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No-Sweat Thanksgiving Desserts

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without dessert.

Chef Tori Ritchie says

are just like the rest of the meal, frequently reflecting the bounty of the season.

Aromas of pumpkins, nuts, and wonderful winter spices could fill your kitchen with the two delicious (but no-sweat) recipes she suggested in the series, "The Perfect Thanksgiving."

Over several days, The Early Show joined with specialty home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma to tell you how to create "The Perfect Thanksgiving," step by step.

The segments took place in the Williams-Sonoma store at New York City's Columbus Circle.

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm workd with Ritchie, a San Francisco-based food writer, cooking teacher and host of the long-running "Ultimate Kitchens" on the Food Network. Her latest cookbook is "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" (Chronicle Books, Fall 2004).

Ritchie stressed that you can achieve homemade desserts without spending your entire time in the kitchen. She believes it's OK to use some pre-made items to make your desserts.

For example, she uses a store-bought tart filling for her chocolate pecan tarts. This is a fun twist on the traditional pecan pie, and it's very simple to prepare.


Chocolate-Pecan Tarts

We put a new twist on classic pecan pie, baking it in the shape of a tart and enriching the dessert with bittersweet chocolate. Crunchy pecans evoke the autumn harvest, and chocolate adds another layer of flavor. To speed preparation, this recipe incorporates Williams-Sonoma's ready-to-use filling, which includes mammoth pecan halves, French brandy and pure vanilla.

1 lb. store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
1 jar (30.5 oz.) pecan pie filling
Boiling water, as needed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
Lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving

Divide the puff pastry in half. Roll out each piece into a 16-by-6-inch rectangle. Fit each piece into a 14-by-4-inch tart pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about one hour. Position a rack in the lower-third of an oven and preheat to 400°F. Line the tart shells with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Bake the tart shells until the edges begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the parchment and weights and continue baking until the centers are golden, 7 to 10 minutes more.

Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let the tart shells cool completely, about 30 minutes. Brush the shells with the beaten egg. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Remove the lid from the pecan pie filling jar. Place the jar in a large, heatproof bowl and pour enough boiling water into the bowl to come three-fourths of the way up the sides of the jar. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Carefully pour the filling into another large bowl, add the eggs, and stir until well combined. Stir in the chocolate. Divide the filling between the tart shells. Bake until the filling is puffed and just set, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the pans to the wire rack and let the tarts cool completely, about two hours, before serving. Accompany each slice with a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 10 to 12. From Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Translated, crème brûlée means "burnt crème." Crème brûlée is simply custard sprinkled with sugar on top. You then broil or use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar. The trick to producing a good brûlée is simply to have a rich, ultrasmooth custard and then to melt the sugar on top of it into an ice-rink-hard, paper-thin caramel. It used to be that it was a seldom-seen dish on a dessert menu, but today, crème brûlée is something of a standard at many fine restaurants. There are many variations of crème brûlée: the classic vanilla crème brûlée; the decadent chocolate crème brûlée; and we're making one that really highlights the season -- pumpkin crème brûlée.

With the addition of pumpkin puree, classic crème brûlée reflects the flavors and colors of autumn. The custard is laced with warming spices, including cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg.

1-1/2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup plus 4 tsp. Sugar

Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a shallow baking pan with a kitchen towel.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges and steam begins to rise from the surface, about three minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Slowly pour in the cream, stirring until blended. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the mixture among four 8-oz. ramekins and place in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custards are just set around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes.

Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to three days.

Just before serving, sprinkle one tsp. sugar evenly over the surface of each custard. Using a kitchen torch according to the manufacturer's instructions, move the flame continuously in small circles over the surface until the sugar melts and lightly browns. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Ritchie's latest cookbook is "Party Appetizers: Small Bites, Big Flavors" (Chronicle Books, Fall 2004).
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