Sunday, December 13, 2015

Holiday Cookies, 2015 Edition

After last year's holiday cookie fest, I decided to cut the number of cookie flavors I'd make by a third. Instead, this year I ended up with two more.

I began the process this fall, going through magazines, cookbooks, and websites, trying to find the right balance of flavors, colors, and textures for my table. Then, in mid-November, I began making doughs and stuffing them into my freezer. Last week and this week, I've been steadily baking them off, ending with a frenzied day of decorating before the party.

There's no time for actual baking on the day of the party. It takes two hours to simply place all these different cookies on plates!

Here are a few closer up shots of the cookies:

The brownie-stuffed chocolate chip cookies were the hands-down most popular cookie--all gone by the party's end.

My favorite are the gingerbread (far left).  Also pictured here are (on the first tiered stand, top to bottom), lime beltways, dark chocolate stars, caramel crumb bars, orange cookies, black forest (cherry-chocolate) cookies, and oatmeal lace.

On the glass tiered stand, you can see girl scout thin mints, jam-filled pinwheels and windows, and rose sandwich cookies, so difficult to make, but beautiful. On the silver stand are some banana bars with cream cheese frosting, peanut butter blossoms, and extremely delicious coconut macaroons.

At the top of the picture are some key lime pie cookies (my adaptation in miniature of a key lime pie cupcake sized version) and black and white cookies. In the center of the picture are almond crescents dipped in powdered sugar and chocolate cookie cups with milk chocolate ganache filling. In front are cinnamon espresso cookies (filled with chocolate covered espresso beans), candy cane cookies (so fragile, I prayed they'd make it to the party without breaking too much!), and gluten-free plus dairy-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (no flour or butter, pretty much peanut butter and sugar!).

At the bottom of this picture, you can see a great shot of a plate of assorted thumbprints. Using two types of dough, you can make an amazing number of different flavored cookies. My favorite was a vanilla dough, rolled in non-pareil sprinkles, and filled with white buttercream frosting--an insanely rich guilty pleasure. Next to that are lemon bars, which were a sticky favorite that I had to keep refilling during the party.  At the top right is a tiered stand with pecan tastes, lemon cardamom crinkles (one of my favorites), and cranberry bliss cookies, an inspired riff on the Starbucks cranberry bliss bar.

Behind the lemon bars are Mexican hot chocolate cookies, drizzled with cajeta, a goat's milk dulce de leche. Next to those are a trifle dish filled with pumpkin macarons sandwiched with pumpkin ganache--a very difficult cookie to make, but very popular as well. Up front is a tray of Italian-themed cookies:  pignoli, or pine nut cookies, dipped in powdered sugar; milano sandwich cookies, some flavored with mint (pink) and others with almond (blond); a ring of pistachio and chocolate checkerboard cookies--absolutely buttery and delicious, from the cookbook The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle.

On the top left, we have my mom's Hannukah cookies, decorated in pink, yellow, green, blue, and purple buttercream frosting. On the raised plate in back are linzer cookies, almond-vanilla dough filled with raspberry jam and topped with powdered sugar. Finally, in front are red velvet whoopie pies with cream cheese filling, a perennial favorite. I can never make enough of them!

Here's a complete list of the cookies below, as well as links to some of the recipes if you want to try them at home!  The recipes without links were not available online, but I may be adding them over time...

