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THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on,
the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Holidays & Occasions

THANKSGIVING: Healthier Ingredients That Are Easy Switches

Chef Gerard Viverito is a culinary instructor and operator of Saveur Fine Catering, a company whose beliefs and center on local, sustainable and organic foods. He has a passion to teach others how to cook more healthfully.

Here’s what he shared with us regarding preparation of a healthier Thanksgiving meal.

1. Buy a turkey that is 100% bird.

Order an organic pasture-raised bird from a butcher or a local farmer. Most store-bought frozen turkeys have been injected with a solution made from added sugar, salt and artificial flavorings, that increases their weight by up to 12%. Look closely: These birds must be labeled as “basted,” “marinated” or “injected.” Additives are not allowed in fresh turkeys.

2. Ditch the boxed stuffing.

That familiar stuffing in the red box contains partially hydrogenated oil, the primary source of trans fats. Nix all the prepackaged stuffings—many contain trans fats or other unhealthy ingredients—and pick up some day-old bread. Have the kids help by tearing the bread into pieces the night before. Create a family tradition with homemade stuffing.


Thanksgiving Dinner

A great meal without trans fats and additives. Photo courtesy

Pass up the canned crescent rolls.

Refrigerated dough products including crescent rolls often contain partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats), as well as emulsifiers such as monoglycerides and diglycerides which may also contain trans fats. Easy drop biscuits take just 15 minutes to make and require just a handful of ingredients.

Another thought: With all the food on the Thanksgiving table and rich desserts to follow, do you really need bread?



Make your own pie crusts. Store-bought
crusts often contain trans fats. Photo
courtesy Williams-Sonoma.


Rethink the mashed potatoes.

Don’t take the easy way out and use instant potato flakes. They may also contain trans fats.

Chef Gerard suggests a move beyond mashed potatoes to mashed root vegetables. If your crowd is sophisticated or health conscious, they may actually prefer it.

Cook a medley of potatoes, parsnips and celery root, flavored with garlic and nutmeg, and mash away.

Avoid the gravy packets

Many powdered gravy mixes contain partially hydrogenated oils as well as monosodium glutamate, disodium inosinate and artificial colors. Prepare your own gravy by whisking a few tablespoons of flour or cornstarch into the turkey drippings.


Don’t Buy Prepared Crusts

Frozen pie crusts are one of the worst trans fat offenders. If cake is a family favorite, beware of trans fat-rich canned frosting.

Thanks, Chef Gerard!



RECIPE: Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Bread pudding is a Southern classic that can be tweaked to become a fall special with the addition of pumpkin purée.

This recipe, from Heidi of FoodieCrush, not only adds the pumpkin, but tops the bread pudding with a bourbon pecan sauce.

Says Heidi: “With bourbon pecan and caramelized pecans topping a bread pudding made from cinnamon-raisin bread, this dessert is destined to become a classic.”

Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 60 minutes.

See the history of bread pudding below.


Ingredients For 8-10 servings

For The Bread Pudding

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1-pound loaf cinnamon-raisin bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    For The Bourbon Pecan Sauce

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup bourbon or other whiskey

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with 1 tablespoon butter.

    2. WHISK together the eggs, heavy cream, pumpkin purée, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice in large bowl, stirring until smooth.




    TOP PHOTO: Will Pumpkin Bread Pudding become a new Thanksgiving classic? Photo courtesy Foodie Crush | Go Bold With Butter. BOTTOM PHOTO: Pastry chefs at top restaurants make pumpkin bread pudding, too. This upscale treatment, with crème fraiche ice cream and rum-spiced cherries, is from Chef Toni Roberts. Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy Star Chefs.

    3. ADD the bread cubes and let stand 5 minutes. Pour into the baking pan; bake 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the center is set. (The bread pudding will puff as it bakes and will deflate once it’s cooled from the oven.)

