Flour Power

From creamy cheesecakes to tantalizing tortes, local female chefs share their favorite T-Day confections. We’re so thankful they did.



Flour Power

 

From creamy cheesecakes to tantalizing tortes, local female chefs share their favorite T-Day confections. We’re so thankful they did.

 

By John Bruno Turiano • Photography by Phil Mansfield

 

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t secretly (or not-so-secretly) undo that top button or loosen the belt after Thanksgiving dinner? C’mon, you know you do. And with good reason: to make room for dessert.

While pumpkin, mince and coconut custard pies are perennial favorites (and, believe me, no one’s complaining), why not try something different this year? Since behind every well-fed family there’s a woman with a whisk, we scoured the area for the best female chefs, and asked them to whip up their most comforting after-turkey
confections. The results? Some of the season’s most delectable, delicious and downright decadent desserts.

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Fall Fruit Compote

Courtesy of Rebeccas

Greenwich, CT

—Serves 8—

 

We may dry its seeds or make a jack-o’-lantern, but most of  us never use the fleshy insides of the pumpkin. Not Rebecca Kirhoffer. The pumpkin flesh is an integral part of this
holiday dessert, a blending
of two popular favorites—pumpkin pie and cheesecake. It also makes for a great presentation—guests get a cute little pumpkin on their plate!

 

For the Baked Pumpkins:

8 medium-size baby pumpkins, tops cut off and seeds removed

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

 

For  Cheesecake Batter:

1 pound cream cheese

6 oz. light brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 cup pumpkin purée

 

Preheat oven to 325°F. With a mixer, blend cream cheese with brown sugar until soft, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl
to prevent lumps, until blended. Add the remaining
ingredients slowly and mix until just incorporated—do
not over-mix. Fill the baked pumpkins with the batter to about 1/2-inch from the top. Cover and bake for
25 minutes. Uncover and
bake an additional 10 minutes. The cheesecake should rise slightly. Place the pumpkins in the refrigerator until set.

 

For the Brittle:

2 oz. unsalted butter

5 Tbs. sugar

1/4 cup corn syrup

4 oz. chopped pistachios

Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325°F. Melt butter with the sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and stir. Bring just to a boil, then add the pistachio nuts and continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture is loose enough to pour. Spread brittle onto a parchment-lined 12-x 18-inch baking sheet. Bake until the brittle is dark brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with kosher salt and let cool. Break into 2-inch strips. Keep at room temperature until ready to use.

 

For Fruit Compote:

1 cup freshly squeezed

   orange juice

1/2 cup sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, cut

   length-wise in half

1/4 cup dried cherries,   
   roughly cut

1/4 cup dried apricots,
   roughly cut

1/4 cup dried figs

 

Bring orange juice, sugar, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean to a boil. Add the
cherries, apricots and figs. Simmer mixture until the fruit is tender and the liquid is syrupy.

 

To Serve:

Place each pumpkin cheesecake on a dinner plate. Spoon the fall fruit compote around each pumpkin. Place a stick of broken pistachio brittle in each on a 45-degree angle, and place the pumpkin lids on top.

Banana Chocolate Torte with a Whiskey

Crème Anglaise

Courtesy of Rebeccas

Greenwich, CT

—Serves 8—

 

While not strictly a seasonal dessert, Rebecca’s chocolate torte is nevertheless a delicious, crowd-pleasing treat. How did Rebecca Kirhoffer come up with the idea? “I had entered a contest sponsored by Jack Daniels and did well with the whiskey crème anglaise,” she says. “I thought it would be a perfect match with this killer banana bread—and it is.”

 

For Banana Walnut Bread:

10 oz. unsalted butter

1 lb. 2 oz. sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 lb. 5 oz. banana purée

1 Tbs. salt

1 lb. 2 oz. bread flour

2 tsp. baking soda

9 oz. toasted, chopped walnuts

 

    Preheat oven to 350°F. With electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar until mixture is  light in color, approximately 10 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. On slow speed, add vanilla and banana purée. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix until smooth. Bake in two 9- x 3-inch pans (sprayed with nonstick spray) for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick, quickly inserted, comes out clean.

 

For Torte Shell or Molds:

3 medium-size, ripe but

   firm bananas

 

Slice banana bread 1/4-inch thick and line bottom of an 8 3/4-inch torte pan (or six, 3 1/2-inch ring molds for individual servings). Slice two of the bananas and place on top of banana bread, covering entire surface.

 

For Bête Noir Ganache:

4 oz. sugar

2 oz. water

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate,
   finely chopped (preferably
   Valrhona 64%)

2 oz. unsalted butter

3 large eggs

 

Bring sugar and water to a boil and pour over chocolate in a mixing bowl. Slowly whisk mixture until smooth.  While mixture is still warm, add the butter in small pieces, while slowly mixing. After the butter is completely incorporated, add eggs one at a time.

Fill the torte pan or molds to the top. Place in a pre-heated oven for 12 minutes or until a crust forms on the top around the edges, but the center is still a little undercooked. Cool to room temperature before unmolding.

