Tips for making holiday sweets from Charlotte chefs

Tips for making holiday sweets from Charlotte chefs

Gingerbread cookies. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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Whether you’re an expert in the kitchen or you just like decorating cookies, sweets come with this time of year.

We asked Sam Allen, Wentworth & Fenn owner, executive pastry chef and Gerald Hawkins Jr., Leah & Louise pastry chef and personal vegan Chef Joya for their tips to navigate the kitchen, whether you are hosting a holiday party or making something to enjoy at home.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

1) What are common mistakes people make when it comes to sweets?

Chef Sam Allen: People either overthink the baking or make things too sweet.

  • Keep it simple, it’s just baking.
  • The pastry will shine through if you’re relaxed while baking.
  • If you’re stressed, odds are, it won’t turn out the way you want it.
Sam Allen. Photo: courtesy Wentworth & Fenn

Sam Allen. Photo: courtesy Wentworth & Fenn

Chef Gerald Hawkins, Jr.: Over or under-baking is a common mistake because every oven is a little different.

  • I encourage people following recipes, to use visual clues and invest in tools, like cake testers and thermometers, if you bake regularly.
  • Measuring ingredients is the key to baking success. Consistency on that side will give you consistent results.
Chef Gerald Hawkins Jr. Photo: Peter Taylor

Chef Gerald Hawkins Jr. Photo: Peter Taylor

Chef Joya: People sometimes forget baking is a science.

  • People either often under or over bake their desserts.
  • Also, they tend to be a little too casual with measurements or not measure correctly at all.
Chef Joya. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

Chef Joya. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

2) How many holiday sweets should you make for a holiday party or holiday dinner?

Allen: No less than two options, people like variety!

  • Cookie trays and variety trays are the way to go at the holidays!

Hawkins: If you’re hosting a holiday party I think you should have at least two sweets.

  • Chocolate is always popular, but across all social dining events, keep in mind that chocolate isn’t everyone’s favorite.
  • The more options the better for everyone to choose from at your holiday event.

Chef Joya: I suggest making at least three different things to choose from.

3) What are common ingredient swaps for vegan treats? Such as milk or eggs? 

Chef Joya: There are so many plant-based milks on the market, but almond or oat are my favorites.

  • My two favorite egg swaps are flax-seed meal and apple sauce. It works like a charm every single time.
Chef Joya's blackberry cobbler. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

Chef Joya’s blackberry cobbler. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

4) What is your favorite holiday sweet?

Allen: I love gingerbread cookies with dark chocolate. The chocolate helps cuts the sweetness of the gingerbread!
Hawkins: My favorite holiday sweet is also one of my favorite dishes to bake and that’s a blood orange créme brûlée. Maple whipped cream & gingersnaps on top give it all of the notes we’ve come to expect during the holiday season.
Chef Joya: Personally, I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but I love making all kinds of cobblers for my family and friends.
  • My banana pudding is also a crowd favorite.
Chef Gerald Hawkins Jr.'s malted milk chocolate chip cookies and sorghum gingersnap. Photo: courtesy Rachel Sutherland Communications

Chef Gerald Hawkins Jr.’s malted milk chocolate chip cookies and sorghum gingersnap. Photo: courtesy Rachel Sutherland Communications

My thought bubble: Gingerbread cookies have been my favorite breakfast addition for the last two weeks. That’s one of the advantages of being an adult, you get to eat cookies for breakfast. Happy holidays!

Gingerbread cookies. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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