Articles in Desserts w/recipe

Jellied wine with summer fruit. Credit: Laurie Smith

A wine gelée, or jello, is one of my favorite desserts any time of year, but especially at the extreme times — a very hot summer day or a cold wintery one. Not that I wouldn’t take pleasure in biting into the translucent, quivering cubes of a jellied wine whenever the opportunity presents itself, but it’s the very hot and very cold days that I appreciate it as a dessert.

In the summer we don’t have much of an appetite for desserts that involve crusts and cream, so a light, glistening jellied wine with fruit is ideal. In winter we may have had an especially hearty meal so to end, again, with no crusts but the amber cubes of a jellied Marsala with a bit of cream poured over (or not) fits the desire to finish on a sweet note, but not a heavy one.

Just about any wine will do in wine gelée

In summer I make wine gelées with white wines, champagnes, Prosecco, Asti Spumante — anything a bit frizzante is good. Even a vino verde, which can seem a little tart on sipping, works well. A rosé makes a beautiful jellied bowl of wine as well.

Once it has set, I cut the jellied wine crosswise both ways to make sparkling cubes, then spoon them into individual clear glass or crystal cups, interspersed with raspberries, blackberries or grapes or white peaches or nectarines cut into small pieces. Alternatively you can fill glasses with fruit, then pour the still-warm wine around it and refrigerate until it sets. Turn them out or serve them in the glass.

Toward fall, still a warm time of year, I start mixing figs, raspberries and pomegranate seeds with the gelée. Or I serve the gelée with cut-up aromatic melons, such as Galia, Passport or Ogen. You could serve it in the cavity of a small Cavaillon. A late harvest Riesling would be a wonderful wine to use in the fall.

For winter I turn to heavier wines, like sherry and Marsala, or a red, such as a Zinfandel or American Pinot Noir. A glowing amber or plum jewel-like dish is what you end up with. Instead of fruit, you might choose to pour a little cream over the wine. A nut cookie on the side provides a bit of crunch.

Here’s a recipe that will work for any wine, really. It’s not sweetened but a bit, so add more if you like your desserts really sweet.

Broken Jellied Wine With Summer Fruit

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Setting Time: 4 hours to 6 hours

Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes to 6 hours 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings, depending on the amount of fruit used.

Ingredients

  • 1 package gelatin
  • ⅓ to ½ cup sugar
  • 2 cups wine, divided
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 to 1½ cups fruit, cut or sliced into small pieces

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup cold water and set it aside to soften.
  2. Combine the sugar with ½ cup of wine in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and then stir in the softened gelatin. Stir until it’s thoroughly dissolved, then pour it into the rest of the wine.
  3. Mix well, then pour into a bowl or compote dish and refrigerate until set. Wine seems to take longer to set than cream or fruit juices, so plan on at least six hours, or even overnight for a firm set.
  4. Chop the jelly into cubes then serve in the compote or in wine or champagne glasses interspersed with the fruit.

Notes

After the wine has set, chop it into cubes and slivers just before serving so the pieces sparkle and glisten. Then serve the broken gelatin in wine glasses, interspersing the pieces with ripe summer fruits. It can also be served plain.

Main photo: Jellied wine with summer fruit. Credit: Laurie Smith

Read More
Chocolate icebox cake with Valrhona, Scharffen Berger and Ghirardelli chocolate. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Sometimes hand-me down family recipes need a little nudge to make them suit today’s tastes. In the case of my grandma’s icebox cake, she traditionally labored over creating homemade pound cake and then paired it with homemade chocolate mousse-like pudding. My mom updated it for her day by using Jell-O pudding instead. It was tasty enough to be my favorite dessert as a 6-year-old, but as an adult, I want something more. More chocolate, to be specific.

So I followed a big sister’s suggestion and combined the best of these family ideas. I added all the extra-dark chocolate I could find to the pudding as it cooked. Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, Guittard, Ghirardelli — pick your poison. And it didn’t seem to matter how much I threw in, so I took advice from my 8-year-old grandnephew, who is fond of promoting “add as much chocolate as you want” to almost any dessert recipe, and included three full bars of Valhrona, 1½ boxes of Scharffen Berger and a partial bag of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips. And always on the lookout for simple and fast, I found that a three-loaf package of store-bought pound cake works just as well as homemade when chocolate is the star of the dessert.

With all that input — and all that chocolate — this cake might just live on to be a five-generation heirloom. I think Grandma would be proud.

Extra Chocolatey Icebox Cake

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 12-16 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 store-bought pound cakes
  • 18 ounces or more of dark chocolate (bars, bits or chips)
  • 2 large (5-ounce) boxes of Jell-O Cook and Serve Chocolate Pudding
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups whipped cream

Directions

  1. Cut pound cakes into ½ inch slices. Each cake should supply enough slices to fit in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  2. Break up chunks of dark chocolate bars. Combine two boxes of pudding mix and 6 cups of whole milk in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. When it starts to warm up, add chocolate pieces and continue to stir until the mixture boils. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with one layer of ½ inch slices of pound cake. Spread one-third of the pudding over the layer of cake. Repeat layering process two more times, alternating cake and pudding.
  4. Insert a few toothpicks in the top of the cake to keep plastic wrap from resting directly on pudding and cover. Refrigerate for 12 hours to allow the cake to chill and the pudding to settle.
  5. Prior to serving, spread a layer of freshly whipped cream over top of cake.