1.  Gingerbread with lemon icing
2.  Lime meltaways
3.  Dark chocolate stars
4.  Caramel crumb bars
5.  Orange cookies
6.  Black forest (chocolate cherry) cookies
7.  Oatmeal lace cookies (bake these on silicon mats for the best results)
8.  Chocolate covered thin mints
9.  Jam-filled pinwheels and windows (bake these at 350, not 375 as the recipe directs and PINCH HARD or the cookies will explode in the oven)
10. Rose sandwiches with fluff buttercream
11. Brownie-stuffed chocolate chip cookies
12. Banana bars with cream cheese frosting
13. Peanut butter blossoms
14. Coconut macaroons
15. Almond crescents (from Joy of Cooking)
16. Cinnamon espresso cookies
17. Candy cane cookies
18. Key lime pie cookies (make these in mini muffin tins, bake the crust for 5 minutes only)
19. Black and white cookies
20. Chocolate cookie cups with milk chocolate ganache filling
21. Gluten-free/Dairy-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies
22. Pecan tassies
23. Lemon cardamom crinkles
24. Cranberry bliss cookies
25. Assorted thumbprints
26. Mexican hot chocolate cookies
27. Lemon bars (the best lemon bars ever, hands down)
28. Pumpkin macarons with pumpkin ganache (this recipe has several mistakes in it and is difficult to make. Only attempt if you're an experienced baker with a lot of patience and time on your hands)
29. Frosted sugar cookies
30. Milano sandwich cookies
31. Chocolate pistachio checkerboard cookies
32. Pignoli cookies
33. Linzer cookies (a tough dough to work with out of the fridge, but it gets easier as it goes along and is so wonderful to taste!)
34. Red velvet whoopie pies (I omit the peppermint in the recipe, replace it with vanilla in the filling)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jumping on the Pumpkin Bandwagon

It's that time of year when everything's pumpkin flavored. Let's set aside the fact that most "pumpkin" offerings (pumpkin-flavored coffee, oatmeal, sandwich cookies), including canned pumpkin, contain no actual pumpkin. For a longtime pumpkin lover like me, I enjoy seeing the rest of the world catch up to my gourd preferences.

This recipe for pumpkin scones studded with cranberries and served with cinnamon butter is an instant fall classic, and not too difficult to make--provided you have a box grater. More on that in a minute.

There are a few tricks to serving up a good scone. Only serve scones the day you bake them. Don't overmix the ingredients. And above all, keep big chunks of butter in your dough so they puff up your scone in a hot oven.

I've read all kinds of ways to accomplish the latter, but until I tried this recipe (designed by folks at Beauty & Essex Restaurant in Manhattan and published in Bon Appetit) I had never heard of grating cold butter as if it were cheese. In fact, as I was preparing these scones, family members kept asking me what kind of cheese I was adding to the dough.

Once you've prepared the scone dough, you have to freeze it before baking--which means the scones can be made well in advance and stored in your freezer until the day you want to bake them. I cut mine into bite-sized portions, though interestingly, they take just as long to bake as the larger sized versions.

The final result is a cakey scone spiced with a nice gingery kick and an occasional burst of cranberry. Top yours with some of that rich homemade cinnamon butter.

Pumpkin Scones With Cinnamon Butter
(adapted from Bon Appetit)


Cinnamon Butter
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
¾ cup (1½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter
½ cup chopped fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
1 large egg
½ cup canned pure pumpkin
¼ cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
2 tablespoons raw sugar

1.  Make Cinnamon Butter.  Mix butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Cinnamon butter can be made 4 days ahead. Cover and chill.

2.  Whisk granulated sugar, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, cloves, baking soda, and 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate in butter, tossing to coat in dry ingredients as you go; toss in cranberries. Mix in egg, pumpkin, and ¼ cup buttermilk.
3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and pat into a 1½”-thick disk. Cut into 8 wedges for large scones, or 24 bite-sized wedges; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze until firm, 25–30 minutes. Can stay frozen up to three months until the day you want to serve them.

4.  Preheat oven to 400°. Brush scones with buttermilk and sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake until golden brown, 25–30 minutes. Serve with cinnamon butter.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Brownies With a Surprise Green Ingredient--No, Not that One

One of the pleasures of making zucchini brownies is asking people to taste them, without saying what they are, and asking for guesses about the mystery ingredient. Yes, it's something green. No, not what you're thinking...

So how do you turn this:

into this?:

And won't you taste something green and stringy and nasty?

