 minutes. Remove and drain. Whip the cream and sugar until stiff. Warm the gelatin over low heat, stir in a few tablespoons of the whipped cream. Return the mixture to the whipped cream and fold together. Cover the first and second cake layers with the cooled cherries and whipped cream. Set the third layer on top and cover cake with the remaining whipped cream. Sprinkle with the chocolate shavings and garnish with extra cream and cherries if desired.