Back to the Kitchen: Sophisticated Holiday Desserts That Impress

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Chocolate Yule Log and Croquembouche (aka French Wedding Cake)

This is a super busy time of the year, but it is also a time of sharing love from the kitchen and tapping into all kinds of creativity. When you take the time to make an extraordinary holiday meal it only makes sense that you end it with a really special dessert. Some of these recipes seem labor intensive and fussy, but I  simplified them for time efficiency.  No worries, they are breathtaking in both taste and style.

Here are a few little tips to help make these great tasting desserts look equally impressive. You can roll frozen cranberries in sugar and place with mint for a quick pretty added touch. Try making meringue mushrooms and trees for a rustic holiday look! Use a holiday stencil and dust with powdered sugar or coco for a super easy finish. Order stencils here 

Whencutting into these decadent creations be sure to have a tall glass of hot water and a dishtowel handy. Clean the knife after each cut and dip into the hot water for a flawless slice. Have fun with the process and enjoy all of the raves because the flavor and presentation of these desserts are nothing short of holiday spectacular.

Red Velvet Cheesecake

1 pound 60% Dark Cacao Chocolate Chips + one cup

1/2 cup butter

1 9 – ounce package chocolate wafer cookies

1 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, melted

4 8- ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup sour cream

1/3 cup baker’s sugar

1/3 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons red food coloring

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

Powdered sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Fresh raspberries

In a medium saucepan, melt chocolate and 1/2 cup butter over low heat; transfer to a bowl and cool completely. Place wafer cookies, chocolate pieces, almonds and brown sugar in a large food processor. Cover and process until finely ground. Add the 1/2 cup melted butter; cover and process until well combined. Transfer crumbs to a 10×3-inch spring form pan with a removable bottom. Press crumbs onto bottom and up the sides of the pan, leaving a 1/2-inch space at the top of the pan. Set aside.

In a very large mixing bowl, beat the cooled chocolate mixture, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, buttermilk and red food coloring with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Add 4 eggs and 2 egg yolks all at once. Beat on low speed just until combined. Pour filling into crumb-crust lined spring form pan. Place springform pan in a shallow baking pan on the oven rack. Bake in a 350-degree oven about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until 2 inches of outside edge appear set when shaken gently.

Remove springform pan from baking pan. Cool cheesecake in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Use a small metal spatula to loosen cheesecake from sides of pan. Cool 30 minutes more. Remove sides of pan. Cool for 1 hour; cover and chill at least 4 hours. To serve decoratively sift powdered sugar and cocoa powder on the top. Garnish the center fresh raspberries. Makes 20 servings.

Gingerbread Trifle

Ingredients for Gingerbread

2 cups all-purpose flour

1-teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1-teaspoon cinnamon

1/2-teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2-cup molasses

3/4-cup buttermilk

1/2-cup hot water

Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse

2 cups pumpkin

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1-teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/2-teaspoon ground ginger

1/8-teaspoon salt

1-cup heavy cream

1/2-teaspoon vanilla

Ingredients for Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons bakers’ sugar

1-teaspoon vanilla

Toasted pecan pieces for garnish

Directions for Gingerbread

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line 13×9 pan with foil, leaving an overhang at all sides. Grease foil. Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in egg until blended, then beat in molasses and buttermilk. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until smooth, then add hot water and beat 1 minute (batter may look lumpy). Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan. Transfer foil-lined gingerbread to a cutting board and cut into 1-inch cubes with a serrated knife.

Directions for Pumpkin Mousse

Whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl until combined. In a separate bowl, beat cream with vanilla using until it holds soft peaks, about 5 minutes. Fold into pumpkin mixture gently and thoroughly.

Directions for Whipped Cream

Beat cream with sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks, about 5 minutes.

Assemble Trifle

Arrange half of gingerbread cubes in trifle bowl. Top with half of pumpkin mousse, then half of whipped cream. Repeat layers with remaining gingerbread, mousse, and cream. Garnish with toasted pecans. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Serves 12-16.

Chocolate Yule Log Cake

This is a very traditional Christmas cake usually made in Europe for Christmas Eve. Considering the lovely presentation it is pretty simple to make. Remember that butter cream is like glue so you can hide a multitude of cracks and mistakes.


6 eggs, separated

1-cup sugar, divided

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/3-cup cake flour

1/4-teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter


2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup white chocolate, chopped

1/4-cup sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting:

1-cup butter, softened

1-cup coco powder

4 egg yolks

3-4 cups powder sugar

2-teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons milk

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-inch x 9-inch jellyroll pan with baker’s joy and then line it with parchment paper and spray again.

Beat the egg yolks and 1/2-cup sugar in a bowl and beat until it thickens enough to leave a trail. Then whisk the cocoa, flour and salt and gradually fold into the egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add thee cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar beating on high speed until stiff peaks form. . Add one-fourth to the egg yolks and fold in, then add the rest of the egg whites and fold in carefully.

Pour into the jellyroll pan and spread evenly all over the pan, right up to the edges and into the corners. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch and the cake springs back when pressed.

