Remember when Mom used to warn you not to fill up on sweets before dinner? Well, the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada are giving you permission to do just that September 27 at their annual Dessert Before Dinner gala at Caesars Palace. The event will feature a full dinner as well as a cocktail reception, silent auction and performance by Terry Fator, and will honor seven local female leaders who have had an impact on the community. But the highlight for anyone with a sweet tooth will be a pre-dinner dessert competition that will pit some of the town’s top pastry chefs against each other. The only rule is that they’ll have to create their sweet treats using Girl Scout Cookies. Guests at the gala will then vote on who made the best dessert.
So how do the pastry chefs feel about having their creations served front and center, rather than leaving the final taste in diners’ mouths? “I like it, I think it’s a fun concept,” says Stratosphere pastry chef Cynthia Werth, whose white-chocolate raspberry cheesecake with a Thin Mint cookie crust tied for first place in last year’s competition. But, she admits, “I’m sure that it spoils some appetites for dinner.”
Werth and the other contestants will work with a different cookie this year: shortbread. “The Thin Mint is our best-selling cookie, but the shortbread is our historic cookie,” Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada CEO Liz Ortenburger says of the choice. “That’s what we started with 103 years ago. So it has a lot of history. And I think it’s gonna give the chefs a lot of ability to be very creative.”
Werth isn’t worried. She’s worked with these cookies in a past competition, and actually prefers them. “To me it’s more versatile, and you can just do a lot more stuff with it,” she says. Her plan for this year is to incorporate the cookie into a bread pudding.
Marie Yonge, executive pastry chef at Giada, is less confident. “It’s a difficult cookie for me to make the flavor stand out,” she says. “It’s not something that I grew up liking. So it wasn’t like I [immediately] had all these ideas going through my head.”
In addition to forcing the chefs to get creative with their recipes, the event also allows them to interact with the Girl Scouts, with one Scout assigned to assist each chef. “Some of the girls are a little shy in the beginning,” Werth says, “but then they begin to come out of their shell a bit as they’re trying to get people to try the dessert as they pass by.”
Have Dessert Before Dinner from 6-9 p.m.
This Recipe’s a Winner
Still have some Thin Mints from last year’s cookie drive sitting in your freezer? Try using them in this recipe, which tied for first place at last year’s Dessert Before Dinner gala.
White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake
1½ cups finely ground Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces sugar
½ ounce cornstarch
2 pounds cream cheese
¾ ounce vanilla extract
5 ounces sour cream
4 ounces heavy cream
15 ounces quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1 ounces Godiva white chocolate liqueur
3½ ounces raspberry jam or marmalade, seedless
White Chocolate Ganache
6 oz. heavy cream
14 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch Springform pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. Lightly grease the top of the parchment paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil so it extends at least half way up the side of the pan. Prepare the crust by combining the Thin Mints and the melted butter in a bowl.
2. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared Springform pan. Set the wrapped pan on a rimmed baking pan. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the crust is set. Remove from the oven and cool. Leave the pan on the rimmed baking sheet.
3. Bring the 4 ounces of heavy cream to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the 15 ounces white chocolate and the Godiva liqueur. Gently stir until the chocolate has melted. Set aside to cool while preparing the rest of the filling.
4. For the filling, combine the sugar and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese and vanilla extract, and mix with an electric mixer on medium speed for 5-7 minutes or until light and fluffly, scraping the bowl often. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl down after each egg is added. On low speed, add the white chocolate and cream mixture and mix just until combined.
5. Remove ¾ cup of the cream cheese mixture and combine it in a bowl with the raspberry jam. Set aside.
6. Pour the remaining cheesecake mixture onto the prepared crust. Pour the raspberry/cream cheese mixture over the cream cheese mixture in the pan, moving in a circular motion to create a spiral pattern. Use a knife to create a swirled pattern on top, being careful not to go all the way down to the bottom crust.
7. Add hot water to the baking pan, being sure the water does not go above the top edges of the aluminum foil that is lining the pan. Bake for 55-75 minutes, or until the filling is set and the middle is no longer loose. Carefully remove the rimmed baking pan from the oven when done and set it on a cooling rack. Do not try to remove the Springform with the cheesecake at this point. Allow the cheesecake to cool slowly to room temperature on the rimmed baking pan or it may crack. Once cooled to room temperature, carefully lift the cheesecake out of the water. Remove the foil and wipe down the bottom of the pan if any water got in. Wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake in the pan overnight.
8. Prepare the white chocolate ganache (this can be done up to two days ahead): bring the 6 ounces of heavy cream to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat once it comes to a boil. Add the white chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for about a minute, then gently stir it until the white chocolate is melted. Allow it to cool to room temperature. If making ahead, cover and leave at room temperature.
9. Remove the cheesecake from the pan by first running a knife around the side. Place the cheesecake on a serving platter. Pour the white chocolate ganache over the top of the cheesecake (note: you may need to microwave the ganache a bit to make it more liquid if you made it ahead. Start with 15 seconds. If that is not melted enough, add 10 seconds and keep doing that until it is melted but still thick and pourable). Allow it to run down the sides a bit and onto the serving platter. You may have some of the ganache leftover. You need to use your judgment on how much you want to put on top of the cheesecake. Refrigerate the cheesecake at least an hour so the ganache sets up. Cut with a sharp knife, rinsing the knife in hot water and drying it off between each cut.