Storing Desserts : A Large Variety of Holiday Delicacies Can Be Prepared Ahead and Frozen

Times Staff Writer

Knowing the shelf-life of a dessert or dessert accompaniment can broaden a host's list of sweet selections for an appropriate ending to a holiday menu. Here are suggestions, some of which were shared by Susan Holtz, a dessert expert, that will inspire and assist a dessert cook.

Puff pastry shells, those crisp casings for fresh fruit or pastry cream, can be baked ahead and cooled. They may be left on the baking sheet for protection, covered with foil and stored in the freezer for up to one week. Remove from freezer two hours before filling and recrisp in 325-degree oven five minutes or until warm.

Pate a choux --or cream puff pastry for eclairs or cream puffs--can be stored in rigid airtight containers in the freezer up to five days. Do not store in the refrigerator because pastry absorbs odors and can become stale quickly.

Baked cream puffs freeze beautifully up to one month, tightly covered. When filled with ice cream and frozen (as in profiteroles ) , cream puffs should be made with milk instead of water, which freezes more solidly, making the puffs hard and dry.

Classic puff pastry dough can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator up to three days. If freezing, overwrap plastic-wrapped dough with foil and freeze up to three months. Thaw in refrigerator 24 hours before rolling.

Avoid Odor Absorption

Butter cream, well covered to prevent odor absorption, can be stored in the refrigerator up to one week, in the freezer up to one month. Allow to stand at room temperature one hour after removing from freezer or refrigerator, then beat until smooth.

Whipping cream will be more stable if beaten slowly and not overwhipped. Sugar (granulated or extra fine) and vanilla may be added before whipping. To stabilize one cup cream with gelatin, soften 1/2 teaspoon gelatin in 1 tablespoon cold water, then melt over low heat. Whip cream to soft peaks, then fold 1/4 cup cream into gelatin mixture. Return to whipped cream, folding gently just to blend.

Royal icing will keep three to four weeks in the refrigerator and can be rebeaten before used. To keep it from hardening, cover with plastic wrap and place damp towel over the top.

Store baklava or other sweet, sticky filo pastries at room temperature, uncovered, up to eight hours. To refresh, bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Baked sweet- or short-crust pastry shells can be stored in plastic bags in refrigerator up to two days or frozen up to one month.

Unbaked pastry dough can be shaped into a disc, placed in freezer plastic bag. Defrost at room temperature or refrigerator until softened but still very cold for easier rolling.

Pavlovas, dacquoise or other meringue sheets or circles may be stored in airtight metal containers at room temperature up to one week. (This may not work in humid areas.) In humid or rainy weather, dry them in 225-degree oven 20 to 30 minutes longer and use immediately.

Butter cream-filled and frosted meringue tortes freeze well up to three days but taste best at room temperature.

If assembling genoise -based dessert the next day, leave genoise on rack to air-dry at room temperature. A drier cake will absorb liqueur or flavored syrup better. If prepared two to three days in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. If freezing, wrap in plastic and foil and keep no more than 10 days.

To preserve fresh-baked ladyfingers, freeze in plastic container with wax paper between layers up to 10 days. Refrigeration hastens drying and staling. Because they thaw quickly, ladyfingers may be used frozen in cold desserts.

Prepare cake decorations ahead to keep on hand for unexpected times for show-off desserts. Royal icing flowers may be stored in metal containers at room temperature up to one month. White or dark chocolate shapes or molds can be stored in covered plastic container in refrigerator or freezer.

Marzipan roses, flowers or other molds may be rolled and shaped up to two days in advance and stored at room temperature. (Unless cornstarch is used instead of powdered sugar, which attracts moisture, refrigeration will cause sweating on the marzipan's surface.) Marzipan dough, however, may be formed into a log, wrapped in plastic and foil and refrigerated up to two months.

Spongecake, chiffon and angel food cake will keep at room temperature up to two days, wrapped in plastic wrap. Otherwise, freeze up to two months, wrapped in plastic and foil. Frosted cakes can be frozen up to one month.

Keep fruit purees on hand in the freezer; they make easy but tasty sauces for plain cake slices.

Jellyroll can be filled with jam and moistened with liqueur, rolled and left at room temperature overnight. If not, freeze up to one week.

Creme brulee can be partially made ahead. The custard can be refrigerated up to two days; just before serving cover with sugar and blowtorch to a rich dark brown.

Steamed plum puddings may be refrigerated in the mold up to two days then reheated in boiling water until warm. Puddings or fruitcakes wrapped in brandy-soaked cheesecloth may be refrigerated several months. Brandy or other alcohol may be re-sprinkled every month.

Choose a chocolate glaze made with cocoa powder as it does not lose its gloss when refrigerated. This can be reheated over very low heat. Ganache or glaze made with chocolate and whipping cream may be stored for three days but will thicken. Reheating in double boiler will make it thinner. Add a little butter for a shinier, darker glaze.

Chocolate-glazed chocolate cake may be held at room temperature uncovered overnight or refrigerated up to two days.

Lemon curd made with egg yolks, lemon juice and butter will keep up to 10 days, covered, in refrigerator.

Caramel sauce may be prepared several days in advance, chilled and reheated.

Creme anglaise (English custard) will keep two to three days in refrigerator. Pastry cream (custard thickened with flour or cornstarch) will keep for three to four days in refrigerator; cover top with film wrap and do not freeze.

Desserts With Fruit

Poached pears or other fruit will keep in refrigerator up to three days; use slightly underripe ones. Poaching syrups made with liqueurs keep indefinitely.

Streusel topping can be made up to one week in advance; it will keep one month in freezer.

Bavarian souffles made with gelatin will keep up to two days in the refrigerator.

Lighter fruit and chocolate mousses will keep overnight in the refrigerator. Heavier, richer mousse keeps longer; store well-covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Pralines can be stored up to 10 days at room temperature. Praline powder should be stored no more than two days in airtight container at room temperature.

Cakes filled and frosted with butter cream may be refrigerated overnight or frozen. Freeze uncovered until firm, then wrap in plastic wrap, then foil. Defrost wrapped cake overnight in refrigerator.

Warm apple or other fresh fruit cakes, pecan or fruit tarts will keep at room temperature, covered, overnight or freeze. Defrost and reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.

Bread and rice puddings are best the same day but if made one to two days ahead, they can be refrigerated. This is where the microwave plays a role in reheating or resteaming.

Liqueur poundcake or butter cake may be stored, well wrapped, at room temperature several days, or several weeks in refrigerator.

Cheesecakes may be tightly covered and refrigerated up to three or four days, or frozen in springform tightly covered with plastic wrap and foil up to one month. Defrost wrapped cake in refrigerator overnight.

Hot souffles may be partly prepared in advance. Prepare custard part and hold at room temperature three to four hours before proceeding with folding in beaten egg whites, then baking.

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