Articles in Desserts w/recipe
Finally, there’s an easy macaron that is as enticing as the French classic but can be made in less than half the time. French macarons can be intimidating. The method involves an Italian meringue that requires slow streaming of very hot syrup into egg whites while they’re being whipped, a task that is always a little scary.
These cinnamon pecan macarons, which come from pastry chef Genevieve Gergis, co-owner and pastry chef at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles, don’t call for the Italian meringue. Just fold a mix of ground pecans, powdered sugar, vanilla seeds and cinnamon into beaten egg whites and you’re ready to pipe. The egg whites require an overnight rest, but that’s nothing compared to the 48 hours that many traditional macaron recipes call for.
Gluten-free for the holidays
These are gluten-free cookies you can add to your usual Christmas repertoire. Macarons are a natural choice because they don’t require any substitutions.
“Flour substitutes take away from the integrity of the original dessert. There are plenty of desserts out there that don’t have gluten and never have,” says Gergis, whose gluten-free desserts fall into that category.
The mix of ground pecans, sugar and cinnamon gives the almost-decadent cookies a texture and praline-like flavor that are unique. “They’re like nutty, super chewy snickerdoodles,” Gergis says. A creamy, unsweetened filling of mascarpone mixed with crème fraiche creates a perfect balance inside the sweet, moist, chewy masterpieces.
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Genevieve Gergis’ Cinnamon Pecan Macarons
Prep time: 15 minutes plus overnight rest at room temperature for egg whites
Batter and baking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen 2-inch cookies
For the macarons:
A little under 7 large egg whites
2 3/4 cups pecans
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 vanilla bean, scraped
For the filling:
7 ounces mascarpone
1 ounce crème fraiche
To facilitate working with this batter, divide the ingredients in half and make two batches. Even if you don’t choose to make two batches, grind the pecans and powdered sugar in two batches to avoid making pecan butter.
1. Put egg whites in a container, a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap, pierce plastic wrap in several places and let stand at room temperature overnight.
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2. In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine half the pecans and half the powdered sugar. Pulse until pecans are finely ground, taking care not to turn them into butter (this is why you should pulse, rather than turn on the machine full tilt). Transfer to a bowl and repeat with remaining pecans and powdered sugar. Stir in cinnamon and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, salt and vanilla seeds.
4. In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk or using electric beaters, beat egg whites on medium low speed until soft peaks form. Turn speed to medium and gradually add granulated sugar mixture, a tablespoon at a time. Beat to stiff but not dry peaks.
5. Carefully transfer egg whites to a very large bowl. A cup at a time, slowly fold in pecan/powdered sugar mix, taking care not to deflate egg whites (they will deflate a little no matter what). Resulting mixture will be thick.
6. Preheat oven to 225 F (200 F for convection) with rack positioned in middle. Fit a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch round tip. Line sheet pans with parchment and use a 2-inch cookie cutter and pencil to trace 2-inch circles on the parchment, leaving 1 inch between circles and staggering rows. Flip parchment over so macarons don’t absorb pencil marks.
7. Holding pastry bag with tip pointed straight down, pipe 2-inch circles. Bake 10 minutes in a regular oven, 7 minutes in convection. Cookies should have a skin on surface. Remove from oven and turn heat up to 325 F for regular oven, 315 F for convection. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes. Cookies should be crisp on outside and soft on inside. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from parchment.
8. Whip together the mascarpone and crème fraiche until smooth. Turn over half the macarons and place a teaspoonful of cream mixture on each bottom half, then top with another half and gently press together. For best results refrigerate overnight (but the macarons are also good right away). They will keep for a few days in the refrigerator. Don’t stack them, but stand them side by side in a container or box.
Main photo: These pecan cinnamon macarons are easy to make for the holidays. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Long before there were Christmas lights, cards, trees or even Santa Claus, and before there were Christmas cookies, richly frosted Yule logs or candy canes … there was gingerbread.
At least since the Middle Ages, what we loosely call gingerbread — richly spiced cookies, wafers and honey breads — has been part of the winter holiday season. There’s a street in the medieval heart of Prague named after spiced honey cake makers. And we know that the Bavarian city of Nürnberg (Nuremberg) was a gingerbread exporter in the 14th century, as was the Dutch city of Deventer not much later. Ever since, the scent of Christmas has been that of gingerbread.
In much of central and northern Europe, the holiday season stretches for several weeks, beginning on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) and ending a month later on Epiphany (around Jan. 6). St. Nicholas was a semi-mythical 4th century Middle Eastern bishop, the sometime patron saint to merchants, sailors and thieves. In his modern incarnation, he is mostly known for rewarding good children and punishing the bad.
The Netherlands Santa: An old bishop and his servant
In the Netherlands, the white-bearded bishop (known there as Sinterklaas) arrives each year (supposedly) from Spain, accompanied by a black-faced companion named Black Pete. The tradition of an African servant seems to derive from Holland’s not altogether savory colonial history. That it endures is baffling to most outsiders even if the Dutch insist that it is all just good fun.
America’s Santa Claus is largely derived from Sinterklaas, though he has no sidekick, is much jollier (perhaps because of the remittances from starring in Coca Cola ads?) and hails not from sunny Spain but from the North Pole.