Not if you're using this recipe from the nice folks at King Arthur. They have you puree the zucchini in a food processor, so that it keeps the brownies moist during the baking process, and allows you to skimp on butter, which sounds kind of healthy, doesn't it? In fact, the entire batter is made in the food processor in about five minutes--couldn't be easier.

The first time I made these, I followed the directions and greased the brownie pan rather than lined it with parchment. Mistake! These brownies are loaded with sticky chocolate chips that make brownie removal a pain. The next time, I used trusty parchment, and the brownies came right out.

Also, whenever I make anything with chocolate, I always use a little of King Arthur's black cocoa--this is the stuff Oreos are made from. It gives an extra boost of chocolate richness to the results.

The brownies themselves are dense and fudgy, with a thin coat of ganache on top just to gild that lily. I can't decide which zucchini dessert I like better these days:  zucchini cupcakes with cream cheese frosting or these brownies.

Oh, well, I guess I just have to make them both!

Zucchini Brownies
(adapted from King Arthur Flour)


8 ounces zucchini (about one 8" fresh zucchini, trimmed), cut into chunks*
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. (I like to do half black cocoa and half regular cocoa)
1/2 teaspoon espresso powered optional; for enhanced chocolate flavor
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
*If you don't have a scale, 8 ounces is about 1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, lightly tamped down.

3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream or 3 tablespoons milk

1) Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" square pan and line with parchment.  (I cut two sheets of parchment and line the pan like a plus sign, grease with Pam to glue them down, then use binder clips to keep them in place.)

2) To make the brownies: Combine the zucchini, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla in the work bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth.

3) Add the sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking powder, salt, and flour; process briefly, just until well combined.

4) Add the chips, and pulse several times, to break up the chips just a bit.

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

6) Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs clinging to it; you shouldn't see any sign of wet batter. Remove the brownies from the oven, and allow them to cool completely before frosting.

7) To make the frosting: Combine the chocolate chips and milk or cream in a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan. Heat until the milk is steaming, and the chips are soft. Remove from the heat, and stir until smooth.

8) Spread the frosting atop the brownies. Place them in the refrigerator for an hour or so, to set; then store them at room temperature, covered, for several days.  If you want to freeze the brownies, do not frost them before freezing.

Yield: 16 brownies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ice Cream Without Machines

When I was a kid, my father brought home a massive white metal box, the size of a large television. It took up almost half of our kitchen counter and was almost impossible to move. This monstrosity, he promised, would make us ice cream.

After a few attempts that resulted in tiny messy batches of rubbery ice cream that failed to evoke whatever of the various exotic flavors that Dad had been attempting to impart, we gave up on the machine, which collected dust for about a decade before finally meeting some ignominious end. (Either we junked it or my father gave it away to some worthy charity so he could get a tax deduction. Knowing my father, I'd probably wager on the tax deduction.)

In the years since, whenever I've considered buying an ice cream maker, I've thought back to that ill-fated machine of my youth. Those scars, it seems, have not fully healed. And so, it seemed that ice cream making would never be a part of my dessert repertoire.

But then I came across this recipe from Everyday Food for a truly no-churn coconut ice cream. I'm still a bit unclear as to why a recipe this easy works so well and why more people don't do it this way. Yet there's no arguing with the results:  a creamy, luscious, velvety ice cream that I'd choose over anything in the supermarket, and certainly over any of that waxen stuff I see people licking when they come out of Baskin Robbins.

Did I mention there are only six ingredients? And that it takes about six minutes to put together?

Give this a try. Even if you think you don't like coconut. Even if you think you don't like ice cream. Even if like me, you've been scarred by ice cream makers past.

No-Churn Coconut Ice Cream
(adapted from Everyday Food)


1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup unfiltered coconut oil, melted
3 tablespoons Malibu Original rum
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups heavy cream
Coconut flakes, for serving


1. In a large bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, coconut oil, rum, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat cream on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes.
2. Whisk half the cream into milk mixture. Fold in remaining cream. Transfer to a 4 1/2-by 8 1/2-inch loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours, and up to 1 week.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Easy Choco-Peanut Butter Fix

Delicious cookie-baking does not get any easier than this recipe from Everyday Food. Start with simple, delicious ingredients, mix them up, bake them off and done.