    4. MAKE the bourbon pecan sauce: Add the cream, egg yolks and sugar to 2-quart saucepan and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and let the mixture stand, stirring often as it cools. Meanwhile…

    5. MELT the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the pecans. Cook 4-5 minutes or until the butter browns and exudes a nutty aroma. Stir the browned butter and the pecans into the cream mixture. Stir in the whiskey.

    6. SERVE the bread pudding warm, drizzled with the bourbon pecan sauce. The sauce may be made a day in advance and refrigerated.


    Panettone Bread Pudding

    Bread pudding made with panforte, the
    classic Christmas bread. Photo courtesy
    Bauli. Here’s the recipe.



    Bread pudding, a dish created to use stale bread (as were French toast and fondue among others), has humble roots. But it has evolved into an American comfort food that you can find at diners and upscale eateries alike, made simply or elaborately.

    Food historians trace the history of bread pudding to the early 11th and 12th centuries, as frugal cooks looked for ways to use stale, leftover bread instead of letting it go to waste. In 13th century England, bread pudding was known as “poor man’s pudding,” as it was a popular dish with the lower classes.

    The dish consists of cubes of bread and any added ingredients (raisins, chocolate chips citrus zest and so on), covered with custard sauce and cooked. It can be made in the oven, stove top, a crock pot, microwave or grill.

    There’s lots of opportunity for creativity, from the type of bread to the inclusions. Beyond bread, you can use anything that’s left over: brioche, buns and rolls, coffee cake, croissants, donuts, Danish and muffins.

    We often buy a challah, just to have day-old bread for bread pudding. We also love a cinnamon-raisin loaf, as used in this recipe.

    And don’t forget the booze: Grand Marnier or other liqueur, rum or whiskey.



    RECIPE: Gingersnap Biscotti

    A gift of homemade biscotti for your Thanksgiving host is especially thoughtful. Biscotti last for several weeks in an airtight tin, so the host family has a treat to look forward to after all the leftovers have been consumed.

    Annalise of Completely Delicious created these White Chocolate Gingersnap Biscotti after her grandmother’s gingersnap recipe.

    “These gingersnap biscotti have all the spice and molasses flavor of my grandmother’s gingersnaps,” says Annalise, but with the extra snap and crunch of biscotti. And a drizzle of white chocolate is the final finishing touch.”

    Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 40 minutes. Thanks to, a treasure trove of delicious holiday recipes, for giving us the heads up on this one.


    Ingredients For 2 Dozen Biscotti

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Granulated sugar, for sprinkling
  • 5 ounces high quality* white chocolate, chopped


    Gingersnap biscotti for the holidays. Photo courtesy Completely Delicious | Go Bold With Butter.

    *Look for Lindt or Green & Black’s white chocolate bars, Guittard white chocolate or chocolate chips. We found Valhrona white chocolate pistoles in clear containers at Whole Foods Market.


    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

    2. USE a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or a hand-held mixer with a large bowl. Beat the butter and brown sugar on high speed until light in color and creamy. Mix in the egg, followed by the molasses.

    3. STIR together in large bowl the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture all at once and mix on low until incorporated.

    4. DIVIDE the dough in half and shape each piece into a log about 4 inches wide. Space the logs evenly on the sheet pan and flatten each log to about 2 inches high. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.

    5. BAKE until the edges are golden and the surface is cracked, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes.

    6. SLICE the logs with a serrated knife into 1-inch thick slices. Place the slices cut side-up on pan lined with parchment paper and bake an additional 12-14 minutes until edges are brown. Let cool completely.

    7. MELT the chocolate in small heat-proof bowl in the microwave at 60 percent power for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. If not completely melted, continue to microwave the chocolate in 10 second intervals, stirring in-between intervals. Be careful not to scorch the chocolate.

    8. DRIZZLE the melted chocolate over the cooled cookies. Let them sit for 15 minutes before serving or storing. Store biscotti in airtight container at room temperature.


