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These desserts designed to dazzle holiday guests

Thursday, November 21, 2002

By Kathleen Ganster

Forget the turkey, forget the ham, forget those candied sweet potatoes and bring on the desserts.

"I finally got it," said Ginger Solomon, left, of Pine as she helps classmate Niki McGee of Wexford stir the ingredients for Mississippi Mud Brulee, a creation of chef Nello Dreon, center. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

Chef Nello Dreon, pastry chef with North Star Market Cooking School and Pines Tavern Restaurant, taught the recent "Not Your Grandmother's Cheesecake -- Different Desserts for the Holidays" at the school in Richland. Dreon showed students some old favorites with unusual twists -- a Mississippi Mud Brulee was just one of the class stars -- and most had chocolate.

Dreon grew up in New Kensington and attended the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute. Now 31, he worked at a small bakery in New Kensington for nine years before joining Mike Novak's market and restaurant. "We are lucky to have Nello," Novak said. "He makes wonderful desserts for us."

He also manages to squeeze in some time to teach a few classes with the cooking school each semester.

Trying new recipes can be intimidating for even experienced cooks. For some, the ingredients for the hands-on class even seemed overwhelming.

"Look at all of this stuff," one commented as she eyed the dozens of eggs. But Dreon's enthusiasm for baking was soon passed on to the class as he described the desserts.

"Does everyone know what brulee is?" he asked. "You know that eggy custard thing?" Everyone laughed at his description and the ice was broken.

The Mississippi Mud Brulee gave brulee a chocolate and coffee flavor, but the process is similar to making a traditional brulee. While a bit time-consuming, it can be made ahead before the big dinner, as could the others that Dreon taught.

The Almond Macaroon Tart also had chocolate, this time combined with almonds and coconut. The Sour Cream Fudge Cake was dense with chocolate and the Hot Fudge Cheesecake was a tender chocolate version of the old-time favorite.

Hot Fudge Cheesecake is just one of chef Nello Dreon's dessert creations for the holidays. (Robert J. Pavuchak, Post-Gazette)

Although Dreon said they didn't aim for a chocolate theme, that is how it developed. It was the underlying chocolate theme that attracted Bonnie Adler. "I wanted to make some different desserts for the holidays and these looked interesting," said the Richland resident. "I think these will be quite festive."

The brulee and fudge cake are made in 8-ounce ramekins, although, Dreon said, oven-safe cups can be used as well.

The trickiest part seemed to be fashioning the collars on the rame-kins. Dreon cut pieces of aluminum foil of about 7 inches long, folded them into thirds lengthwise, and then wrapped them around the ramekins. "Pull it tight, then fold the end over. Keep it as tight as you can," he said. The collar allows the cake to rise in the ramekin, creating almost a souffle look.

For the cheesecake, Dreon used saltine crackers for the crust, unlike the more traditional graham crackers. "I think they give the crust an unusual, different flavor. It isn't salty at all," he said.

He shared tips on how to prevent cracks in the cheesecake, a common problem. "Beat the cream cheese and sugar together really well until smooth. Then you want to turn down the mixer to low speed. The cracks are often caused by overmixing the cream cheese, and then air bubbles form. They pop while the cake bakes and make the cracks."

Dreon added that overbaking the cheesecake also promotes cracks.

While Dreon liked these specialty holiday desserts, they aren't his favorites. "I like pies. My favorite is strawberry/rhubarb," he said. "But these are great for the holidays."

Alder agreed: "They are great and they weren't that hard."

Kathleen Ganster is a freelance writer based in Hampton.

Mississippi Mud Brulee

  • 2 cups whipping cream

  • 4-ounce bar sweet baking chocolate (can use chocolate chips, about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur
  • 1/3 cup marshmallow creme
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate mini-morsels
  • 3/4 teaspoon milk
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine first three ingredients in a small heavy saucepan; cook, over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Process eggs yolks in blender at high speed; with blender running, add chocolate mixture in a slow, steady stream. Add liqueur and pulse until blended. Pour into six 6-ounce lightly greased ramekins or custard cups, and place in a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Add hot water to pan to depth of 1 inch.