Dutch bakers and their aromatic dough
Whereas edible Santas are usually made out of chocolate, Saint Nicks come in the form of gingerbread; these may be the original gingerbread men. Dutch bakers follow medieval tradition by continuing to press richly aromatic dough into elaborately wooden molds carved in the shape of angels, animals and hearts, but most especially Sinterklaas. Since the large cookies are the mirror image of the mold, the Dutch named them speculaas — derived from the Latin word for a mirror — a term that they now use for any kind of gingerbread.
This shape, along with the distinctive spicy scent, announces the season. The winter treats are richly flavored with exotic, Eastern spices. In the Middle Ages, it was widely believed that spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon originated in the Garden of Eden, which was supposedly located somewhere east of the Holy Land. Accordingly, martyred saints, or their remains, were believed to emanate sweet and fragrant spice — and, naturally, so did their gingerbread images.
Moreover, some of these original edibles were literally precious because of the high cost of the Eastern aromatics. Imported from half the world away by ship, camel and ox cart, the spices were both expensive and rare. Accordingly, how much and which of these costly seasonings ended up in the cakes depended on the time and place. The British were fond of ginger, so we call our spice cakes “gingerbread.” In Germany and other parts of central Europe, the local “gingerbread,” or Lebkuchen, often contained no ginger whatsoever. The famous Nürnberg interpretation was made with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. And the cheap versions, sold at country fairs, were concocted of rye flour and honey and were barely spiced at all.
In the days when sugar was an elite treat, the peasantry often grated this inexpensive Lebkuchen on their porridge in lieu of sugar. Meanwhile, the French have their own spice bread, or pain d’épice, and add anise to the usual sweet spice masala.
Many varieties of spicy treats
Yet no one is quite as obsessed with gingerbread as the Dutch. Food historian Peter Rose has documented some 47 varieties of speculaas, and that doesn’t even include the pepernoten (spice cookies) handed out by black-faced Netherlanders on St. Nicholas Day.
Nobody can touch the Dutch when it comes to the quantity of spice in their gingerbread. This too is part of a colonial legacy, when the little country controlled the world supply of nutmeg and cloves. Today, the Dutch make cheese studded with whole cloves and often include nutmeg along with salt and pepper when setting the table. Not surprisingly, some speculaas has the kick of a cinnamon red hot. Most Netherlanders wouldn’t be able to tell you what goes into speculaas spice, since they buy the mixture already mixed, but cloves and nutmeg are typical, as is white pepper.
No matter the recipe, it seems purposely made to ward off Holland’s damp winter chill. A bite of sweet, intensely spicy speculaas sends a warm glow throughout your body. It’s not hard to understand why this was once thought an edible morsel of paradise.
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Speculaas With Almond Filling
This recipe is loosely adapted from the Dutch culinary historian Christianne Muusers. She suggests putting a little rose water into the almond filling, which adds yet another layer of aroma to this profoundly spiced treat. Though just about everyone in Holland will just reach for a package of prepared speculaas spice, it’s worth grinding your own spices — they’ll be much more intense. I like to use muscovado, a natural brown sugar, in the dough, although another brown sugar will certainly work.
Prep time: About 45 minutes
Baking time: About 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen pieces of speculaas
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural demerara sugar (or substitute light brown sugar)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup) sliced almonds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
10 ounces almond paste
1 tablespoon rose water
1 lightly beaten egg for brushing
2 dozen to 3 dozen whole blanched almonds for decorating
1. To make the dough, combine the flour, demerara sugar, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are about as big as flakes of oatmeal. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Stir in the sliced almonds and lemon rind. Stir together the 1 egg and the cream. Sprinkle this over the flour mixture, then gently toss this mixture with your hands until you have a rather dry dough. If it doesn’t hold together, add another tablespoon or two of cream. It should be about the consistency of pie dough. Cover and refrigerate overnight; this allows the flavor of the spices to infuse the dough.
2. Make the filling by putting the almond paste into a food processor and gradually adding the egg and then the rose water, teaspoon by teaspoon. You need the filling to be spreadable but not runny. This may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.
3. When you’re ready to bake the speculaas, set your oven to 350 F. Take half the dough and roll it out on a floured board to about a 1/4-inch thick round or rectangle. (If it feels too hard, let it sit out for half an hour before rolling.) Transfer this to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use plenty of flour when you’re rolling out the dough, and don’t worry if it breaks as you are transferring it — you’ll most likely need to cut it and patch it anyway to form an even round or rectangle.
Almond paste filling
4. Spread the almond paste over the dough, leaving a border of about 1/4 inch naked. Roll out the rest of the dough, drape it over the filling, and even out the dough to make a smooth edge. Brush generously with lightly beaten egg, using the brush to smooth out any cracks and crevices. Using a knife, trace diamonds over the surface. Decorate the top with whole, blanched almonds.
5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven until firm and a rich brown. Make sure to cut it into pieces before it cools completely. I usually cut it into squares or diamonds of about 2 inches.
Main photo: Speculaas With Almond Filling are best when made with freshly ground spices. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of us are thinking of menus, making shopping lists and planning table arrangements. While the meal has certain traditions that remain the same year in and year out, it is refreshing to add new dishes that speak to the season by using what’s available now.
