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Holiday Desserts by a Pastry Pro

UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works shares recipes and tips for pumpkin cheesecake, sugar cookies and gingerbread.

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By Alison Hewitt, Photos by Reed Hutchinson '71

Published Nov 24, 2008 4:06 PM


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There's no better way to celebrate the holidays than with desserts. UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works — who leads the team of chefs that creates thousands of desserts every day for students and sculpts masterpieces for UCLA catering — gives his recipes and professional tips for making three delicious holiday goodies.

"I'll give you a recipe for the finest sugar cookies I've made in my life," Works promises. Other treats include a spin on the traditional pumpkin pie, plus a classic gingerbread recipe good for cookies or gingerbread houses.

Click through to get the recipes, beautiful garnishing ideas, and hints from the master on how to avoid beginner mistakes. A word of caution: from the tricky recipe for pumpkin cheesecake to the goof-proof recipe for "the best sugar cookies," these recipes are made for entertaining large groups.

"I don't have recipes with teaspoons and tablespoons in them," Works says. "They're all in pounds and ounces, otherwise we'd have directions in them like, 'use 32 teaspoons of baking soda.' But I tried to reduce the amounts in these versions." Brace yourself for the recipe for five pounds of gingerbread. Works insists it isn't as much as it sounds like. However, UCLA Magazine did reduce the graham-cracker crust recipe from its starting point of 25 pounds of graham cracker crumbs!

Pumpkin Pie + Cheesecake =
Click for pumpkin cheesecake recipe and tips

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Why pumpkin cheesecake instead of pumpkin pie? "This is a cheesecake-eating nation," Works says. This twist on the classic holiday pie is for ambitious chefs, but it's worth it, Works adds. "This is the most phenomenal cheesecake ever known to man. It's nice and light and wonderful and doesn't feel heavy."

He developed it when a survey from the dining halls determined that students wanted more cheesecake, and more pumpkin pie. "This fills both of those voids," Works says. "This is my favorite cheesecake recipe, and the best pumpkin pie recipe that I have. I just mixed them together 50-50 and it came out wonderful."

That's right — UCLA students get to eat this treat every week during the holiday season, as part of their regular meal plan.

Mmmm, Sugar
Click for sugar cookie recipe and tips

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"This is probably one of the most simple cookie recipes I have, yet it tastes excellent," Works says. "It's such a quality dough, I even use it as a crust in my lemon bars."

With just six ingredients — butter, sugar, salt, eggs, cake flour and all-purpose flour — this is an easy recipe to tackle, and the dough can be made the day before guests arrive and stored in the fridge until you're ready to bake it. Works' recipe includes a sure-fire way to get even sprinkle coverage on your cookies, if you're willing to add that seventh ingredient.

Run, Run, As Fast As You Can...
Click for gingerbread recipe and tips

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"This recipe was given to me when I was [the assistant executive pastry chef] at Mandalay Bay," Works recalls. "It's really versatile. It makes nice soft cookies, or it can be really good for gingerbread houses if you firm it up by cooking it a little longer."

This is the recipe Works uses for his latest tradition — annual gingerbread house displays in the dining halls. Works also shares his secret to putting a shine on dull gingerbread, and his recipe for good icing.

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