Notes

If you have a stash of good-quality baking chocolate, I encourage you to simply empty it into the pudding. It seems to be able to absorb quite a bit without consequence. You can serve this cake with as little as 3 hours’ chilling time, but it is best if left to settle and chill overnight or at least 12 hours.

Main photo: Chocolate icebox cake with Valrhona, Scharffen Berger and Ghirardelli chocolate. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Read More
Cherry Italian water ice. Credit: Michael Krondl

Searching for summer, each year my wife Lucia’s eyes pivot to the storefront of De Robertis, an Italian-American pastry shop in New York’s East Village. One glint of the De Robertis sign announcing “We have Italian ices” and she knows the season has arrived for sitting on sticky neighborhood stoops licking an icy summer treat.

Lucia grew up in Manhattan when the city had neighborhoods. There were Italian pastry shops and Jewish delis. Italian ices were cheap and ubiquitous, not just in New York but in any American neighborhood with an Italian presence. That’s not to say Italians brought the idea of icy frozen treats to America, but they certainly took it to the streets.

An Italian ice is more generically referred to as a “water ice” to distinguish it from sherbet (usually containing milk or some egg), or ice cream, which is much richer. It is a close cousin to sorbet but contains more water and consequently tends to be a little grainier. This makes ices less intense but much more refreshing. Ices probably were the first kind of frozen dessert. Recipes show up as early as 1692 in a cookbook written in Naples by Antonio Latini. He calls them sorbette or “frozen waters.” Latini includes a recipe for lemon, strawberry and sour cherry ice as well as instructions for making cinnamon and even chocolate ice. He’s not as clear about details as a contemporary cook would like, giving proportions of sugar and fruit but omitting the water that would have been needed. He notes that in Naples “everyone is born with the talent and instinct to make sorbetta.” That talent traveled with Neapolitans (and other Italian ice cream makers) when they settled in Paris, Vienna, London and New York. The first Italian ice cream maker to advertise his wares in America was Filippo Lenzi, who set up shop in Lower Manhattan in 1773.

Tracing Italian ices’ roots

The origin of today’s Italian ices can be dated to a later generation of immigrants, the millions who passed through Ellis Island and set down roots in New York, Philadelphia and other American cities at the turn of the last century. Among them were the Neapolitans who had frozen desserts embedded in their genetic code.

A sign of summer: De Robertis' homemade Italian ices. Credit: Michael Krondl

A sign of summer: De Robertis’ homemade Italian ices. Credit: Michael Krondl

Many Italians ended up in the greengrocer business; others peddled their wares in pushcarts, selling fruit, vegetables and, in season, water ices. Some, like Paolo De Robertis, went into the pastry business. He opened his pasticceria in 1904 in one of the city’s many Italian neighborhoods. John De Robertis, the third generation in the family business, figures the pastry shop started making ices in the 1920s. It used to make them in big wooden barrels filled with salt and ice, in much the same way Latini describes. Today, it uses a conventional industrial ice cream machine. They are a seasonal treat. “When Easter comes — boom — we start making ices,” John explains, “and we generally make them until the World Series.” He tells me that lemon is still the favorite, adding that a lot of people used to like to mix it into seltzer to make a sort of super-refreshing float. A genius idea worth reviving, if you ask me.

Ices also used to be integral to summer festivals, whether the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel uptown or the Feast of San Rocco downtown. The New York Times, in 1903, commented on one of these “quaint Italian customs of summer” in a description of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel held July 16 in the Italian bastion of East Harlem. The reporter was especially taken with the mountains of food available on the street, including fried dough and Italian ices.

Italian ices to-go. Credit: Michael Krondl

Italian ices to go. Credit: Michael Krondl

The quality of these ices undoubtedly varied. A water ice consists of little else besides fruit juice, sugar and water. Double your water and you can double your profit. As a rule, 19th- and early 20th-century water-ice recipes are much sweeter and richer in fruit than today’s version. But on a hot Harlem summer day it’s likely only the cognoscenti complained. As Italian-Americans expanded out of their ethnic ghettos, the ices followed: to Coney Island and the Jersey Shore, to stores dedicated to water ices such as Staten Island’s Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices and to pizza joints across the United States. With expansion, wholesalers such as Marino’s and Guido’s Italian ices entered the market. In many cases, the only way to identify their flavor is to look at their color.