    White Chocolate Chips

    Callebaut White Chocolate Chunks

    TOP PHOTO: Look for Guittard white
    chocolate chips in your supermarket. Photo
    courtesy Lake Champlain Chocolate. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: You can buy chunks of Callebaut
    white chocolate at



    Created as a convenient non-perishable food for travelers and a staple of the diet of the Roman Legions, today’s biscotti are a classic dessert in Tuscany, accompanied by an amber-hued glass of vin santo*, a dessert wine. Americans enjoy them with a cappuccino or other coffee drink.

    Originally flavored with almonds (amaretti), then with anisette, biscotti are now made in dozens of flavors. Here’s Mario Batali’s favorite recipe for the classic amaretto and anisette biscotti.

    The word biscotto derives from “bis,” Latin for twice, and “coctum” or baked (which became “cotto,” or cooked, in Italian).

    In Roman times, unleavened, finger-shaped wafers were baked first to cook them, then a second time to completely dry them out, making them durable for travel and nourishment on long journeys. Pliny boasted that they would be edible for centuries.

    The record does not indicate that biscotti survived the sack of the Roman Empire. But they re-emerged in Tuscany during the Renaissance, credited to a Tuscan baker who served them with vin santo. Their dry, crunchy texture was deemed to be the perfect medium to soak up the wine.

    Centuries later, many still agree that dipping biscotti into vin santo is a perfect way to end a meal, or to while away an hour at a café. Biscotti and coffee are also a match made in Heaven.

    Italians call biscotti cantucci, and use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie—round, square and otherwise (as the British use the word “biscuit”). In North America, we use “biscotti” as the ancient Romans did, to describe a long, dry, hard, twice-baked cookie (in other words, cantucci).

    Here’s a longer history of biscotti.

    †Vin santo means “holy wine” in Italian, and was traditionally made in Tuscany. Most scholars agree that these wines were originally used for Holy Communion.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Harvest Topping, A Fall Garnish

    What’s Harvest Topping, you ask?

    As created by Country Crock, it’s a universal topping that can garnish anything from a baked Brie to a sundae to a crumble.

    Not to mention oatmeal, French toast, pancakes, waffles and yogurt. It’s also a salad topping. And we even mixed it into rice!

    Country Crock recommends it with mascarpone cheese on sliced multigrain baguette (toast the slices), garnished with Harvest Topping over top for a delicious snack. It works with cream cheese and ricotta, too.

    Sweet and spicy, it can be your go-to garnish for the rest of the season. The allspice is a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous seasonal cinnamon.

    Harvest Topping is easy to make, and it will keep in an airtight container for a month or more. You can turn it into a house gift with a mason jar and a ribbon.

    Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.


    Ingredients For 2 Cups

  • 1 medium apple, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons Country Crock Spread, unsalted butter or oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

    crop Country Crock_Harvest Topping_dailymeal-230

    One garnish has many uses, from a Brie appetizer to dessert. Photo courtesy Country Crock.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°.

    2. COMBINE all ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing well. Arrange in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are golden brown.

    3. USE immediately, or let cool before storing in an airtight container.
    Find more holiday recipes at



    TIP OF THE DAY: Thanksgiving Table Decorations

    Thanksgiving Table Decorations

    Use grocery store items to decorate your Thanksgiving table. Photo courtesy Foragers Market | Brooklyn.


    Some people like a flower centerpiece for their table. Others take out the silver candelabra.

    We’ve done both, but realized that they can interfere with sight lines across the table. They’re also very 20th (and 19th) century.

    So in recent years we’ve tried:

  • A glass vase or clear salad bowl filled with pomegranates, lady apples, clementines, fresh green leaves and metallic-sprayed pine cones.
  • A short glass vase layered with different whole nuts, with florists’ moss between the layers.
  • A stack of three flat winter squash—like flatter pumpkins— in different colors (look in farmers markets for the Bonbon Buttercup, Flat Boer Pumpkin, some Hubbard and Kabocha, and other heirloom varieties).

