Desserts to Make the Holidays Shine Brighter

Desserts are king during the holiday season, as diets relax and sweet indulgence reigns. Chef Denise Marchessault joins us to talk about her newly published cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch: Recipes for Every Season, authored with photographer Caroline West. She also offers some tips on how to stay on top of holiday cooking and shares with us a few delectable dessert recipes just in time for the holidays.

Chef Marchessault is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu® Ottawa, in Canada, where she achieved Le Grand Diplôme®, a 9 month comprehensive programme combining pastry and cuisine. She teaches cooking classes in Vancouver, Canada, and also penned the Master Class Series for EAT Magazine with photographer Caroline West.

British Columbia from Scratch book cover

MasterCook: Tell us about the “from scratch” part of your book. As a chef, what do you see as the benefits of cooking from scratch rather than using processed foods?

Chef Marchessault: Well, it’s healthier, more economical, and more flavorful than anything you’ll find in a box, packet or cube. Cooking is not a chore to endure, it’s is a pleasure in itself. Fortunately, there’s a new wave of cooks, young and old, who are discovering, or rediscovering, the simple pleasure of cooking from scratch.

MasterCook: Since your cookbook is inspired by the flavors of British Columbia, will readers outside the province be able to find the ingredients to make the recipes in your cookbook?

Chef Marchessault: Absolutely! I wanted a cookbook as practical as it is beautiful so I favored recipes with easily accessible ingredients. Seafood recipes are adaptable to any variety of fish and most ingredients are available at your local market.

MasterCook: As a professional chef with lots going on outside the kitchen–including a new book to promote, teaching, writing, and raising twins–what is your advice to people trying to stay organized as they plan and prepare meals during the holiday season?

Denise Marchessault

Chef Marchessault: My best advice is to get a jump-start on food prep whenever possible. When I come home from the market, for example, I peel and chop several onions and store them in plastic containers, in the fridge. No matter how frazzled, I can always muster the strength to prepare dinner when armed with a fridge full of pre-washed and chopped vegetables.

Dressings and pestos can be made ahead, too, and they liven-up quick and easy meals like frittatas, roasted vegetables, pasta, legumes or fish. Most desserts and pastry doughs freeze well, so when you’re in the mood for baking, fill up your freezer!

Cranberry Meringue

I do as much as possible in advance, and break down recipes into manageable tasks. For example, I’ll make dough one day and roll it out the next.

MasterCook: What are you planning for your main holiday meal this year? Do you have traditional items you always make, or do you change the menu from year to year?

My daughters are Pescetarian, so I’ll prepare salmon in puff pastry, rather than a traditional turkey. I’ll include an assortment of traditional side dishes, such as cranberries and garlic-roasted mashed potatoes.

The last few years I’ve prepared Christmas dinner entirely in advance. Re-heating a meal, rather than cooking all day, means I’m enjoying a relaxing day with my family.

Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips

Chef Marchessault has kindly provided us with two recipes from her cookbook, “Cranberry Meringue” and “Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips.”* For more information on Chef Marchessault, please click on the following link: You can view a video preview of her book here, or purchase British Columbia from Scratch at Amazon by clicking here.

* For those who are using Le Cordon Bleu® Recipes from MasterCook, these recipes have been automatically added to your online recipe collection and is ready to sync with your desktop version of MasterCook, where it will be added to Le Cordon Bleu® Blog Cookbook.

Cranberry Meringue

Makes 10 – 12

¼ cup cranberry purée (recipe below) or strawberry jam
4 large egg whites, with no traces of yolk, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine or berry sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon white vinegar

You’ll need a baking sheet lined with parchment. A pastry bag is handy for portioning the meringue but not essential.

Preheat oven to 250 °F

To keep meringue uniform, draw circles onto your parchment-lined baking sheet, using a teacup as a template, with 2” space between each circle. Turn the parchment over and use as a guide when spooning or piping the meringue onto your tray.

Whisk the egg whites in a meticulously clean bowl, at medium speed for about one minute or until a network of tiny bubbles have formed. Gradually add the sugar and increase the speed to high and whip until the whites have expanded and formed billowy, firm glossy peaks. Be mindful not to over-whip otherwise the whites will turn grainy and lose their shape. Reduce the speed to low and add the cornstarch and vinegar until just blended.

If using a pastry bag, spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾” tip. Pipe or spoon the meringue onto your prepared tray, using the template as a guide. Dip a butter knife into a bit of cranberry purée or jam and gently drag the purée around the unbaked meringues to create a marbled effect.

Bake for about an hour on a rack in the lower third of your oven or until the meringues are dry. Turn the heat off and leave the meringues in the oven until they cool. The meringues will crack slightly. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Cranberry Purée

6 ounces, fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries, ½ standard package
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Purée the cranberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan, using the back of a ladle or a large spoon to press the solids against the strainer, extracting as much liquid as possible.  Heat the purée over medium heat with the sugar and reduce until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside ¼ cup for the meringue and use any leftover purée as a topping for ice cream or swirled into puddings, muffins, loaves, pancakes or cookies.

Chocolate Mousse With Pear Chips

Serves 4–6

The key to this rich, melt-in-your-mouth mousse is to have your tools close at hand. With only two ingredients, chocolate and cream, the recipe is more about preparation than culinary finesse.

Once the cream and melted chocolate collide, the mousse firms quickly, so have your containers nearby. A piping bag is useful for distributing the mousse into narrow glasses but a small spoon works too.

If you’d like your mousse to peer above the rim of the containers, as pictured, wrap parchment paper around the containers first.

The mousse is rich and best served in small sherry or shot glasses.

If you’d like to garnish your mousse with pear chips and chocolate leaves, plan to make these in advance.

8 oz (230 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream, chilled
Pear Chips (optional; recipe follows)
Chocolate Leaves (optional; recipe follows)

You’ll need a wire whisk and a spatula.

Place the chocolate and 1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream in a heat-resistant bowl placed over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is just melted then remove from the heat.

Pour the remaining whipping cream into a large bowl or the bowl of a standup mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Whisk the cream until just thick enough to form soft peaks.

Working quickly, pour the melted chocolate into the whipped cream, using a spatula to scrape any remaining melted chocolate left clinging to the bowl. Whisk the chocolate into the cream until the mixture is uniform in colour and has thickened.

Spoon or pipe the mousse into glasses and refrigerate until set.

Take the mousse out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Remove the parchment collar, if using, and garnish with a pear chip and chocolate leaf, if desired.

Pear Chips

1 firm, slightly underripe pear, washed
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Slice the pear paper-thin, using a mandoline or vegetable slicer.

Coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar water mixture and place on a prepared baking sheet without overlapping any slices.

Dry the pear slices in the oven for 2–3 hours, carefully turning them over once. Allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes then gently peel the slices from the parchment. If the pears are not firm and crisp once cooled, continue to dry them in the oven.

The pear chips can be made a few days ahead of time and kept in a covered container.

Chocolate Leaves

6 oz (175 g) good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
8–12 small, firm non-toxic leaves such as holly or rose, washed and completely dried

Place the chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, dip one side of each leaf into the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel the leaves from the chocolate.