At De Robertis, Lucia’s favorite is chocolate, which she brings home by the quart. Rather than being rich and heavy, like chocolate ice cream, it gives the impression of a frozen egg cream, another nostalgia-soaked New York institution. (For the unenlightened, egg creams are made with milk, seltzer and chocolate syrup — no egg.) My favorite is the classic lemon, which slices through the humid August heat better than any summer breeze. And I haven’t a Neapolitan bone in my body.

Cherry Italian Water Ice

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: About 3 cups of ice, 6 to 8 servings

Notes: Total time includes freezing time of about 4 hours. Also, use Bing or sour cherries. If using sour cherries, you can omit the lemon. Much the same recipe can be used with berries, including strawberries, blackberries or raspberries. Remember to strain out the seeds before measuring the purée.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1⅓ cups water
  • About ½ pound pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Purée the cherries in a blender or food processor. Measure 1 cup. Stir into the sugar syrup along with the lemon juice. Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
  3. Chill the bowl and blade of a food processor in the freezer as well as a stainless steel bowl or other container that you will use to store the ice.
  4. Remove the food processor bowl and blade from the freezer. Transfer the frozen ice cubes from the freezer tray. (They will be softer than regular frozen water.) Process briefly in the food processor to create a reasonably smooth mixture (a little coarser than sorbet). Immediately transfer to the frozen container, cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Main photo: Cherry Italian water ice. Credit: Michael Krondl

Read More
Grill fire ready for a four-course dinner. Credit: iStock/Keith Tsuji

Grilling takes effort. Lots of coal goes into building the fire; you wait for the coals to get hot; and the food cooks in about 15 minutes, if you’re having steaks, burgers, vegetables or hot dogs. And that’s it. The fire continues  burning, wasting away, while you eat. How about getting full use out of all those hot coals that are burning away for hours?

Here’s a game plan for a multi-course grill party that will be perfect for a summer weekend gathering that keeps different foods grilling for hours. Given the amount of food, you’ll probably want to have at least eight people joining you.

The courses you will serve are an appetizer, a first course, a main course, and a dessert. However, you can just keep throwing food onto the grill as you like, especially vegetables, because they can be chopped up later for a grilled salad.

Remember that the idea here is to get full use of your charcoal fire and not merely to cook quickly, although some foods will.

The summer night’s grill party menu and recipes.

When you build your fire, do so with a bit more coals than usual and with all the coals piled to one side of the firebox so that the other side will be cooler once the fire is going. Do not start cooking until all the coals are white with ash. All recipes assume the grill fire is ready to go.

wright-grillmenu2

wright-grillmenu2
Picture 1 of 4

Grilled breaded swordfish. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Grilled Breaded Swordfish

Prep Time: 12 minutes

Cook Time: 8 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings as an appetizer

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
  • 1¼ pounds swordfish, cubed
  • All-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Directions

  1. Mix the bread crumbs, oregano, salt, pepper, and cheese in a bowl.
  2. Dredge the swordfish in the flour and pat off any excess. Dip in the egg on both sides and then dredge again in the bread crumb mixture, coating both sides. Place on double skewers without touching each other.
  3. Drizzle the top of the swordfish with olive oil. Place the oiled side down on the grill and cook 4 minutes. Flip to the other side and grill another 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Grilled Vegetables and Bruschetta

You should be able to get everything onto a 22-inch diameter Weber kettle grill. Cook in batches otherwise. The vegetables are eaten at room temperature after the main meat dish is cooked.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into ⅜ -inch-thick slices

4 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into ⅜ -inch thick slices

4 bell peppers (various colors)

4 large portobello mushrooms

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fresh basil leaves, to taste, whole, snipped, or chopped

Fresh or dried oregano to taste

8 (½-inch thick) slices Italian or French country bread (about ¾ pound)

Directions

1. Mix the garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Brush all the vegetables with olive oil. Place on the grill directly over the fire and cook until they are charred a bit. They can be set aside individually or mixed or chopped and mixed. Season with salt, pepper, and basil or oregano.

2. Brush the bread slices with the olive oil and grill until lightly toasted. Arrange all the vegetables attractively on a platter and serve.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin With Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary

Prep Time: 2 hours, including marinating

Cook Time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total Time: 2.5 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

4 pounds pork tenderloin (about 4 tenderloins in all)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

1. Place the pork tenderloins in a glass or ceramic baking dish and pour the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over them. Sprinkle with the garlic, onions, rosemary and black pepper and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours, turning several times.

2. Place the tenderloins on the grill (6 inches from the heat source for charcoal fires) and cook, uncovered, until golden brown, without turning or moving them, about 15 minutes. If your grilling grate is closer to the fire than 6 inches, grill the meat for less time or grill with indirect heat. Turn once and grill until the other side is golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley to coat a serving platter and arrange the grilled pork tenderloins on top and serve.

Grilled Bananas With Peach Schnapps and Cinnamon

Prep time: 0 minutes

Cook Time: About 12 minutes

Total Time: About 12 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Note: Total time does not include time for the fire to be prepared.

