I was first given the honour of making the Christmas dessert when I was eight years old. I was already baking and helping my Mom in the kitchen. And it was really not a huge risk for her as there was plenty of cookies, tarts, cakes, etc. in the freezer if needed.
That first year I decided to make “Stained Glass”. This is a simple molded Jello dessert. You make regular Jello flavours except with less water so they are harder when they set and just a thin layer in the bottom of a pan. You cut all of these into squares and fold them into another Jello flavour (usually lemon or pineapple) which has whipped cream folded into to it. The combined mixture is placed in a loaf or bundt pan and allowed to set, usually overnight. Then you slice it and top with fresh fruit and/or more whipped cream.
The next few years saw variations on a theme, using Jello in various forms. When I was 12 I saw this gorgeous chocolate cheesecake on the cover of Bon Appetit and nothing was going to stop me from recreating it, all the way down to the chocolate holly leaves! My mother relented – even back then she knew when to give in and when to put on the brakes of my creativity. And lo and behold I nailed it …. no, not in a cake wrecks sort of way, I really did – taste, looks, and everything!
So after that, I was left on my own to pick and create the meal’s crown jewel. There were more cheesecakes, regular cakes, a torte that had 16 thin layers each baked separately, all the way up to poached pears!
Once my depression and bipolar symptoms were diagnosed, my mother started making dessert herself. She would say “oh we have lots of baking” or, “I thought I would just make a couple of pies this year”. There was no discussing why, and, even though I was in my late 20’s I did not question it.
After Mom passed away, my Dad had us go out for Christmas dinner for a few years and then my sister and I started hosting it. If I didn’t host it I would bring dessert, but they were never the fancy creations I loved doing.
When at 46 I went to culinary school everyone was so surprised I took the culinary side instead of pastry. I said it was that I wanted to know more about how to cater but I think part of me was just not sure of myself with pastry anymore. This is ironic seeing as I did end up making and decorating cakes as a sideline. I guess there is a pastry chef down in there somewhere!
Now that both my Hubby and I are on strict diets, including gluten and lactose-free, I make even fewer sweets than I used to.
But I do still remember those early days of Christmas desserts fondly!