These cake-like peanut butter-flavored cookies are loaded, no, overloaded with chocolate chips, which guarantees a pleasing ratio of chocolate to peanut butter in every bite. And because the ingredients can be found or stored in your pantry, you can have cookies whenever you want without a special trip to the grocery store.

Because the ingredients are simple, it's key to use high quality chocolate and the best peanut butter for baking that you can find. In my book, that means Skippy creamy full-fat peanut butter. I read several reviews of this recipe complaining that the cookies lacked flavor or were dry. I'm guessing (based on my experience of baking with other brands of peanut butter, especially the natural, preservative-chemical-free kinds) that those bakers were not using good old Skippy with all those wonderful hydrogenated vegetable oils...

Hey, it's dessert, not health food!

The recipe calls for room temperature butter. I'm often asked, how long do you need to let butter sit out at room temp before it's ready? Do I really have to wait that long when I'm in the mood for homemade cookies?

Here's a trick that I've found works great for achieving room temp butter for cookie baking (and even cake baking). Before measuring out your ingredients, cut the butter into small cubes. Then measure out your ingredients, preheat your oven, get your baking pans ready. In 10 minutes, your butter should be soft enough to work with, and doing all that prep work is a great way to spend that time.

Have fun...

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk Cookies
adapted from Everyday Food


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 tsp kosher salt (you can add up to a teaspoon to taste)
1 cup peanut butter (smooth is preferred)
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate bars cut into chunks


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat peanut butter, butter, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, beating just until combined. Stir in chocolate chunks. For cakier cookies, chill in the fridge 30 minutes.

2.  Drop dough by heaping tablespoons, 1 inch apart, onto two large baking sheets. Bake until golden, 13 to 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Cake Worth Celebrating

For a while now, I've had my eye on this recipe from Baked: Occasions, a cookbook of recipes from a trendy Red Hook bakery.  Titled "The Ultimate Birthday Cake," this recipe is a serious investment of time and effort:  about 25 ingredients and 12 steps.

The results are worth it. It's a dessert that makes a strong visual impression, especially when you cut into it. The cake has a soft texture and deep vanilla flavor, the frosting is light and sweet, and the sprinkles add a nice crunch.

An article on this cake in Serious Eats recommended spending a little extra on the sprinkles, since you'll be using so many of them. A friend tried making the cake with the cheaper, easier-to-find supermarket kind and found that they melted into the batter, giving it a muddy color and slightly waxen taste and mouthfeel. I ordered a pound of these CK-brand "jimmies" from Amazon, which came out great.

The only problem is might find sprinkles all over your kitchen counters and floors for a while!

Ultimate Birthday Cake From 'Baked Occasions'

YIELD: Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake
ACTIVE TIME: 1 hour 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: several hours


For the Very Vanilla Cake
2 1/2 cups (315 g) cake flour
3/4 cup (90 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
1/2 cup (100 g) vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups (350 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup (240 ml) ice-cold water
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup (190 g) rainbow sprinkles
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the Very Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (40 g) all-purpose flour
11/2 cups (360 ml) whole milk
1/3 cup (75 ml) heavy cream
12 ounces (3 sticks/340 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Décor
1 to 1 1/4 cups (190 to 240 g) rainbow sprinkles


1.  Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325F (165C). Butter three 8-inch (20-cm) round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour.

2.  Sift both flours, the baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large bowl. Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the egg, and beat until just combined.

4.  In a small bowl, whisk together the ice-cold water, milk, and buttermilk.

5.  Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl in three separate additions, alternating with the water mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; turn the mixer to low when you add the ingredients, then up to medium for a few seconds to incorporate. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds. Remove the bowl from the standing mixer, scatter the sprinkles across the top of the batter, and fold them in with a rubber spatula.

