Standout seasonal sweets
Having grown up in a household with Puerto Rican and Lebanese influences, our festive table is always a delightful fusion of flavors and culinary traditions. Popular Puerto Rican desserts are tembleque, a coconut custard with a sweet, creamy texture, and a milk flan with a velvety caramel topping. Lebanese desserts are also a must for our festive table, especially knefe, with its unique balance of flavors and textures from the combination of semolina and cheese, and the delicious baklava, complete with layers of flaky pastry, nuts and syrup. At my shop, the ever-popular ‘bûche de Noël’ and ‘Mont Blanc,’ are always in high demand.
Essential festive ingredients
Seasonal ingredients play an important role in recipes for the holidays, carrying with them the ﬂavors, colors and sentiments that deﬁne these special times. I love working with pecan nuts in winter recipes since their earthy and slightly sweet proﬁle complements the hearty, spiced ﬂavors associated with this time of year. Chestnuts are deﬁnitely favorites for Christmas dishes. When used in soups, stuffings and desserts – including the ‘Mont Blanc’ – the creamy, nutty ﬂavor brings warmth and nostalgia to holiday tables.
It’s especially important to use in-season ingredients when creating dishes for special occasions like the holidays. By doing so, we’re not only ensuring consistency, since we can be conﬁdent of their availability, but also tapping into the natural ﬂavors of the season. This is particularly important when there’s a surge in demand for holiday-themed desserts. I also always advise other chefs to keep up to date on what’s new and what’s trending in the world of desserts since this inspires the team to come up with fresh ideas for menus, push boundaries and embrace innovative techniques.
All in the detail
Festive desserts vary from one country to another, although some are popular far and wide. For example, in France, where I am from, the ‘bûche de Noël’ is an iconic and cherished dessert that holds a special place in the hearts of both young and old. The buttercream inside this rolled sponge is often ﬂavored with complementary ingredients like chocolate, coffee or chestnut, but what makes it really special is the attention to detail in its presentation. Bakers and pastry chefs often adorn it with edible decorations, such as marzipan ﬁgurines of holiday characters, resulting in a culinary delight that is also a visual masterpiece and captures the essence of the season.
Seasonal ingredients provide a fresh and vibrant quality to dishes, while also producing ﬂavors that are warming, comforting and familiar, which aligns with the spirit of the holidays. Spices play a pivotal role in holiday cooking, especially classics like cinnamon, with its warm and woody notes, making it an essential ingredient in favorites like gingerbread cookies. The four-spice blend is another popular option, with the warm and aromatic spices of cloves, nutmeg and allspice imparting a complex depth of ﬂavor into many classic holiday recipes. I also like to incorporate citrus into my holiday dishes since these bright, zesty notes provide a refreshing contrast to the rich and hearty ﬂavors of winter.
Innovate with the best
I cannot overstate the importance of using the best ingredients in festive dishes. I make it a point to source mine from local, organic farms, like MyFarm Dubai to ensure quality produce that’s fresh. The festive season provides an opportunity to celebrate not only tradition, but also innovation in the kitchen. As a chef I’ve been excited about introducing some of my Middle Eastern guests to the humble but delicious chestnut, which is often associated with the holidays. It has a distinct, nutty-sweet ﬂavor and a creamy texture that sets it apart from other nuts. It’s incredibly versatile and ideal puréed in sweet desserts.