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.

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.


A simple melon baller shapes the bites of apple into little rounds, but Lopez said they could be cut into squares or any other shape with a knife as well.

If you don’t have an ice cream machine, Lopez said the cranberry mixture can be frozen and then scraped with a fork, creating a granita.

If the idea of making cranberry sorbet in between basting the turkey seems a little intimidating, Lopez notes that the different parts of the dessert can be made ahead, then assembled when you’re ready to eat.

If you don’t have the dessert ware to make a lot of these at once, Lopez suggests layering it in a big trifle bowl. Put in the cranberry sorbet and the mousse and let that set for a bit in the refrigerator, then layer in the rest of the ingredients. It’s an easy way to serve it, and it makes for a great presentation at the table.


Ilma Lopez, pastry chef at Grace Restaurant


Servings: Six to eight


1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries

¼ pound white sugar

½ vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 quart cold water



2 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

6 egg yolks

½ cup white sugar

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin powder (Knox type)


¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder

2 cups pumpkin puree


¼ cup egg whites

¼ cup white sugar



2 or 3 fresh Maine apples

3 cups apple cider

¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon vanilla extract



To start the meringues, mix the sugar and egg whites on high in a mixer until you have firm peaks and they are glossy. Pipe or spoon them onto a parchment-covered baking sheet tray, in shapes like Hershey’s kisses, and bake at 250 degrees in the oven overnight.

Put the cranberries, sugar and vanilla in a sauce pot over medium heat and cook until they begin to break down, stirring the pot every so often. When broken down, remove from the heat and let cool in the fridge.

When cool, puree in a blender until smooth, then remove with a spatula. Reserve half of the mixture for later. Mix the other half with 1 quart of cold water and put this mixture into an ice cream machine and run it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When finished, reserve in the freezer. (Can be made a day ahead.)

For the pumpkin mousse, bring the milk and cream to a boil, then whisk in the egg yolks and sugar and stir constantly until the mixture reaches 84 degrees.

Then whisk in the gelatin and strain through a fine strainer (chinois or similar) and mix with your pumpkin puree. At this point, whisk in the vanilla and cinnamon powder. Let this cool down and fill the whipped cream gun with the mixture and reserve in the fridge.


Put the cider and spices in a pot and bring to a simmer to infuse the flavor. Using a melon baller, cut out rounds from the apple, then gently poach in the spiced cider until the apples are just tender. Remove from the liquid, cool and reserve. The leftover cider can be used for mulled cider drinks later.

To assemble, place some cranberry puree in the bottom of the bowl, fill half the glass with the pumpkin mousse, one scoop of the cranberry sorbet, about six to seven pieces of the poached apple, and finish with the meringue. Enjoy!


Sticky toffee pudding is a British dessert traditionally served during the holidays, but this comfort food reminds Karen Voter of her grandmother. She always had dates in the kitchen – dates are one of the key ingredients in sticky toffee pudding – and “used to make this fabulous carrot pudding that I still cannot duplicate.”

“I love date desserts because of their flavor, but they add so much moisture,” Voter said. “It’s definitely something that has childhood memories for me.”

Voter, a self-taught pastry chef, is a native of New Hampshire who worked in several Portsmouth restaurants before moving to the Portland area. She worked at Back Bay Grill for a while, and then transitioned into baking because she liked the up-before-dawn lifestyle.


She opened her own wholesale bakery, Ferry Village Bake Shop, in South Portland. But after four or five years, she found that she missed working in restaurants.

When she heard that chef Mitchell Kaldrovich was going to be working at Sea Glass, the restaurant at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, she decided to join the team as well. She’s been there since 2008.

Kaldrovich started as a pastry chef, she said, “and that’s one of the reasons I like working with him.”

“Even though he doesn’t do it that much anymore, he gets it,” she said. “You work with so many chefs that really don’t have any idea of what goes into it, the time involved, and he does. And I appreciate that.”

Voter’s sticky toffee pudding is good for busy Thankgiving cooks because it’s easy to make and can be done at least a day ahead, since the cake is so moist.

If you make it ahead, just pour some of the toffee sauce over the cake, slide it back into the fridge, and then when you’re ready to serve it, reheat and add more sauce.


“There’s nothing tricky about it,” Voter said. “If you don’t have the individual forms, you can do it in a 9-inch cake pan. You can probably even do it in a casserole dish, leave it in there and then throw it back in the oven.”

Leftover toffee sauce will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. It can be drizzled on ice cream, apple tarts and chocolate cake.

Voter likes to serve her sticky toffee pudding with orange sections, a date-apricot compote and a dollop of whipped cream.

“This has orange and coffee flavors, and it just kind of really complements the dates so well,” she said. “It just brings you back to the holidays.”


