Holiday Desserts by Meg Galus of NoMi and a Table Set by the Founders of Dinner Party

SWEET SETTINGS: Pastry chef Meg Galus and vintage-tableware pros Tricia Hyland and Lisa Spagnolo make the past present with artful arrays of festive treats.

A display of holiday goodies
Keep the party going with luscious tarts (cranberry-almond, vanilla cream with port-poached quince, and chocolate pudding), sugar cookies, and chocolate gingerbread. Wedges of port-poached quince top a vanilla cream tart.
 

When we asked Meg Galus, the pastry chef at the Park Hyatt Chicago, to create some of her favorite holiday sweets, she had a lot of personal history to draw on. “Christmas is huge in my family,” she says. “Especially on my dad’s side—they’re Christmas freaks.” Spending time in the kitchen with a grandmother who loves to bake is excellent training for any pastry chef, and Galus has happy memories of doing just that. At NoMi, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, she is famous for her splendid tarts, and we were thrilled with the three she made for us, as well as with her cookies, her caramel corn, and everything else she brought to the table.

Finding just the right dishes, serving pieces, and linens fell to Tricia Hyland and Lisa Spagnolo, BFFs since childhood and the founders of Dinner Party (dinnerpartyshop.com), a business that rents and sells vintage dinnerware. Both women are keen on the holiday habit of hanging out with family and friends but averse to sweating the small stuff. “I’m all about creating a beautiful atmosphere with minimal effort,” Spagnolo says. “No fuss, no stress, just ‘Come on over and have a glass of wine’—that sort of thing.” Hyland couldn’t agree more. “I’m from a big family and we hosted most of the holidays, so I understand the work that goes into it,” she says. “But the sense of togetherness is what’s important.”

* * *

Table Talk with Tricia and Lisa

Vary heights. Set a small pedestal cake stand atop a bigger one or put long-stemmed flowers in a tall vase to contrast with smaller pieces.

Mix materials. Pair glass (pressed, etched, colored, clear) with wood, metal, silver, and china—both “good” and everyday.

Play with opposites. Combine old and new, shiny and matte, bright and dark, ruffled and plain. Rough-textured fabric on a table makes filigreed silver spoons seem less formal.

Find new uses for old favorites. Delicate cups and saucers inherited from your aunt look great alongside campfire-ready enamelware coffeepots.

Bring on the nostalgia. That little wooden squirrel with his nut dish that you’ve had since childhood? This is his moment. Give him something delicious to hold.

Fill in with fruit and flowers. Natural elements don’t have to be fancy to be beautiful. Fresh figs, pomegranates, and mature blooms provide subtle splashes of color.

* * *

Meg’s Tips for Holiday Baking

Buy the best ingredients. Spring for the good stuff, especially when it comes to butter (go Euro) and chocolate.

Make some things ahead of time. Cookie dough freezes well and can be kept, unbaked, for two months or more.

Use what tastes good. If something—chocolate, for example—isn’t wonderful as you’re adding it, it won’t taste any better after baking.

Think about sizes. When setting up a food display, combine large things like tarts with cookies and other treats that can be eaten in a bite or two, to give people choices.

Cover a spectrum of flavors. “I always include something super-chocolatey, then something light and refreshing—often fruity—at the other end, and something else in the middle, like custard.”

NEXT: Holiday treat recipes »

Photography: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant

 

Cranberry-almond tart; chocolate pudding tart; wedges of port-poached quince top a vanilla cream tart
Cranberry-almond tart; chocolate pudding tart; wedges of port-poached quince top a vanilla cream tart
 

Tart Dough

Makes one tart

1 stick unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 egg
2 cups cake flour, sifted

Cream butter with salt and vanilla in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar and mix until just combined. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add flour and mix until just combined. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and refrigerate overnight. Roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness, using a little flour to keep it from sticking. Lay the dough over a pie pan or tart ring and press it in, then freeze for 15 minutes. Bake at 300˚F. When making a tart that will be baked with its filling, bake only until the crust is dry but has not changed color. When making a tart that will have its filling added at the end, bake until golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely. (To make chocolate tart dough, substitute 1/3 cup of cocoa powder for 1/3 cup of flour.)