6.  In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar just until soft peaks form; do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula.

7.  Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove from the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

8.  Make the frosting: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened to the consistency of a light pudding, 10 to 15 minutes.

9.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, at least 7 to 9 minutes (you can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl). Reduce the speed to low and add the butter a few chunks at a time, every 20 to 30 seconds, while the mixer is constantly stirring; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the vanilla paste and extract and mix until combined. If the frosting is too soft, place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it can hold its shape. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is spreadable.

10.  Assemble the cake: Place one cooled cake layer on a cake turntable (or a serving platter if you don’t own a cake turntable).  Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 11/4 cups (215 g) of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim it, and frost it as before, then add the third layer (trim the final layer for a completely flat top, or feel free to leave it domed for an old-school appearance). Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the sides and top of the cake and place it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up. (This is known as crumb coating and will help to keep loose cake crumbs under control when you frost the outside of the cake).

11.  Place the turntable on a parchment-lined baking sheet with raised sides. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Grab a fistful of sprinkles and turn the turntable with your free hand while tossing the sprinkles at the sides of the cake. Using the leftover sprinkles from the parchment (i.e., sprinkles that didn’t stick), continue turning and throwing until the cake (including the top) is covered in sprinkles. Chill the cake for about 5 minutes to set before serving.

12.  This cake will keep beautifully in a cake saver at room temperature (cool and humidity-free) for up to 3 days. If your room is not cool, place the cake in a cake saver and refrigerate for up to 3 days, then let it sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Apple Rosette Tart

It's summer, which means it's not quite apple season.  No worries, as this apple tart, from Cook's Illustrated, uses golden delicious apples, which are widely available year round. However, you could also try this recipe with nectarines, particularly if you want to avoid the bother of the lovely yet ulcer-inducing tart of death.

The procedure is fairly easy and straightforward. My only moments of confusion were twofold. First, the crust is a press-in affair, using melted butter, to create a play-do-like dough that's greasier than I expected. The recipe claims you don't have to freeze it before baking, as I usually do with any tart dough, but I bet it wouldn't hurt, as my crust did shrink a bit more than I expected.

Second, I wasn't quite sure how long to cook the apples, as mine did not seem to become "translucent" as directed by the recipe. Really, they just need to be a bit pliable so you can use them to form a rosette, as in the picture. And if they're not perfect, no worries, as they get folded into tart and no one will notice anyway.

I brought this tart to a party, where it attracted oohs and aahs, and after it was tasted, many requests for the recipe. The taste is pretty straightforward:  apple all the way. Some commenters on other blogs have said they found it bland, but I and everyone I talked to thought it was sweet and delicious. You decide!

French Apple Tart
from Cooks Illustrated

Note: You may have extra apple slices after arranging the apples in step 6. If you don’t have a potato masher, you can puree the apples in a food processor. For the best flavor and texture, be sure to bake the crust thoroughly until it is deep golden brown. To ensure that the outer ring of the pan releases easily from the tart, avoid getting apple puree and apricot glaze on the crust. The tart is best served the day it is assembled.

Serves 8

1 1/3 cups (6 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

10 Golden Delicious apples (8 ounces each), peeled and cored
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/4 teaspoon salt


1.  Adjust 1 oven rack to lowest position and second rack 5 to 6 inches from broiler element. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in bowl. Add melted butter and stir with wooden spoon until dough forms. Using your hands, press two-thirds of dough into bottom of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press remaining dough into fluted sides of pan. Press and smooth dough with your hands to even thickness. Place pan on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake on lowest rack, until crust is deep golden brown and firm to touch, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Set aside until ready to fill.


2.  Cut 5 apples lengthwise into quarters and cut each quarter lengthwise into 4 slices. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add apple slices and water and toss to combine. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples begin to turn translucent and are slightly pliable, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer apples to large plate, spread into single layer, and set aside to cool. Do not clean skillet.

