The holidays invite us to indulge, and that often comes in the form of sugar and spice. Pastry chef Leah Steinberger knows how to sprinkle it on, crafting confections for Hotel Du Pont and its Le Cavalier at The Green Room. She also whips up baked goods for Spark’d, housed next to the hotel in the DECO food hall.
Here, Steinberger dishes on what inspires her craft, what she’s making at Le Cav this holiday and how to bake without stress during this hectic season.
Leah Steinberger: I think of pastry first as edible art, so it’s the ideal time to try something different and unexpected. I’m always inspired by the concept of combining herbs, spices and other ingredients that are normally thought of as savory.
LS: I’ve loved making tiramisu around the holidays. It has a special-occasion feel for my family, but it’s so easy to create. And the little jolt of espresso is a great pick-me-up after a heavier meal.
LS: I am a cookie monster—I love them soft and chewy, and how you can fit so many sweet, salty, tart, umami flavors in one bite. They also don’t take a lot of commitment. It’s just a cookie, so there’s always room for more!
LS: If you have a tried-and-true recipe, you can add elements or change ingredients to make it more holiday-themed, such as adding mint chocolate chips to your best-ever chocolate chip cookie, or gingersnaps instead of vanilla wafers to a banana cream pie. There are so many recipes on the internet, but the holidays are not the time to try something that might not turn out the way it’s supposed to. Save that for January.
LS: Sage always reminds me of autumn and Thanksgiving, so it’s perfect to pair with pumpkin pie. I also wanted to add a topping that was a little less rich than whipped cream, and the texture of marshmallow does the trick. The apple cider cake is really a reimagined apple pie, with the toasty notes of brown butter and the flaky, buttery texture of shortbread crumbles. French apple cider and apple brandy provide a more nuanced apple flavor.
LS: We’ll offer some modern twists on traditional French holiday desserts, as well more catering and to-go options. Of course, the Bûche de Noël will make an appearance around Christmas.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Prep three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray.
In a mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
In a small mixing bowl, combine apple cider, hard apple cider, buttermilk and vanilla.
With electric mixer, paddle together butter and sugars, beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time, beat, scrape sides of bowl, repeat.
On low speed, add flour mixture and apple cider mixture in 1/3 increments, mixing and scraping sides and bottom of bowl in between.
Divide batter evenly between baking pans. Bake for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool about 15 minutes in the pan, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir until it begins to foam. Continue to cook the butter until it is lightly browned and develops a nutty aroma. Remove from heat and pour into a heatproof bowl. Refrigerate until cool and solid.
With electric mixer, beat brown butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add cream cheese, beating until well-mixed.
Add salt and vanilla, then gradually add powdered sugar, beating on low speed until well-mixed.
Add heavy cream 1 tablespoon at a time, beating each time.
In a nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt brown sugar and Calvados together. Add pecans, stirring to coat. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes until fragrant and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Spread pecans in a single layer onto a silicone, mat-lined baking sheet, and use a fork to separate them. Let stand at room temperature until fully cooled. Pecans will be slightly tacky to the touch.
Once cakes cool, level each layer by slicing off the rounded domes with a serrated knife.
For an extra cider punch, create a simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water, then bring to a boil. Allow to cool, then add an equal amount of the leftover hard apple cider. Use a pastry brush to lightly soak the cake layers with the syrup.
Top the first layer of cake with about ¾ cup of frosting and spread evenly with an offset spatula. Top with the second layer and repeat. Place the third layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
Decorate the cake with the Calvados-caramel pecans and shortbread crumbs.
In a mixing bowl, combine the sugars, flour, salt and spices.
Beat together eggs, pumpkin and cream. Whisk into the dry ingredients.
Cover and refrigerate the filling overnight before baking.
Heat oven with a baking sheet to 375 F. When the oven is hot, pour filling into the unbaked crust and place the pie pan onto the hot baking sheet.
Bake approximately 50-60 minutes, or until the filling is set about 2 inches in from the edge. The center will still be slightly jiggly and will continue to cook as it cools down. Cool pie completely on a wire rack.
Stir together the first four ingredients, then add flour until a soft dough forms.
Sprinkle clumps of dough evenly over the pie dish. Press dough evenly into and up the sides of the dish.Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.
Place cold water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin powder evenly over it. Allow it to bloom for 5-10 minutes. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
Use a medium-large pot to bring maple syrup, salt and sage leaves to a boil, as the mixture will rise in the pot considerably. Reduce heat to medium, then use a candy thermometer and continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 240 F. Immediately remove from the heat once it reaches this temperature.
Carefully remove the sage leaves from the mixture with a fork, and discard.
Turn the mixer on medium-low speed, and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes thick and cooled, about 10 minutes. The texture will be similar to very soft whipped cream.
Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.
Spoon the mixture over the completely cooled pumpkin pie. Allow it to set at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or 4 hours at cool room temperature.