Turn the cake out on to a linen towel dusted with powdered sugar. Peel off parchment paper. Carefully roll up in the towel, starting with a short side. Cool on a wire rack.


Break up the chocolate in to small pieces then put it and 1/4-cup cream into a saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring continuously until the chocolate melts. Put it to one side to cool to room temperature.

Whip the remaining cream and vanilla until it reaches the soft peaks stage then fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture. Chill. Unroll cooled cake and Spread over cake to 1/2 inch of each side. Re-roll cake. Be gentle, but don’t worry if it cracks…that’s why we have butter cream frosting!

Butter Cream Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl mix all of frosting ingredients together. Frost cake. Using a fork to make lines that imitate tree bark. Serves 12

Simple Croquembouche

For the dough:

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ tsp. kosher salt

2 cups flour

9 eggs

For the filling:

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup sugar

3 tbsp. cornstarch

4 egg yolks

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

For the caramel drizzle:

4 cups sugar

½ cup water

For the dough: Heat oven to 425. Bring butter, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Remove pan from heat, add flour all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms thick dough and pulls away from sides of pan, about 2 minutes. Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until dough is lightly dried, about 2 minutes more. Transfer dough to a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes; using a wooden spoon, beat in 8 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. Dough will come together and be thick, shiny, and smooth. Dip two spoons in water, shake off excess, and scoop a walnut-size piece of dough with one spoon. With other spoon, scrape dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, setting pieces 1″ apart on a baking sheet. Lightly beat remaining egg with pinch of salt and brush each piece of dough with it. Bake until puffed and light brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350, and continue to bake until well browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

For the filling: Bring 1-cup milk and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk remaining milk, cornstarch, and egg yolks together in a large bowl. Slowly pour half the hot milk into yolk mixture, whisking constantly, then return mixture to saucepan, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and just returns to a boil. Stir in vanilla and transfer to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. In a large bowl, beat butter on medium speed of a hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Add cold filling and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a plain ¼″ tip. Gently poke a hole in the flat side of each baked cooled puff with tip and pipe in filling.

For the caramel: Place 2 cups sugar and ½ cup water in a shallow saucepan and stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium heat until sugar turns light amber, about 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Using tongs, dip top of filled puffs in hot caramel. Place puffs, glazed side up, on a plastic-lined tray. Form base with 12–14 glazed, cooled puffs, sticking them together with more caramel. Add puffs, layer by layer, to form a hollow cone. (Reheat caramel until liquid again if it becomes too thick; repeat making more caramel with remaining sugar and ½ cup water when first batch of caramel becomes too thick to work with.) Allow caramel to cool until it is the consistency of honey. With a spoon, drizzle thin strings of caramel around cone; let cool until brittle and set. Serve croquembouche within 4 hours of making to ensure the filling doesn’t soften the puffs. Serves 16.

Pumpkin Buche de Noel

3 eggs

1-cup sugar

2/3 cup pumpkin puree

Juice of one lemon

3/4-cup flour

1-teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2-teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans


1 cup powdered sugar

1-cup cream cheese

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes. Add sugar gradually. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. Set aside. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread on greased and floured 10×15 sheet cake pan. Top with pecans. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Turn out on towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll and let cool. Combine powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Unroll cake; spread on filling and roll back up. Sprinkle with Powder sugar. Keep refrigerated. Serves 12.

Chocolate Soufflé

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2-cup milk

1/2-cup sugar

4 egg yolks

6 egg whites

1-teaspoon vanilla

Combine the chocolate, milk and all but two tablespoons of sugar in the top of a double broiler over simmering water. Cook stirring constantly until chocolate and sugar are melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla and let cool for 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks one at a time into the chocolate mixture until blended. Beat egg whites with an elastic mixer until stiff. Add remaining sugar and beat until blended. Using the whisk, add 1/3 of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate. Butter six individual soufflé dishes covering the entire inside surface and rim. Sprinkle with sugar. Fill each soufflé dish to the rim and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven dust with powered sugar and serve immediately with fresh whipped cream. Serves 6

German Chocolate Cake

1/2-cup water

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1-teaspoon baking soda

1/4-teaspoon salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

4 large eggs, separated

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-cup buttermilk

1-cup semisweet chocolate chips

Bring water to a boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat Add chocolate chips and whisk until smooth. Cool. Whisk flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until blended. Beat in yolks 1 at a time. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Using clean dry beaters, beat whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter in 2 additions. Pour batter into a buttered 13 x 9 glass Pyrex pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake in pan on rack.


1 1/2 cups half and half

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4-cup butter

5 large egg yolks

1/4-teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

1/4-cup semisweet chocolate chips

Combine half and half, sugar, butter, egg yolks and vanilla in a heavy large saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat until mixture simmers, thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 20 minutes. Mix in coconut and pecans. Spread warm frosting over cake. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top. Refrigerate until frosting sets, about 2 hours. This cake is best if made a day or two before making it very handy for ease the day of your dinner. Serves 16.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies.  Check out her websites and  Her Sweet and Savory Cookbook is available through AMAZON .



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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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