 

Cranberry-almond Tart

Makes one tart

1½ sticks unsalted butter
1¼ cups powdered sugar
1 cup almond meal or ground almonds
3 large eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup cranberries

Paddle butter, powdered sugar, and almond meal in a stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs slowly, mixing to combine. Add flour and mix to combine. Drizzle in heavy cream and mix well

Fill par-baked shells about three-quarters of the way with the almond cream. Sprinkle cranberries over the top and lightly push into filling. Return to oven and bake at 325˚F until almond cream is puffy and golden. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream and pastry cutouts.

 

Chocolate Pudding Tart

Makes one tart

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup high-quality cocoa powder
pinch of salt
3 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
⅔ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⅛ cups high-quality bittersweet chocolate

Whisk the dry ingredients together; add enough milk to make a paste. Whisk yolks into the paste. Combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Whisk a little into the egg mixture and return all to pot. Bring back to a full boil, whisking constantly. Cook until thick, about three to five minutes. Melt the bittersweet chocolate. Strain the egg mixture over the chocolate. Whisk until well combined, and finish with a hand mixer. Cover, with the plastic wrap touching the surface, and chill completely. Spread into the baked tart shell. Garnish with whipped cream, sprinkles, and dragées.

 

Vanilla Cream with Port-poached Quince Tart

Makes one tart

FOR FRUIT
3 or 4 quinces, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
peel of 1 orange, cut into strips
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 bottle ruby port

Put the quince wedges, sugar, salt, orange peel, and vanilla in a pot and cover with port. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit on top of the fruit to ensure it is covered by the liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook until fruit can be pierced easily with a knife. Cool completely in the liquid.

FOR VANILLA CREAM
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 teaspoon extract)
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
6 egg yolks
¼ cup cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine milk, vanilla bean, and half the sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Whisk together egg yolks, remaining sugar, and cornstarch in a mixing bowl. Pour a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture and whisk. Pour in the rest and whisk together. Pour back into the pot. Continue whisking while cooking over medium-high heat until boiling. Cook about 3 more minutes, until mixture is smooth and shiny. Take off heat, whisk in butter, and beat with hand mixer or food processor until smooth. Pour into a bowl or casserole dish lined with plastic wrap. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Spoon completely chilled vanilla cream into the tart shell. Top with quince wedges.

 

Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant

 

Pomegranate punch and pumpkin macarons are impossible to resist.
Pomegranate punch and pumpkin macarons are impossible to resist.
 

Pomegranate Punch

Makes about a gallon

6 cups sugar
6 cups water
4 cups passion fruit nectar
4 cups pomegranate juice
4 cups orange soda
4 cups blood orange soda

Bring the sugar and water to a boil to make simple syrup. Cool completely. Whisk all the juices and sodas together and add syrup to taste.

 

Pumpkin Macarons

Makes about 30 cookies

FOR THE COOKIES
¾ cup egg whites
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups almond meal or ground almonds

Make the macarons at least a day before you intend to serve them. Start whipping egg whites slowly in a clean, dry bowl with a stand mixer. Once they are foamy, start sprinkling in the sugar. Whip on medium speed to just under stiff peaks. If using food coloring, add at the very end. While the egg whites are whipping, grind the powdered sugar and almond meal together in a food processor until very fine, then sift. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the egg whites and fold carefully until ingredients are about three-quarters mixed together. Repeat with another third. Finally, fold the remaining third into the egg white mixture and combine, deflating the mixture with the spatula until the batter is proper piping consistency. It should be a little bit fluid and will fall off the spatula easily. Transfer to a piping bag with a ¼-inch round tip. Pipe circles the size of a quarter onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment. Leave about an inch between circles (the batter will spread slightly), and make sure there are no “tips.” Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, until a crust forms on the tops of the cookies. Bake at 325˚F for 12 to 18 minutes, rotating the pan every 5 minutes, just until the macarons can be picked up from the parchment cleanly.

FOR THE FILLING
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin purée
3 cups good-quality milk chocolate, chips or chopped
2 tablespoons brandy

Combine the corn syrup, lemon juice, and sugar, and cook until a nice deep caramel color. Deglaze with the cream. Whisk in the spice and pumpkin purée. Bring back to a boil. Melt the chocolate. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the chocolate. Whisk to combine. Whisk in the brandy. Cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Pipe a small mound onto a macaron and top with another cookie. Store macarons in the freezer and serve at room temperature.