Ingredients

4 bananas, with their peels

4 tablespoons peach schnapps

Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Directions

1. Put the un-peeled bananas on the grill 1 to 2 inches from the source of the heat until they blacken on both sides.

2. Remove from the grill, slice the bananas open lengthwise, leaving them in their peels, and sprinkle a tablespoon of peach schnapps, a shake of powdered sugar and cinnamon on each and serve.

Main photo: Grill fire ready for a four-course dinner. Credit: iStock/Keith Tsuji

Read More

Willy Wonka might not agree, but not all chocolate is created equal. To find out what makes the difference between a $1 candy bar and an artisanal, single-origin chocolate, I went to Tuscany, Italy, to tour the headquarters of Amedei, a four-time winner of the Oscars of chocolate — the coveted Golden Bean award. There I went on a guided tasting of chocolate that Food & Wine Magazine calls “the world’s best.”

My visit began with a tasting of the various Amedei products, including tiny bars called Napolitains, assorted handmade pralines, and finally the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted, dense and rich with a hint of toasted almonds.

Amedei is the only Italian chocolate company that supervises chocolate production at every stage, from growing the cocoa bean to the finished product. During the visit, Cecilia Tessieri, owner of the Amedei chocolate company, explained chocolate’s complexity and gave an insider’s peek at how the pros taste chocolate.

Chocolate tasting tips

Tessieri says that to truly appreciate fine chocolate, you must use all five of your senses.

See. Start with your eyes. Great chocolate should have a nice sheen, but not be too glossy. Too glossy means that instead of using only expensive cocoa butter, less costly vegetable oils were added.

Hear. Break off a piece. Do you hear a snap? That’s a sign that the cocoa butter was properly crystalized.

Smell. Fine chocolate offers lovely complex aromas, and depending on where it’s from, may show off hints of toasted almonds, honey or dried fruit. Defective or lesser chocolate smells burnt or metallic.

Touch and taste. Put a small piece of chocolate onto the center of your tongue, but don’t chew! Fine chocolate has multiple flavor levels and chewing doesn’t allow time for them to reveal themselves. Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, but soft at body temperature, giving us the chance to experience the silky feel of the chocolate as it melts in the mouth.

How chocolate is made

The visit continued with a video on harvesting chocolate and then a tour through Amedei’s facility for converting cacao beans into award-winning chocolate. “It all starts with the cocoa beans,” said Cecilia, holding a handful of aromatic toasted cocoa beans. A single cacao tree bears about 30 usable pods each year, yielding roughly 1,000 cacao beans, enough for about 2 pounds of chocolate.

The mature pods are handpicked and then carefully cut open so as not to damage the beans, which must remain intact to maintain a full chocolate flavor.  When a cacao pod is first opened, it has no hint of chocolate fragrance. Instead, the white fruit pulp has a lovely peach and tropical flower aroma and a fruity tart-sweet flavor.

The pulp and the beans are pulled out of the pod and placed in a container, often a simple wooden box lined with banana leaves, where it is left for seven to nine days. The beans ferment in the pulp’s juices, infusing them with additional flavor. They are then spread out to dry in the sun for about a week where they are gently turned, often by women on tiptoe, in what Cecilia calls the “the cacao dance.”

When the beans arrive at Amedei, Cecilia begins the process of converting these precious cacao beans into chocolate.

1. Cecilia does a “cut test,” slicing a sample of the beans in half to confirm their quality. Cacao beans must be perfect to be included in Amedei chocolate—uniform and smooth.

2. Then they are roasted in special proprietary indirect fire equipment.

3. After that, the concasseur, or nibbing machine, separates the husks from the beans to obtain tiny bits of cacao beans, the “nibs.”

4. Next, the nibs are ground into a thick paste called cocoa mass. I tasted the warm, fragrant mass and found it perfect, but Cecilia explained that it was still too acidic and dense. The missing crucial step is called “conching.” a slow, gentle grinding process lasting 72 hours that results in a silky smooth chocolate with perfect flavor. Finally comes tempering, melting the chocolate to just the right temperature to crystallize the cocoa butter. At this stage, the chocolate is ready to be made into the various Amedei products.

Cacao pod

Cacao pod
Picture 1 of 6

Mature cacao pods are hand-picked and then carefully cut open so as not to damage the beans. Credit: Amedei.

From around the world

Cru, a French term meaning “growth,” refers to wines from a particular area. Since the ’80s the term is also used with other products that change flavor depending on where they’re made, including beer, whisky and chocolate.

“Chocolate can taste very different depending on where it comes from,” explains Cecelia during our tour. She scours the globe in search of the very best tasting beans. She illustrated those differences in a guided tasting of Amedei’s Cru line, which includes chocolates made exclusively from cocoa beans from various countries, explaining the special aroma and taste of each:

Grenada

Delicate, creamy taste with a lovely long-lasting finish.

Madagascar

Smells like hot chocolate with hints of lavender and herbs.

Rich with lovely hints of citrus and mint that almost tingles on the tongue.