Persimmons are one of those ingredients with a season from October to January. A much misunderstood fruit, the orange globes come in two varieties: the squat and firm Fuyu, which can be eaten as soon as it is deep orange, and the Hachiya, which has a teardrop shape that needs to ripen to a squishy softness before it’s ready to use.
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One idea for a Thanksgiving dessert recipe is a tart of sliced Fuyu persimmons encased in rich hazelnut shortbread dough. The top is glazed with apricot jam for gloss and showered with crystalized turinado sugar for show. Each slice is topped with a dollop of whipped cream and is sure to keep diners from missing pumpkin pie.
Speaking of pumpkin, ice cream made with this harvest squash can serve as the topping for a spicy gingerbread sauced with caramel and sprinkled with a few grains of sea salt. Rich pumpkin ice cream is available in grocery stores and specialty shops at this time of year, as is delectable caramel sauce. The gingerbread is super quick to mix up and bake, so this elegant dessert’s classy flavors belie the ease of putting it together. Trader Joe’s makes a decent version of the ice cream and sauce, or check Whole Foods or your favorite grocery store for top-quality caramel sauce (I love Fran’s Classic) and pumpkin ice cream.
Apples and fresh olive oil are two more ingredients that are plentiful and seasonal in November. They come together in mini Bundt cakes, which are all the rage right now. The apples add a moist richness, and the olive oil is a healthy fat, a welcome ingredient after the cholesterol-busting turkey dinner. If you don’t have mini Bundt pans, the cake can be made in a deep round pan or two layer cake pans. Each little cake is topped with bourbon-laced mascarpone cream and chopped walnuts, adding a touch of decadence.
Another decadent and somewhat traditional dessert for Thanksgiving is pecan pie. My northeastern relatives always made it with maple syrup, which is a perfect match for nutty, crunchy pecans. The combination of maple with brown sugar, butter and corn syrup creates a butterscotch-caramel flavor and texture that makes a fine ending to the holiday meal. This recipe is very easy and quick to make, especially if you use a purchased piecrust.
So shake up tradition around the Thanksgiving table this year and bake some unusual tarts, pies and cakes that take advantage of what’s in season now.
Spiced Persimmon Tart With Hazelnut Crust
Prep time: 35 minutes
Bake time: 35 minutes
Total time: 70 minutes
Yield: 10 servings
For the crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut in pieces
For the filling:
3 Fuyu persimmons, about 1/2 pound each, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon apricot jam, melted
1/2 teaspoon large-crystal turbinado sugar
For the crust:
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease tart pan thoroughly.
- Put flour, nuts, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse on and off until the nuts are ground into flour and the ingredients are well mixed.
- Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Add the egg and pulse until the dough clumps together.
- Press the dough on the bottom and sides of a 4-inch-by-14-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. (You can also use a 9-inch square pan or a round tart pan.)
For the filling:
- Combine the persimmons with lemon juice, sugar and spices and stir until all slices are coated.
- Layer the fruit decoratively in prepared crust so the slices overlap.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until crust is golden brown and persimmons are tender.
- Remove from oven and, while hot, brush fruit slices with apricot jam. Let cool slightly then sprinkle evenly with turbinado crystals.
- Cool on a rack then remove the sides of the pan.
- At serving time, top each slice of tart with a dollop of whipped cream.
Gingerbread With Pumpkin Ice Cream and Salted Caramel
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Yield: 12 servings
For the cake:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup boiling water
Pumpkin ice cream
Caramel sauce, warmed gently in microwave
French gray sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square glass baking dish.
- Whisk eggs, sugar, molasses, spices and oil in a medium bowl until smooth.
- Stir in the dissolved baking soda then beat in the flour, whisking until all lumps are gone.
- Add the boiling water and stir lightly until it’s incorporated. The batter will be quite thin.
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack.
- At serving time, cut squares of gingerbread and put on plates. Top with a scoop of ice cream and a drizzle of warm caramel. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on top of each serving.
Mini Apple Bundt Cakes With Mascarpone Bourbon Cream
Prep time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 40 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Yield: 6 mini Bundt cakes, plus 2 cupcakes
For the cake:
3/4 cup good, fresh olive oil (I like California Olive Ranch)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups cored, unpeeled grated tart apples
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the cream:
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup heavy cream whipped with 1 teaspoon powdered sugar to soft peaks
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease the Bundt pans very well with canola spray.
- Whisk the oil, sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy.
- Whisk in the dry ingredients and mix just until well combined.
- Fold in the apples and vanilla.
- Fill the Bundt pans to 1/2-inch from the top. Use any remaining batter for cupcakes.
- Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool on a rack.
- Make the cream by stirring the mascarpone and bourbon together until smooth, then gently fold in whipped cream.
- For serving, place a mini Bundt cake on each plate and mound a generous dollop of bourbon cream in the center hole. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
Maple Pecan Pie
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
For the filling:
3/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
1/2 cup white corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut in pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans
1 (9-inch) pie shell
- Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine syrups, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until butter is melted. Raise heat and bring mixture to a boil for one minute. Set aside to cool until lukewarm.
- Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and salt until well combined.
- Fold in 1 cup of pecans.
- Pour filling into pie shell.
- Sprinkle 1 cup of pecans evenly over the top of the pie.
- Place on a baking sheet or tray to catch any drips and bake for one hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool on a rack.
- At serving time, cut the pie into wedges and top each piece with whipped cream.
Main photo: Gingerbread With Pumpkin Ice Cream and Salted Caramel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Brooke Jackson
It was November 1963 and I was living in the Château de Versailles overseeing catering for the American socialite, Florence Van der Kemp, who was married to the museum curator. The Van der Kemps were already well renowned as fundraisers for the restoration of the Château, and Florence decided to host a big traditional Thanksgiving dinner to thank all of her French friends. Having been raised in England, I did indeed know nothing about this very American holiday. “Leave it to Bernadina,” Florence exclaimed to me, “you don’t need to know anything about it, just come to the party!” Bernadina was the elderly chef from Mexico who could cook in three languages, so I was happy to pass on the responsibility.
I was sent to buy the largest possible turkey. “At least 25 pounds,” decreed Florence, but the poultry man was mystified. “We have nothing like that, the best turkeys are small, female and plump, about 12 pounds,” he explained. Clearly the American appreciation for sheer size did not extend to France. We compromised with two smaller birds and dressed them with large red bows for maximum effect. Then there was something called sparkling Burgundy, made for the American market and available only at Fauchon, the luxury gourmet store in Paris, which necessitated a special trip.
When at last I was seated in the middle of the long table in the magnificent dining room of Aile Colbert, I had plenty of time to observe. The Frenchwomen on either side of me had rapidly decided that a young, foreign neighbor was not worth a second glance. I nibbled the candied pecans and raisins in bowls beside my plate and broke into what I later learned to call a Parker House roll.
Turkey and oysters
I sipped the Burgundy, an adult version of soda. My friend Serge, the maître d’hôtel from the parties we masterminded together, set a bowl of borscht before me. The flavor and color were eerily similar to the Burgundy. Then came the turkeys, one for display, the other carved ready for serving; a murmur of approbation arose. Embassy service was the custom in those days, so Serge and his partner hefted huge platters of turkey, roast potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, turnips, Brussels sprouts and stuffing, maneuvering between the guests. A minion followed with boats of gravy, cranberry sauce and condiments.
As the platter reached my place, there wafted an unmistakable aroma of fish and I knew why. Another errand of mine had been to collect a couple quarts of shucked oysters for the turkey stuffing. When cooked, no one had accounted for the briny intensity of French oysters, as they are quite different from fatty American ones raised in warmer waters. I looked around at the startled faces of my fellow diners and Serge and I exchanged a wink. I tried the stuffing on its own; it wasn’t bad. Combined with the rich, meaty turkey it was, shall we say, an unexpected flavor.
And then there was dessert
It is impolite in France to refuse a second helping, so by the time dessert came around we all felt a bit stuffed. Having never been to America, I was determined to try novelties such as pecan pie, chess pie, mud pie and, of course, pumpkin pie; all considerately served in slivers for dessert. The slim, elegant Frenchwomen around me smiled politely and took the smallest portions offered.
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Finally, at last, arrived the cups of strong, bracing coffee with plenty of refills — I had seen to that. At this stage, it occurred to me that, with the exception of the turkey and stuffing, everything had been sweetened with sugar. Few were tempted by the petits fours, the elite chocolates and the offer of liqueurs. We eventually staggered, blinking, into the courtyard, and made our way carefully on the cobbles in our high heels. The ladies slid into their chic Morris Minis and I into my MG (at least I could keep up with them there!).
For all of us, Florence had achieved her purpose. Our first Thanksgiving had been unforgettable and, as a souvenir, we all took home candied orangettes; strips of orange peel coated in chocolate and packaged in a little bag with the label Château de Versailles.
Orangettes au Chocolat
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Yield: About 10 ounces
6 large thin-skinned oranges (2 to 3 pounds)
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3/4 pound dark chocolate, chopped
1. To cut the orange strips: With a serrated knife, cut off the ends of the oranges through to the flesh. Set an orange on one flat end, cut off the skin and pith in vertical strips. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Press the strips flat. With a large chef’s knife, cut each strip into 1/4 inch sticks, discard trimmings, and cut away any loose bits of skin.
2. For the sugar syrup, heat the sugar and water in a shallow pan over low heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Stir in the orange strips. Cover the pan and simmer the strips until they are tender and look translucent, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally during cooking and add more water if needed to keep the strips covered.
3. When tender, let the strips cool in the syrup. Set a wire rack over a baking tray to catch drips. Transfer the orangettes to the rack, spread so they do not touch each other, and leave them overnight to drain and dry. This may take 24 hours if the kitchen is humid.
4. When the orangettes are no longer sticky, coat them with chocolate. Put the chocolate in a bowl and melt it over a saucepan of steaming water, or in the microwave. Transfer the bowl to a pan of cold water to cool the chocolate, stirring often, until it starts to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Line a baking sheet or tray with nonstick parchment paper. Remove the bowl of chocolate from the bowl of water. Using a fork, dip an orange stick into the chocolate, coating it completely or only half if you prefer. Transfer sticks to the paper and leave to set.
Note: To avoid a “foot” of chocolate on one side of the orange strip, twist and turn the strip on the fork so the chocolate sets evenly. Wrap and store the orangettes in the salad drawer of the refrigerator.
Main photo: The Château de Versailles, which was lovingly restored by the Van der Kemps during a 35-year period. Credit: Copyright 2012 Michal Osmenda/Creative Commons
I’ve reached that point of summer where the mere thought of flipping on the oven and heating up the kitchen to bake cookies, pies or cakes makes me sweat.
Rather than risk turning into a puddle over the next picnic or potluck party dish, I’ve shifted into low gear and started whisking, rather than cooking, my summertime treats.
Topping my roster of simple desserts that can be effortlessly whipped together is syllabub. The name syllabub may conjure up visions of windswept sand dunes, dusty camels and “Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights.” As exotic as it sounds, this sweet comes not from the sun-drenched desert but instead from Britain.
In 16th-century England, syllabub was a frothy beverage made of milk and sweet wine or cider. Because people liked the foamy head more than the liquid itself, syllabub eventually discarded its drink status and took on the role of a creamy dessert.
What makes syllabub an ideal summer treat is its simplicity. You can assemble it in a few minutes with either a whisk or an electric hand mixer. Just beat 1 cup of chilled whipping cream, a quarter cup of sauternes, muscatel or other sweet wine and the same amount of sugar together until soft velvety peaks form. Once you see those gentle mounds, you’ve got your syllabub.
To vary the taste, you can replace the wine with flavored rums or liqueurs or fruit juice. To keep its romantic desert image intact, present your syllabub in colorful North African tea glasses.
Another easy English favorite is the fool. As simple as its name sounds, the fool consists of mashed raw or cooked fruit folded into homemade whipped cream.
In the United Kingdom, fools usually contain gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb or plums. I find the bold look and piquant flavor of blackberries work extremely well here. When spooned into dainty etched glasses, fools become an elegant last course, one that leaves guests talking for days about your ethereal creation.
Fruit and cream
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If you choose not to swirl mashed fruit through your whipped cream, then you’ll have the next offering, fruit and cream. Yet another straightforward treat, fruit and cream consists of alternating bands of fresh or cooked fruit and lightly flavored whipped cream. Berries, particularly blueberries or elderberries, taste fabulous in this recipe.
When making the whipped cream for this and for fools, you should beat the cream until stiff, glossy peaks form. The whipped cream in these two confections should possess a firmer consistency than that of a syllabub. Because the bands of white and purple — or red or blue or whatever color fruit you choose to use — look so beautiful together, I also serve this repast in a clear tea or juice glass.
Reminiscent of the syllabub, coconut creams feature yogurt, shredded coconut and cream of coconut. Don’t confuse cream of coconut with its thinner, less flavorful relation, coconut milk. You will find both in the international aisle of most grocery stores and in Latin American, Asian and Caribbean markets.
To make coconut creams, whisk together 2 cups plain Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons sweetened, shredded coconut, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cream of coconut and an equal amount of sifted confectioner’s sugar. Divide the coconut creams among four small bowls or glasses and refrigerate for 30 minutes. When you’re ready to serve the coconut creams, top each with a sprinkling of fresh diced kiwis, chopped pistachios or almonds, or grated bittersweet chocolate.
Searching for an uncomplicated, dairy-free dessert? Look no further than the gelée. A gelatin-based treat, gelée frequently features champagne, Madeira or other sparkling or fortified wines.
To some, this may sound suspiciously similar to a Jell-O shot. How often, though, do you see that frat house staple served in a filigreed glass or garnished with a spice-infused sauce? Further distancing gelée from college fare is the inclusion of whole or pureed fruit.
Of these effortless goodies, gelée will require the most time. Even so, the moment that you shut the refrigerator door, your work ends. To make a gelée, whisk together 2 .25-ounce packets gelatin, 1/3 cup water, 1 cup wine, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds fresh fruit and 1/3 cup sugar. Pour the concoction into small bowls or glasses and refrigerate it for a minimum of three hours before serving.
During the final sultry days of summer, spare yourself the kitchen heat and whip together some of these quick, cool sweets.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 1/2 cups blackberries
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place the blackberries, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and stir to combine. Allow the berries to macerate for 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until they release some of their juices.
2. Put half the berries in the bowl of a blender or food processor and purée. Pour the purée over the whole berries and stir the mixture together.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating until stiff peaks take shape.
4. At this point, fold in the berries. Because I prefer a dryer fool, I strain off and reserve most of the juice and just add the berries and strained purée to the whipped cream. I later drizzle the juice over the individual servings of fool.
5. If you’re serving this right away, spoon equal amounts of fool into 4 bowls. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate the fool until ready to serve. Note that when refrigerated, the fool will keep its shape for 2 to 3 hours. Make and serve accordingly.
Main photo: Layers of berries and whipped cream make a refreshing summer dessert. Credit: Thinkstock
If you’ve been almost anywhere in Europe this summer, you’ve probably had moments of cowering inside, shutters closed, windows open, fans on. (We don’t do air conditioning hereabouts, at least not in our homes.)
In France, train tracks have buckled and tarmac has melted in temperatures that have topped 107 F. In England, during Wimbledon, local tennis hero Andy Murray battled it out on Centre Court with Mikhail Kukushkin in 105-degree temperatures as ball boys dropped like ninepins in the heat. Bonn, Germany, was one recent day hotter than Cairo, Istanbul, Phoenix and Miami.
With this kind of weather, the idea of hot food is a serious turnoff. Cool is where it’s at. And you can’t get much cooler than the following flowery ice bowl. It takes a little time and attention to make, as it must be frozen in several stages. However, the result is startlingly gorgeous, especially when filled with fresh summer fruit or sundry scoops of ice cream or sorbet.
Selecting your bowls
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First, select your bowls. You’ll need two: one bigger than the other, so the smaller one will sit inside the larger. The ones I’ve used here are about 8 inches and 10 inches in diameter (20 centimeters and 25 centimeters).
If you have two metal bowls, things will go even faster, but this combo of a ceramic mixing bowl with a smaller metal one works just fine. The point is their difference in size: You’ll be filling the space between the two with water and flowers, and the space must be sufficient to make thick ice walls for your ice bowl.
Also, make sure you have space in the freezer for your two bowls sitting one inside the other. (A cue to use up all that produce frozen last summer?)
Choosing your flowers
Next go out and pick (or buy) some flowers — from your garden or terrace if you have one, or even wild ones, which give a graceful, homey touch.
The flowers should not be too big (a maximum of 1 inch across), and you’ll want to use a good mix of colors. Geraniums work beautifully, either the predominantly red and purple Pelargonium/window-box varieties or the blue or pink perennial ones. Lavender is great, as is the deep egg-yolk yellow St. John’s wort, aka Hypericum. A few rose petals won’t go amiss, and if you have some lacy, lime-green flowers of Alchemilla mollis, throw in a few of those too. Basically any small colorful flower or petal will do.
Starting your ice bowl
Pour about 1 1/2 inches (3 centimeters to 4 centimeters) of water in the bottom of the larger bowl and place a few flowers in the water. They will float around a bit, so don’t fret too much about placing them neatly and symmetrically; they will sort themselves out. In any case, this layer will be the base, so the flowers will be barely visible once you’ve filled your ice bowl. Put the bowl into the freezer and leave until solidly frozen.
Creating the bowl shape
Once the base is frozen, remove the bowl from the freezer and place the smaller bowl on top. It should sit with its rim slightly above the outer bowl, because it’s sitting on the frozen base. Make sure the smaller bowl is centered, and place a can of something heavy in it so it doesn’t float when you add more water.
Add about 1 1/2 inches of water and drop some flowers between the two bowls, poking them down a bit into the water. Freeze again. Repeat this procedure once or twice more until the water is up to the rim of the outer bowl.
The point of doing this bit by bit is to allow each layer of water and flowers to freeze firmly each time; if you poured it all in at once, all the flowers would bob up to the top, which would spoil the effect.
Once you’ve completed the process, keep the ice bowl in the freezer until needed.
Removing the ice bowl
Finally comes the tricky part — you need to get your creation out from between the two bowls. The first step is to remove the small bowl (after you’ve removed that can of something heavy). Pour some hot water (tap-hot is enough) into the smaller bowl and leave for a few moments, just long enough so you can lift it out. Now fill a sink with hot water and lower the big bowl into it. Keep testing until the ice bowl has melted enough that it’s freed itself from the sides of the bowl.
Once the ice bowl has been freed, lift it out and place on a napkin-lined tray or plate (so it doesn’t slide and/or leak).
Now you can fill it with whatever suits your fancy: a mixture of soft summer fruits or a colorful selection of ice cream and/or sorbet, for example.
Main photo: A flower ice bowl filled with summer fruit and elderflowe
You open an old cookbook and out flutters a fragile, stained piece of notepaper. On it there is some spidery handwriting in fading blue ink for a long-forgotten cookie from a long-forgotten aunt in a long-forgotten language. Or perhaps, like Budapest-born Tomi Komoly, you have a carefully bound journal filled with exquisitely rhythmic italic notations. Hastily scribbled or meticulously inscribed, old family recipes are a gift from the past. But bringing them back to life in modern kitchens can present today’s cook with some unexpected problems.
Unforeseen problems: handwriting, culinary shorthand
When Komoly, who now lives in the United Kingdom, took the task of painstakingly transcribing, testing and updating many of his Austro-Hungarian grandmother’s recipes, he encountered a number of unforeseen problems. Not least, the recipes were written in a narrow, cursive script in old-fashioned German and Hungarian often using the shorthand style of a culinary expert for whom the manuscript was more aide-memoire than intended manual. It took him more than six years to translate and edit — and enter the mindset of his late grandmother to identify the many details and techniques she would have assumed needed no explanation. Sometimes, with heirloom recipes, it is what is left out that is as important as what is included.
Concessions to modernity
The aim of recipe rescuers is always to be as authentic as possible but, as Komoly found out, there have to be concessions to modernity. Today’s cooks may not have the stamina of their ancestors, but few would want to turn back every clock. As Komoly says, “Granny used to laboriously beat the egg whites with a little whisk or large fork, but I use a machine except for rising dough, which I prefer to feel by hand.” Ready-made noodles, dried yeast and strudel dough are also innovations that prove that progress can mean just that.