For Whiskey Crème

Anglaise:

1/4 cup whiskey

1 cup cream

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

 

In a small saucepan, bring whiskey to a boil and reduce until almost completely evaporated. Add the cream slowly and heat just to a simmer. Whisk egg yolks, vanilla and sugar together until pale. Pour half of the cream over the yolks while whisking vigorously. Slowly pour the tempered yolks back into the saucepan with the remaining cream. Heat the sauce (don’t boil) until it just starts to thicken. Pour into bowl over ice
to cool quickly. Serve cold over torte.

 

Apple and Sour

Cherry Crisp

Courtesy of

Purdys Homestead

North Salem, NY

—Serves 8—

 

Pastry Chef Maureen Steppe was working at the Hudson River Club in Manhattan and living in South Salem when she whipped together this creation at the request of her mother.

“I was picking up my daughter, Shaylyn, at my mom’s who had friends coming over at the time,” Steppe recalls.

“Wouldn’t a surprise dessert be nice for my friends?” Steppe remembers her mother asking.

“I want to go home,” Steppe replied. “Just throw something together.”

“So,” says Steppe,“I went through her cupboards.” The result is this relatively simple sour-and-sweet delight. “My mother had the rough-cut Irish oatmeal, but Quaker Oats works just as well.”

For Crisp:

12 Granny Smith apples

   (or other baking variety)

1 3/4 cups cranberry juice

1 1/2 cups dried sour cherries

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 Tbs. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

4 oz. melted butter

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup Quaker Oats

   (not instant)

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel, core and slice apples into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, pour cranberry juice over cherries and let sit. Pour sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and melted butter over apples and toss well until apples are evenly coated. Sprinkle flour and oatmeal over apples. Mix and toss well. Pour cherry mixture over apples. Mix well and pour into large casserole pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until apples are fork-tender.

 

For Streusel Topping:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted

   butter

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 Tbs. cinnamon

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp. salt

 

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place all ingredients in food processer, and pulse on high until mixture has a moist, grainy consistency. Place roasting rack on sheet tray covered with parchment paper. Use hands to rub streusel mixture through rack to produce large crumb-like mixture. Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. While baking, stir with
fork at 10- to 12-minute
intervals. Remove from oven and rake with a fork. Let cool. Place topping between two clean cloth napkins and break into smaller pieces with mallet. Serve with candied pecans, vanilla, cinnamon or caramel-swirl ice cream. A sprig of mint and a topping of fresh raspberry sauce and confectioner’s sugar  is also recommended.

Pecan Pie

Courtesy of

Purdys Homestead

North Salem, NY

—Makes one 9-inch pie—

 

Purdys’ head chef Charles Steppe is from Texas, so it should come as no surprise that pecan pie is his favorite dessert. “It’s a real southern dish,” says his wife and pastry chef Maureen. “We even do a candied pecan as part of our complimentary plate that comes with the check.” Her advice: Never skimp on the pecans for a pecan pie, no matter how much they cost. “You know a pecan pie is bad if you see, like, nine pecans,” she says. “Then it should be called ‘corn syrup pie with a few pecans.’”

 

3 Tbs. pastry flour

2 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups light corn syrup

1 cup whole eggs

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 tsp. salt

3 Tbs. melted butter

2 1/2 cups shelled

   pecan halves

1 ready-made 9-inch   
   pie crust

 

Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix together flour, sugar and corn syrup.  Whisk eggs, vanilla, salt and butter and add to flour mixture.  Place nuts in prepared pie shell and pour mixture over them.  Bake for 45 minutes, until shell is golden brown.  Pecan filling should be raised and should have a slight soufflé crack.

 

Italian Chestnut Torta

Courtesy of Zephs’

Peekskill, NY

—Serves 8—

 

More interesting than apple pie or pumpkin pie, the Italian chestnut torta is one of the seasonal desserts served at Zephs’. Head chef Vicky Zeph spotted the recipe in a 1987 issue of Food & Wine Magazine. “It had a nice ingredient list and reminded me of when I was young and my mother would roast chestnuts at the holidays.” Adds Sous Chef Claudia Levesque: “This dessert is rich, but not so much. You can have a piece and not feel terribly full—even at the end of a big meal!”

 

For Torta:

1 lb. roasted chestnuts

3/4 cup toasted pine nuts

4 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

8 Tbs. soft unsalted butter

1 tsp. vanilla

4 egg whites

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse chestnuts and pine nuts in processor until coarse. Beat egg yolks and sugar with whisk until light yellow. Add butter and vanilla to egg mixture, and then add processed chestnut mixture. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Fold egg whites into mixture. Pour batter into 8-inch spring-form pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove sides of pan and turn out onto flat plate. Remove parchment and cool.

 

For Chocolate Frosting:

6 oz. semisweet chocolate

3 Tbs. soft butter

 

Melt chocolate and butter together. When cool, top torta with frosting and serve.

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Courtesy of Zephs’

Peekskill, NY

—Serves 8—

 

People have been known to get a certain crazed look in their eye after eating this addictive treat, a traditional British dessert. It’s for those who like their sweets really sweet. “This is a true splurge dessert,” says Levesque. “People in Scotland and England love their sugar.” Adds Vicky Zeph: “You may want to reserve a room in the hospital for diabetic coma after eating it!”