  • Flat winter squash covered with silver and gold metallic paints.
  • A three-pound chocolate turkey, which was hammered into pieces at the end, and the pieces sent home with guests as party favors.
  • Indian corn and autumn leaves, which lasts a long time as household decor.
    While the first idea is our favorite, our guests deserve variety from year to year.

    So this year, we’re adapting an idea from Foragers Market, to scatter the table with miniature pumpkins, decorative gourds and rosemary sprigs.

    After dinner, the gourds go into a glass bowl or basket to decorate the foyer; the rosemary sprigs go into the freezer to use again on the Christmas table or to garnish cocktails, mineral water or soft drinks; or in recipes.

    You can use the same concept for Halloween.

    Need more ideas?

    Here are 45 Thanksgiving centerpieces from HGTV.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Fiori di Sicilia, Fior Di Sicilia

    Fior di Sicilia, an Italian essence that translates to “flower of Sicily,” was used by our friend Ruth’s mother to flavor almost everything she baked. Biscotti, brioche and sweet breads, cookies, cheesecake, angel/pound/sponge cake, pie, macarons, meringues, yellow and white cakes got the fior di sicilia treatment, especially during the holidays.

    Ruth’s mom no doubt inherited the tradition from her mother and grandmother, who were born in the old country. Italians use it to add flavor and aroma to panettone, pandoro and ricotta cookies.

    The essence is a combination of floral, citrus and vanilla extracts, with a lovely floral aroma. Some Americans might identify the scent and taste as an elegant take on “Creamsicle.” Most will find it beguilingly mysterious, and will ask you what the taste is. (Note that essences from different manufacturers may vary. One friend notes flavors of lemon, lime and strawberry in her brand.)
    Is It Fiori Or Fior Di Sicilia?

    The terms are used interchangeably. We see bottles with both the singular, fior di sicilia, and the plural, fiori.


    Fiori Di Sicilia, Fior Di Sicilia

    Fiori di Sicilia adds floral and citrus “mystery” to baked goods. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.

    How To Use Fiori Di Sicilia

    We like to use it to add something special to holiday baking. Add a half teaspoon of fiori di sicilia to a basic cookie or cake recipe. If that isn’t enough for you, use more next time. If the half teaspoon seems meager, it’s because the essence is potent, and should be used with light touch.

    Other popular holiday uses:

  • Biscotti
  • Butter cookies and shortbread
  • Cream cheese and ricotta fillings
  • Hot tea, sparkling water
  • Pound cake and layer cake
  • Ricotta cookies
    We’ve been known to add it to a cup of warm milk (hot or warm milk is a better-for-you comfort food for us). You can add your sweetener of choice to create a cup of “hot fiori di sicilia.”

    In the summer, add it to iced tea and fruit soup.

    You can try it in a one-ounce size ($9.95) from King Arthur Flour; there’s also a 4-ounce size ($19.95). The smaller size is a nice stocking stuffer for people who bake.


    Christmas Butter Cookies

    Christmas butter cookies with fiori di sicilia. Here’s the recipe, from King Arthur Flour.



    Thanks to King Arthur for developing these delicious recipes:

  • Holiday Butter Cookies Recipe
  • Lemon Brioche Recipe
  • French Toast Recipe
  • Cranberry Nut Fruitcake Recipe
  • Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake Recipe
  • Meringues Recipe
  • Pandoro Recipe
  • Panettone Muffins Recipe
  • Panettone Recipe
  • Shimmer Cookies Recipe
  • Orange Shortbread Cookies Recipe
  • Springerle Cookies Recipe
  • Spritz Cookies Recipe

    There are 60 more fiori di Sicilia recipes at Enjoy the voyage of discovery.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Mulling Spice Sachets

    Mulling Spice Sachets


    TOP PHOTO: Individual sachets are best if only one or two people want a cup. Larger sachets are used to make a 6- or 8-cup pot. Photo courtesy McCormick. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    Empty tea bag “sachets,” used to fill with loose tea, are easier to make although less festive than muslin or netting. You can get them at specialty tea shops or online. Photo courtesy NiceShop. Put leftover mulled beverages in the fridge to enjoy chilled.


