As the days grow shorter, and the smell of backyard bonfires wafts through the crisp night air, seasonal flavors abound just in time for the holidays. There really is no better time of year than autumn for a veritable cornucopia of festive dishes that owe their toothsome flair to fall’s bumper crop of fresh fruits and veggies.
By Meredith Pruden>>Photography by Katherine Frye
From cranberries, beets and pears, to mushrooms, leeks and sweet potatoes, some of the most recognizable autumnal ingredients also make for the most beloved holiday fare. We asked three accomplished local chefs for their favorite Thanksgiving desserts and, not surprisingly, got three creative twists on some classic southern staples.
Pastry chef Charlie Zaremba of Muss & Turner’s, executive chef Nicholas Walker of Cobb Galleria Centre and executive chef Chuck Taylor of Vespucci’s Italian Kitchen turned the ultimate trifecta of fall flavors (apple, pumpkin and pecan) into delectable desserts close enough to classic recipes to pull those nostalgic heartstrings but these sweet treats definitely ain’t what mama used to make.
Executive Chef Chuck Taylor
Vespucci’s Italian Kitchen
Why settle for a simple pumpkin pie when you can have a Pumpkin Cheesecake? Taylor’s take is not too sweet, light enough for seconds (maybe thirds) and that savory pecan crust has just the right amount of salty bite to make your tastebuds dance.
2 cups pecan pieces
4 tablespoons very soft butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350F degrees
Combine all ingredients in food processor. Pulse ingredients until mixed well — three 15-second pulses. Place in lightly buttered 9-inch spring form pan, and lightly press into pan halfway up sides. Bake for 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a mixer, add first 3 ingredients, and mix until creamy (hand mixer will work; stand mixer is best). Add pumpkin puree mix a bit at a time until incorporated. Add spices and salt. Add eggs one at a time, letting them mix well before adding next one. Mix well for 2 minutes. Pour into crust, and let settle. Place this into water bath (directions below), and place into preheated 350F degree oven for 90 minutes.
Garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds and sprigs of rosemary.
CHEF’S TIPS>>Remember, all home ovens bake at slightly different temperatures, so check it for doneness at an hour by inserting a toothpick. If toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. When done, the cake should start pulling away from the sides of the pan and have a bit of color.
HOW TO MAKE A WATER BATH>>Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Wrap cheesecake in aluminum around the edges. Set the cheesecake into a larger pan, and place in oven. Pour the simmering water into the outer pan. This is a water bath.
CHOCOLATE BOURBON PECAN PIE
Executive Chef Nicholas Walker
Cobb Galleria Centre
What every pecan pie hopes it will be when it grows up, Walker’s Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie gets to sit at the adult table. Sophisticated and full of flavor, this decadent pie packs quite a punch into every bite of slightly gooey goodness.
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small chunks
2 tablespoons ice water, plus more if needed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Karo Syrup
1/2 vanilla bean (seeded)
3 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces (roasted)
Combine flour, sugar and salt in large mixing bowl. Add butter, and mix with your hands until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in ice water, and work in to bind dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky. Squeeze small amount together, if it is crumbly, add more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out dough on lightly floured surface into 12-inch circle. Carefully roll dough up onto pin and lay it inside a 9-inch pie pan. Press dough into pan so it fits tightly, and trim excess around rim.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, and let cool. Beat eggs in large mixing bowl until frothy, and then blend in sugar. Stir in pecans, syrup, vanilla, bourbon, salt chocolate chips and melted better until well blended. Pour mixture into pie shell.
Bake until filling is set and slightly puffed, about 45 minutes. Transfer pie to rack, and cool completely before cutting.
CHEF’S TIP>>Test for doneness by sticking a thin knife in center of pie, if it comes out pretty clean, it’s done.
Pastry Chef Charlie Zaremba
Muss & Turner’s
We didn’t think there was room to improve on the classic apple pie cooling in grandma’s window, but Zaremba managed to elevate the southern classic with his dainty Apple-Fig Tarts. A little bit savory, a little bit tart and a little bit sweet, every ingredient is thoughtfully placed and delicious.
2-4 green apples
8 ounces fig jam
Tart Shell Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-10 tablespoons ice water
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Blend together flour, butter and salt in bowl until mixture is coarse and crumbly with lumps of butter. Using your hands, slowly knead water and vinegar into mixture until dough forms and holds together. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface, roll into a ball and cut into 4-6 even portions. Wrap these in plastic, and chill for at least 1 hour.
Whip softened cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar with paddle attachment in electric mixer until smooth. Scrape sides and add egg. Whip until fully incorporated. Add cinnamon. Reserve and chill.
Roll chilled pastry dough on floured surface into individual 4” tart pans or other desired single pan, trimming away excess dough. The center of shell(s) will need to be weighted down by placing parchment or foil in the center and filling with dry beans or pastry weights. These will be baked in shells and removed afterward. Bake shells at 350F degrees for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
Spread fig jam (or other desired spread) into bottom of cooled tart shell. Pipe cream cheese filling into tart shell. Slice apples and shingle over top of tart. Dust with cinnamon and return assembled tarts to oven for 10 minutes, or until apples are golden brown.
In a sauce pan, simmer together 2 tablespoons jam with 1/2 cup red wine until mixture thickens. Brush this over top of warm tarts.
Serve with scoop of Honeysuckle’s Honey-Fig Gelato.