Advances in cooking equipment
Technical advances can also affect the success of updating recipes: Even the material out of which cooking tins and utensils are made may alter cooking times, and when all the cooking and baking was done on a wood-fired, cast-iron stove with hot plates, as with Komoly’s family, oven temperatures and timings can be another source of error. As he says, “How do you interpret instructions such as ‘Do it on a high flame’ or ‘Bake until it is ready’?” In addition, in quite a few recipes I had to work out the sequence of adding ingredients by patient trial and error. Luckily, on the whole, Granny was very reliable, so I didn’t have too many disasters.”
Our kitchens today also boast luxuries unheard of in prewar Europe, or available to only a few, such as refrigeration. As Komoly recalled, “We would get great blocks of ice delivered, we never had a fridge. Or we would keep food in winter on the floor of the freezing, unheated bathroom.” Restoring old recipes in light of the “new” technology means you may have to expect new timings, new procedures, new methodology.
Account for changing ingredients, tastes
Family recipes often are short on details, especially when orally transmitted, but even when written, many instructions can be vague to the uninitiated. Often, cooks would vary the way they cooked and baked according to whim, the weather and whether or not certain items were available.
“Although many recipes had quantities, in those days they didn’t specify things they would take for granted, such as the size of eggs. I came to the conclusion, for example, that over-egging a cake really doesn’t hurt too much,” Komoly said. “I’ve also had to play around with sugar quantities; there’s a massive difference in our tastes these days. I found I only needed about two-thirds of the original amount.”
Short on details
A rose is a rose is a rose, but the saying does not always hold true. Take a cherry, for example. There are sweet ones, sour ones, red ones, black ones and unique regional varieties that add different dimensions to a dish. Fresh produce was usually a given: In Hungary, Komoly’s grandmother would assume the fruit and nuts were there for the taking from the family’s own trees, but a stale supermarket walnut or hazelnut can turn yesterday’s delight into today’s disaster.
Cooking vs. baking
There’s many a recipe handed down from generation to generation that involves good old-fashioned instructions such as “Take a pinch of this” or “Add some of that.” In many Italian-language cookbooks, recipes often include qv (quanto vale — how much you want) or qb (quanto basta — as much as it needs) in the instructions. The size of a “handful” may not matter too much in general cooking, but baking is more of an exact science than a free-form art.
A century of changes
Another problem, common to all who undertake the rescue and restoration of heritage recipes, are ingredients. Soft cheese, butter, flour, chocolate and so on may not always be the same as those used a century ago. Take flour, for example. Italian heritage recipes use different types of flour to those we are accustomed in the United States and United Kingdom. Komoly encountered the same difficulty, “The flour we used in Hungary was quite different, but most UK flour is highly refined. Eventually, I found that if I made a cake with a large percentage of flour, it was best to use a ‘strong’ Canadian flour.”
Komoly is also fortunate in that he can still recall helping his grandmother in the kitchen — always rewarded with a lick of the spoon or bowl — as well as being able to hold in his memory the taste of the end products.
Having survived the Holocaust, his grandmother, Vamos Kathe, relocated to Nairobi. Her recipe book was a precious reminder of a lost world, inscribed with the words, “With God’s Help.” He must have been listening.
Hungarian Cherry Pie (cseresznyès lepèny)
Recipe taken from “My Granny’s Gift: 55 Delicious Austro-Hungarian Dessert Recipes” by Tomi Komoly, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 124 pages.
Prep time: 30 to 40 minutes
Baking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
2 tablespoons (15 grams) plain flour
9 tablespoons (125 grams) butter or margarine
1 whole egg
6 tablespoons (80 grams) superfine sugar
About 4 cups (500 grams) cherries, unpitted
4 egg whites
2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered sugar
1 cup (70 to 80 grams) bread crumbs
1. Mix the flour, butter and egg with 4 tablespoons (60 grams) of the superfine sugar and roll out to about 1/4-inch (7 to 8 mm) thick and transfer into a 12-by-8-inch (30-by-20-cm) baking tray. Alternatively, just place in the middle of the tray and “pat” until it is spread evenly over the whole area.
2. Bake in a moderate oven 350 F (175 C) for 35 minutes. (It may take less time, so if it smells like it is burning, it may well be!)
3. Pit the cherries and drain the fruit of all excess juice and spread evenly after scattering the bread crumbs over the pastry. Sprinkle the remaining superfine sugar on top. (If the cherries are very sweet, then you may not need the extra sugar. CH)
4. Beat the 4 egg whites with the powdered sugar until very firm, spread over the cake, and bake for another 15 minutes or until lightly browned and semi-hardened. Allow to cool, cut into squares and serve with whipped cream.
5. Instead of the bread crumbs, ground walnuts or hazelnuts could also be used.
Main photo: Hungarian Cherry Pie, cseresznyès lepèny, served with whipped cream. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman
I’ve just come across an old friend I have not seen for half a century, “The Olio Cookery Book.” The book itself must date back a century or more, but there is nothing rare or antiquarian about it. The Olio is a classic manual for housewives that explains how to bake scones and cakes, how to choose produce and run a kitchen, and how to treat burns, with optimistic cures for a bronchitis cough and lumbago. Under “Recipe for a Long Life,” British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone cautions, “Chew each mouthful 30 times.” He cannot have been a gourmet eater.