    In our last article, we suggested a cider party with a pumpkin layer cake. Here’s a related tip:

    Make mulling spice sachets for mulled cider or wine. They layer the flavors found in spiced tea on top of the base beverage, which is typically warmed cider or wine.

    Make them for family, guests and gifting. Individual sachets are better for gifting; large sachets are better for a pot of cider.

    For gifting and party favors, you can package the sachets in a holiday tin or a Mason jar with a red ribbon. Be sure to add the mulling instructions (below) on the gift tag or insert them into the package.

    To give two individual sachets as small party favors, find a small, colored cellophane bag, a clear or vellum envelope or other gift bag. Include the instructions.

    Prep time is 5 minutes to make an individual sachet, 15 minutes to steep the cider or wine. If you have nimble fingers and have organized your ingredients, you can make three individual sachets or two large ones in 5 minutes.

    Thanks to McCormick for the recipe.


    Ingredients For 1 Bag/2 Servings

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • Optional: 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 cups apple cider, hard cider or wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Cheesecloth*, cut into 4″ squares
  • Kitchen string
    *The easiest option is to purchase drawstring filter bags, used for loose tea (photo at left). Another option: If you can find fine, flexible netting, it makes a prettier sachet but you need to wash it first, to soften it and eliminate any dust it’s picked up along the way.


    1. PLACE the spices in the center of a piece of cheesecloth. Tie tightly with long piece of string. Store in an airtight container. That’s it, until you’re ready to mull your beverage. Then…

    2. PLACE the spice sachet in small saucepan. Add the apple cider or wine. Simmer over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until fragrant.

    3. DISCARD the spice sachet. Stir in the vanilla. Serve warm or hot.

    Ingredients For A Party-Size Mulling Spice Sachet

    1. INCREASE the cinnamon sticks to 4, whole cloves to 2 teaspoons, whole allspice to 1 teaspoon and vanilla to 2 teaspoons.

    2. WRAP in cheesecloth and warm in a pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of apple cider or wine. You can also use apple juice. The difference is that apple cider is a fresh-squeezed product that needs to be refrigerated; apple juice is processed and homogenized to be shelf stable (no refrigeration needed until after the package has been opened).



    RECIPE: Pumpkin Layer Cake & Easy Variations

    This recipe, from blogger Jaclyn at Cooking Classy, reminded us to substitute pumpkin for carrot cake during “pumpkin season.” When baking, we tend to focus too much on family favorites and not enough on new seasonal recipes.

    For this recipe, Jaclyn takes a carrot cake approach to pumpkin cake, adding a seasonal cinnamon accent to carrot cake’s traditional cream cheese frosting. She adds a third cake layer to make the cake more impressive.

    If you love raisins and nuts in a carrot cake, you can add them here, too, either in the batter or in or atop the filling between the layers (for the filling, plan for 1/2 cup of each). You can also add pieces of crystallized ginger in the frosting for a spicy crunch.

    An entertaining idea: Make the cake for a cider party, serving fresh cider and mulled cider with brandy and rum.

    Prep time is 40 minutes, Cook Time: 35 minutes, Total Time: 3 hours

    Find more delicious recipes at


    Ingredients For 16 Servings

  • 2-3/4 cups (390g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1-1/4 cups (270g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (172g) packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil, divided
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 cup (424g/15 oz) canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/2 cup milk

    Carrot Cake With Chopped Pecans

    TOP PHOTO: Serve pumpkin pie at a cider party, with regular and mulled cider. Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO: You can garnish the sides of the cake with chopped pecans or walnuts, as shown in this carrot cake from

    For The Frosting

  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (Jaclyn used 6 tablespoons salted and 6 tablespoons unsalted butter)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4-1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
  • Optional inclusions: chopped pecans or walnut, crystallized ginger, raisins or dried cranberries or cherries
    Optional Garnishes

  • Chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Candy/marzipan pumpkins, acorns or leaves; pomegranate arils

    Pumpkin Layer Cake


    TOP PHOTO: This pumpkin layer cake adds
    raspberries for a festive effect. You can
    instead add dried cherries, cranberries or
    raisins, pomegranate arils, chopped
    crystallized ginger, or a combination.
    BOTTOM PHOTO: Food fun in the form of a
    deconstructed layer cake, with streusel
    crumble topped with ice cream, and
    decorated with meringue cookies and a
    ribbon of pumpkin pie filling (you can
    substitute caramel sauce). Photo courtesy
    Caviar Russe | NYC.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and set the pans aside.