Karen Voter, sous chef at Sea Glass, Inn by the Sea


Yield: One 9-inch cake or 6-ounce ramekins

For the cake:

8 ounces pitted Medjool dates, finely chopped

1 cup boiling water

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder


1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces unsalted butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange rind, save the orange for segments


1 teaspoon espresso powder

2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the toffee sauce:

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter


1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

¼ cup milk

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon water, if needed

1. For the cake, place the dates in a bowl and pour on the boiling water. Let sit for 1 hour.

2. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan or eight 6-ounce ramekins.


3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. With the back of a fork, mash the dates in the bowl with the water. Stir in the baking soda. Set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, brown and granulated sugar, orange zest and espresso powder on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.

5. Beating on low speed, beat in half the date mixture. Still on low speed, beat in half the flour mixture. Add the remaining date mixture and the remaining flour. Pour into the prepared cake pan or ramekins and place in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes (15 minutes for ramekins). Rotate the pan or ramekins from front to back and bake for another 25 minutes (10 minutes for ramekins), or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce: Place the brown sugar, cream, butter, vanilla seeds, milk and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan and simmer over medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to cook until golden brown. Remove from heat and keep warm.

7. When the cake is done, remove from the oven. While the cake is still hot, spoon half the sauce over the surface of the cake(s) and serve. This dessert can be made a day ahead, reheated and served with the warm, remaining toffee sauce.

8. Serve twith orange segments and whipped cream.



Shannon Tallman at Whole Foods says that when you’re considering putting a cheese plate together, working in odd numbers is always best because it stands out to the eye. She tends to work with either three or five cheeses when the plate is to be served before a meal, or three when it’s to be presented after a meal.

For a dessert plate, Tallman leans toward sweeter, nuttier and creamier cheeses that tend to be paired with dessert wines or Champagne, and stays away from the assertive, dense or meaty-type cheeses that make a better before-meal option.

Tallman’s first suggestion for a Thanksgiving cheese plate focuses on regional cheeses. Here are her selections and reasons for choosing them, in her own words:


“Nettle Meadow’s Kunik from Warrensburg, N.Y., in the Adirondack area of upstate New York. Kunik is a triple-creme brie that is made with goat’s milk that’s had Jersey cow cream cut into it. The cow’s cream takes the tanginess of the goat’s milk down a level and adds more richness to the cheese. It’s unbelievably buttery and rich, with a great brightness that you get from any goat’s milk cheese.


“Landaff Creamery’s Landaff from Landaff, N.H. This is a great cheese for those who love cheddar, though it’s not technically a cheddar. It’s a raw milk cheese that has a little bit of spice from the unpasteurized milk, but overall, is a wonderfully creamy, grassy and mild cheese. It’s also cave-aged in the Cellars of Jasper Hill Farms.

“Jasper Hill Farms Bayley Hazen Blue from Greensboro, Vt. The holidays tend to be the season for Stilton from England. I actually prefer this raw-milk cousin to it from Vermont. It’s more mild than its English counterpart and has lovely notes of toasted hazelnuts and, sometimes, licorice.”


“For the second plate, I would choose three ‘desert island’ cheeses,” Tallman said. “These are favorites that I go back to again and again to bring to family and friends around the holidays.

“Delice D’argental: A gorgeous triple-creme brie from the Burgundy region of France. Where the Kunik is cut with cows milk, this has the added level of creme fraiche mixed in. Add that onto a higher-than-usual butterfat, and you have one of the most luxurious, indulgent bries out there. I call it the ‘Oh, my!’ cheese, because that’s the reaction most people have when they try it for the first time. I would take a wedge of this over a dish of ice cream any day of the week.

“Quadrello di Bufala: This is a buffalo milk cheese from the Lombardia region of Italy. Many people are familiar with buffalo milk mozzarella, but may be completely unaware that other cheeses are made with their milk. It’s basically a Talegio-style cheese, so it’s a bit stinkier than most, but that doesn’t translate to being a pungent cheese. In fact, this cheese is unbelievably sweet and creamy and much more mild than the more traditional cow’s milk version of Talegio.


“Rogue River Creamery’s Rogue River Blue: This creamery is located in Central Point, Ore., and their focus is mostly blue cheese. In fact, my absolute favorite blue cheese is their Rogue River Blue, which is only available a few months out of the year. Luckily for us, the season starts right before the holidays and will last until early spring.

“This raw milk blue is wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in locally made pear brandy, so it’s sweet, but not cloyingly so. The blue veining adds a bit of pepper to the cheese, but it’s not an overly strong blue. I could easily sit down with a wedge of this, a baguette, a little honey and call it dinner.

“I would definitely encourage people to pair some honey, jam and nuts with any of these cheeses. I always have a bottle of locally produced Sparky’s Raw Honey on hand for a cheese plate, but am also a fan of the Savannah Bee Company’s Tupelo honey, which has notes of caramel in it.

“No cheese plate would be complete without Marcona almonds or carmelized walnuts to add texture and a break from all the rich cheese.”

This story was corrected to include 2 cups pumpkin puree in the Pumpkin Trifle recipe.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com


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