Custards are a special comfort food that kind of fell off our collective radar in the last 30 -40 years, but they really deserve a place at the table. Eaten warm on cold, rainy or snow-slushy days, or room temperature, even chilled with fresh fruits in warm, sunny weather, they offer us a sense of well-being. What I love about Maple Vanilla Custard is the symbiosis of these two flavors as they play off each other. Maple syrup brings a delicate, almost woodsy sweetness that is complemented by the more complex flavor profile of pure vanilla. The magic happens when the flavors explode on the palate and tongue. Worries fall away, the awfulness of a sore throat eases, and for a few minutes all’s well with the world.
Desserts & Baking
When I headed to Portland late last summer, I wasn’t thinking about eating my way through the city. I was on my way to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my college housemate, JulieAnn and her husband, Marlo. While I wasn’t envisioning dining out, I was thinking food. One of my assignments for the party was to bake cookies. Specifically, gluten-free cookies. I’ve been baking gluten-free for years as my daughter is celiac, my grandsons are gluten-sensitive, and I’m allergic to wheat. JulieAnn also has celiac. I arrived with a few tools of the trade and ready to make five different cookie recipes for the party.
Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked Pumpkin Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.
Spring weather is so fickle. Balmy and beautiful one day, windy and wild the next. But here on the California Coast, the organic strawberries are being picked on our local farms and are oh, so welcome, and begging to be included in dessert.
When I think spring and summer cakes, I think angel food, sponge or chiffon. Light, airy, the perfect foil for berries and other summer fruits. I decided on chiffon.
My friend and colleague Shirley Corriher, has this to say about chiffon cakes in her book, BakeWise :
It’s fun to watch trends come and go and when a particular trend reappears, the recipes using the current ingredient are often uniquely different. For the past eight months I’ve noticed tahini in a large assortment of recipes. However this cookie comes by it honestly as it comes to us from Mamaleh’s, a new incarnation of the classic Jewish Deli, in Cambridge MA. Rachel Sundet, pastry chef at Mamaleh’s claims the honey keeps these shortbread cookies really soft.
Courtesy of David Lebovitz from l’appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
About the following recipe, David says, “Chocolate souffle remains one of my all-time favorite desserts, and even though I now have a variety of porcelain souffle molds in my kitchen here in Paris, I prefer to bake a chocolate souffle in a shallow baking dish. Some can barely wait to get past the crust, to dive into the warm, tender pool of dark chocolate underneath, but I like the fragile, cocoa-colored crust just as much as what hides beneath it. It’s a balance between the tough, and the tender, and one rarely exists without the other….Although I have my share of regrets, using good chocolate to make a souffle is never one of them.”
If you are a ginger snap or spicy cookie fan, look no further. A wonderful contribution to holiday platters, these cookies make great gifts and are perfect for a quiet evening at home, cozied up by the fireplace with a nice cup of tea.
These decadent brownies are incredibly moist and fudgy. With the marshmallow, chocolate and walnut topping, they are more like a candy than cookie/brownie bar. Whatever you choose to call them, they are a show stopper and are sure to please a crowd!
Whenever I’ve been fortunate enough to score persimmons, I’ve always made Persimmon Puddings (the word for dessert in the UK but, in the US, it’s actually cake). My mother always made it for Thanksgiving and served it with a lemon sauce instead of a hard sauce. I discovered it was worth “gilding the lily” by serving whipped cream on the side.
These rich, chocolaty spice bars are delicious year round, but are particularly comforting curled up next to a fire with a good book and a strong cup of tea!
If I were to choose only one muffin recipe from my collection, it would be this recipe for applesauce muffins. These muffins are extremely moist, delicate in texture and bursting with flavor. This is especially true if you use my Kick-ass Applesauce recipe as the base for these muffins. They are really, really good!
Maria Reisz has of way of creating magic and beauty, whether it’s her exquisite European baking, sumptuous parties and teas, her rose gardens, flower arranging, or just about anything else her talented hands touch. Now Maria has brought out her much awaited book, Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Candlelight Teas: How to Create Your Own Holiday Traditions. This lovely book is filled with detailed instructions and lovely photos on how to help children create their own delightful gingerbread houses and how to turn simple-to-prepare foods into a celebratory meal with family and friends.
Over the last decade the market has been flooded with beautiful, big cookbooks filled with full-color, sexy photos of gorgeously presented foods and beverages. many of which contain exotic ingredients and complex instructions. I call them the “Wow!” cookbooks. It’s lots of fun to curl up in a chair, book-in-lap, to study the pictures and read the recipes
In 2011 I went to Italy and Greece with some dear friends. We had a marvelous time eating our way from one region to the next. I especially enjoyed the Coastal areas of Italy where lemons are the big thing. When I say big, I mean lemons that weigh a kilo. Big!!
When I’m exploring an unfamiliar cuisine or planning a trip, and even when I discover a new author, I immerse myself with information in order to better understand the context of the food, the place, the author. By doing this I develop a sense of connection – whatever it is I’m learning about, it’s no longer abstract.
Courtesy of David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press; 2014
I grew up on apricots, both fresh and dried as well as apricot desserts. David had never had fresh apricots until he went to France, at which time he “got it” about how amazing they are when they’re baked. If you haven’t used fresh apricots in desserts, you’re in for a wonderful treat!
Courtesy of David Lebovitz from My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press
David Lebovitz is a master dessert maker and a good instructor as well. Although his recipe didn’t include vanilla, a little bit can only enhance the coffee and cream.
The first time I had Nutella was in a very unlikely place — on the island of Tahiti! Tahiti, being a French Protectorate, means that all kinds of delicious European treats are readily available in markets except on some of the smaller islands. Also, fresh baguettes are delivered several times a day to even lowly gas station convenience stores! It was crazy wonderful.
At any rate, I was staying at a pension where they provided natural alarm clocks for everyone in the form of a band of semi-wild chickens. Fortunately, they also served breakfast, which included the aforementioned baguettes along with a variety of jams and Nutella.
Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.
Chestnut Jam Tart
Makes 10 servings
Alice says, “A jam tart seems like a relaxed, simpler-to-make linzer torte, with an Italian accent instead of a German one. A jam tart is called fregolata in Italian, and it’s pretty and festive and giftable, too. I thought it fitting (and extra delicious) to swap the usual shortbread crust for a chestnut crust. The dough is quick to make by hand and is then pressed flat into a tart pan with no worries about the sides since the dough forms its own edge as it bakes. Any jam will do for the topping, but the prettiest and most flavorful are red fruits like cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, or even strawberry. The jam is topped with crumbled bits of dough and sliced almonds and pushed into the oven to do its own thing.”
Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch
Whenever I need inspiration for a special dessert or a good cookie recipe, I reach for one of Alice Medrich’s books. When Flavor Flours came out I was excited to review it, but I had no idea how much I wanted and needed this book until I recently received a copy.
Alice Medrich is truly a culinary visionary and trend setter. As a young woman she lived in Paris and was given some chocolate truffles. Intrigued by the flavor and uniqueness of the confection, which was essentially unknown in the US at that time, she returned to Berkeley, California and made truffles for sale. The truffles she designed became known as “California Truffles.”