Articles in Desserts w/recipe
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
There’s a dessert that’s scarcely known in America but all too familiar in England, where it is today considered the epitome of blandness, no small feat given English standards. But in the 19th century, its wilder possibilities were explored, some of which were smashingly good and deserve a new life.
The dish is blancmange (that’s French lingo there: “blahn-MAHNJ”), and the modern standard is basically a gelatin dessert of almond milk, or dairy milk with almond flavoring, or just milk and vanilla, molded into a characteristic shape that sometimes showed up in Monty Python skits as a silly, giant blancmange monster.
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The almond-milk version, at least, has an ancient history. Blancmange descends from blancmanger, the most esteemed dish of the European Middle Ages, which basically consisted of the whitest ingredients available to the cook: milk, almonds, chicken breasts, sugar, rice, even breadcrumbs in a pinch. It was a special attraction at a time when cuisine tended to be either brown or green or brownish green, and it appealed to the medieval nobility for another reason: As the middle class kept rising and rising, pure white food such as blancmanger symbolized the stainless aristocratic ancestry that those irritating bourgeois upstarts could never claim. The idea was that you can add colorings to turn a white food whatever color you like, but you can’t turn a colored food white. In the 1820s, Antonin Carême, the founder of French grande cuisine, wrote, “These delicious sweets are greatly esteemed by gastronomes, but to be enjoyed they must be extremely smooth and very white. Given these two qualities (so rarely found together), they will always be preferred to other creams, even to transparent jellies.”
It’s not surprising that democratic-minded Americans paid little attention to the historical significance of whiteness. They made chocolate versions (every edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook since 1896 has presented the chocolate pudding as a variety of blancmange), and they made versions flavored with fruit; when they used berries or cherries, the result was very far from aristocratic white. They also played with different thickening agents, using cornstarch, farina or tapioca as well as gelatin. For my money, the star version is the cream fruit blancmange. It’s reminiscent of a packaged gelatin dessert but with the genuine flavor of fresh fruit (I’m particularly partial to blackberry), enriched by cream. The texture is unique, soft and elastic, like a cross between pudding and fruit jelly but richer. Old recipes say to serve cream fruit blancmange with whipped cream or boiled custard sauce (which we now know as crème anglaise), but I don’t think it really needs a topping.
Some advice: Do not add the fruit purée to the cream until the gelatin is thoroughly dissolved or the acidity will cause curdling. The result will still taste good, but you won’t get that plush texture. For a more conventional pudding effect, you can cut the amount of gelatin to 1 1/2 tablespoons; if you want less richness, you can use half-and-half instead of cream.
Cream Fruit Blancmange
Prep time: 7 to 8 minutes
Cooking time: 9 to 10 minutes
Total time: 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup water
1 ounce (2 tablespoons or 2 packets) unflavored gelatin
1 quart berries or cherries
1 pint cream
1 cup sugar
1. Add the water to a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let dissolve and swell, 5 minutes or more. Meanwhile, purée the berries in a food processor or food mill 2 to 3 minutes and strain. You will have about 1 cup of thick juice.
2. Put the cream in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until scalded, 7 to 8 minutes (tiny bubbles will form and the aroma of the cream will change). Stir often to prevent scorching.
3. Reduce heat to low. Stir 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the dissolved gelatin and whisk until thoroughly mixed; then add the gelatin mixture into the cream remaining in the saucepan and whisk until it is thoroughly dispersed, 1 minute or so. Add the sugar and stir until well dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
4. Add the fruit purée to the cream and stir until the color is uniform. Pour into serving bowls, bring to room temperature and refrigerate until set, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Main photo: Classic blancmange, pictured, is even better when you blend the fruit right in. Credit: Copyright 2015 Lesyy
When it comes to the science of baking as opposed to the art of cooking, it doesn’t do to have clumsy, chubby fingers. Chemistry needs cool palms and a sweat-free brow.
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A dear friend of mine, the late Zena Swerling, was a naturally gifted cook, but it was in the realm of baking that she truly shone. “Here’s another can’t-go-wrong recipe,” she’d offer breezily, and although they always worked, they were never quite the same as when served by Zena herself.
Zena started baking when she was “just tall enough to get my chin over my Russian mummy’s kitchen table.” She was a good, old-fashioned cook with a generous hand and heart, but it was not always easy to interpret and annotate her recipes unless you were by her side in the kitchen. Even then, it was difficult because she’d always insist you sit down instead for a light five-course snack with a good helping of juicy gossip.
With Passover here, I’m pleased to share her recipe for ingber, also known as ingberlach (also sometimes called pletzlach), an old-fashioned Ashkenazi carrot-and-ginger festive candy that too few have the patience to make anymore.
Zena, I hope you’re kvelling with pride.
Add more or less ginger as preferred, but this sweet confection of carrots and ginger should smolder in the mouth.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: About 18 pieces
5 large carrots, peeled
2 cups superfine sugar
1 cup chopped almonds
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1. Finely grate the carrots in the processor and put them in a large pan.
2. Add the sugar; stir over low heat until it dissolves. Cook very slowly, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick (test by dropping a little onto a plate to see if it sets, like jam). This will take 45 to 50 minutes. For chewy, syrupy candy cook until the soft-crack stage or 270 F on a thermometer; for a more brittle candy, cook until it reaches the hard-crack stage or 300 F.
3. Add the almonds and ginger and remove immediately from the heat. Pour the mixture into a baking tray lined with silicone paper.
4. As it cools, score the top into squares or diamonds, then cut into pieces when cold.
P is for Passover Cake
This is a good recipe either to make before Passover, when the cupboard is crammed with ingredients bought in a frenzy of last-minute panic buying, or when you’re on the homeward stretch and your stocks are running low. Bags of nuts, in particular, seem to get into the spirit of the thing and go forth and multiply under their own volition.
The cake can be made with almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts. Ground hazelnuts are widely available in Jewish stores at this time of the year and are much appreciated by the home baker as they save the tedious business of toasting the nuts, and rubbing their skins off with a tea towel before you pulverize them in a grinder … who needs it? Isn’t this the festival of freedom?
Note to self: Next year must buy nut futures.
And, I’d just like to share with you my favorite Passover joke:
Q: What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction?
A: A matzochist.
OK, let’s get to the cake.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 65 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/2 cup ground nuts, plus a little extra for dusting
4 large eggs
1/4 cup superfine sugar
2/3 cup, plus 1 cup dark chocolate
2/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
3 tablespoons apricot jam
Whole nuts, for decoration (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 355 F (180 C).
2. Grease two 6-inch sandwich tins and line the base of each with a disc of oiled paper. Dust with some ground nuts.
3. Whisk the eggs and sugar until thick.
4. Melt 2/3 cup chocolate with a teaspoon of water.
5. Beat a little into the egg mixture along with a pinch of salt. Fold in the rest of the melted chocolate along with the 1/2 cup of ground nuts.
6. Pour into the tins and bake for 40 minutes or until springy to the touch.
7. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then turn out of the tin.
8. To make the frosting, melt the cup of chocolate and stir in the sour cream. Add a little sugar, if you wish, and allow to cool a little.
9. For the filling, spread the apricot jam and about half of the chocolate mixture over the top of one of the cakes. Place the other cake on top, and smear the remainder of the chocolate sauce over the top. Decorate, if preferred, with whole nuts in shape of a “P.”
Main photo: P is for Passover Cake can be adapted for use at other times of the year, too. Change the P to E, and you have a lovely Easter treat! Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman