Articles in Desserts w/recipe
In the beginning, there was the pineapple, and it was good — very, very good, about as good as anything ever gets. But if you didn’t live in pineapple country, it was hard to obtain ones perfectly ripe and in good condition. Then there was canned pineapple, and though it might not have been quite as good as fresh pineapple, it was still pretty darned good. In fact, it begat one of the great creations of the 20th-century American kitchen: the pineapple upside-down cake. Its informing flavor came from the caramelization of the slices that lay on the bottom of the cast-iron frying pan while the cake baked on top.
But then fresh, ripe pineapple became more readily available, and people got tired of dealing with cast-iron pans, and anyway, new pineapple dishes had come along (hello, tiki cuisine). In the 1960s, the pineapple upside-down cake faded away.
Finally, in our own time, chefs discovered the idea of roasting pineapple and started roasting pineapple all over the place, and it was good. It was good for the same reason that pineapple upside-down cake had been good: Pineapple goes wonderfully well with caramelized flavors.
You don’t have to roast the fruit to get the same effect. You can even combine fresh or canned pineapple and butterscotch to get that old-fashioned caramelized flavor. This recipe is based on a pineapple-coconut cake in Nancie McDermott’s “Southern Cakes” (Chronicle Books, 2007). It’s kind of frivolous, but it is good.
Prep time: About 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30-35 minutes
Total time: About 1 hour
Yield: 1 two-layer cake, 6 to 8 servings
For the cake:
About 1/4 cup butter and 3 tablespoons flour for coating pans
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
For the butterscotch-pineapple filling:
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple or 1 1/2 cups crushed fresh pineapple with liquid
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup butterscotch bits
For the frosting:
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2/3 cup pineapple juice, reserved from filling
Optional: 2 or 3 drops of yellow food coloring
For the assembly:
1/3 cup butterscotch bits
For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Smear the interior of two 9-inch cake pans generously with butter. Line the bottom of the pans with 9-inch rounds of parchment paper or waxed paper and butter them (this step is optional, but it will help you to remove the cake layers intact). Sprinkle the interior of the pans with about 1 1/2 tablespoons flour each and shake around to coat; overturn the pans above your sink and tap to remove excess flour.
3. In a bowl, mix the 3 cups flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the milk and vanilla and set aside.
4. Using an electric mixer, beat the softened butter at high speed in a mixing bowl until light and lemon-colored. Continue beating the butter and slowly add the 2 cups sugar. When the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes, add the eggs one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and then scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon.
5. Scoop in 1 cup of the flour mixture and beat at medium speed until the flour is just incorporated. Add half of the milk-vanilla mixture and beat at high speed until incorporated, gently urging all the ingredients together with a spatula. Repeat, alternating flour and milk, until the batter is just incorporated.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pans, smooth the tops and place in the oven. When the surface has just started to brown, 30 to 35 minutes, give the center a gingerly touch to see whether it has set — it should spring back. (The layers are definitely done when they start to pull away from the sides of the pan, but by that time they may be a little dry.)
7. Remove the pans from the oven and let them rest on racks or folded dish towels for 10 minutes. Set a plate or another rack on top of each pan and overturn it; the layer should pull away at a tap. Overturn the layers again so they’re right side up and let them cool for 20 or 30 minutes.
For the filling:
1. Stir the flour into the sugar.
2. Drain and squeeze the pineapple, reserving 2/3 cup of pineapple juice for use in the frosting.
3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and butterscotch bits. Add the sugar-flour mixture and stir until incorporated. Add the crushed pineapple and stir until thickened, about 5 minutes.
For the frosting:
1. Put the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup and pineapple juice in the top of a double boiler. Put about 1½ inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and, over high heat, bring it to a boil. Meanwhile beat the frosting ingredients with an electric beater for 1 minute.
2. When the water has reached a full boil, set the top of the double boiler over the bottom, reduce the heat to medium-high and start beating again. After about 7 minutes, the frosting will start to lose its sheen and to form stiff peaks when the beaters are lifted from it.
3. Remove from the heat, add food coloring if desired and beat for 1 minute longer.
To assemble the cake:
1. Place one cake layer on your serving dish with the flat side up. Spread half of the butterscotch-pineapple filling over it, almost to the edge.
2. Set the other layer on top of the first and spread the rest of the filling over the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the butterscotch bits as evenly as possible across the top.
Main photo: Pineapple-Butterscotch Cake. Credit: Charles Perry
Despite the myths that get bandied around about what was served at the first Thanksgiving, the only report we have, from Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow, says simply that the Wampanoag contributed five deer. The claim that there was turkey on that day is pure speculation. As for dessert, we might speculate on that, too. We can guess from the letters of settlers such as William Horton that they found ways to work with the “great store of fruits” they discovered (“Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers,” Alexander Young). Since the British have long had a love affair with the apple, they no doubt made use of the many species that grew wild here.
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American history meets Italian tradition
The proverbial turkey feast with all the trimmings persists, even in households like the one I grew up in, where Italian cooking prevailed every other day of the year. The immigrants weren’t newcomers to thanksgivings. To all peoples with peasant traditions, the autumn feast is a familiar ritual. You could call ours a fusion Thanksgiving. The bird was dressed with bread-and-pork sausage stuffing; the pureed sweet potatoes were baked under a buttery, sweet walnut crust; and fennel bubbled in a béchamel-and-parmigiano gratin. No Thanksgiving ever began without garlicky stuffed mushrooms and the perfunctory antipasto platter, and there was always pumpkin pie for dessert — made from fresh zucca, of course.
I added my own rituals when I began cooking for myself. In the spirit of the harvest the early settlers enjoyed, apples are always on the table in one form or other. This year, they will be stuffed with amaretti, the delicious almond cookies of Lombardy. The dish hearkens back to my life in Italy, where I learned to stuff peaches with crushed amaretti for baking — a summer recipe of the Piedmont. In the autumn, I must substitute apples, with no regrets.
Choosing the right apples
Apples have as much a practical as a symbolic meaning for me. It seems a pity not to include them when they are so fresh and juicy in their season, especially now that there are such magnificent apples in the farmers markets. Besides, what fruit is associated as much as the apple with fertility, the underlying invocation behind all harvest celebrations?
These baked apples offer an alternative for guests who don’t like pumpkin pie (there have been more than a few of them at my Thanksgiving table over the years). Topped with good vanilla ice cream or thick cream in the English fashion, they are unbeatable comfort food on Thanksgiving or at any other time of the apple season to follow roast turkey, ham or game of any kind.
Granted, they are best made with the proper variety for the purpose — and disappointing with those that are unsuitable. Proper baking apples will keep their shape and juiciness during cooking. Apples that are richly flavored and perfectly wonderful for eating may disintegrate in the oven and burst into a froth; some turn mealy and tasteless or just don’t soften during baking. I have experimented with numerous varieties and found the most success with Fujis, Romes, Braeburns, Macouns and Northern Spies that are neither too large nor too small. As for the amaretti, no purchased cookies beat Lazzaroni Amaretti di Saronno for flavor. You can buy them at any food specialty store nowadays. Alternatively, use another good-quality almond cookie or substitute dry almond biscotti.
One of the best things about these baked apples is that they taste better made a day or two ahead, so that the flesh of the fruit has time to absorb the flavors of the filling. Just reheat at 400 F for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.
Baked Apples With Amaretti Filling
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes
Total time: 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours
Yield: 6 individual portions
6 tablespoons white sugar, divided
6 ounces amaretti, crushed into coarse crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped candied orange peel, or substitute the zest of 1 orange
6 medium (8 to 9 ounces each) Fuji, Rome, Braeburn, Macoun or Northern Spies apples
Juice of half a lemon
4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Vanilla ice cream or Devon cream for serving
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Select a shallow, flame-proof baking pan on which the apples will fit without crowding. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar across the bottom of the pan.
2. In a small bowl, combine the amaretti crumbs and candied orange rind or orange zest; set aside.
3. Prepare the apples (see step-by-step photos below). With a paring knife, trim off the hairy blossom end at the bottom of each apple. Preferably using a melon baller, core the apples, working from the stem down to carve out an ample stuffing cavity without puncturing the bottom. Brush the flesh inside and out with lemon juice as you work to prevent it from turning brown. With a paring knife, peel the skin off halfway down, leaving the skin on the bottom halves intact. Enlarge the opening at the top to show more stuffing, if you like. When all the apples are prepared, brush each with some of the melted butter and immediately roll the top of each apple in some of the remaining sugar to coat.
4. Transfer the apples to the baking pan. Spoon the filling into each cavity and scatter some on top. Sprinkle any remaining sugar over all, and dribble the remining butter on top of the filling.
5. Place the apples on the center rack of the oven. Bake until they are soft but not collapsed and the juices bubbly, 45 minutes to 1 hour (cooking time varies depending on the apple size and variety).
6. Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler. Slide the apples about 2 inches under the broiler flame until the tops caramelize nicely, 1 to 2 minutes, watching them carefully to prevent burning.
7. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or heavy cream.
Main photo: Baked apples with amaretti filling. Credit: © Nathan Hoyt
As we slide into the holiday season, my mind turns toward maple: maple syrup, maple frosting — and maple fudge.
The world has quite enough chocolate fudge, in my heretical opinion. Chocolate is certainly majestic, but maple has something wonderful and poetical to say for itself. Nobody who has had a bite of maple fudge will ever turn another down. It’s the ideal Thanksgiving sweet, the boss of all stocking stuffers.
These days, a lot of people seem to think that fudge making is so difficult it has to be left to professionals. Oh, fudge, I say. Homemade fudge is an American tradition. Nineteenth-century college girls are said to have invented chocolate fudge — apparently without spoiling their grade-point average.
The anatomy of a beloved candy
Culinarily speaking, fudge is related to caramel because it involves cooking a dairy product (milk, half-and-half or cream) to the point that it undergoes the Maillard reaction, which produces appetizing browned flavors. Specifically, fudge is related to the 19th-century Mexican candy called panocha, which included the decisive step of stirring in chopped nuts.
Fudge has a luxurious texture because it is whipped as it cools to prevent the formation of large crystals. Small crystals melt easily and appealingly, and a fat-based ingredient — butter or chocolate (or both) — adds its own lusciousness. The faint bitterness of the nuts takes the curse off the overwhelming sweetness of the candy, which is why nuts have become all but universal in fudge recipes.
