Two Chefs, Two Unique Thanksgivings
Lucky us – Jews get to celebrate two Thanksgivings! Some say the Pilgrims had Sukkot in mind at the first Thanksgiving. We’ll never really know, but no doubt those religious settlers were familiar with the ancient texts and commandments, and no wonder a joyful meal of thanks would coincide with the fall harvest. For many, Thanksgiving is the blowout food event of the year, and with the easing of pandemic restrictions, we look forward more than ever to celebrating with a “full house.” Presentation is key, and this dessert board from “The Modern Hippie Table” (The Collective Book Studio, $35) by Lauren Thomas can easily be adapted for Thanksgiving.
Charcuterie is usually served on a wooden board and includes an assortment of various meats or cheese, dried fruit, nuts, crackers and jams. But Thomas’ boards go way beyond the typical. “One of my favorite ways to play with food is to build a themed board, and desserts are always my theme of choice,” writes Thomas. “For those who feel less confident in their creativity, rest assured that there are no culinary skills required here, nor is there one right or wrong way to assemble a beautiful board.” Don’t have a wooden board? Use a large platter or marble cutting board or a long porcelain platter, she advises. “I like to place larger items on the board first. Spread them out so that it creates a visual balance. Next, place remaining items around the board. Fill in any blank spaces. Use different shapes and angles. Varying the heights of all the elements makes for a beautiful presentation, especially on larger boards. Flowers are my favorite addition to an edible canvas. Some market sells small edible flowers, which are a great addition, but mostly I use larger, non-edible flowers, such as a few roses left over from my arrangements to complete my charcuterie boards. Think about shapes as you shop for ingredients. Donuts, roses, and macaroons are round, so I added in some biscotti and pirouette cookies for some longer shapes and some cream–filled wafers for squares.”
For Thanksgiving use your imagination to turn this pink tableau into a fall-themed board. Use slices of pumpkin cake layered with fall flowers or leaves instead of roses to get started. Or how about decorated leaf-shaped cookies? Vary the shapes and sizes of the other sweets you add for a finished look. The possibilities are endless.
The Really Moist Pumpkin Cake comes from Cathy Pavlos, chef/owner of Provenance in Newport Beach whom I interviewed before the pandemic sadly caused the restaurant to close. Her thoughts on presentation, like Thomas’s, were inspiring. “More important than a stunning dish is the back story, where the dish came from, the memories,” she said. “Was it something your grandma made? Was it a recipe your aunt gave you on her deathbed? My grandmother used to say that you eat first with your eyes. If it looks good and tastes good, that’s okay, but if it looks good and tastes good and has a story, you’ve got a winner.”
Then there’s the platter itself. “Is there a special dish that is inspiring to you? That’s part of your ingredients,” she noted. “We use old pieces of wood to create a deconstructed, rustic look. People get certain dishware, and they don’t know what to do with it. The plate doesn’t go with the food. We are always adjusting our dishes to match the plate.”
Pavlos draws on her background in architecture to create stunning arrangements that draw you in. “I tell my staff, ‘Think in terms of urban planning. Here’s the apartments, and here’s the park.’ Don’t be afraid of negative space on the plate.”
Her wildly creative showstopper of a dessert includes Amaretto Chantilly Cream, Cranberry-Port Wine Gastrique, Pecan Brittle and Caramelized Pears that accompany the cake. (Find the full recipe at jlifeoc.com.) “If we built this dessert the conventional way,” noted Pavlos, “all the trimmings would be part of the cake – the chantilly cream would be the frosting, the cranberry gastrique and caramelized pears would be the filling, and the pecan brittle would garnish the top. We deconstruct it to make it more memorable and you can prep almost everything in advance as restaurants do, what we call mis en place,” she explained. “All we do is plate at the last minute.”
This is a very thoughtful chef who chooses every component and every technique with purpose. “The pungent gastrique, the rich cream, the moist cake, the sweet pears playing off the tannins in the gastrique – there’s a synergy. They all interact with each other.”
With a dazzler like this dish, the rest of the meal can be simple. “People freak out about turkey, but it’s the easiest thing to do,” advised Pavlos. “You don’t need stuffing. You can roast potatoes. All you have to do is baste the turkey and you’re done.”
Vegan Chocolate Donuts with Strawberry Icing
For Thanksgiving try substituting apricot jam for the strawberry. Vegan recipes are a great boon to the kosher kitchen.
Yield: 6 donuts
For the donuts:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup full-fat oat milk or plant-based milk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons avocado oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup agave syrup
For the icing:
2 cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon strawberry jam
2 tablespoons plant-based milk
1 tablespoon warm water
Edible rose petals, crumbled, optional
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 6-cavity donut pan.
