Chris Hanmer: A Top Chef's Tips for Holiday Baking

Chris Hanmer's Chocolate Almond Cake.Chris Hanmer's Chocolate Almond Cake.Cooking for a crowd this holiday season? According to world champion pastry chef Chris Hanmer, 2011 winner of "Top Chef: Just Desserts," Chris Hanmer, one of the best ways to reduce the stress levels is to start cooking -- or, at least, baking -- early.

"The great thing about desserts is that you can make a lot of them in advance," he told Yahoo! Shine in an interview.

"You don't have to do all your baking in one day," Hanmer, who is also the founder of the School of Pastry Design in Las Vegas, Nevada, explained. "My mom and other moms throughout the world have a count down clock. But you can actually push that back a couple of days."

Cookie dough freezes wonderfully, and you can make extra batches a few weeks before the holidays and then bake them up the day before company arrives (scoop the dough into balls before freezing).

Some people tend to fall into a baking rut around the holidays, serving up the same old sugar cookies, fruit cakes, and holiday pies. To add interest to a traditional recipe, "Try to work in different spices, like cardamom and nutmeg," Hanmer suggests.

Browning the butter before adding it to a recipe is a quick way to add depth -- it infuses your cake or brownies with a rich, toasted flavor, Hanmer says. And, as long as you're not dealing with food allergies, try using nuts in unique ways. "Nuts are underutilized," he says. "They're salty and savory, and great in sauces or sprinkled on top of desserts."

New to baking? Stick to "fast, simple flavors" and recipes that are both easy and elegant, and consider desserts that can be made in little ramekins so you can avoid slicing and serving disasters. (It's also an easy way to keep portion sizes under control.) Hanmer shared two of his favorites with Yahoo! Shine: Heavenly Holiday Chocolate Almond Cake and Roasted Honeycrisp Apple Creme Brulee. The batter for the chocolate cake can be made as much as a month in advance and frozen in an oven-proof dish; just thaw it and bake. And the apple creme brulee tastes complicated but is surprisingly simple.

Heavenly Holiday Chocolate Almond Cake

Almond Caramel with Sea Salt
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
2 tbsp Corn Syrup
3/4 cup Cream
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/8 tsp Sea Salt
1/4 cup Toasted Slivered Almonds

Warm Chocolate Cake
4 oz Dark Chocolate
1/2 cup Butter
3 eggs
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
2 tbsp Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar

To Make the Almond Caramel with Sea Salt
1. Warm the cream, sea salt and vanilla in a saucepot and set aside.
2. Place the corn syrup and sugar in a separate saucepot over medium heat and cook until a golden caramel color has been reached stirring from time to time.
3. Carefully and slowly add the warm cream to the caramel stirring well.
4. Remove from the heat and add the toasted almonds.

To Make the Warm Chocolate Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Chop the chocolate and put it in a bowl with the butter. Using microwave, heat for about 30 seconds at a time until liquid and hot.
3. Using a stand mixer, whip the eggs with the granulated sugar until light. Slowly add the chocolate butter mixture.
4. Sift together all the dry ingredients and fold into the chocolate mixture.
4. Fill 4 4-oz oven safe dishes half way with the cake batter. Bake for 15 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, spoon the almond caramel sauce over the top of the cake and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chris Hanmer's Roasted Honeycrisp Apple Crème Brulee
4 Servings

Roasted Honeycrisp Apples
2 Honeycrisp Apples
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Ground Nutmeg

Crème Brulee
3/4 cup Whole Milk
3/4 cup Cream
6 Egg Yolks
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar

Spice Crunch Walnuts
3/4 cup Whole Walnuts
1 tbs Egg Whites
2 tbs Granulated Sugar
1/4 tsp 5 spice blend

To Make the Roasted Honeycrisp Apples
1. Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/2 inch cubes. Cut the butter into cubes about the same size.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss the apples with the cubed butter, sugar, ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.
3. Place on a baking sheet. Roast the apples at 350°F for about 15 to 20 minutes or until just tender.
4. Remove from the oven and let cool.

To Make the Crème Brulee
1. Preheat over to 200°F.
2. Warm the milk with 1/2 the sugar in a saucepot. Add the remaining sugar with the egg yolks, mixing well with a whisk.
3. Mix the cold cream and vanilla extract into the warm egg milk mixture.
4. Divide the apples evenly on the bottom of four 4 oz oven safe dishes. Pour the custard mixture into the dish to just cover the apples. Bake for 1 hour or until set.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool in the refrigerator about 2 hours. This can also be made 1 day ahead.

To Make the Spice Crunch Walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Place on a parchment paper lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Putting it all together
Dust the top of each Crème Brûlée with granulated sugar and caramelize with a torch. Top the dish with a few spiced walnuts and serve.