Ecuador

Delicate roasted cacao aroma and the intriguing scent of a forest in the fall. The taste is just as complex, with a sequence of flavors revealing themselves, from green tea to pistachio and almonds to tropical fruit.

Jamaica

Fabulously complex aroma of dates, figs, apricot jam and ginger with a touch of carob, olives and freshly cut wood. The taste delivers all that the aroma promises, with the tang of candied orange peel and jam and richness of butter. Deep dark chocolate taste, yet not at all bitter.

Trinidad

Gourmet aromas of cocoa powder, Cuban cigars and a summer garden filled with fresh tomatoes with a taste of walnuts, vanilla and sweet persimmons.

Venezuela

Delicate aroma of sugar, warm melted butter, dried fruit and sandlewood. Naturally nutty taste of hazelnut, walnut, almond and cashew with slightly spicy hints. Intense flavor that is long lingering and rich.

Groups of at least four, and up to ten guests, can schedule a tour of Amedei in Italy. For information and reservations, go to their website, call 011-39-0587-48-4849 or e-mail office@amedei.it

There is one Amedei store in the United States, so if you can’t get to Italy, you can visit their shop at 15 East 18th St. in New York City, which features daily free samplings.

Torta Tenerina is a five-ingredient flourless chocolate cake. Credit: Francine Segan.

Torta Tenerina is a five-ingredient flourless chocolate cake. Credit: Francine Segan.

Torta Tenerina (5-Ingredient Italian Chocolate Cake)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 8

This flourless cake has a crisp, macaroon-like top layer and a dense, incredibly moist center. As the cake cools, it collapses just a little, creating a pretty webbing on the delicious crust. It’s made with only five ingredients, so be sure to use only quality chocolate like Amedei. A must-try classic! Recipe is in "DOLCI: Italy’s Sweets" by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011)

Note: The cake's total time includes 20 to 30 minutes of rest time.

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons, 3 ½ ounces, unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 7 ounces dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher, preferrably Amedei
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons potato or cornstarch

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form cake pan .
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a saucepan of gently boiling water.
  3. In a large bowl beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric hand held mixer until creamy and pale yellow. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and beat until creamy. Add the potato starch and mix until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Slowly, using a spatula, fold the egg whites, a little at a time, into the chocolate mixture until combined.
  5. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just set in the center. Don’t over-bake.
  6. The cake will continue to set as it cools. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting it until it collapses and the top crust cracks a bit.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Read More
Balsamic cherry pie

Driving along shoulderless highways in northern Michigan, it’s hard to miss row after row of Montmorency cherry trees loaded with fruit waiting to be baked into pies or squeezed into a liquid elixir that scientists and doctors assign superfruit status.

With more than 2 million cherry trees, Michigan produces over 70% of the country’s tart cherry crop, and July is the start of the season for a fruit that has been credited with controlling cholesterol, lowering weight and boosting heart health. Not to mention being at the heart of a mean cherry pie.

The tart cherry’s superfruit status is due to its high levels of an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which is also responsible for the cherry’s intensely sour flavor and bright red color.

Tart cherries might well deserve a medal for their healthy attributes, but I’d much rather test their ability to satisfy my craving for the yin-yang balance of sweet and tart enveloped in one glorious double-crusted pie. That’s because tart cherries, not sweet, have always been the basis for the best cherry pie. Bakers can control the amount of sweetness with sugar and the tangy essence of tart cherries keeps the pie from becoming cloyingly sweet.

In a part of the country where any proper pie judge will tell you that cherry pies are not to be trifled with, I decided to go out on a limb and conducted a loosely structured pie contest of my own. In traditional measure, blue ribbons become a battle between best crust and most cherry-packed (but least gooey) filling, and awards only go to those that deliver both.

Ferreting out the best the region had to offer, I sampled options from The Cherry Hut, a 92-year old pie-making institution in the little town of Beulah (8 points for cherry-packed filling), to local behemoth Cherry Republic (9 points for crunchy, tender crust). Naturally, I couldn’t avoid including a few farm stand options in between. In the end, a roadside pie spiced with a bit of balsamic vinegar took the prize for my personal favorite. Cask-aged balsamic, which delivers its own magic blend of sweet and tart, was the perfect complement to the fruit and provided a deep base of flavor to the freshly harvested cherries.

But after all that pie, I was feeling a bit sleepy, and no wonder. Did I mention that tart cherries contain melatonin, a natural hormone that helps you sleep at night?

Cherry Balsamic Pie

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

The winning farm stand pie inspired my interpretation of the classic Michigan cherry pie. I’ve blended a rich, cask-aged balsamic vinegar into the filling and added a bit of Fiori di Sicilia, a blend of floral, citrus and vanilla essences, to keep the flavors bright.