    2. WHISK together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger in a mixing bowl. Whisking for 20 seconds and set aside.

    3. USE the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and whip together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, until pale and fluffy. Occasionally scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, throughout the mixing process. Mix in the remaining 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Blend in the eggs one at a time, adding the vanilla with the last egg.

    4. WHISK together the pumpkin and milk in a bowl or large liquid measuring cup. Working in three separate batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, add 1/3 of the flour mixture alternating with half of the pumpkin mixture and mixing just until combined after each addition.

    5. DIVIDE the batter among the three prepared cake pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool the layers in the pans for 15 minutes, then run a knife around edge to loosen. Invert the layers onto wire racks to cool completely.

    6. PREPARE the frosting while the cake cools. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together the cream cheese and butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the cinnamon, vanilla and powdered sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Then increase the speed to medium and whip until pale and fluffy.

    7. FILL the cake layers with frosting and then frost the top and sides. If you prefer the look of the three-tiered cake with raspberries, at the top of this section, you can save a bit of time with an unfrosted top and sides. If the frosting is runny, cover and refrigerate just until it no longer is runny before spreading on cake.

    8. STORE the cake in an airtight container such as a cake carrier, in the refrigerator; chill for 20 minutes or as long as you want to store the cake. Let it rest at room temperature to eliminate the chill before serving. Chilling the cake firms the frosting and allows for cleaner slices.




    TIP OF THE DAY: “Pumpkin Custard” & The First Thanksgiving

    We’ll soon celebrate Thanksgiving, a remembrance of a harvest feast that took place 394 years ago. Pumpkin may have been served at the Pilgrims’ first harvest feast, but it wasn’t pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie we know and love first appears in cookbooks in the early 19th century.

    After a horrific first winter that saw their community reduced by half, the settlers had yet to construct ovens for baking. Even if there had been butter and shortening to spare, pie crusts wouldn’t have cooked evenly over an open fire.

    But there may have been a pumpkin custard, which could be cooked in its own vessel—the pumpkin shell. Our tip today is: See if you can fit it into your Thanksgiving menu; and if not, enjoy it in advance of the big day.

    Before we go on to the recipe, here are some tidbits from

    The website has a terrific account on the Pilgrims and the first “Thanksgiving” (it wasn’t called that until much later). It expands on snippets taught in school and follows the dual stories of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives who helped them. The re-enactment videos and photography bring the story to life in a fresh new way.

    If some family and guests have an hour to kill on Thanksgiving Day, send everyone to the site. It will make the feast so much more meaningful.


    The Pilgrims, 102 adults and children, set sail for Virginia on September 6, 1620. The Mayflower was thrown off course by storms, and landed at Cape Cod 56 days later, on November 11th. The party made their way to the settlement they called Plimouth as winter set in, arriving on Christmas Day. Already weakened by their travel voyage, half of the passengers failed to survive the first few months of a bitter winter.




    TOP PHOTO: Pumpkin custard baked in a pumpkin. Photo courtesy Souffle Bombay. BOTTOM PHOTO: A sugar pumpkin, the best size and shape for this recipe. Photo courtesy Art Of The Home.


    During those winter months, it was very difficult to find food and build shelter. Fortunately, the local native people, called Wampanoag, shared their knowledge and helped the colonists survive.