- Donuts: In medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined. Add oat milk, applesauce, avocado oil, brown sugar, agave, and almond extract and stir until combined. Spoon mixture equally into each cavity in pan, wiping away excess with paper towel.
- Bake 10 minutes, or until donuts are puffy and bounce back when touched. Let cool on cooling rack 5 minutes. Remove donuts from pan with rounded “pretty“ sides facing up. Let donuts cool completely.
- Icing: Place sheet of parchment paper under cooling rack to catch drippings. In medium bowl, mix together confectioners’ sugar, jam, plant-based milk, and water until well combined and thick. Dip rounded side of each donut into icing, submerging just enough to coat top. Place donuts on wire rack. Sprinkle pinch of edible rose petals on top, if using. Serve immediately or refrigerate in airtight container up to 24 hours.
Really Moist Pumpkin Cake
Yield: 12-14 servings
4 to 6 slices Really Moist Pumpkin Cake, sliced about 1” thick
1/2 to 1 cup Amaretto Chantilly Cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup Cranberry-Port Wine Gastrique
1 cup Pecan Brittle, broken up
2 to 3 cups Caramelized Pears
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
6 tablespoons canola oil and 2 tablespoons olive oil, combined in small bowl
4 cage-free large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups canned pumpkin puree, preferably Libby’s (from a 15-ounce can)
1/2 cup whole milk or pareve substitute
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 3x3x18-inch loaf pan (or two 9- or 10-inch loaf pans). Drape large sheet of parchment paper in loaf pan(s), taking care to overlap top edges of pan by at least 3 inches. Grease parchment paper.
- In stainless steel bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- In bowl of mixer using paddle attachment, whip together butter, both sugars, and 1/4 cup of the oil. Blend until pale and fluffy. Mix in remaining 1/4 cup oil. Blend in eggs one at a time; add vanilla with last egg.
- In another bowl, stir together canned pumpkin with milk. Slowly blend pumpkin mixture into butter-sugar mixture. Working in batches. gently fold flour mixture into wet ingredients; do not overmix.
- Pour batter into loaf pan(s), and bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes; then lift loaf by parchment paper edges and set on rack to finish cooling. When cool, remove parchment from cake, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 5 days.
Amaretto Chantilly Cream
For added flair, make quenelles using two tablespoons, but scoops of chantilly cream work well too.
1 1/4 cups heavy cream or pareve substitute
2 1/2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons Amaretto di Saronno
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
With an electric mixer using wire whip, whip cream and sugar until medium stiff peaks form. Slowly add Amaretto and extracts. Mix until fully incorporated and somewhat thick.
Cranberry-Port Wine Gastrique
This gastrique is a pungent counterpoint to the dessert. “The idea is to make sure to have a little of everything with each spoonful,” says Pavlos.
8 ounces dried cranberries
1 cup port wine
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
- Break down cranberries in food processor until cranberry pieces are size of pinheads. Set aside.
- In nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, bring liquids to slow boil. Starting with 2 tablespoons each, add sugars, stir until dissolved. Add cranberry bits and stir.
- Scrape beans from vanilla pod and add to pan with empty vanilla bean pod. Simmer over low heat until most of the liquids have been absorbed or evaporated, stirring frequently. Taste for sugar. We like our Gastrique to be tart; however, you may add more sugar at this point—heat gently and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
“This brittle is lighter in color to contrast with the dark cake,” says this thoughtful chef.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons filtered water
1 cup pecans, chopped
In nonreactive pan, combine sugar, baking soda and water and cook until medium amber in color (color of iced tea). Add chopped pecans, coating them completely, and cook until fragrant and toasty, about a minute more. Pour hot mixture out on parchment-lined sheet pan and allow to cool. Once cooled, break up brittle into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces.
1 cup granulated sugar
4 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cinnamon, ground
1 star anise, whole
5 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- Combine sugar, butter, cinnamon and star anise in heavy, large skillet (not nonstick), preferably cast iron. Stirring occasionally, cook on high heat and let bubble about 3 minutes.
- Add pears, stirring and cooking until tender (about 5 minutes, depending on ripeness of the pears. We like to allow pears to get a little scorched in the process.
If caramel hasn’t thickened enough by the time pears are soft, strain pears out and cook juices until thickened. If pears are particular juicy and don’t caramelize properly, empty pan, place it on high heat until sugars become dark brown; then quickly sear pears in small batches to caramelize sugars.
- Spread a little pear liquid on bottom of board or platter.
- Slice pumpkin cake; cut each slice diagonally. Stand slices on top of liquid, points up.
- Warm pears slightly in microwave. Using tongs, place piles of pears alongside and on top of pumpkin bread.
- Distribute quenelles or scoops of Chantilly cream on top of pears.
- Dot top with Cranberry Gastrique.
- Sprinkle top with Pecan Brittle; drizzle with remaining pear liquid.Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at