5 essential desserts to wow your Thanksgiving guests

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake-
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Thu, Oct 6, 2011 4:49 PM EDT

Here's why I love desserts so much: when they're really good, they have the power to move people. Everyone remembers a really great dessert. A truly memorable meal begs for a fantastic dessert to make it complete-to give you an excuse to linger at the table just a little longer. Whether you're hosting the whole shebang this Thanksgiving or just bringing a dish to share, these special Thanksgiving desserts will make a lasting impression (and it doesn't hurt that they're healthy too!)

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake (recipe below)
This gooey cake is insanely delicious and makes for a very pretty presentation. The basic recipe uses one of the tastiest fruits of the fall harvest-cranberries-but can be made with apples, pears, peaches or plums too.

Glazed Chocolate-Pumpkin Bundt Cake
You don't have to have pumpkin pie to still enjoy pumpkin and spice in a Thanksgiving dessert. This tender, moist cake uses pureed pumpkin to replace much of the fat and is delicately seasoned with classic Thanksgiving flavors.

Chocolate Tart with Hazelnut Shortbread Crust
A sublime silky chocolate custard fills this simple hazelnut shortbread crust. Serve garnished with whipped cream and toasted hazelnuts for a special touch.

Maple-Pumpkin Custards with Crystallized Ginger
A Thanksgiving meal wouldn't be complete without pumpkin, and here in Vermont we wouldn't dream of excluding our beloved maple syrup. I love that these elegant custards feature the best of both worlds in one little dish.

Caramel Cream Cheese Custard (Flan de Queso)
My Puerto Rican grandmother made the best flan in the world. It may not be a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, but for Thanksgiving a few years ago my sister and I made my grandmother's famous flan. My grandmother was touched. And I'm sure if I had looked hard enough I would've seen a tear in my grandfather's eye.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
To make ahead: Prepare up to 8 hours ahead; serve at room temperature or warm in a 300°F oven.

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen (thawed) cranberries (about 3 cups)
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (see Ingredient Note, below)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature (see Kitchen Tip, below)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup low-fat milk, at room temperature
Whipped cream for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Heat brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons orange juice in a large (12-inch) cast-iron or regular skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter melts and the mixture starts to bubble. Let cool. Coat the sides of the skillet with cooking spray.
3. Bring the remaining 1/4 cup orange juice and cranberries to a simmer in a medium saucepan, stirring often, until about half the cranberries have popped. Pour evenly over the cooled brown sugar mixture in the skillet.
4. Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
5. Separate egg whites and yolks. Place the yolks in a large bowl and add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, oil, granulated sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer or stand mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour mixture alternately with milk, using a rubber spatula, starting and ending with the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated. Beat the egg whites in a clean dry mixing bowl with clean dry beaters on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Fold one-third of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest until almost no white streaks remain. Spread the batter over the cranberries.
6. Bake until the top is golden brown and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. Let cool for at least 30 minutes more before serving. Serve warm or room temperature. Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.
Makes 10 servings.
(Recipe adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.)

Per serving: 357 calories; 13 g fat (4 g sat, 5 g mono); 55 mg cholesterol; 57 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 3 g fiber; 194 mg sodium; 94 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (15% daily value).

Ingredient Note: Whole-wheat pastry flour has less gluten-forming potential than regular whole-wheat flour and helps ensure tender baked goods. Find it in the baking section of the supermarket or online at bobsredmill.com and kingarthurflour.com.

Kitchen Tip: To bring an egg to room temperature, set it on the counter for 15 minutes or submerge it (in the shell) in a bowl of lukewarm (not hot) water for 5 minutes.

By Penelope Wall

Penelope is a web producer and writer for EatingWell.com. When she's not busy geeking out at the computer, she loves cooking and trying new recipes on her friends. Some of her favorite foods are dark chocolate, coffee, apples, sweet potatoes and cheese.

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