Thanksgiving Baking Strategy : One Recipe, Two Desserts

By Natasha Pickowicz

OVERWHELMED by coordinating the usual Thanksgiving spread this year? You are not alone. As a professional pastry chef, I’m used to fancy equipment, plenty of space and skilled staff to help me execute my dishes. So when I lost my service-industry job earlier this year due to the pandemic, I fretted over how I would make my favorite desserts out of my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. (First step: Buy whisk.)

Fortunately, my years of fine-dining experience have left me with solid strategies for navigating one of the most elaborate food holidays of the year. My ace in the hole: easy “core” recipes that produce two desserts each, one showstopper fit for the festive table and a second, simpler sweet to enjoy for breakfast the next morning, snack on the rest of the week or even deliver to a loved one. I have three beauties to add to your Thanksgiving dessert repertoire: a cranberry-tahini layer cake, a nutty brown-butter brioche tart and a fragrant bay leaf panna cotta tart. Each of these recipes yields a second treat.

While the oven is hot and the mixing bowls are out, why make just one layer cake when you also could have an easy snacking cake, with barely any extra work? The core recipe for my layer cake—a fluffy chiffon sponge mounted with creamy tahini—also bakes into a single-layer cake capped with chopped cranberries and a sandy coconut streusel.

I love a buttery brioche, and the recipe I provide here is a breeze—no kneading required. My poached-pear brioche tart makes an elegant complement to the usual Thanksgiving pies. Put the extra dough the recipe yields to good use in bostock, a crunchy-custardy, twice-baked brioche dunked in syrup and spread with nutty frangipane that makes a decadent Black Friday breakfast.

Finally, panna cotta is one of the easiest and most subtle desserts I know. I like to toast bay leaves in a pot and use them to infuse the cream. Half the panna cotta goes into a barely-sweet tart shell; the remainder fills tiny glasses or jars and gets a topping of candied apple confetti—an easy gift to drop off on a friend’s porch or a quick, indulgent treat for yourself, anytime.

With these recipes in your back pocket, you can riff endlessly. The cake batter alone could make a Bundt cake, a tray of cupcakes or a jelly roll. After all, the holiday season is only just beginning.

1. FEAST DAY: Brown Butter Brioche Tart With Pears and Honey 2. NEXT DAY: Hazelnut Bostock With Yogurt and Citrus

Tender, buttery brioche dough is the base for a festive pear tart as well as bostock, a rich breakfast bun. The same fragrant hazelnut frangipane tops them both.

TOTAL TIME: 7 hours 45 minutes(includes dough rising)

SERVES: 8 (tart), 6 (bostock)



  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 1 packet instant dry yeast
  • 1¾ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1⅛ cup (2 sticks minus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cups hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large pears (about 1½ pounds), any variety
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup mixed warm spices, such as cinnamon stick, star anise, vanilla bean, knob of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Flaky finishing salt
  • Crème fraîche or ice cream
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  • Whole-milk yogurt
  • Wedges of citrus such as grapefruit, oranges and/or tangerines


  1. Make the brown butter: In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter, swirling pot as it comes to a simmer then heavily foams. Once milk solids are a deep golden color, remove pan from heat and carefully strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl or jar. Measure ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon brown butter for the brioche dough. If there is any remaining, reserve for bostock.
  2. Mix the brioche dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, swirl together water and honey. Sprinkle 1 packet yeast on top and wait a few minutes. Once mixture looks puffy, add eggs, vanilla extract, brown butter measured out in previous step, flour and salt. Using paddle attachment, mix at low-medium speed until dough is soft and sticky, about 4 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and proof at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 90 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.
  3. Make the hazelnut frangipane: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast hazelnuts until lightly golden and skins start separating, 6-8 minutes. Let cool, then grind in a food processor until fine.
  4. In stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream room-temperature butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Lower speed and mix in ground hazelnuts, flour and salt until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  5. Make the poached pears: Peel pears and quarter lengthwise. In a small, deep pot over low-medium heat, warm sugar, honey, water, spices and salt. Once sugar is melted, add pears. Press a piece of parchment paper onto surface of syrup to cover and keep pears submerged. Gently poach pears in hot but not simmering syrup until barely knife tender and shiny, about 15 minutes. (Depending on ripeness of pears, this may take longer.) Refrigerate pears in syrup until ready to use.
  6. Prepare the dough for final rise: Line two baking sheets with parchment and cover with non-stick spray. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and divide in half.
  7. Shape the brioche tart: Shape one dough half into a smooth round 4-6 inches across. Use the sides of your hands to gently push dough under while turning it clockwise to make a domed bun. Transfer to a prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, shape the bostock buns: Divide remaining dough into 6 pieces. Use your fingers to roll each piece into a 6-to-8-inch rope. Gently tie each rope in a knot. Place knots on second prepared baking sheet, spaced evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
  9. Assemble the tart for baking: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove poached pears from syrup, reserving syrup. Core pears and thinly slice lengthwise. Moisten the tips of your fingers with water and gently deflate center of brioche round, pressing down and flattening to form a 10-inch tart base with a raised 1-inch border all around. Use the back of a spoon to spread ¼ cup frangipane from center to border of tart. Fan pear slices over frangipane. Brush edge of tart with egg white.
  10. Bake until crust is deeply golden and pears are fragrant, about 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack, then brush pears with reserved poaching liquid. Sprinkle with finishing salt and serve with crème fraîche or ice cream.
  11. Bake bostock: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gently brush raised knots with egg white. Bake until knots are golden and glossy, 15-20 minutes. Baking in advance and getting the brioche a little stale is great for bostock. So you can let these sit overnight at room temperature and finish up the next day.
  12. When ready to assemble bostock, dunk brioche knots in reserved poaching liquid, flipping a few times to absorb syrup. If there is brown butter left over from step 1, drizzle it over knots. Spread 2 tablespoons frangipane on top of each knot. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  13. Bake until frangipane is puffed, golden and baked through, 12-15 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with yogurt and wedges of fresh citrus.


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