3. While apples cook, microwave apricot preserves until fluid, about 30 seconds. Strain preserves through fine-mesh strainer into small bowl, reserving solids. Set aside 3 tablespoons strained preserves for brushing tart.

4. Cut remaining 5 apples into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. Add remaining apricot preserves, reserved apricot solids, apple wedges, and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are very soft, about 10 minutes.

5. Mash apples to puree with potato masher. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until puree is reduced to 2 cups, about 5 minutes.

6. Transfer apple puree to baked tart shell and smooth surface. Select 5 thinnest slices of sautéed apple and set aside. Starting at outer edge of tart, arrange remaining slices, tightly overlapping, in concentric circles. Bend reserved slices to fit in center. Bake tart, still on wire rack in sheet, on lowest rack, for 30 minutes. Remove tart from oven and heat broiler.

7. While broiler heats, warm reserved preserves in microwave until fluid, about 20 seconds. Brush evenly over surface of apples, avoiding tart crust. Broil tart, checking every 30 seconds and turning as necessary, until apples are attractively caramelized, 1 to 3 minutes. Let tart cool for at least 1 1/2 hours. Remove outer metal ring of tart pan, slide thin metal spatula between tart and pan bottom, and carefully slide tart onto serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

TO MAKE AHEAD: The baked crust, apple slices, and apple puree can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Apple slices and apple puree should be refrigerated separately in airtight containers. Assemble tart with refrigerated apple slices and puree and bake as directed, adding 5 minutes to baking time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sweet 'n' Tart: a Luscious Lemon Mousse Dessert

While waiting in line at my local Whole Foods, I was glancing through Saveur Magazine and came upon a recipe that stopped me in my tracks. Created by pastry chef-bakery owner Ayako Kurokawa, who runs a bakery called Burrow in Brooklyn, this tart is a show-stopper, and not terribly hard to pull off if you do it over several days.

The tart recipe consists of a shortbread pie crust filled with lemon mousse that's topped with a light layer of lemon curd, and then candied lemon. But what really sets it apart is the fact that Kurokawa cuts the scraps from the pie crust into decorative cookies and then glues them to the outside of the crust with white chocolate. Pretty, right? I couldn't decide which angle to show off my pie, so here's another shot:

I actually made this tart twice, the first time for practice, and the second time to take to a birthday party. After my first go-around, which was very successful, I learned a few things. 

First, the outside cookies become even more dramatic if you cut them thinly and use soaring, dramatic shapes that rise up above the rim of the tart shell, though be warned, the cookies are a bit brittle and will break easily. I spent a good deal of time glueing them back in place with white chocolate. 

Also, the recipe calls for decorating the top of the pie with wheels of candied lemon slices, which look pretty, but present a problem when you're trying to cut the pie into slices. See below:

In my second version, I ringed the edge of the pie with bits of candied lemon peel and did one wheel in the center. Also, I decided to drizzle the outsides of the cookies with melted white chocolate in addition to glueing them to the crust with white chocolate, for more taste and decoration.

One final modification: I substituted my own favorite lemon curd recipe (doubled) for the one in the recipe, and it worked great. The result was light, highly citrusy yet sweet, and as a bonus for finishing your slice, you get a lemon-dipped shortbread cookie!

Give yourself a bit of time to put it all together. The crust, cookies, lemon curd can all be made in advance, and once it's assembled, the tart needs time in the fridge (or even the freezer) to set.

You'll be happy you did!