For maple fudge, the most common nuts are walnuts or pecans, which are both excellent. On general principle, I would first toast them at 350 F until they can easily be pierced by a needle, about 7 minutes. I have also tried toasted coconut as a substitute, which is pretty good, though I was surprised to find that the coconut flavor dominated the maple more than I liked. Ultimately, I decided I favored the version made with toasted hazelnuts. Because, face it, hazelnuts are awesome.
It’s not as hard as you think
Many fudge recipes call for a pastry marble to cool the syrup on, which can make those who don’t own one uneasy. So just use a baking pan instead. (I wouldn’t recommend a cookie sheet without a raised edge, however, because if it isn’t perfectly level, the hot syrup can drip right off.) You do need a good thermometer, but these days any serious cook has one.
In short, the following recipe is somewhat flexible. You can cook the syrup to 240 F or so; you can let it cool to 105 F before beating it; you can beat it longer than the specified time. The crucial thing is that the syrup must reach the soft-ball stage, 238 F at sea level. (If you live at an elevation above 3,500 feet, you are probably familiar with the degree to which you must adjust your temperatures.)
Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 35 minutes
Total time: About 2¾ hours (includes cooling time)
Yield: 25 to 36 pieces
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, divided, softened
3 cups sugar
¾ cup maple syrup
1½ cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups roughly chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts or toasted hazelnuts — toasted for 5 to 7 minutes at 350 F
1. Line an 8-inch baking dish with aluminum foil (make sure that the edges extend past the rim) and grease with 1 tablespoon softened butter.
2. In a 3-quart pot over low heat, stir together the sugar, maple syrup, half-and-half, corn syrup and salt until smooth. Continue to stir until the sugar is dissolved, 5 minutes.
3. Insert the sensor of a candy thermometer into the mixture. Increase the heat to bring to a boil and cook without stirring until the syrup reaches the soft-ball state (238 F), about 15 minutes. The syrup will foam up alarmingly but settle down by 225 F. Warning: The heated syrup can cause severe burns. Wear an apron and use oven mitts.
4. Remove the thermometer probe from the pan and pour the fudge onto a pastry marble (if you don’t have one, use a 12-by-18-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick spray). Divide the remaining 3 tablespoons of softened butter into several pieces and dot them here and there on top.
5. Clean the thermometer sensor and stick it anywhere in the fudge. When the temperature measures 110 F (about 5 minutes on a marble, 10 or 12 minutes on a baking pan), scrape the fudge into a mixer bowl with the mixer paddle attached, add the vanilla and beat until the fudge is thick and losing its shine, 5 to 10 minutes.
6. Mix in the nuts. Turn the fudge into the prepared baking dish and let it cool to room temperature, 2 hours.
7. Remove the fudge from the dish by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil and transfer it to a work surface. Rub a chef’s knife with a piece of paper towel wetted with vegetable oil and make 4 cuts in one direction and then 4 cuts in the other, or 5 cuts in each direction, re-oiling the knife as necessary. Wrap the pieces in waxed paper.
If it is not to be eaten immediately, store the fudge in an air-tight container (it can otherwise absorb moisture and soften, particularly in damp weather). It will keep several weeks in a refrigerator, but generally speaking, it’s a gift best given fresh.
Main photo: Maple-hazelnut fudge. Credit: Charles Perry
The first pears have arrived in markets and, when perfectly ripe, they are delicious when eaten out-of-hand. And yet, as the weeks go by, you may long for even more from this fall favorite.
A fertile pear tree keeps my supply of this heavenly fruit overflowing for months. One unusual and-little known fact about pears is that they don’t ripen on the tree; they only do so after they are picked. The ones I’m intimately familiar with are about 1 to 2 pounds each and very hard. They are Bartletts, and they grow it abundance each year. Once picked, the pears go into paper bags in the garage until they start to ripen.
Other varieties readily found at most groceries and farmers markets are Anjou, which come in both green and red; the crisp Bosc; the buttery Comice; the voluptuous Starkrimson; and, in some places, the crunchy Concorde.
Often my pears all ripen at the same moment. When this happens, I experiment with ways to get more pears into meals, which has helped me discover how amazingly versatile they are. Here are some ideas on ways to cook and serve them.
Pear and Brie bruschetta: Spread several crostini or a large piece of toasted levain with a thin coat of soft, runny Brie. Lay a very thin slice of prosciutto over the Brie and top with arugula leaves. Cover with thin slices of pear (no need to peel), drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on coarse sea salt.
Pear and blue nirvana: Halve and core 2 pears and put each half onto a small plate. Place a generous wedge of blue cheese into the core cavity and sprinkle candied pecans over the pear.
Toss thinly sliced pears with hearty greens, such as torn kale, baby spinach and arugula. Mix in fresh raspberries and toasted hazelnuts. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.
Mix arugula with quartered fresh figs, thinly sliced firm pears and toasted pumpkin seeds. Toss with a light dressing made with lemon juice, olive oil and honey.
Make a sauce for roasted pork or poultry. Start by peeling, coring and quartering 3 pounds of pears and putting them into a saucepan with ¼ cup St. George Spiced Pear liqueur or pear brandy, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch each of ground cloves and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the pears are soft. Mash with a potato masher to a chunky consistency. This sauce is also good with gingerbread.
Grill firm quarters of pears and serve with teriyaki chicken, barbecued pork, spicy sausages or grilled duck breast. The grilled pears are also good on a day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich with roast turkey and cranberry sauce.
Poach pears by peeling them and submerging, either whole or cored and quartered, in wine or sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, whole cloves or citrus peel. Cover the pan and cook until the pears are tender, about 30 minutes. Serve as is with some of the syrup, over ice cream, alongside a wedge of pound cake or with biscotti.
Make a crisp with peeled, cored and diced pears tossed with dried cherries and a squeeze of lemon juice. Top with your favorite crisp mixture and bake until tender.
Quarter and core pears and toss with melted butter and maple syrup, just enough to coat the fruit. Roast in a 400F oven until tender, about 20-25 minutes depending on pear variety and ripeness. Serve with crème fraiche, as part of a cheese course or with butter cookies or ice cream.
Find further inspiration in the recipes below.
Creamy Lamb Korma With Pears
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Total time: 1½ hours
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 ounces slivered almonds
⅓ cup water
3 tablespoons ghee or olive oil
1½ pounds lamb stew meat, seasoned well with salt and pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons Indian curry paste
One 14-ounce can reduced fat coconut milk
3 medium pears (Bartlett or Anjou), peeled, cored and diced
½ cup frozen peas
Fresh grapes or raisins for garnish
Toasted, slivered almonds for garnish
Basmati rice for serving
1. Put garlic, ginger, almonds and water into a blender, and puree to make a paste. Set aside.
2. Heat ghee or olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over high until shimmering. Add lamb, in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl.
3. Turn heat to medium and add onions; sauté until tender and golden.
4. Add curry paste and stir until aromatic.
5. Mix in meat, incorporating all ingredients until well combined.
6. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil then lower heat to a simmer. Put lid on and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour until lamb is fork tender.
7. Fold in the pears and peas and cook for 10 more minutes to incorporate the flavors.
8. Serve over basmati rice, sprinkling the top of the curry with halved grapes or raisins and roasted almonds.
Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings.
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 large Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
¾ of a cup of sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup of buttermilk, shaken
Whipped cream for serving
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F.
2. In a 10-inch ovenproof, nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the brown sugar and stir into the butter.
3. Cook for a few minutes until sugar starts to melt. Arrange pears in a pinwheel design in the brown sugar, remove from heat and set aside.
4. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt on a piece of waxed paper.
5. Cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with dry ingredients, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
6. Pour into the prepared skillet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Main photo: Upside-Down Pear Cornmeal Cake. Credit: Brooke Jackson
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? — John Greenleaf Whittier, “The Pumpkin,” 1850
Scottish and Irish immigrants brought many Celtic Halloween traditions with them to the United States, including that of carving jack-o’-lanterns. But the pumpkin they embraced for the practice is a true American.
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Tracing its long family tree back to at least 3000 B.C., the pumpkin and other squashes probably originated in the Tamaulipas mountains in Mexico. One of the Three Sisters — along with climbing beans and corn — pumpkins formed a major part of the diet of early Americans. By 1000 B.C., the pumpkin arrived in what is today the United States. And by the time the English settled in Jamestown, Va., in 1607, Native Americans had developed sophisticated recipes and uses for the pumpkin.
A popular recipe was a type of pudding sweetened with maple sugar, similar in spirit to English puddings. Nowadays, pumpkins strut their stuff in pies, not unlike those baked by my English ancestors. Long a symbol of autumn in the United States, pumpkins now see the light of day primarily for ornamental reasons. Ninety percent of pumpkins end up carved into jack‑o’‑lanterns, and the rest make their way into cans as pumpkin-pie filling or puree. Every grocery store stocks pumpkins, piled in heaps at the entrance.
Seeing all those pumpkins whets my appetite. So, I just baked my first pumpkin pie of the season.
Canned pumpkin puree confession
Yes, I confess: I used to follow the recipe on the label of the Libby’s can of pumpkin puree. To show you that I don’t slavishly follow recipes, I added a ¼ teaspoon of vanilla and heaping spoonfuls of all the spices, as well as a big hit of freshly grated nutmeg. Sometimes, I used cream instead of evaporated milk, an ingredient actually not out of line because many vintage cookbooks of the 19th century mention using cream or a mixture of cream and milk.
And, yes, I know that making your own puree is far more earth-friendly. I’m all for that. But since I cannot find those nice little sugar pumpkins and other types for sale right now, I use the “traditional” method, as I know it. My mother never used anything but Libby’s. But I am sure my grandmothers struggled with the food-mill method of creating puree from boiled or roasted pumpkin.
Regardless of the method, some things don’t change when it comes to pumpkin pies. First of all, the aroma. It fills the house as the pie is baking, and that brings back all sorts of memories. School days, leaf forts, decorating the front porch for trick-or-treaters, choosing the candy to give out at Halloween.
And the smell of cinnamon. I don’t know about you, but I nearly swoon when I catch a whiff of Saigon cinnamon. I try to restrain myself and not dump too much into the custard mix. The rich aroma of freshly grated nutmeg pumps up the flavor of the pie, too, not to mention that of cloves and ginger. The medieval overlay of these spices causes me to think about the ties to my cultural past. Because of that, for me, autumn signifies the aroma of these spices.
Hearkening back to pumpkin pies past
I’m intrigued by the fact that I’m standing in my kitchen in Virginia — one of the first areas settled by English men and women from 17th-century England, some my own ancestors — and I’m baking a dish based on flavors and techniques dating back to those days. Baked puddings abound in traditional English cooking. Yes, pumpkin pie is basically a baked pudding, even though it goes by the name “custard pie” these days and wears a crust.
