November 14, 2012

Soup to Nuts: This Thanksgiving, change the ending

Chefs and a cheese expert offer ideas for trying something besides pie for Thanksgiving dessert.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Whether it's served right after the big dinner or a couple of hours later, a great dessert after everyone's come out of their turkey coma is an essential part of the Thanksgiving Day meal.

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A pumpkin trifle created by Ilma Lopez, the pastry chef at Grace restaurant in Portland, is a festive and light combination of pumpkin, apples and cranberry flavors that doesn’t require a lot of preparation time.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Ilma Lopez with her pumpkin trifle at Grace. She says it can be made in a big bowl if smaller dishes aren’t available.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Here are three ideas for the Thanksgiving table that go beyond the traditional choices and will impress your guests.

The first, a pumpkin trifle created by Grace pastry chef Ilma Lopez especially for the Press Herald, is an elegant take on pumpkin and apples that won't have you spending hours in the kitchen, yet it's a bit more sophisticated than the average pie.

The second, a sticky toffee pudding cake from Sea Glass sous chef Karen Voter, is an easy make-ahead option that is everything comfort food should be. Every bite elicits feelings of fall, family and home.

Finally, for home cooks who want to do something different for dessert this year, Shannon Tallman, the specialty cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market in Portland, has suggestions for two cheese plates that can provide an alternative ending to your Thanksgiving meal.


Ilma Lopez scooped about a tablespoon of cranberry puree into the bottom of a glass. Then, using a whipped cream gun, she covered it in pumpkin mousse.

"It's so different from the mousse that you're used to," said Lopez, who is the pastry chef at Grace, the church-turned-restaurant on Chestnut Street in Portland. "You're used to having something that is so thick and (made with) whipped cream, but it's really fatty. This one, I use milk. It's like a half-and-half mixture. You will see. As soon as you put it in your mouth, it just melts."

Lopez moved to Portland a year ago from New York City, looking for a better quality of life. She and her husband, chef Damian Sansonetti, have both worked for famed restaurateur Daniel Boulud and were enticed to come to Maine partly by Rod Mitchell of Brown Trading Co., who supplies Boulud's restaurants with seafood. During the couple's first visit here a couple of years ago, Mitchell took them to the beach and to dinner at Primo in Rockland.

They fell in love with the state, and started visiting as often as they could. "You start finding little excuses to make it up here all the time," Lopez said.

Then Lopez landed the pastry chef job at Grace. Sansonetti left a coveted position as chef at Bar Boulud to follow her here about a month ago. Lopez hinted that the two have plans for doing something together in Portland, but wouldn't go into any detail.

She was happy, however, to share her new pumpkin trifle for the holidays.

After layering the cranberry puree and the pumpkin mousse, Lopez added a scoop of cranberry sorbet and then about a half-dozen small rounds of apple that had been soaked in cider and seasoned with cinnamon and vanilla. The final touch was a few small meringues and a little green for garnish.

"You know the top of the fennel everyone throws away?" Lopez said. "I try to use it like a microgreen, just because it's so underused."

The result is a dessert that bursts on the tongue with fall flavors, pops with color and offers varying textures for added interest.

And it's gluten free.

A taste of this festive-looking dessert proved that the pumpkin mousse was as light as air. The chef said she experimented with different amounts of milk, then replaced some of the fat that would have come from whipped cream with egg yolks, so it's more like a creme anglaise.

Lopez said if you don't want to make the pumpkin puree for the mousse yourself, it's OK to used a canned puree.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Karen Voter, sous chef at Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, serves a sticky toffee pudding cake that is good for busy Thankgiving cooks because it’s easy to make and can be done at least a day ahead.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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