Club pastry chefs are putting a fresh spin on classic holiday sweets for greater appeal.
There’s no time quite like the holidays to cap off a great meal with a tried-and-true dessert. From gingerbread cookies to the more-elaborate bûche de Noël, pastries that make a once-a-year appearance deserve special treatment, and that means adding a personal touch to make them unique.
As chefs restock their supplies of sugar, flour, chocolate and dairy in anticipation of the holiday season, they are saving shelf space for other ingredients and boning up on new techniques to add a modern twist to member favorites.
At Colonial Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla., membership merrymaking involves palate-pleasing pastries, with plenty of treats to suit different tastes.
“Our members have a big Christmas spirit when it comes to the holidays, and doing desserts that match their enthusiasm inspires me to create a dessert they will love,” says Pastry Chef Mayra Maldonado. With 2021 marking her fourth holiday season at the club, she has developed a keen understanding of what Colonial diners want for dessert.
For a special holiday treat, Maldonado does a riff on classic cheesecake by fusing gingerbread and peppermint, while highlighting key ingredients. Eggnog plays a starring role in her holiday trifle, made with nutmeg, eggs, dairy, vanilla and (for an adult-only version) rum.
“I individually layer each flavor for them to have their own voice, but also once eaten together to bring forward a symphony known to us all as eggnog,” she says.
Maldonado relishes the opportunity to reinvent traditional treats for a captive audience, especially at a time when visitors are numerous.
“Christmas is probably my favorite holiday, because of the many flavors that we as pastry chefs have to work with,” she adds.
Other favorite holiday desserts at Colonial include croquembouche, bûche de Noël, gingerbread cake and peppermint tart. And with its clubhouse fully operational once again, demand for to-go desserts has diminished, reducing the need to offer portable pastries.
Ever-mindful of members with dietary restrictions, Maldonado plans to adapt her recipes accordingly. For her cheesecake crust, she’ll use almond flour and crushed nuts in lieu of graham crackers. And for a gluten-free streusel, all-purpose flour is swapped out for oat flour.
The Pie’s the Limit
Members of Lakewood Country Club in Dallas, Texas, are grabbing their forks in anticipation of the season’s pie rollout, all thanks to the mastery of Executive Pastry Chef Alyssa DeBernardo. Now beginning her third year at the club, after spending two seasons at the Hyannisport Club in Cape Cod, Mass., she knows exactly what to serve.
“Our members always crave pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, coconut cream pie and sweet potato pie,” she says, noting their consistent popularity from the beginning of October through Christmas.
Undaunted by the frenetic, predictable pace of pie baking, DeBernardo enjoys putting a contemporary spin on standards. “I love taking traditional desserts and flavor profiles and turning them into something new and exciting,” she enthuses.
Each year, DeBernardo also creates a variation of a candy cane and chocolate dessert. Previous incarnations have included a Christmas cookie and crème brulee featuring those flavors.
For Lakewood’s annual Thanksgiving brunch, DeBernardo will prepare a sweet potato pie petit gateaux, consisting of a sweet potato cake, coconut pecan cornflake crunch, toasted marshmallow cremeux and sweet potato mousse, finished with a caramel glaze.
And for Christmas brunch, DeBernardo will be offering a chocolate candy cane verrine, rendered as an individual version of the classic Christmas trifle. Made with layers of peppermint vanilla bean crème brulee, featured ingredients of this pastry include Valrhona Guanaja 70 percent chocolate cremeux, chocolate fudge cake, chocolate candy cane crunch and a whipped white chocolate ganache.
While the brunch-pastry specials will not be available as takeout options, Lakewood members will once again be able to get their pie fix. “In previous years, our Thanksgiving to-go orders totaled upwards of 40 pumpkin pies, 20 coconut cream pies, 25 pecan pies and 30 apple pies,” notes DeBernardo.
Strolling Down Gingerbread Lane
It may be hot and sunny in Bonita Springs, Fla., but inside the pastry kitchen at Bonita Bay Club, it’s a veritable winter wonderland. This year, members will be able to live out their fantasy of a white Christmas by feasting their eyes on a life-sized gingerbread house in the club’s lobby, courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Emilia Tomaszycki. She has been working on the display for the past few months and is excited to bring her talent and energy to this eye-catching gigantic pastry production.
A relative newcomer to Bonita Bay, Tomaszycki has been on staff since March—so 2021 signifies not only her first holiday at the club, but the occasion of being a pastry pioneer.
“Bonita Bay has never had a pastry chef previous to this year, so I plan on implementing many new techniques to our holiday displays,” she says.
After testing out several gingerbread-dough recipes, Tomaszycki chose one containing flour, baking soda, butter, brown sugar, eggs and molasses—which, she notes, “gives it this beautiful, rich color.” Having ordered a new 7’ x 5’ 4’ sheeter, she’ll be able to produce and lay the ‘bricks’ flat on the ground prior to assembly, giving them time to dry.
In addition to the large-scale gingerbread house, Tomaszycki plans to enhance a standard hot chocolate display with homemade marshmallows, candy canes, hot cocoa bombs and flavored whipped cream. On the a la carte dessert menu is eggnog bûche de Noël, a recipe that Tomaszycki perfected during a previous stint at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Fla.
Another holiday pastry staple, trifle, will be adapted for a to-go format in miniature glasses that Tomaszycki ordered specifically for that purpose. “I’ll also have clear glass vials with Christmas candy for the kids to take home,” she adds.
Admitting that producing classic desserts can become tedious, Tomaszycki makes a point of finding new ways to reinvent traditional favorites. On this year’s holiday menu, she is fashioning pumpkin pie from fleur de sel caramel, cream cheese and candied pecans, and creating a pressed graham cracker crust and pumpkin-pie filling.
Built in a small ring mold, the pie will be served as individual portions. “I still have all of the basic components of pumpkin pie, yet I have fun with it and bake it in different shapes,” she notes.