Bake at 275 degrees for 55 minutes, or just until set. Remove ramekins from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool; cover and chill thoroughly.

Combine marshmallow creme, mini-morsels and milk, stirring well; spoon a small amount onto each custard. Sprinkle brown sugar over marshmallow layer and place custards in 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Broil 3 1/2 inches from heat (with electric oven door partially open) 2 to 3 minutes or until brown sugar melts.

Note: To broil custards 3 1/2 inches from heat, invert a jellyroll pan and place it beneath the 13-by-9-inch pan, holding the custards on the top oven rack. Yield: 6 servings.

Chef Nello Dreon, North Star Market

Almond Macaroon Tart

  • 1 cup sliced almonds

  • 25 chocolate wafer cookies-- to make approximately 2 1/2 cups crushed crumbs
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup whole natural almonds
  • 2 eggs whites
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 7-ounce can flaked coconut
  • 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 3 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 10 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, divided -- can also use chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 ounce white chocolate
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons shortening

Grind sliced almonds in food processor; place in a bowl. Pulse chocolate wafer cookies in food processor, or crush with rolling pin; add to almonds with melted butter, stirring well. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of a lightly greased deep 10 1/2-inch quiche or tart pan with removable bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes; cool.

Bake whole almonds in a shallow pan, stirring often, 8 to 12 minutes or until toasted; cool. Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating 4 minutes or until soft peaks form. Stir in coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Spread over crust in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and set aside.

Melt 1/4 cup butter and unsweetened chocolate in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Beat eggs at medium speed until thick and frothy. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, salt and remaining teaspoon vanilla, beating until blended. Stir in melted chocolate mixture; spoon over coconut mixture in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes; cool completely. Remove sides of pan.

Melt 4 ounces semisweet chocolate; stir in toasted almonds. Place almonds 1/2 inch apart on wax paper, freeze 10 minutes, or let stand until firm.

Combine whipping cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over remaining 6 ounces semisweet chocolate in a medium bowl; let stand 1 minute. Whisk until smooth and pour over tart. Arrange coated almonds around edge of tart. Melt white chocolate and shortening in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Drizzle over tart. Makes 10 1/2-inch tart.

Chef Nello Dreon, North Star Market

Sour Cream Fudge Cake

  • 12 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8-ounce carton sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Sweetened whipped cream
  • Cocoa

Cut six pieces of aluminum foil long enough to fit around six 8-ounce ramekins, allowing a 1 1/2-inch overlap. Fold pieces lengthwise into fourths. Wrap around outsides of ramekins, allowing foil to extend 1 inch above rims. Fold ends of foil tightly together to form collars; secure with freezer tape. Lightly coat ramekins and collars with cooking spray.

Combine chocolate and hot water in a small saucepan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat. Beat eggs and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixture until blended. Add chocolate mixture, sour cream and vanilla. Beat well. Combine flour, soda and salt. Gradually add to chocolate mixture, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Pour batter evenly into prepared ramekins.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes or until along wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool on wire racks. Remove collars and pipe or dollop sweetened whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with cocoa. Yield 6 servings.

Variation: Serve hot fudge sauce with this cake.

Hot Fudge Sauce

  • 6 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, chopped (can used chips)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter or margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine chocolate and half-and-half in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm. Yield: 1 cup.

Chef Nello Dreon, North Star Market

Hot Fudge Cheesecake

  • 1 cup finely crushed saltine crackers
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate (can use chips)
  • 3/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish, optional

Combine first four ingredients, stirring well. Press firmly into bottom and 2 1/2 inches up sides of a lightly greased 7-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes; cool on wire rack. Reduce temperature to 300 degrees.

Combine chocolate and 3/4 cup butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until smooth. Cool. Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Add 3/4 cup sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in chocolate mixture; pour into prepared crust.

Bake at 300 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until almost set. Turn oven off and let cheesecake stand in closed oven 30 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool. Chill.

Remove sides of pan; serve with hot fudge sauce. Garnish with mint, if desired.

Hot Fudge Sauce

  • 6 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, chopped (can used chips)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter or margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine chocolate and half-and-half in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm. Yield: 1 cup.

Chef Nello Dreon, North Star Market

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