    Ten months after they arrived the settlers had constructed seven cottages, a common meeting house and three storehouses for the food from their first harvest. The Wampanoag Squanto taught the settlers how to plant native crops like corn and squash.

    Our national holiday commemorates the feast held in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It was considered a harvest celebration, and was not called Thanksgiving. The “thanksgiving” concept was applied in the 19th century by scholars studying that period; and the Thanksgiving holiday, setting the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise,” was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

    What did they eat? There’s only one surviving written account of the feast, which mentions neither turkey nor pumpkin, although we know both were plentiful locally. There were no cranberries† and no potatoes, mashed or sweet. Here’s what we do know:

  • Waterfowl were plentiful in the Massachusetts Bay area. Men could go out and shoot as much duck and geese as they liked. The women would pluck them and roast them over the fireplaces in their cottages.
  • Children would grind corn into cornmeal which was then made into porridge called samp (think oatmeal made from corn).
  • For their first harvest feast, the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, sent 5 warriors to hunt five deer as a gift to the colonists. Venison was a favorite Wampanoag food.
  • The duck and venison were likely accompanied by cabbage, corn, onions, squash (including pumpkin) and seafood. Mussels clung to the rocks along the shore—easy pickings.
  • The 1621 feast lasted about a week, spanning several meals and games for both children and adults. Sometimes the Wampanoag and Pilgrims dined together, sometimes apart.
    *The Native Americans probably couldn’t sweeten them enough to be tasty. Instead, they used cranberries for red dye.




    TOP PHOTO: A traditional pumpkin pie, made
    in a pie plate with a crust, didn’t appear until
    the early 19th century. TOP PHOTO: A
    traditional pumpkin pie decorated with small cookies in seasonal shapes. The cookie cutters are available at William-Sonoma.
    Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: You can also bake the custard in small individual pumpkins. Photo courtesy



    According to some accounts, the English settlers hollowed out pumpkins and filled the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard. They baked the filled pumpkin in the hot ashes of the fireplace. You, fortunately, have an oven.

    This recipe creates an impressive dessert that happens to be gluten free. You can also make a savory custard version to serve as a side. Here’s an assortment of savory custard recipes.

    Note that this isn’t “pumpkin custard” but a conventional custard baked inside a pumpkin. You can make a pumpkin custard by adding pumpkin purée to the custard recipe. Here’s one pumpkin custard recipe; there are many others online.
    Ingredients For 4-5 Servings

  • 1 small pumpkin*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
    *The pumpkin should be 4-5 inches in height and 18 inches in diameter. Sugar pumpkins are ideal, but if you can’t find a small pumpkin, look for other winter squash in this size range (Hubbard, for example).

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Prepare the pumpkin as if preparing a jack-o-lantern: Cut off the top leaving the stem intact and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Scoop out enough pulp (pumpkin flesh) for the custard, while leaving a border of pulp to serve along with the finished custard. Place the large bottom portion on a baking sheet. Reserve the top (stem end) for later.

    2. COMBINE the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Add the heavy cream, cornstarch and salt and whisk until fully combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pumpkin, leaving a 3/4-inch space between the filling and the top of the pumpkin. Bake for 15 minutes; then cover the top of the pumpkin loosely with foil and bake another 15 minutes.

    3. LOWER the oven temperature to 375°F, place the top of the pumpkin on the tray and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out almost clean.

    4. TURN off the oven, allow the pumpkin to cool for an hour, then place it a refrigerator or in your cold garage, loosely covered with plastic wrap or foil. Allow the custard to set 6 hours or overnight. This is a good recipe to assign to a guest, since if you’re making the rest of the dinner, you (a) have your hands full and (b) your fridge is packed.

    5. TO SERVE: Scoop the custard into dessert bowls, scraping the sides to include some of the baked pumpkin.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    We love salted caramels: plain sea salt, fleur de sel, gray sea salt, smoked sea salt (see the different types of sea salts).

    They aren’t inexpensive: A box of seven smallish squares, chocolate coated and garnished with salt, is $14.00 at Fran’s.