Lemon Custard Tart 
adapted from Saveur Magazine:


For the Tart Shell and Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
8 tbsp. almond flour
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. confectioners' sugar
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 egg

For the Filling and Garnish
the peel of 1 lemon, thinly sliced, plus one "wheel" slice of lemon, seeds discarded
3 cups sugar, divided (1 1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 cup)
1⁄4 cup grated lemon zest plus 1 1⁄2 cups juice
12 whole eggs
2 sticks of unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
pinch of salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled


1.  Make the tart shell and cookie dough: Whisk flours and salt in a bowl; set aside. Using an electric hand mixer, beat sugar and butter in another bowl until fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Add egg; mix to combine. With the motor running, slowly add dry ingredients until a soft dough forms. Flatten dough into a disk; cover with plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

2.  Heat oven to 325°.  Line the bottom of a 9" springform pan with greased parchment. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough until 1⁄6" thick. Trim dough into a 15" circle. Press dough into bottom and 1 3⁄4" up the sides of the springform pan. The dough may break, but just press it into place. Trim and gather edges of dough, and set scraps aside. Place the dough-lined pan in the freezer for 15 minutes, then remove. Using a fork, prick the dough in the pan all over. Line dough with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans; bake until golden and cooked through, about 1 hour, and let cool.

3. Meanwhile, on a lightly floured surface, roll dough scraps 1⁄6" thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out 20–25 cookies and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; bake until golden, 10–12 minutes. When cool, drizzle with 1 oz melted white chocolate, or more if desired.

4. Make the filling and garnish: Place sliced lemon in a 2-qt. saucepan filled with water; boil. Strain lemon; set aside. Add 1 1⁄2 cups sugar and 1⁄2 cup water to pan and bring to a simmer over medium; cook until sugar is dissolved and stir in lemon. Cook until lemon rind is softened and translucent, about 10 minutes; let candied lemon cool in syrup.

5. Whisk remaining sugar, the lemon zest, salt and eggs in a 4-qt. saucepan until smooth. Whisk in lemon juice; cook over medium, stirring constantly while adding bits of butter, over medium until all the butter has melted and the curd has thickened, 10–12 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain curd through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; press plastic wrap onto surface of curd and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
6. Transfer 1 1⁄2 cups curd to another bowl; set aside. Whip cream in a separate bowl into stiff peaks; fold cream into larger amount of curd and spread evenly into tart shell; chill until set, about 1 hour. Spread reserved lemon curd over lemon cream and top with candied lemon slices; chill 1 hour. Remove tart from pan and transfer to a cake stand or platter. 

7. Use remaining melted white chocolate to glue cookies to outer crust of tart.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Citrus Bundt Cake

I'll admit that I'm prejudiced--against Bundt cakes. In my experience, they're generally dry and visually unappealing. When I want a piece of cake, I want frosting, sprinkles, layers, the works!

However this recipe for Triple Citrus Bundt Cake from Martha Stewart Living tempted me with its promise of three levels of citrus flavor, in the batter, the glaze, and a sprinkling of candied lemon zest on top.

This is indeed a perfect springtime cake, lovely, delicate, and moist. But what surprised me most after I made it was the impact of a non-citrus ingredient on the finished product:  creme fraiche. It seems unfair to describe creme fraiche as the French version of sour cream, though I suppose that's as good a definition as any. But the key point about it here is that its addition to the cake gives it a lovely sour yet rich tang.

Give this one a try. It's made me rethink my Bundt prejudices.


Vegetable-oil cooking spray
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 lemons
1 large or 2 small oranges
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons coarse salt
3/4 cup creme fraiche
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted syrup
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons)
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup superfine sugar glaze
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Candied Lemon Zest (optional)


1.  Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-cup Bundt pan (or kugelhopf mold) with cooking spray; dust with flour, tapping out excess. Finely grate 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon orange zest.

2.  With a sharp knife, remove peel and bitter white pith from all citrus. Holding a lemon over a bowl, cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. Squeeze juice from membranes into another bowl. Repeat with remaining lemon and orange(s), combining segments in one bowl and juices in other. Cut segments into 1/4-inch pieces. (You will need 3 tablespoons juice and 3/4 cup segments.)