Lessons from the Olio
As a young child, my favorite place was the kitchen, the warm, perfumed domain ruled by Emily, who was too old to be drafted during World War II. Despite food shortages, Emily somehow eked out a ginger biscuit or jam tart for us each day for “elevenses,” when we sat down with a large mug of milky tea.
There were only three of us, but action in the kitchen seemed almost constant, far more fun than the garden, where my mother spent most of her time. She must have been stung by insects often, as she notes the kitchen remedies on the title page of the Olio “Ammonia bee; wasp vinegar.”
Learning at Emily’s feet
As soon as I had learned to read, in the down moments of the kitchen while a cake baked, I would huddle in a corner to avoid Emily’s feet and pick up the Olio. The limp, brownish cover enclosed surprising information among its 1,400 recipes. How to test for an old egg for instance (float it in a bowl of water; if stale, the rounded end will rise), and the renown of parsley for curing what are described as nervous troubles. I recognized Emily’s specialty, Queen of Puddings, and her luscious Steamed Ginger Pudding with a golden syrup sauce — sometimes by mistake it scorched on the bottom, even better!
A mainstay of cooks
I later learned that the Olio cookbook was the mainstay of cooks in the north of England. The curious title is nothing to do with the Italian olio or oil, but dates back to the 1600s and olla podrida or “rotten pot,” the Spanish name given to huge cauldrons of meat, birds and vegetables that were the fashion of the times. I can find no record of the first printing of “The Olio Cookery Book.” My mother’s copy, the 15th edition, is dated 1928 and ran to 25,000 copies, surely a huge printing for the time. In the preface, editor L. Sykes (a good northern name) mentions that 200,000 had already been sold.
By the time I went to boarding school, at age 10, I had absorbed the meaning of technical terms such as stock and roux, and I could imagine what a bisque, a risotto, a ragout and a salmi were like. A decade later when I actually went to cooking school and tasted the dishes themselves, I was prepared for what I would find. I was asked to stay on and teach the next influx of students, and the kitchen became once again my natural home. I’ve never left it.
I’m amazed that jam tarts haven’t migrated to America. During World War II, cooks who had fruit could take it to the nearby community hall and free sugar would be provided to make preserves. My mother’s raspberry canes gave bumper crops year after year so she would send Emily off to a jam-making session where she could gossip with her friends. The resulting raspberry jam, tangy and brilliant red, was perfect for Jam Tarts. For the pastry, you can either make your favorite dough, or try this deliciously crumbly English recipe that uses butter and lard.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Yield: 12 tarts
6 tablespoons (about 3 ounces) raspberry or other red jam
For the pie pastry
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, more for the pans
4 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons water, more if needed
12 medium shallow muffin pans; 3-inch cookie cutter
1. For the pie pastry: Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter and lard in small cubes and add to the flour. Rub the fats into the flour with your fingertips to form crumbs. Stir in the water with a fork to make sticky crumbs, adding more water if necessary. Press the dough together with your fist to make a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and set aside.
2. Heat the oven to 375 F and set a shelf low down; butter the muffin pans. Sprinkle the work surface with flour and roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Stamp out 12 rounds with the cookie cutter. Roll the trimmings of dough a second time to make the count. Press the rounds gently down into the buttered muffin pans. Drop 1 1/2 teaspoons of jam into each mold.
Bake the tarts in the oven until the pastry is lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. They might collapse slightly around the edges; this is normal. Let the tarts cool slightly in the pans before unmolding them. They are best eaten the day of baking but can be kept a day or two in an airtight container.
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Once or twice a year, our nearby farmer’s wife would make curd cheese from fresh whole milk. My mother would stir in a handful of currants, or chopped prunes when currants were not available, and bake curd tarts. I thought they were even better than the jam version, but perhaps that’s because they appeared so rarely.
Follow the recipe for Jam Tarts, lining the pans with pastry dough. Stir 1 1/4 cups ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons flour and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Whisk an egg until frothy and stir into the cheese mixture with 1/3 cup raisins. Fill and bake like Jam Tarts, allowing 30 to 35 minutes.
Maids of honor
Legend has it that these tartlets were made by Anne Boleyn for King Henry VIII of England when she was maid of honor to Queen Catherine of Aragon. I like to decorate the tarts with a strawberry, raspberry or whatever fruit reflects the jam inside.
Assemble Jam Tarts using 1 tablespoon jam per tart. For the cheese topping: Put 1 cup ricotta cheese in a food processor with 1 egg, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 cup sugar and the grated zest and juice of 1 lemon and purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Alternatively work the ricotta cheese through a sieve and stir in the remaining ingredients. Spoon the cheese filling on top of the jam and bake Maids of Honor as for Jam Tarts, allowing 30 to 35 minutes. When serving, top with an appropriate piece of fruit.
Main photo: Jam tarts are a staple on English tea tables and need only pastry and fruit jam, both preferably homemade. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvack