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Lark's pastry chef Allison Brummet's hazelnut biscotti. Brummet likes biscotti as a low-stress holiday addition because there are endless combinations, and it will keep for a couple weeks in an airtight container. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Stress-free baking tips from a pro

Pastry chef Allison Brummet is adept at staying a step ahead of the holiday rush.

In her first season at Larks restaurant, working 70 to 80 hours per week, Brummet served 14,000 desserts. Her saving grace as she soldiered on solo, after her assistant quit, was a repertoire of easy recipes adaptable to special diets in quantities that can feed a crowd.

“These are items I’ve done hundreds of times,” she says. “The recipes are well tested.”

Biscotti, apple crumble, Parmesan-garlic rolls and coconut caramel sauce all play roles in Brummet’s strategy for stress-free holiday baking. The 29-year-old graduate of Culinary Institute of America planned to demonstrate the dishes and explain her approach at a mid-November class for Ashland Food Co-op.

“It’s kind of a foreign skill … it’s passed down usually,” she says. “All my memories are tied to food.”

Making holidays memorable for kids doesn’t necessarily mean laboring over elaborately decorated sugar cookies, says Brummet. Little hands can mix apple-crumble topping, which also can double as granola. Children can select and sprinkle fruits and other flavorings into Make It Your Way Biscotti.

“There are endless combinations for the biscotti,” says Brummet, adding that the dense, toothsome slices can be packaged days in advance of gift-gifting.

“Biscotti will last a month or two in an air-tight container.”

Stashing away desserts in advance of the festivities is among Brummet’s specialties. Her apple crumble — served to hundreds attending holiday banquets booked at Larks in Medford — can be refrigerated for several days before baking or, wrapped tightly, frozen for a month or so before it’s needed.

“You’re so busy anyway; you feel rushed,” says Brummet.

Another long-keeping confection, coconut caramel sauce, drizzles decadence onto ice cream, brownies or other simple sweets. Brummet’s adaptation gives vegan diners an unexpected option, along with her vegan, gluten-free apple crumble. Accommodating food allergies and sensitivities of guests or family members can add another layer of holiday stress, adds Brummet, who’s been vegetarian for a decade.

“You’re either divided by that, or everyone’s brought together,” she says. “(For) kids with allergies, it’s a little less magical at the holidays.”

The magic trick of reviving stale baked goods, including chips and crackers intended as holiday appetizers, is obvious to Brummet. Many people don’t know that staleness is an indication that food has absorbed additional moisture, she says. A few minutes in a hot oven will restore items’ crunch.

A stint in the oven also transforms an extra batch of oatmeal-cookie topping for fruit crumble into granola, says Brummet, touting the mixture as a wholesome gift. Decanted into decorative jars, coconut caramel sauce is another of the chef’s festive favorites.

“It’s makes super-cute gifts.”

Coconut Caramel Sauce

Vinegar, as needed

1¼ cups natural or white sugar

1 can full-fat coconut milk (or 1 cup heavy cream for regular caramel)

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract

With a clean paper towel, wipe a large, heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan with neutral-tasting vinegar, such as apple cider (this prevents sugar from clumping). In pot, combine the sugar with ¼ cup water, stirring with a clean spatula or spoon.

Cover pot and cook over high heat until sugar comes to a boil. Do not stir mixture once it reaches a boil. Let boil, covered, for 5 minutes. Boil, uncovered, until sugar turns a medium- to dark-brown (darker-colored caramel will taste more bitter), swirling pot to evenly spread color. Watch it carefully at this stage, as it will go from caramel to burned sugar very quickly. A little bit of smoke is normal if you like your caramel a little bitter.

Turn off heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and gradually add the coconut milk or cream, then the salt and vanilla paste or extract. Stir gently with a whisk or heatproof spoon. Simmer over medium heat until caramel dissolves and sauce is smooth and thick, for about 2 minutes. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.

Cool quickly by carefully placing pot into a bowl of ice or kitchen sink filled with ice. Stir every 10 minutes or so until cold. Transfer sauce to a jar or other sealed container and store in refrigerator for up to 1 month.

— Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com

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