 

For Pudding:

8 oz. dates

1 tsp. baking soda

2 cups boiling water

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine dates, baking soda and boiling water. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Fold in flour. Combine date mixture and flour mixture, and blend well. Pour into a 9-x 13-inch casserole dish. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until it’s springy in the center. Use chopstick to poke holes in the pudding.

 

For Toffee Sauce:

2 sticks unsalted butter

I lb.  brown sugar

2 cups cream

 

Combine butter, brown sugar and cream and boil. Pour half of the sauce over warm pudding. Serve the remainder on the side. Top with crème fraîche or sour cream.

 

 

Rebecca Kirhoffer

Rebeccas, Greenwich, CT

 

Rebecca Kirhoffer’s love of food started young. “While the rest of the kids on the block were eating spaghetti and meatballs, I was enjoying my mother’s dinners of oxtail stew, homemade egg noodles, boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin,” says Kirhoffer, the co-owner of her eponymous restaurant (265 Glenville Road, Greenwich, CT, 203-532-9270).

Kirhoffer’s mother learned to cook by helping her great-grandmother, a Hungarian immigrant, who made everything from scratch. “My great-great grandmother would make pastries and cookies as well as massive amounts of egg noodles,” Kirhoffer says. “She’d spread them out on cloths over the beds to dry. Mom’s nickname was ‘Cookie’ because she helped out in the kitchen so much.” Other dishes the family enjoyed were made using recipes Rebecca’s dad would snip out of The New York Times—and give to her mom to try.

Kirhoffer, who grew up in Stamford, CT,
and today lives in Greenwich, learned to cook by helping her mother in the kitchen. Nevertheless, she didn’t plan on a cooking career. But in order to put herself through Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, Kirhoffer worked some nights in restaurant kitchens. “I thought I might want to be a graphic designer, but my experiences at the restaurants changed my mind.” She eventually enrolled at the New York Restaurant School and graduated in 1988. Her first job was as breakfast chef at Manhattan’s 21 Club. She next worked as a private chef as well as headed the dining facilities at Smith Barney. She met her husband, Reza Khorshidi, on a blind date while working at Smith Barney. Together they opened Rebeccas six years ago.

Don’t try to get a Thanksgiving reservation at Rebeccas—the restaurant is closed on that holiday. “I made a pledge to myself to be home for the holidays,” explains Kirhoffer. “I started working at age 13 in food service, and was not around for many holidays. My parents didn’t like it so now I make sure I’m around for family and friends on major holidays.”

But don’t fret gastronomes; Rebeccas is open all other Thursdays of the year.

 

Maureen Steppe

Purdys Homestead

North Salem, NY

 

Maureen Steppe loves to bake. “When you bake, it’s all about science—chemistry, precise measurements,” says Steppe, co-owner, hostess, and pastry chef of the charming New American restaurant Purdys Homestead (100 Titicus Road, North Salem, 914-277-2301). “It’s tough at first, but once you get it down, you can do it in your sleep.”

Steppe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, credits famed chef Waldy Malouf, who today is head chef and part owner of Beacon Restaurant in midtown Manhattan, with really teaching her  about cooking, baking and timing. “I worked as pastry chef at La Crémaillère when Waldy was the head chef. He taught me the whole kitchen—everything from timing to presentation.”

The North Salem resident, who grew up in Katonah, credits her mom, too, with teaching her a thing or two about cooking. “My mother always cooked,” she says. “Thanksgivings, she would make a delicious Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing with apples, sausage, bacon and raisins, and her creamed pearl onions were also wonderful.”

Her favorite Thanksgiving memory? There are two actually: “Being overstuffed from the bounty of food, and the assortment of relatives we had over. Have you heard of the Island of the Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Our house was like the Island of the Misfit Relatives. We took in all the strays.”

 

Claudia Levesque

Sous Chef, Zephs’

Peekskill, NY

 

“I’ve always had big Thanksgiving dinners, full of lots of family members,” says Claudia Levesque, sous chef at Zephs’, an eclectic New American restaurant housed in a refurbished gristmill in Peekskill (638 Central Avenue; 914-736-2159). “I have so many cousins, aunts and uncles. My father grew up on a farm in Quebec, one of 18 children. There’s always someone to invite.”

Although she grew up in Cortlandt Manor, Levesque’s French-Canadian background meant that she enjoyed lots of savory meat pies and maple walnut pies. “My mother was a stay-at-home mom and cooked all the time,” she says. While Levesque frequently helped
her mother cook, the first dish she remembers making on her own was chicken cordon bleu—at age 11 or 12.

Levesque studied culinary arts at Newbury College in Boston and worked at Le Marquis in Boston. “When you work in food service, you just have to get used to weird hours and not having weekends off,” she says. “But it’s not like I’m going around wishing I had a typical nine-to-five job.” The Cortlandt resident has been cooking for five years with Zephs’ co-owners, brother and sister Michael and Vicky Zeph.

“Cooking is a natural instinct for me,” says Levesque. “I can’t think of doing anything else for a living that I’d enjoy as much.”