Ingredients

  • Pie dough, enough for two crusts, chilled
  • 3 pounds, pitted fresh or frozen (do not thaw) tart cherries
  • ⅓ cup Pie Enhancer (or 6 tablespoons flour)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cask-aged balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Fiori de Sicilia extract (or vanilla extract)
  • Egg
  • Sparkling sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out enough dough for one crust and place in 9- to 10-inch deep dish pie plate, leaving a 2-inch overhang. Return to refrigerator while assembling filling to keep dough cold.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss to combine cherries, Pie Enhancer or flour, sugar, salt, balsamic vinegar and Fiori di Sicilia. Fill pie dish and return to refrigerator again while preparing top crust.
  3. Roll out remaining pie dough and trim into 1-inch slices. Weave for latticework and gently transfer over filling. Turn lower crust up and over edges of lattice and crimp with fingers or fork.
  4. Whisk egg with 2 tablespoons water and gently brush over top crust. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar.
  5. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes, crust will be golden brown and fruit will be gently bubbling when done. Remove to rack to cool.

Notes

Not one to cling to tradition, when I find a new ingredient that is a big improvement over my old ways, I embrace it. Such is the case with King Arthur Flour’s Pie Enhancer, which I use to thicken fruit pies. A blend of superfine sugar, modified corn starch (aka Instant Clear Gel) and ascorbic acid, it sets the pie juices but avoids that gluey texture that flour sometimes imparts. But follow your own tradition and if flour works best for you, then substitute 5 tablespoons of flour for the Pie Enhancer and increase the amount of sugar in the filling for a total of ⅓ cup sugar.

Read More
Gelato at Pazzo Gelato. Credit: Pazzo Gelato

Thirty years ago this month, then-President Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month. He was the commander in chief who made it official, but executive office ice cream love was nothing new.

Thomas Jefferson is often incorrectly credited with bringing ice cream to the United States. The third president certainly served ice cream at the White House and was one of the first to record a recipe for the confection on American soil, but ice creams similar to what we now eat were recorded in earlier 17th-century cookbooks. President George Washington served molded ice creams at the President’s House in Philadelphia and his estate at Mount Vernon.

The process then, as now, required churning a cream or custard mixture in an envelope of ice. Because a crank-handle ice-cream churn was not invented until much later, the process was cumbersome and the end product not as light as we are accustomed to. A video from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation demonstrates the 18th-century method of churning and molding ice cream.

Labor was only part of the reason only the privileged few enjoyed early ice creams. Ice was a rare commodity that came from ice houses that stored frozen blocks cut from rivers and streams in the winter. While presidents could afford such a delicacy, the common man could not until savvy African-American caterer Augustus Jackson opened what is widely considered the first public ice-cream shop in Philadelphia around 1832 after serving as a White House chef in the 1820s.

Ice cream savvy

Today ice cream is far from the simple custard- or cream-based confection it once was. Now Americans enjoy ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, milkshakes and more.

Traditional ice cream continues to be cream or egg custard based. Ice creams not thickened with egg custard are often thickened with gelatins or vegetable thickeners. Frozen yogurt is just what the name implies — churned yogurt and flavorings — and now vegan varieties made from coconut and almond milk are increasingly available.

For many consumers, sorbet, sorbetto and sherbet present some confusion. Are they or are they not the same thing? Sorbet and sorbetto are the same — a fruit puree or fruit juice that is sweetened, frozen and churned — while sherbet adds an element of dairy to the mix.

Gelato is another confusing cold confection, with its special freezer cases and serving paddles. Its distinctions are more complex, said Jim Demotses, owner of Pazzo Gelato Café in North Andover, Mass. He said gelato is made mostly from milk instead of cream, so it’s lower in fat. It also has less air whipped into it and is served at a lower temperature to maintain its creaminess.

Demotses also said authentic gelato is made in small batches, — usually daily and using natural flavors and ingredients — to maintain freshness.

Do it yourself

While cold treats like gelato are difficult to make at home because of the temperature requirements, they are not impossible if you have the right recipe and equipment, most notably a compressor-type home ice-cream maker that can freeze the base to the right consistency. However, it’s important to understand that once the churned gelato goes into a traditional freezer, the hallmark lower-temperature creaminess could be chilled out of it.

icecream2

icecream2
Picture 1 of 7

Bowls of ice cream and spoons. Credit: Ramin Ganeshram

A compressor-type machine offered by Breville is the best of the bunch for frozen desserts from sorbet to ice cream to frozen yogurt. Because it has no bowl to freeze as with other tabletop models like those offered by Cuisinart (about $60) or the freezer bowl attachment for the Kitchen Aid stand mixer (about $100), you can make ice cream without long-term planning and have it ready within an hour, depending on consistency. At nearly $400, it’s probably best reserved for hard-core ice-cream aficionados.

The freezer bowl models mentioned work fairly well but tend to produce a soft product that must be frozen for a good four to six hours before consumption. This is particularly true if you add mix-ins to the base.

A recent entry to the market, the Zoku Ice Cream maker,  seems like the perfect solution for single-serve homemade ice cream. Also using a freezer bowl, the “churn” function comes from good, old-fashioned elbow grease by virtue of stirring the freezing base with a small paddle. Unfortunately, while inexpensive (about $26) and certainly a fun activity for kids, the end product did not freeze well or with true ice-cream consistency.