3.  Sift together flour, superfine sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Add creme fraiche; beat on medium speed until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each. Beat in butter, citrus juices, and zests. Add citrus segments and beat just to combine. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake, rotating pan once, until a tester inserted in middle comes out clean, about 48 minutes.

4. Syrup: Bring citrus juices and superfine sugar to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil 30 seconds more.

5.  Glaze: Whisk together confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl.

6.  Serving: When cake is done, leave oven on and let cake cool in pan on a wire rack set on a baking sheet 15 minutes. Turn out onto rack and let cool 10 minutes more. Transfer to a shallow dish. Brush syrup over cake. Continue brushing syrup from dish until all syrup is used. Return cake to wire rack; let dry in oven 5 minutes. Immediately brush with glaze. Let cool completely. Cake can be stored, covered, up to 1 day.

7.  Spoon whipped cream into center of cake; top with candied zest and serve.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Coco Loco

I've been eyeing this cake for a while, but didn't have occasion to try it until the other week, to mark the end of a fiction class I've been teaching for the Writer's Center.

This baby has three rich coconuty layers sandwiched with a simple cream cheese frosting. It required me to buy coconut in four forms: shredded (unsweetened), chips (unsweetened), milk (unsweetened), and cream of coconut, a rich, heavily sweetened syrup that I could lick off a spoon.  Any recipe calling for cream of coconut is okay in my book.

The recipe comes from Melissa Clark at the New York Times, who got it from a pastry chef named Larissa Raphael, who says she devised it so as "not to overwhelm her customers with sugar."

Yeah right.

This cake is plenty sweet--in the best way. And moist. And tangy. And delicious.  It's an investment of time, but none of the directions are too difficult and they can be done in steps.  The hardest part is simply tracking down all the different types of coconut you need to put it together.

I'd paste the recipe here, but since it's from the Times, I'd better not risk the lawsuit.  Just click here and you'll have it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Healthier Banana Cream Pie

This is the time of year when people often ask me about healthier dessert recipes. Generally, I'm not a fan of cutting down on taste to cut down on calories. I'd rather have a smaller portion of something really good than a whole lot of diet brownies.

This banana cream pie recipe by Ellie Krieger, however, is actually quite good and not so bad for you. Her secret is that she loads up on the bananas and cuts down on the "cream" filling, which uses low fat milk.

I went a couple of steps further, and used half low fat milk and half skim, plus low-fat graham crackers for the crust. Also, rather than use whipping cream, I simply topped my pie with non-fat whipped topping out of a can.

Hey, this is January.  I'm trying to shed calories here every which way I can!

You can make the pie in a standard 9-inch pie tin, or as four mini pies in smaller tart shells, though you may find as I did that you'll need extra graham cracker crust for the smaller but cuter shells.

Either way, this is a fine pie that tastes pretty good for something that I'd usually make with heavy cream and lots of butter...

Healthier Banana Cream Pie
(adapted from Ellie Krieger)

Note:  Use 15 graham crackers and 3 tablespoons of butter to make the crust for mini tart shells.


Cooking spray
12 low-fat graham cracker squares (6 full sheets)
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons boiling water
1/3 cup, plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup 1 percent low fat milk
3/4 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 cups sliced banana (3 medium bananas)
1 can non-fat whipped topping


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray. In a food processor, process graham crackers until finely ground. Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water, and process until the crumb clumps together. Press crumb mixture into bottom of pie plate and about 1/2-inch up the sides. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then let cool.

In the meantime, make the filling. Put the gelatin in a small bowl; add 3 tablespoons of boiling water and stir until gelatin is dissolved. In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/3 cup of sugar and the flour. In a medium bowl lightly beat the milk and eggs together. Add the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan and whisk so the flour and sugar dissolve. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, until mixture comes to a boil and has thickened. Stir in the vanilla extract and gelatin. Set aside to cool slightly.

Arrange the sliced bananas on the graham cracker crust and pour the pudding on top. Place in the refrigerator until the pudding has set, about 3 hours.

Decorate your pie with whipped topping.