 

Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant

 

Hot cocoa warms our hearts. Dress it up with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, freshly whipped cream, chocolate dragées and shavings, candied orange peel, homemade marshmallows . . .
Hot cocoa warms our hearts. Dress it up with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, freshly whipped cream, chocolate dragées and shavings, candied orange peel, homemade marshmallows . . .
 

Hot Chocolate

Makes about ten cups

8 cups 2-percent milk
2½ cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 cup cocoa powder
5 cups bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2½ cups unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups cream

Bring half of the milk to a boil with the sugar, vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder. Melt the chocolates together. Pour the chocolate into the liquid while whisking. Use a hand mixer to make it smooth. Whisk in the rest of the milk and the cream. Serve immediately or save in a cooler and reheat.

 

Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant

 

Caramel corn and cookies
Caramel corn and cookies
 

Caramel Corn

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 cups popped popcorn

Cook butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup to a medium-dark caramel. Add salt, baking soda, and vanilla and stir until it puffs up. Stir in the popcorn. Dump onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 300˚F. Stir every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes. Add dried cherries, cranberries, or nuts as desired.

 

Sugar Cookies

Makes about 120 cookies

4 sticks unsalted butter
1¾ cups sugar
2 eggs
zest of 1 orange
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5¾ cups cake flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, zest, and vanilla extract. Paddle in the dry ingredients until well combined. Chill and then roll to ½-inch thickness. Punch shapes with cookie cutters and transfer to baking sheets. Bake at 325˚F until edges are lightly golden.

 

Chocolate Gingerbread

Makes about 24 cookies

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¾ cups chocolate chips
raw sugar crystals

Sift together flour, spices, and cocoa powder. Beat butter, ginger, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add molasses. Add combined hot water and baking soda. Add dry ingredients slowly. Add chocolate chips. Chill at least two hours. Roll balls of dough in raw sugar. Bake at 350˚F until puffed up. Bake a little longer for a crisper cookie.

NEXT: Buy Guide »

Photograph: Tyllie Barbosa
Styling: Barri Leiner Grant

 

Buy Guide

ABOUT OUR SOURCES: We attempt to provide as much information as possible about the products and professionals involved in designing the homes we show in our pages. Items not sourced here are probably not available for sale. Send questions to chicagohome@chicagomag.com. And check out Design Sources, our comprehensive list of hundreds of local home design pros, shops, and showrooms.

Barneys, 15 E. Oak St., 312-587-1700, barneys.com. Bernardaud, 900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-751-1700, bernardaud.com. Bottega Veneta, 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-664-3220, bottegaveneta.com. Brookstone, Oakbrook Center, 630-571-9600, brookstone.com. Elements, 741 N. Wells St., 312-642-6574, elementschicago.com. Greer, 1657 N. Wells St., 312-337-8000, greerchicago.com. Hermès, 25 E. Oak St., 312-787-8175, hermes.com. I.D. Chicago, 3337 N. Halsted St., 773-755-4343, idchicago.com. Ikram, 15 E. Huron St., 312-587-1000, ikram.com. Jayson Home, 1885 N. Clybourn Ave., 800-472-1885, jaysonhome.com. Jonathan Adler, 676 N. Wabash Ave., 312-274-9920, jonathanadler.com. Lalique, Merchandise Mart, 312-867-1787, lalique.com. Louis Vuitton, 919 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-2010, louisvuitton.com. Material Possessions, 704 N. Wabash Ave., 312-280-4633, materialpossessions.com. Neiman Marcus, 737 N. Michigan Ave., 312-642-5900, neimanmarcus.com. Pastoral, 53 E. Lake St., 312-658-1250, pastoralartisan.com. Pierrot Gourmet, 108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6749, peninsula.com. Restoration Hardware, 938 W. North Ave., 312-475-9116, restorationhardware.com. Skändal, 907 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-386-7900, shopskandal.com. Space519, 900 N. Michigan Ave., 312-751-1519, space519.com. Stitch, 1723 N. Damen Ave., 773-782-1570, stitchchicago.com. Tiffany & Co., 730 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-7500, tiffany.com.
 

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