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What's For Dessert Christmas Day?

That seems to be a frequent question people keep asking me about Christmas dinner. When even my hair stylist and my husband asked me what I was going to serve for dessert for Christmas dinner, I realized that it is a popular question.

Personally, I like to serve a striking dessert flamb or flaming. It is so fun and adds to the excitement of the event. For flaming, I think the traditional Cherries Jubilee is hard to beat. It is so simple, with very little advance preparation and has Christmas colors red and white?and green if you add a mint leaf.

I'm including my favorite preparation, which can be used on bananas for Bananas Foster or on Raspberries, Peaches or any combination of fruits. Making the sauce tableside in a chafing dish is quite spectacular and fun to watch.

Here in New Mexico, Flan is a favorite and very practical too, as it can be made ahead of time up to one week in advance...great for the busy holiday preparations. The flan can be flamed too.

Just remember the following tips for flamb and you will always be successful.

1) Have warm food. (The cherry sauce or the flan need to be warm.)

2) Have a few Tablespoons of sugar ready in a small bowl to scatter on the food to be flamed just before igniting.

3.) Barely warm 50% alcohol liquor, such as brandy or rum?can be done in a ladle with a long wooden match or lighter held under it. When it catches aflame, pour the liquor over the food to be flamed. Or warm in small pan and when first bubbles come, pour over warm food and ignite.

4.) For safety, have a lid handy for snuffing the flame, if it is needed.

Cherries Jubilee

This basic recipe can be used to create other fruit for flamb?ing, such as bananas, raspberries, peaches or any combination. Prior to the meal, place the balls of ice cream in sherbets or small bowls and place in the freezer. The sauce is great made tableside in a chafing dish, if available or it can be made ahead for reheating and flamb?ing just before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1/3 cup unsalted butter
5 Tablespoons sugar or to taste, divided tart cherries will require up to
6 Tablespoons (light brown sugar is also good)
1 pounds dark sweet cherries, fresh, frozen or canned (pie cherries are all right, just need more sugar)

1. Measure and prepare the ingredients and have each ready for immediate preparation. Using a chafing dish or heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir, then add the fruit. Cook quickly until fruit is cooked?three to five minutes.

2. In the meantime, when the fruit is done, sprinkle 2 Tablespoon sugar over the top. Then heat the liquor over low heat?either in a small pan or in a ladle. When the first bubble forms, add to the fruit. It will flame up. As the flame dies, spoon sauce over the ice cream.

FLAN CARAMELISADO (Custard with Caramel Topping)

Years ago, my Mexican aunt shared this, her favorite flan recipe. It is fool proof if you carefully follow the instructions and it is so delicious.

Yield: 4 - 6 servings

1 cup sugar, divided
6 eggs
3 cups milk
1 cinnamon stick, preferably canela or Mexican cinnamon
1 teaspoon Mexican vanilla
Cold unsalted butter, for buttering custard cups

1. Caramelize ? cup sugar in a small skillet over medium high heat, stirring constantly until sugar is melted and browned. Pour immediately into the bottoms of 10 to 12 well buttered 4 ounce custard cups.

2. Beat eggs until well mixed with a simple whisk. Gradually add the remaining cup of sugar, beating after each addition to dissolve the sugar. Do not beat until foamy.

3. Heat the milk with the cinnamon stick until warm. Add milk to egg flan mixture, stirring to combine well. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

4. Pour into the caramel-lined custard cups. Set cups on a cloth towel in a 10 x 14 pan(or one large enough to hold the custards) of hot water and bake in a 350 F oven for 35 minutes, or until they are slightly bubbled up and barely jiggle when the water bath pan is shaken a bit. (I prefer to not insert a knife, as it will make a hole. However an inserted knife should come out clean when done.) Overbaking is a popular problem. Do not bake past the point of doneness. Allow to cool for at least three to four hours. To serve, warm slightly in the microwave (about three minutes) or in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until the liquid in the bottom has softened and they slide out easily. Then using a table knife, insert it against the side of each bowl and invert onto a small dessert plate.

Notes: One large flan can be made if preferred. It will take longer to cool and must be made one day in advance.

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