Lora Wiley-Lennarz, a food blogger who counts ice cream recipes as among her favorites to create for her blog Diary of a Mad Hausfrau, said her first ice-cream maker was an inexpensive impulse buy. Once she wore that out with her experimentations, she graduated to the Kitchen Aid attachment, although a compressor-type model is in her sights.

“That might be a dangerous purchase,” she said, laughing. “With no wait time, my ice-cream-making adventures would probably get out of control.”

Wiley-Lennarz’s ice-cream experiments have afforded her a good list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to making ice cream at home. The first must-have, she said, is good time management. Ice cream takes a long time to make,  especially with chilling the base as well as a freezer bowl, if necessary.

Wiley-Lennarz said it’s imperative to eat the ice cream the day you make it — after a couple of hours of post-churn freezing — otherwise it won’t stay creamy as the temperature drops.

“The most important thing is to be flavor fearless. Some of the most tasty ice creams I’ve created started with crazy combination ideas that turned out fabulous,” she said. Her Red Currant Lemon Balm Ice Cream is one such flavor-forward concoction (see recipe below).

A great option for those who don’t have an ice-cream churn, or consider the prospect of many hours of trial and error potentially daunting, is milkshakes.

They combine ice cream and other flavorings whipped into a thick smoothie, another American classic that came about during the turn of the 20th century in the ubiquitous soda fountains of the day.

Sophisticated modern versions like the unusual Salted Watermelon Milkshake from The Milk Shake Factory in Pittsburgh (see recipe below) are worth trying at home.

Red Currant Lemon Balm Ice Cream Recipe

Recipe from Diary of A Mad Hausfrau.

Prep time: 1 hour (includes chilling base)

Cook time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes to 2 hours

Yield: Makes about 2 quarts

Ingredients

4 egg yolks

3 cups heavy cream

1½ cups whole milk, divided

1 cup sugar

⅓ cup chopped fresh lemon balm

2 cups fresh red currants rinsed and plucked off the stem

Directions

1. Whisk the egg yolks together in a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

2. Heat the cream, milk and sugar together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When the mixture starts to become warm, stir in the lemon balm.

3. Remove the mixture just before boiling and slowly pour into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Cover and set side for at least 1 hour.

4. Pour the mixture back into a heavy bottomed sauce pan and reheat it over medium low heat until it thickens and then pour back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap so the wrap is touching the surface of the mixture and refrigerate for three hours or overnight.

5. Remove the plastic wrap, pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

6. When ice cream reaches soft serve consistency, gently stir in the red currants.

7. Place in a freezer-proof container, secure a cover on the container and place in the freezer for a few hours or until ready to serve.

Soursop Sorbet

This recipe is from “Sweet Hands Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago” by Ramin Ganeshram.

Soursop, or guanabana, is a tropical fruit that has naturally creamy, sweet-tart flavor. This recipe, while incredibly simple, has a complex and sophisticated flavor profile. It makes a good palate cleanser or a refreshing vegan ice-cream alternative.

Prep time: 45 minutes (includes chilling base)

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: Makes 1 quart

Ingredients

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

Juice of ½ lime

2 cups frozen soursop puree (Goya is one brand)

Directions

1. Mix sugar and ½ cup of water together in a small saucepan and bring to a slow simmer. Simmer until reduced by half, then set aside to cool.

2. Mix the lime juice with the frozen soursop puree and cooled sugar syrup. Pour into an ice-cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions, generally about 40 minutes.

3. Remove the sorbet from the ice-cream maker and pack into a quart container and freeze for at least four hours until hard. If making Popsicles, remove the mixture halfway through the churn process and pour into Popsicle trays. Freeze overnight.

Salted Watermelon Milkshake

This shake calls to mind Middle Eastern and Indian watermelon treats that often make use of salt or other culinary spices to bring out the sweetness of the fruit.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 2

Ingredients

½ pint watermelon sherbet

½ cup cold whole milk

½ cup soda water or seltzer

¼ cup pureed watermelon

Pinch of sea salt

Mini chocolate chips for garnish

Directions

1. Mix all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a heavy-duty blender until thick and frothy.

2. Serve in a chilled glass garnished with chocolate chips.

Main photo: Gelato at Pazzo Gelato. Credit: Pazzo Gelato

Read More
Chocolate Chip-Pecan Biscotti. Credit: Barbara Haber

I am planning to compile a personal cookbook — not for publication, but rather as a private collection of favorite recipes to give to family and friends. The idea has been brewing ever since I got a phone call from a son at college who wanted to know how to make “skinny fries,” a potato recipe he’d grown up with. At other times I get requests from friends for how to make a particular dish they had at my house. Although some of the recipes I will be compiling are for family dishes that were passed down to me, many come from cookbooks or magazines, recipes I probably tweaked before deciding they were perfect. What makes my cookbook personal, of course, is that it will reflect my particular tastes in food, leaving out ingredients I do not like, and going heavy on the types of dishes I love.

