Ace holiday pies and cakes

By Arthi Subramaniam

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pies, cakes and puddings are the last act of a Thanksgiving feast.

To make them showstoppers, pastry chef Duff Goldman says home chefs should first understand the fundamentals of baked goods. Yes, baking is a science and requires a lot of measuring, the former star of the reality television series “Ace of Cakes” writes in his latest book, “Duff Bakes.”

The king of gravity-defying cakes and froufrou fondant likens baking to a slow dance. “It’s a measured pace of placing every foot and every hand in just the right spot at just the right time and moving with, not at, your partner,” he writes.

He even shuts down his Baltimore bakery, Charm City Cakes, for the week. “People don’t want crazy cakes. They want pies.”

It is best to prepare pie and cookie doughs ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator. For any dessert with a crust, “most of the time is usually spent in preparing the dough,” he says.

Goldman says the earliest a pie should be made is the night before Thanksgiving. “Baked goods are best when fresh.”

Goldman is a judge on the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship,” whose second season premiered last Sunday, and has seen a fair share of the ridiculous. One to join that list would be his own creation - a cake stuffed with a pie. He calls it the Turducken of Thanksgiving desserts.


When baked, the batter turns into a creamy custard, and with the cranberries, it is sweet and tart at the same time. Make sure ingredients are at room temperature.

1 (12 ounce) bag fresh cranberries

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy whipping cream

4 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease a 9-inch round baking dish, and spread cranberries evenly over the bottom.

Whisk together milk, cream and eggs in a bowl. Add granulated sugar, liqueur, vanilla and salt. Gradually add flour, whisking constantly until smooth. Pour egg mixture through a sieve over cranberries.

Bake until edges puff but center still jiggles slightly, for about 30 minutes.

Let cool 30 minutes, then dust with powdered sugar.

Serves 8.


This pecan pie sheds its old-fashioned modesty with the pretzel crust. The original recipe called for 1 tablespoon of sea salt in the filling, but I found the result to be too salty and used 1/2 teaspoon instead.

11/4 cups salted pretzels, crushed well

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 6 tablespoons, cut into pieces

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add crushed pretzels, flour, sugar and melted butter to a medium bowl and stir until combined.

Dump the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, and press it evenly around the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, until the crust is firm.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter pieces and salt and bring to boil, while stirring.

Remove from the heat and cool. Whisk in eggs and then stir in pecans with a wooden ladle.

Pour mixture into the pretzel crust and bake for 50 minutes. Cool the pie completely before serving.

Serves 8.


This lemony version of the Southern chess pie with cornmeal in it is destined to become an annual favorite. To brown butter, slowly simmer butter over medium-low heat until the solids have separated and are lightly browned. Remove from heat but make sure it stays melted.

1/2 recipe pie dough

2 large eggs, plus 6 egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

11/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

11/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup browned butter

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out pie dough into a 14-inch round that’s 1/4-inch thick. Lay it gently into a 9-inch pan, making sure the pan is completely lined with the dough. Trim and crimp the edge.

Lay a circle of parchment paper and some pie weights or dry beans on the bottom of the crust. Blind bake the crust for 5 minutes. Remove weights and bake for 4 more minutes, until crust is a matte blond color. Set aside.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs and salt. Then one at a time whisk in the sugars, vanilla cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, browned butter, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees. Pour mixture into the crust, and cover edges of the crust with foil.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes, until the pie looks mostly set, just slightly jiggly in the very center.

Let it cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Let the pie return to room temperature before slicing and serving.

Makes 1 9-inch pie.


21/4 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of kosher salt

Big pinch of sugar

1 stick cold butter, cubed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup cold water

In a big bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar; make a claw with your hand to mix it up well. Add butter cubes; massage flour mixture so you get big clumps.

Combine lemon juice with water and add to flour mixture. Gently work the dough until a ball is formed.

Wrap dough in a plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.


If you like coconut, you will love this moist and rich twist on a tres leches cake.

For cake:

1 cup sugar, divided

5 eggs, separated

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup coconut flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For soaking mixture:

1 131/2-ounce can coconut milk

1 14-ounce can condensed milk

11/2 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For topping:

1 cup sweetened, shredded dried coconut

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

Zest of 1 lime, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, beat 3/4 cup sugar and egg yolks until light and fluffy. Stir in milk, vanilla extract, flours and baking powder, and combine to mix gently.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks; add cream of tartar after 20 seconds. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue beating until the whites are glossy and firm. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. Then rotate pan and bake for another 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool for at least 1 hour. Pierce the cake all over with a fork.

Prepare soaking mixture by combining the 3 milks and vanilla. Slowly spoon the liquid over cake. It will look like a lot of milk, and the cake might even float briefly. Don’t panic.

While the cake soaks, prepare the topping. After cake is baked, spread coconut onto a baking sheet and pop into oven to toast. Check on it every 3 to 4 minutes and make sure it does not burn. It should be toasted in about 8 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk cream, sugar and lime zest until stiff peaks form. Spread whipping cream over the cake and sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.

Serves 10 to 12.


Packed with flavor and fragrance, the spices intensify the pumpkin filling to the nth degree.

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

1 14-ounce can caramel-flavored sweetened condensed milk, divided

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie crust

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

Coarse sea salt, optional

Whipped cream, optional

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Reserve 2 tablespoons condensed milk for garnish.

Whisk pumpkin, condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Pour into unbaked pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Combine brown sugar, flour and butter until crumbly. Then stir in pecans and oats. Sprinkle streusel evenly over pie. Cover crust with foil to prevent it from overbaking.

Bake for an additional 25 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean. Cool 20 minutes. Chill. Serve each slice drizzled with some of the reserved condensed milk. Sprinkle sea salt and serve with whipped cream.


The ace of cakes and pro baker Duff Goldman offers these tips:

1. “First things first, read every word of every recipe before you start baking. Understand everything. If you don’t understand a word, don’t think it will come to you later; it won’t. So look it up right then and there.”

2. “Understand that a cake or pie bakes for 5 to 7 minutes after it is pulled out of the oven. Factor that time in, and so take out the dessert earlier rather than later.”

3. “Don’t overmix. Don’t be lazy and put the ingredients in a standing mixer and let it go. You need to be super gentle. And if it is for cookies, the dough should be barely mixed.”

4. “Make sure that the dessert looks beautiful and not anemic. Baked goods are like puppies, which are adorable. Make decorative toppings with a pie dough such as a lattice because when it is done right, it looks impressive. Or you can use an X-Acto knife to carve out leaves or pumpkins, and lay those on top of the pie. But remember to first chill the dough.”

5. “Be mindful. Little things such as baking times, understanding the oven and measuring ingredients make a big difference.”

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