Take a look at Mary Randolph’s “Pumpkin Pudding,” a very English and yet very American recipe, from her 1824 cookbook, “The Virginia Housewife”:
Stew a fine sweet pumpkin till soft and dry, rub it through a sieve, mix with the pulp six eggs quite light, a quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of new milk, some pounded ginger and nutmeg, a wine glass of brandy, and sugar to your taste. Should it be too liquid, stew it a little dryer; put a paste [crust] round the edges and the bottom of a shallow dish or plate, pour in the mixture, cut some thin bits of paste, twist them and lay them across the top and bake nicely.
Pumpkin pie is not only for dessert any more, either. I find pumpkin pie a great breakfast food, just as many people did in the past.
I’ll probably make another pumpkin pie very soon. For some reason, I see only a small sliver left in the pie pan.
Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie
For the crust:
1 partially baked 9-inch pie crust
Dry beans (for shaping the pie crust)
For the filling:
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ heaping teaspoon ground ginger
¼ heaping teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk or 1½ cups heavy cream or whole milk
For the garnish
For the partially baked crust:
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Arrange the dough in the pie pan, crimping the edges, pressing down slightly to anchor the dough to the edges of the pie pan.
3. Place two sheets of aluminum foil, slightly overlapping, over the dough in the pan. Press down gently and make sure that the foil touches all the surfaces. Pour in enough dry beans to come to the edge of the pie pan. This allows the pie crust to retain its shape.
4. Bake 15 minutes with the beans. Then slowly remove the foil and beans by grabbing the corners of the foil and pull up and out. Bake the crust 5 more minutes.
5. Let cool almost completely on a rack.
For the filling:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, in the order given, whisking after each addition.
3. Pour into the partially baked pie shell.
4. Bake about 45 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted into center comes out clean. Check throughout the baking. If the edges of the crust get too dark, place a ring of foil over the exposed pie crust. At that point, the surface of the pie along the edges will have puffed up and cracked slightly.
5. Allow to cool. Serve with whipped cream garnish.
Main photo: Pumpkins. Credit: Cynthia Bertelsen
It’s not by chance that October is National Doughnut Month. A fat circle of fresh-fried dough is a lot more appealing when the air is cool and crisp, especially when accompanied by cup of steaming cider. Moreover, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll look like in a bathing suit — until next year.
Of course national anything days, or months, don’t just happen. They exist because somebody once had an agenda. Sometimes, the days stick, like Thanksgiving, while others, like Health Literacy Month, have a hard time getting traction.
We can thank the now-defunct Doughnut Corporation of America for the monthlong celebration of sweet dough rings. The DCA once controlled virtually all the country’s automatic doughnut machines and most of the mix that went into them. One of the corporation’s brighter ideas was to dub October as National Doughnut Month in 1928.
The Halloween connection
When they did this, the connection of the ghoul fest and doughnuts wasn’t entirely spurious. Before Halloween became a kid’s holiday, people used to have Halloween parties, which often featured seasonal cider and doughnuts. One party game was to bob for apples. Typically, the apples floated in a tub; however, in one variant, the apples were hung on a string. This was also done with doughnuts. The trick was to eat the treat with your hands tied behind your back. To make it a little trickier, the air bobber could be blindfolded. And, in a version of the game that might be suitable for National Fitness Month, several doughnuts are strung horizontally along a stretched cord, laundry-line style (they can also be suspended from the line on lengths of ribbon). The competitors must “chase” the pastries down the line, eating as many as they can, without the use of their hands. These sort of Halloween doughnut acrobatics were popular long before the DCA set up its first shop in Harlem in 1921.
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The company, founded by an Eastern European immigrant named Adolph Levitt, came up with all sorts of wacky promotions in its early years. Perhaps its most successful was the creation of the National Dunking Association, an organization devoted to dipping doughnuts in coffee. In 1940s, the organization boasted three million members and counted Zero Mostel, Johnny Carson and even choreographer Martha Graham as card-carrying dunkers.
In a somewhat more serious vein, during World War II the company supplied its machines free of charge to the American Red Cross, even if they charged the charity for the batter. Just in case America didn’t get the secret-weapon role that doughnuts were playing in the conflict, Levitt’s company put out full-page ads in Life Magazine that featured servicemen on the front, rushing eagerly to get their doughnut fix. In one frame of the comic-strip formatted ad, one dough-faced soldier purrs, “M-M-M, just like home.” In another frame, servicemen on leave whoop it up at a Halloween party. “Service men (and women) look forward to being invited to Halloween parties this year,” we’re told. “And what’s Halloween without donuts and coffee or cider?”
A perfect match
While doughnuts and cider were long considered a likely match, cider doughnuts appear to have been a more recent invention, likely in the early 1950s. This is another innovation that we can attribute to the Doughnut Corporation of America. As people increasingly piled into cars for a drive to the local pick-your-own orchard, the owners of farm stands started adding cider doughnuts to their offerings, not just for Halloween but throughout the leaf-watching season.
In the postwar era, trick-or-treating became ever more popular. In part, it made more sense in the growing suburbs than it had in gritty cities, but trick-or-treating was also pushed by the candy companies. Yet, in smaller communities, homemade treats continued to outnumber Snickers bars.
Connie Fairbanks, a Chicago-based food and travel writer, recalls growing up in Wheaton, Kan., a town of about 90 people at the time. “Everybody went from house to house,” she recalls. And every house had its specialty. “One woman was known for her popcorn balls,” she reminisces, “and my mother was known for her glazed, raised doughnuts. They were always warm when the kids came in.” Her mom made them once, maybe twice, a year and fried them in lard rendered from the family’s own hogs. “I remember the dough feeling like a baby’s bottom.” Fairbanks added that her mother’s secret was to beat the dough, by hand, and not add too much flour. “I remember the smell, it was unbelievable.”
Can you think of a better way to celebrate Halloween? Or, for that matter, the 31 days of National Doughnut Month?
Whole Wheat Apple Cider Doughnuts
Recipe adapted from “The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin“
Many commercially produced doughnuts are made with a batter that is too wet to roll. This results in lighter pastry but requires a doughnut extruder. One way of getting around that is to use a piping bag to “extrude” the doughnuts. This also gives you the option of making the doughnuts any diameter you like. You will need a heavy pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip, and, once formed, the doughnuts are much easier to handle if you chill them for an hour or two in the refrigerator.
Cook Time: 60 to 90 seconds per doughnut
Yield: 16 doughnuts
For the doughnut dough:
1½ cups apple cider
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces (about 1¾ cups) bleached all-purpose flour
4ounces (about 1 cup) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Large pinch grated nutmeg
Large pinch grated cloves
5 ounces (about ⅔ cup) raw (turbinado) sugar or substitute light brown sugar
1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
Oil or shortening for frying
For the cinnamon sugar:
4 ounces (about ½ cup) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1. In a small saucepan, boil the cider until it is reduced to ¼ cup. Cool.
2. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and spray lightly with vegetable spray. In a measuring cup, stir together the milk, reduced cider, and vanilla. It will look curdled. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and spices.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until well incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until fluffy, smooth, and pale, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Alternately add the milk and flour mixtures into the egg mixture in 2 or 3 additions, beating on low speed until just barely combined between each addition. Stir until the mixture just comes together to make a soft, sticky dough. Do not overbeat or it will get tough.
5. Working with about half the dough at a time, fill a piping bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe circles of dough about 3 inches in diameter on the parchment Repeat with the remaining dough. (The dough needs to keep its shape; if too loose, add a tablespoon or two more of flour.) If you wish, you can smooth the seam with a damp finger. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Remove plastic wrap, lightly dust the doughnuts with flour, place another pan over each pan, and invert. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.
6. Using a deep fryer or a heavy pan, heat at least 3 inches of the oil or shortening to 360 F. If you’re not using a deep fryer with a built-in thermostat, check the temperature using a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Drop several doughnuts at a time into the heated fat, making sure there is enough room for all of them to float to the surface. Cook 30 to 45 seconds per side, using a slotted spoon or tongs to turn each doughnut. When the doughnuts are golden brown, transfer them to a cooling rack covered with paper towels. Cool to just above room temperature.
7. Whisk together the granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon in a wide bowl. Toss the barely warm doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar mixture, and serve warm.
Main photo: A woman bobs for doughnuts at an event at The City University of New York. Credit: Michael Krondl
Pears and Rioja are a marriage made in Spanish heaven, but although the region of La Rioja is synonymous with wine and bull running (one ponders the connection), it also has another claim to fame. The small town of Rincón de Soto may be little more than a main plaza, modern town hall, church and railway line, but it is on the map of European culinary produce thanks to pears.
In the Rioja Baja, a gently terraced swath of fertile fields, orchards and plane trees with ever-dancing leaves, the famous vines take second place to pears, peaches, cherries, cauliflower, onions, sprouts and cardoons. The growing area is defined by a natural margin: the Ebro River that separates it from the mountains of Navarre to the north, and the craggy, Riojan hills, where a network of dinosaur footprints remains eerily well-preserved.
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Protected status for pears
Pears have been grown for centuries on the riverbanks. Over the years, many trees were abandoned, but the town’s success in gaining DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status for the pears has been a big boost in maintaining the orchards.
At the annual Jornadas de Exaltacion or pear festival in late September, the pear cookery competition is always keenly contested. There is also a kids’ competition. As the tension mounts, everyone chomps on hot chorizo sausages on bread, and in the evening there are pears poached in Rioja. The party carries on into the wee hours. It’s a day, indeed, of exaltation.
In Spain, the preference is for large Conference pears, although connoisseurs favor the delicate flavor of the smaller Blanquilla.
In 1747, the latter was enjoyed at the court of Philip V, where it was described as “an exquisite fruit,” and the royal pastry cook recommended it for drying, confits or preserving in syrup. Sometimes known as a “water pear,” the Blanquilla is crisp, juicy and aromatic. As it ripens, the Blanquilla becomes highly perfumed and meltingly soft, and the bright lime-green skin takes on a reddish tinge.
Blanquilla vs. Conference pears
The Blanquilla, however, is more difficult to grow, and it nearly disappeared in the 1960s, as agriculture became more intensive. It was largely replaced by Conference pears, which have green-yellow, naturally russeted skins and buttery flesh. However, it’s the local geography and climate that give these highly prized Rincón pears their special balance of sweetness and acidity, as well as their keeping quality and texture that allows the fruit to hold up when cooked.
Pruning and picking of these varieties is still done by hand. The pears are delicate and easily bruised, and each one is picked with care. They must be held by the base and raised upward so the stalk snaps clean from the branch. The pears are placed into padded containers to avoid damage and transported within six hours of picking to one of the local packing stations, where teams of women pack them in perfect formation. Each one a swaddled infanta, each one a perfect taste of La Rioja.
Olla means a tall, pot-bellied cooking pot, and this vibrant, autumnal stew probably originates with Roman travelers who arrived in Spain in the 1450s, settling mostly in Andalusia. A stew created for times when there was little meat for the pot, this dish is probably vegetarian more by default than choice. The vegetarian ethos has spread these days beyond the big cities, although in many a pueblo ham is still classed as a vegetable and they would probably regard this as a good dish to serve before a juicy lamb chop or veal escalope.
Prep Time: Overnight if you soak the beans; 30 minutes if you use canned beans.
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2½ cups cooked chickpeas)
1 cup dried white beans (or 2½ cups cooked beans)
2 cups chopped green beans
1 butternut squash or small pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cubed
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 firm Conference pears, peeled, cored and chopped
2 bay leaves
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and black pepper
1 large onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, diced
One small slice of stale country bread, crust cut off and fried in oil
¼ cup toasted almonds
A pinch of saffron, lightly crushed and soaked in a little hot water
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ tablespoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
Chopped, fresh mint
1. Soak the chickpeas and beans overnight. Drain and put into a pot with fresh water, bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes until soft. Drain, place in a large casserole.
2. Add the green beans, pumpkin, carrots, pears, bay leaves, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until everything is tender.
3. In a pan, fry the onion slowly in the oil for at least 15 minutes, until soft and golden.
4. Meanwhile, pound the garlic, bread, almonds, saffron and a pinch of salt in a mortar until well combined. Stir in a ladle of stock from the bean pot.
5. Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture, fry over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the pimentón to the mixture, cook for another minute. Add the onion-and-tomato mixture to the bean pot.
6. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the contents of the mortar to the pot. Simmer a little longer; add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with mint, serve.
Duck Breast With Honey-Spiced Pears
The success of this dish depends on the delicate balance of sweet and savory flavors.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 2 servings
2 duck breasts
A little olive oil
2 level tablespoons butter
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon mixed peppercorns (white, green and pink)
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
2 ripe Conference pears, peeled, cored and halved or quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Fry the duck breast in a little olive oil (15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness and preference). Set duck breast aside to rest for 5 minutes; slice and arrange on serving plates.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the honey and spices. Cook gently for a few minutes, until the honey melts and starts to bubble.
3. Add the pears, turn gently in the butter mixture until the edges start to caramelize.
4. Add the lemon juice; salt to taste.
5. Remove the pears, arrange alongside the duck. Strain the sauce and drizzle over the duck.
Ham and Pear Parcels
Prep Time: 20 to 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 parcels
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons of cream, curd or ricotta cheese
¼ cup blue cheese
1 small pear, peeled and diced
A few walnuts, chopped
6 to 8 slices of jamón serrano (cured Spanish ham)
1. Mash the soft cheese with the blue cheese.
2. Add the pear and walnuts to the cheese mixture, season with black pepper to taste.
3. Spread on slices of cured Spanish ham and roll into tubes. Tie decoratively with chives.
4. Use any surplus filling on crackers.
Pears Poached in Muscatel and Spices
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
4 whole large (or 8 small), firm Conference pears, peeled
3¼ cups Moscatel wine
A few black peppercorns
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
Toasted, slivered almonds (optional)
1. Place pears in a pan just large enough to allow them to remain upright.
2. Pour wine over the pears, add all the other ingredients except for the almonds.
3. Bring the ingredients to a boil; cover, simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
Optional, serve sprinkled with almonds.
Rioja Pear Cake
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 to 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
8 firm Conference pears
Red Rioja wine, plus sugar and cinnamon to taste
1¾ sticks butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
4 medium eggs, separated
1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Peel and slice the pears. Place into a pan, add sugar and cinnamon to taste, and pour in enough wine to cover the fruit. Bring gently to a boil, reduce heat and lightly poach until tender. Drain the pears, saving the liquid. Set pears aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugar, beat in the yolks one by one; add the vanilla extract.
4. Add the flour, mix until well-combined.
5. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until snowy. Carefully fold them into the cake mixture. Pour into a buttered, 9-inch-round cake pan with a removable base.
6. Arrange the pears in a neat pattern over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the nuts and a tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is well risen (although it will shrink back down), and a toothpick comes out clean.
7. Reduce the wine until it is syrupy, serve with the cake and whipped cream.
Main photo: Pears are the star of a festival in Rincón de Soto, Spain. Credit: Clarissa Hyman
For sheer decadent deliciousness, gelato with brioche is hard to beat. Where on God’s earth did such a gorgeous idea ever take root? In Italy’s Sicily, that’s where. And it’s not even some kind of exotic dessert, reserved for high days and holidays. Sicilians eat gelato con brioche for breakfast.
Long before we left home for our late September break on the island, excitement at the prospect of trading up from yogurt, fresh fruit, cereal and toast to lashings of ice cream sandwiched inside a sweet, buttery bun began building up. In idle moments while planning the trip, we pondered which flavors we might go for: darkest chocolate, Nutella, coffee or pistachio? Or maybe mango, peach, strawberry or blueberry? And could Sicilians routinely break their fast on ice cream and brioche, or had we been fed an urban myth?
That first morning in Sicily, we piled into the car and drove to the city of Ragusa Ibla to find out. Threading our way through the cool, shaded streets on the way to the center, we happened upon chef Ciccio Sultano drawing on an early-morning cigarette outside his world-famous restaurant, Il Duomo. Could he point us to the best place to get gelato? Ma certo (of course). It all depended whether we wanted a cafe, where we could have the full works seated at a table, or a gelateria, where it would be breakfast on the hoof.
We chose the cafe option and settled down at pavement tables on the square below the Duomo, etched in dazzling white like a gorgeous Baroque birthday cake iced in white against an azure sky. At any moment, we expected police cars to screech to a halt and for Inspector Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri’s famous Sicilian serial cop (the TV series was filmed here), to leap out with his uniformed team in hot pursuit of some hapless criminal.
We placed our orders and leaned back expectantly. After a gentle pause, breakfast arrived. Cappuccinos with smileys traced in frothy milk, freshly squeezed orange juice, a couple of cannoli front-loaded with ricotta and candied fruits, and the long-awaited pièces de résistance: cushions of warm, softly yielding brioche cradling sinfully smooth, ice-cold gelato. We wrapped our hands around them, took a bite, moaned in pleasure, munched again. Heaven.
Pick a bold flavor for gelato con brioche
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I could hardly wait to get home to try reconstructing the experience. Two things to keep in mind for gelato con brioche. First, choose ice creams that are assertively flavored and richly colored — vanilla just doesn’t do it. I’ve given two recipes, one for palest peach, the other for deep purplish black currant, but you could just as well buy gelato (but one that believes in itself).
For the peach version, it helps to have an ice cream maker because it freezes rock hard; for lack of such a kitchen toy, make the gelato mixture, freeze it till semihard, then either tip it into a food processor and whisk it up till smooth or beat it like crazy with a hand-held mixer. Then return it to the freezer.
The black currant one can be made without an ice cream maker as the egg yolk-sugar syrup combination gives a softer, smoother ice that doesn’t need churning or beating as it freezes.
Then the brioches. These should not be the French-type Julia Child variety with a little topknot perched on top, which would be hard to cleave in two and even harder to fill with your gelato. You need a flattish, sweetish, buttery, eggy, burnished bun (think along the lines of a burger bun, but nicer) that can easily be opened up, stuffed with ice cream — ideally with both your chosen flavors — reassembled and eaten on the hand. For breakfast.
Peach Gelato With Brioche
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: None
Total time: About 20 minutes, plus several hours to freeze
Yield: Makes 6 servings
1 pound (500 grams) ripe peaches (yellow or white fleshed)
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces (250 grams) Mascarpone
5 ounces (150 grams) Greek yogurt
6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter
1. Put the peaches in a bowl and cover with boiling water.
2. Count to 10, then pour away the water and peel the peaches. Remove the pits and chop the flesh roughly.
3. Put the chopped peaches in a food processor with the sugar and lemon juice and process till smooth.
4. Add the Mascarpone and Greek yogurt and process again.
5. Freeze in a metal container for 2 hours or until the ice cream begins to harden around the edges. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer or hand-held blender to smooth it out and prevent ice crystals from forming. Return to the freezer to harden and beat/blend again after another couple of hours.
6. Remove from freezer to fridge at least an hour before serving so it softens up.
7. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.
Black Currant Gelato With Brioche
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: About 40 minutes, plus several hours to freeze the gelato
Yield: Makes 6 servings
1 pound (500 grams) black currants
8 ounces (250 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks
1¼ cups (300 milliliters) whipping cream
6 brioches, about 2½ inches (6 centimeters) in diameter
1. For the purée, wash the fruit and put it in a pan with 4 ounces (125 grams) sugar and 3 tablespoons of water.
2. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, just enough so the juice runs. Don’t overdo this step; you don’t want jam, but fresh-flavored ice cream.
3. Push the fruit through a sieve, pressing hard to eliminate pips, and let the purée cool.
4. Put the remaining sugar in a small pan with half a cup of water and heat gently till the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is clear, not cloudy.
5. Raise the heat, bringing the syrup to a rolling boil, and continue boiling for about 5 minutes to the “thread stage”: dip a fork into the syrup and allow it to cool briefly (so you don’t burn yourself), then pinch a drop or two between finger and thumb repeatedly. As you separate finger and thumb, the syrup should form a slender thread.
6. Remove syrup from the heat and allow the bubbles to subside.
7. Using a hand-held electric mixer, start beating the egg yolks in a bowl then pour in the hot syrup in a steady stream. Continue beating till the mixture is pale, thick and doubled in bulk (about 10 minutes).
8. In a separate bowl, beat the cream till stiff.
9. Fold together the purée, egg mixture and cream, lifting and folding with a wire whisk to make sure they are well mixed.
10. Pour the ice cream into a suitable receptacle (a recycled ice cream container or metal bowl, for example) and freeze.
11. Remove ice cream from freezer about 10 minutes before serving.
12. Split 6 brioches in half, not quite through, fill with gelato, close up as best you can and serve at once.
Main photo: Peach and black currant gelato stuffed in brioche for a traditional Sicilian breakfast. Credit: Sue Style