Food & Drink

Mini desserts are plenty after a big Thanksgiving meal

Once they have been baked and then chilled, mini pumpkin cheesecakes may be garnished in any number of ways.
Once they have been baked and then chilled, mini pumpkin cheesecakes may be garnished in any number of ways.

This Thanksgiving, you don't have to say "no thanks" to dessert.

Holiday hosts who prepare a lineup of mini desserts not only show off their cooking abilities but allow guests to indulge without feeling guilty after the big meal.

"Small portions make perfect sense for dessert because the first few bites bring us the most pleasure," said Anita Courtney, a registered dietitian in Lexington. "Have you ever noticed that when people take the first bites of a dessert they say 'Mmmmmmm,' 'Wow,' and 'OMG.' After that, you don't hear much from them. That's because after the first few bites of a very rich food, we lose the ability to taste it as fully. The effect flattens."

Small portions of dessert are manageable — they don't bring the physical discomfort or guilt that a large portion brings. Less is more when it comes to dessert, said Courtney, who is chairperson of the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.

"Displaying small bites of desert in creative ways make them even more appealing," she said. Among her ideas:

■ Put a small piece of pie on a small plate to make it appear bigger.

■ Drizzle a purée of frozen raspberries on the plate to add to the visual appeal.

■ Put dollops of ice cream in small cups and top with a fresh berries.

■ Layer small squares of cake in parfait glasses with low-fat whipped cream made by whipping fat-free cream cheese, skim milk, Stevia, vanilla extract and a little orange zest.

Lexington caterer and cooking instructor Phil Dunn said he has always loved making and serving bite-size desserts. "There is more labor involved, but it allows for more choices in case someone might have an allergy or just a dislike," he said.

Dunn suggests making bourbon cakes and coconut rum cakes.

"When I left Lexington in 1978 to move to Miami for graduate school, I had a group of seven couples who had gotten together once a month for cooking classes for four years," he said. "They had a going-away party for me, and one of the ladies made the bourbon cakes, but she called them eggnog cakes, I think. They are best made a few weeks ahead and they 'mature' in the refrigerator or freezer. The coconut rum cakes are a very good variation," he said.


Here are Phil Dunn's recipes for bourbon cakes with a coconut rum variation, and for pecan diamonds.

Bourbon cakes

6 ounces softened unsalted butter

1¼ cups sugar

8 egg yolks

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup warm milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted

11⁄3 cups bourbon

2 pounds confectioners sugar

12 ounces ground vanilla wafers

2 cups chopped walnuts

Combine butter and sugar in mixer and blend well. Add egg yolks and blend well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk and vanilla extract. Beat until batter is very smooth. It will be thick.

Spray half-sheet pan and spread batter evenly with metal spatula. Bake at 325 degrees for about 25 minutes until cake is golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into 1-inch squares.

Combine melted butter with bourbon and confectioners sugar. Combine vanilla wafers with walnuts. Dip cake squares in bourbon mixture, drain and roll in vanilla wafer mixture.

Coconut-rum variation: Use coconut rum instead of bourbon and add grated coconut to vanilla wafers instead of walnuts.

Pecan diamonds

For crust:

5 ounces butter

4½ ounces sugar

1½ ounces shortening

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

12 ounces all-purpose flour

¼ ounce baking powder

1⁄8 ounce salt

For filling:

1 pound unsalted butter

9 ounces honey

4 ounces sugar

1 pound brown sugar

2 pounds pecans

4 ounces heavy cream

To make crust: In large mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, shortening, egg and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Spread onto half-sheet baking pan. Score top and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool.

To make filling: Bring butter, honey and sugars to a boil in saucepan. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add pecans and cream. Stir well. Spread filling over crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Mini pumpkin cheesecakes

18 paper baking cups (21/2-inch)

18 gingersnap cookies

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon corn starch

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 eggs

1 cup canned pumpkin

1⁄3 cup light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 18 muffin cups with paper baking cups. Place 1 gingersnap in each. Beat cream cheese, sugar, corn starch and pumpkin pie spice with electric mixer. Add eggs and mix well. Add pumpkin and corn syrup; beat 1 minute.

Pour filling into liners, dividing evenly. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until just set. Chill for 1 hour. Garnish as desired.

from Spice Islands

Cherry pie bites

For crust:

½ cup slivered almonds (skin on)

2¼ to 2½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

2⁄3 cup canola oil, chilled in freezer for 2 hours

1 egg, beaten slightly

¼ cup ice water

¼ cup 1 percent milk

1 tablespoon vinegar

Canola oil spray

For cherry filling:

4 cups frozen unsweetened tart cherries, thawed (drain off any extra juice)

½ cup orange juice

1¼ cups granulated sugar

1¾ tablespoons cornstarch

1½ tablespoons fresh orange zest

To make crust: In food processor, add almonds and pulse once or twice for coarsely ground consistency. Add flour, salt and baking powder. Pulse once or twice to combine ingredients. Add cold/frozen canola oil. Pulse again once or twice.

In small bowl, combine egg, water, milk and vinegar. With food processor running, pour liquid ingredients through feed tube. Turn off machine as soon as ingredients are mixed, about 10 seconds.

Remove dough and place on lightly floured surface. Knead 4 or 5 times. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to roll out.

To make filling: Combine thawed cherries and orange juice in saucepan over medium low-heat for about 8 minutes. In small bowl, completely combine sugar and cornstarch. Add sugar-cornstarch mixture and orange zest to cherries. Cook cherry mixture until it comes to rolling boil. Cook for 2 more minutes, until well thickened. Cool filling slightly.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray mini muffin tins with canola oil spray. Roll out chilled dough on well-floured work surface. With 2½ -inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, with its edge dipped in flour, cut 24 rounds from dough. Roll out remaining dough and use it to cut small decorative pieces of dough for tops of pies.

Carefully fit 2½ -inch dough rounds into bottom of prepared mini muffin tin. Pat down bottom with excess coming up sides. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cooled cherry pie filling into each crust-lined cup. Carefully top each mini pie with decorative pieces of pie dough.

Bake about 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown and filling is bubbly. Remove from oven and set on wire rack, and cool completely, then remove from muffin tin and serve. Makes 24 mini pies.


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