Simple desserts for the holidays - grape tarts and parfaits

Grape tarts use store-bought puff pastry dough and take minutes to assemble.
Grape tarts use store-bought puff pastry dough and take minutes to assemble. PHOTO: TOM MCCORKLE FOR THE WASHINGTON POST
A batch of Bavarian cream can be used to build a variety of parfaits.
A batch of Bavarian cream can be used to build a variety of parfaits. PHOTO: TIM MCCORKLE FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINTON (WASHINGTON POST) - If you are looking for something a little different to serve for dessert at Thanksgiving, here are two ways to go that offer a lot of adaptability. The first involves only a little effort and a little oven time. The second is pudding-like, so there are a few steps involved. But it is luscious and can even be frozen, which means it is a dessert gift to you, the cook, throughout the holidays.

Grape tarts are no more than store-bought puff pastry, fresh fruit and a good honey, with an egg wash and sprinkle of sugar. You can cut individual squares or six-inch (15cm) rounds of the slightly rolled-out dough; by scoring a half-inch (1.3cm) margin around the edge, you create a raised edge that looks nice and helps hold in the grapes.

We used Moondrops, the trade name for an elongated, seedless grape with a mild flavour and the rich hue of the Concord variety. You could use a mix of green and red seedless, or a mix of fresh cranberries and bite-size chunks of apple or pear. Get fancy with their arrangement or pile them atop the honey-brushed dough.

You can even use a small cookie cutter on the dough scraps and bake those shapes along with the tarts on the baking sheet, for decorating.

Bavarian cream sounds fancy, but it is just an egg-based, vanilla-flecked pudding enriched with whipped cream. It has a lovely, smooth texture, and its flavor complements almost anything. The recipe comes from pastry chef Alex Levin, who loves to pipe the cream in layers that alternate with rice pudding, crunchy bits and various fruits.

One of the best combinations involves a quick puree of caramelised bananas, which is not something you immediately think of as a Thanksgiving flavour. But boy, does it taste great next to a simple compote of cranberries warmed in simple syrup; the berries remain whole and offer a tart counterbalance to the sweetness of the puree.

The Bavarian cream is rich and can be served simply on its own, or topped with an easy blend of canned pure pumpkin and store-bought dulce de leche. Or top it with crushed cookies, candied nuts, jammy cherries - something for everyone at your holiday table. The cream can hold in the refrigerator for several days; you re-whip it gently just before serving; you can freeze it, too, and just defrost it overnight in the refrigerator.


Grape Tarts

6 to 8 servings. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients
One 400g (14-oz) pack Dufour (or other brand) frozen puff pastry, defrosted in the refrigerator
¼ cup honey
About 200g seedless grapes, each cut in half
1 large egg
1 Tbs water
Demerera sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 205 deg C. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Unfold the puff pastry; roll it between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to smooth it out and reduce the thickness. Cut and trim to the desired shape (see the headnote). Use a sharp knife to score a 1.3cm (½-inch) margin around the puff pastry dough; this will create a raised edge once it's baked.

3. Use some of the honey to brush the inside floor of the tart, then arrange the cut grapes as you wish. Drizzle the remaining honey over them.

4. Stir together the egg and water in a small bowl; use the mixture to brush the edge/rim of the tarts. Sprinkle with the sugar, if using. Bake (middle rack) for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

5. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring the tarts from the paper to a cutting board. Serve warm, or at room temperature.


Bavarian Cream Parfaits

8 to 12 servings

The best part about this dessert is how far in advance you can make it: The cooled Bavarian cream needs to be refrigerated overnight before it is whipped. The whipped Bavarian cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for up to 1 week. Defrost the latter overnight in the refrigerator; you will need to re-whip the cream up to a few hours before serving. The caramelised banana puree and the cranberry compote can each be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Ingredients for the Bavarian cream:
¼ cup cool water
2 packets powdered Gelatine (5 tsp in total)
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
Scrapings of 1 vanilla bean, plus the scraped bean itself
Pinch kosher salt
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten, at room temperature
4 cups lightly whipped cream (from 2 cups chilled heavy cream)

Ingredients the caramelised banana puree (optional):
Scant ½ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Flesh of 2 large, very ripe bananas, cut into small pieces

For the cranberry compote (optional):
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries

Method
1. Steps for the Bavarian cream: Pour the water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the surface; let it set up for 5 minutes or so.

2. Combine the milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla bean and its scrapings and the salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes until frothy, but do not let the mixture come to a boil. Immediately pour into the beaten egg yolks, whisking constantly to incorporate, then whisk in the set-up gelatin, until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a separate bowl.

3. The mixture needs to be cooled to 20 deg C, so if you can, seat the bowlful inside a much larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water; or you can transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and check it, stirring occasionally, until the proper temperature is reached.

4. Combine the whipped cream and the cooled base mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds or until creamy smooth, with a soft ribbon pattern that forms on the surface. The yield is about 8 cups. At this point, the Bavarian cream can be used right away or covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen in a zip-top bag for up to 1 week.

  • Steps for the optional caramelised banana puree: Heat the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook, without stirring but constantly watching, for a few minutes until the sugar turns into a deep-amber caramel. Carefully add the heavy cream, salt and banana pieces; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, gently mashing the banana pieces to help break them down. The mixture should be fairly creamy. Let cool, then if desired use an immersion (stick) blender to puree until completely smooth. The yield is about 1½ cups.
  • Steps for the optional cranberry compote: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook, stirring just until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium-low; add the cranberries and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes, until warmed through. No berries should collapse. Remove from the heat.

5. When you're ready to assemble, gather together 230ml cups or ice cream dishes. Spoon in a bottom layer of the cranberry compote, if using, then a thicker layer of Bavarian cream, then perhaps a thin layer of the caramelised banana puree. Top with a few of the cranberries. Repeat to fill the remaining cups, or prepare some of the variations mentioned in the headnote.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 12, Bavarian cream only): 220 calories, 4 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 40 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fibre, 11 g sugar