    So how about a project for a lazy Sunday: homemade salted caramels? It can also solve holiday gift-giving needs.

    This recipe, which adds the seasonal touch of apple cider, was developed by P.J. Hamel for King Arthur Flour. Here are additional photos and tips.

    This recipe is made in the classic French style: Salted butter is used and more salt can be added to the caramel, instead of the current vogue for sweet butter with a salt garnishing on top. We prefer the latter, so if you prefer, use unsalted butter in the recipe and garnish the top with sea salt or other fine salt.

    The boiled cider that flavors the caramels is simply reduced apple cider or juice. You can make it (instructions are in the recipe that follows) or buy it (King Arthur Flour sells it). If you’re making your own, you can make it up to three months in advance.

    Use the extra boiled cider to add flavor to:

  • Baking: Add to baked recipes that use apples: cakes, crisps, crumbles, pies, turnovers. Replace the honey or molasses in recipes for apple cake, gingerbread, spice muffins and similar recipes.
  • Breakfast: Drizzle over French toast, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles; stir into plain yogurt.
  • Condiment: Add a teaspoon to vinaigrette or barbecue sauce; drizzle over baked apples, crêpes, grilled fruit, ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt; spread on toast or cornbread; give better flavor to store-bought applesauce.

    Apple Cider Caramels

    Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    Try your hand at making caramels. Photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.

  • Dinner: Glaze grilled vegetables or poultry (brush it on) or add a bit to marinades.

    Ingredients For 64 Caramels

  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream or whipping cream
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/2 cup boiled cider*, purchased or made (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice†
    For The Boiled Cider

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 1 hour. The yield is 1-1/2 cups.

  • 8 cups fresh apple cider or apple juice
    See the difference between cider vs. apple juice, below.
    *You can buy ready-made boiled cider from King Arthur Flour and other baking supply retailers.

    †Substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice.



    Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

    TOP PHOTO: Homemade boiled apple cider. Photo courtesy Midwest Living. Here’s their
    full recipe. BOTTOM RECIPE: Feeling
    ambitious? Dip your caramels in melted
    chocolate. Photo courtesy Alma Chocolate.



    1. MAKE the boiled cider. BRING the cider to boiling in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, uncovered, for 1-3/4 hours. Stir occasionally, until the cider has reduced to 1-1/2 cups. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

    2. TRANSFER the boiled cider to a screw-top jar with a mouth at least wide enough to insert a spoon. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 months. The boiled cider will thicken in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature to use in this recipe.

    3. LIGHTLY GREASE an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides.

    4. COMBINE the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter and boiled cider in a heavy-bottom, deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to medium-high heat and cook until the mixture reaches 248°F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the salt and spice.

    5. POUR the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Let it stand for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature before cutting into 1″ squares.

    6. WRAP the caramels: Use 6″ squares of parchment paper. (We had 5-inch squares. The difference is shorter twisted ends.) Place one caramel in the center of each square; wrap the opposite edges of the paper around the caramel and twist the exposed edges to close. If you don’t have parchment paper you can use wax paper, but you need to be careful when twisting the edges because it tears more easily.

    Here’s a very helpful video on how to wrap caramels.



    Since Prohibition, which began in the U.S. in 1920, “cider” has referred to the unfermented, unpasteurized apple juice. “Hard cider” is used to indicate the alcoholic beverage. In the U.K. it is the opposite, with “cider” indicating the alcoholic drink for which special cider apples are used.

  • Hard cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples. The alcohol content varies from a low 1.2% ABV* to 8.5% or higher—some imported ciders can be up to 12% ABV, an average level for table wines. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.
  • Fresh apple cider is raw apple juice, typically unfiltered. Thus, it is cloudy from the remnants of apple pulp. It is also typically more flavorful than apple juice—although of course, the particular blend of apples used in either has a big impact on the taste. It needs to be refrigerated.
  • Apple juice has been filtered to remove pulp solids, then pasteurized for longer shelf life. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.


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