We all know that the world has become flooded with recipes so that selecting the best of them is challenging and time consuming. I have spent years accumulating thick files of favorites I culled after having tried so many other recipes that were similar but not as good. So I see my collection as a worthwhile service to loved ones by offering them what I consider to be the best of the best. It took years, for instance, to find the perfect chocolate cake, a dessert I now bring to potluck gatherings where I am always besieged for the recipe. I also have a biscotti recipe that experienced biscotti eaters tell me is the best they have tasted. I have recipes that were handed down by the women in my family, and passing these along gives me a sense of continuity and order. These include recipes for a winter soup made with beans and meat, and a meatloaf made light and fluffy because of its secret ingredient — a grated raw potato.

I routinely hear tales from friends who regret not getting their grandmother’s recipe for a dish they continually think about, but don’t know how to make because no one in the family thought to jot it down. It would have required trailing after grandma in her kitchen, and managing to measure and write down what she instinctively threw into a pot. I have even heard stories about grandmothers who will not give out their recipes, or if they do, will deliberately leave out key ingredients. Their motivation seems to be the hope that family members will continue to visit and eat what they cook. My expectation for myself is to have it both ways — to continue to please my visiting family members with the dishes they love and then to hand them all copies of the recipes.

It’s ‘CSI: The Kitchen’

I have seen compilations of family recipes assembled by other people, and they tell me a lot about the person who put the collection together. They add up to what I think of as a food profile. Just as FBI profilers can speculate about perpetrators of crimes by analyzing clues left behind, I feel I can gain insights into a person by examining the foods they choose to eat. But the work of a food profiler is far more pleasant — investigating noodle puddings and fruit pies rather than bullet holes and blood spatters. I have noticed, for instance, that books filled with dishes for grilled meats strike me as man pleasers or may even have been created by men. Ethnic backgrounds are also easy to spot — loads of pasta recipes with tomato sauce suggest Southern Italy, while yeast breads and coffeecakes using cardamom say Scandinavia.

Regional recipes are striking when, for instance, books recommending sweet tea and directions for such desserts as triple-layer coconut cake and sweet potato pie announce old-time Southern cooking. Recipes using such stylish grains as farro and quinoa and a wide variety of herbs and spices suggest an adventurous eater, while those relying mainly on salt and pepper for seasoning strongly hint that the eater has conservative tastes. And there are subtle clues. If many of the recipes yield eight or more servings, I deduce that the person either has a large family or entertained frequently, and the reverse is true. Recipes serving just two indicate a more private lifestyle.

My personal food profile

If I were to be food-profiled, the absence of cilantro, the herb people seem to either love or hate, would herald my aversion to the thing. Also noticeable would be my preference for cooking with olive oil rather than butter, and that an indifference to butter and cream carries over to desserts that omit whipped cream. Recipes for candy and cookies will lord it over puddings and tarts. My book will contain anecdotes, tributes to my sources for recipes, and nostalgic comments about the people whose recipes I am reproducing. I would hope to be seen as someone with a generous spirit, but most of all I would like to be seen as someone with a respect for history. I long ago learned that history is not just about the actions of presidents and kings but about the aspirations of regular people, and personal cookbooks can be a key to understanding how these people really lived.

Chocolate Chip-Pecan Biscotti

(Adapted from “Cooking With Les Dames D’Escoffier” cookbook)

Prep time: 30 minutes (this includes the slicing before the second baking)
Chilling time for dough: 3 hours
First baking: 45 minutes
Resting time between bakings: 1 hour
Second baking: 25 minutes
Total time: 5 hours 40 minutes

Yield: 48 biscotti

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1⅓ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons milk
1½ cups miniature chocolate chips
1½ cups chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl until blended. Add two of the eggs, one at a time, beating just to blend after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and milk, then the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 3 equal portions. With lightly floured hands, form each portion into an 8-inch long log and flatten it to 2½ inches wide; place each log on a piece of plastic wrap large enough to cover the dough. Wrap in the plastic and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.
  3. Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a heavy, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the logs of dough, leaving them sitting on the plastic. Beat the remaining egg well to make a glaze. Brush the tops of the logs with the glaze and place them on the parchment-lined sheet. Space them 2 to 3 inches apart since they will spread. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown and just firm to the touch. Let logs cool completely for at least an hour.
  4. For the second baking, heat oven to 300 F. Line one or two sheets with parchment paper. With a long serrated knife, cut the logs crosswise into ½ to ¾ inch slices. Arrange biscotti on the sheets, putting the ends cut side down. Bake for 15 minutes and then turn them over and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool and store.

Notes

Variation for cranberry-pecan biscotti: Omit chocolate chips, vanilla and milk. Add 1½ cups dried cranberries, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1½ tablespoons lemon zest. The rest of the directions are the same.

Main photo: Chocolate Chip-Pecan Biscotti. Credit: Barbara Haber

Read More