Holiday entertaining is about love and family and all that good stuff, but let's not ignore what's also going on: proving that when it comes to holiday food, you don't fuck around. That's why you're making prime rib or some all-belly porchetta or a turducken, right?
Now who wants dessert?
Between the Champagne you're popping and the roasts you're roasting and the family you're attending to, you may not have time to bake the showstopping centerpiece cake of your dreams. But that's okay. New York's bakeries are here for you, from traditional yule logs to Old World sweet breads. Here are six seasonal centerpiece desserts that not only taste great, but let you strut your pro-entertainer stuff.
For the Traditionalist: Bûche de Noël
Nothing says classy like dacquoise cake and meringue mushrooms dusted with cocoa, and New York has no shortage of commendable bûches de Noël. Last year we stuck a dozen or so together to make a sweet yule log train, which leaves us with some recommendations for you.
Payard makes some especially fine bûches that are beautiful, delicate, and rich. This year the cake comes in four flavors: chestnut pear, chocolate and mandarin orange, the chocolate-hazelnut we loved last year, and salted caramel with chocolate and mascarpone. A four-serving cake goes for $26, a ten-serving size for $60; they're available for pre-order for in-store pick-up from December 23rd onward. For more great bûches, check out our train.
Something Different: A Giant Kouign Amann
Not everyone digs cake and frosting. If pastry's more your jam, consider ordering a super-sized version of Dominique Ansel's stellar kouign amann pastry. It's $30, and you can only order it in advance, but it feeds eight to ten at least. This butter bomb comes with a shellacked crust of caramelized sugar and folds upon folds of laminated pastry dough, like a croissant raised to the croissant power. More buttery than sweet, it's an unconventional but just as impressive dessert centerpiece.
For Fruitcake Lovers: Panettone
Most of us at SEHQ aren't fruitcake fans, and if you're hosting some who may not be down on the whole candied fruit thing, a panettone is a good compromise. Of course most panettone is dry and tasteless, but Sullivan Street Bakery's is rich, buttery, and pleasantly eggy, with a gentle yeasty flavor enhanced by dried fruit like raisins, fig, or cherry. It also makes great leftovers, whether you use it for French toast, ice cream (more on that soon), or bread pudding. Three flavors (citron and rum raisin, fig and chestnut, dark chocolate and cherry) are available for in-store pick-up, $23 apiece.
The Other Fruitcake: Stollen
There's another type of fruitcake worth ordering: stollen, the German bread-cake hybrid enriched with butter and eggs, studded with dried fruit, and crusted with powdered sugar or marzipan. Bien Cuit makes a truly magical version that should be available in their store some time next week. If the buttery crumb weren't enough, last year's version had a crust made from soaking the cake in melted butter and rum, draining it off, and coating it with powdered sugar. Keep an eye on the bakery's Twitter to see when the cake is available.
Hot Bread Kitchen also makes a kick-ass stollen with the addition of almonds in paste and chopped form. Find it at their Greenmarket locations and at Whole Foods that sell their breads.
For Chocolate Lovers: The Best Babka
Union Square's Breads Bakery has no shortage of seasonal specials, but it's their fantastic chocolate babka that we keep coming back for. The braided loaf has a buttery, croissant-like richness and an insane amount of molten dark chocolate—the good stuff—melted in all the crevices. $10 for a babka may sound like a lot, but this one is more than worth the cost, and its richness means that a little goes a long way. Not that a table of two couldn't finish it by themselves with some motivation.
For Smaller Tables: Perfect Bread Pudding
The best bread pudding I've had in years comes from an unlikely place: La Boulangerie in Forest Hills, which makes a gorgeously dense, not-too-sweet version with a custardy center and gently browned crust. It comes with a small cup of caramel crème anglaise for drizzling over the top, and when served warm it's pretty much the best thing since sliced...well, you know.
The bakery only sells single-serving pieces for $4.50, but that makes it perfect for smaller tables that don't need a larger cake. Once you heat it up, put it on a nice platter, and drizzle on that custard, it's as pretty as anything else on this list.
Of course these recommendations are limited, and there are some other cakes we haven't tried but have our eyes on, from the Christmas offerings at the new Robicelli's in Bay Ridge to these Caribbean black cakes at the New Amsterdam Market this weekend. What cakes are on your Christmas list? Let us know in the comments.