Yesterday, I pulled the zip-top bag out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter. Later, I saw that my friend Malena had posted a snapshot of a family-favorite recipe on Instagram. It was for a fruit cake – named "fruit torte" since fruit cake would throw people off – adapted from one of the New York Times most popular recipes, the original plum torte. There is a reason that this recipe is one of the paper's most popular: It's one that everyone should keep handy, flexible enough that almost any soft fruit (berries, sliced peaches, and, especially, plums) can be put on top.Read More
I’ve always mixed pie crust and tart shells by hand, but I was short on time and decided to make the dough in the mixer, which was already plugged in on the counter. It worked beautifully, and when it comes time to make another tart, I’m more likely to do it in the mixer or food processor. (Tart shells bake better when they are uniform while piecrusts benefit from irregular butter pieces—they’re flakier this way.) I only needed one crust for the strawberry tart, but I made two and froze the second half.
Adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge, by Jim Dodge with Elaine Ratner (Simon & Schuster, 1991)
Makes 2 tart shells
- 8 tablespoons butter, cubed and chilled
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the butter, sugar, salt, and flour on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter has been broken into small pieces. Drizzle in the cream and mix until the dough comes together.
2. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and gently knead a couple of times to bring the dough together. Roll into a cylinder and then slice in half crosswise. Pat the into 4-inch disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 20 minutes.
3. Unwrap one of the disks and roll out on a floured surface into a 13-inch circle. Drape the dough into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan. Fold the edges in so the tart has double-thick sides, then press the sides into the tart pan. Trim off the excess dough with a paring knife, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
4. To prebake the tart shell for fruit tarts, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cover the entire tart with aluminum foil, pressing the foil lightly into the base of the crust. Pierce the entire bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until the crust is light golden and partially done, about 15 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and bake until the crust is evenly golden brown, about 20 minutes.
You can select any kind of fruit you’re like for a clafoutis, but if using cherries (sour or bing), cook them gently in the butter before adding them to the pan. If rye and cornmeal aren't for you, use any flour blend you care to try. Whole wheat, all-purpose, Kamut, or spelt are all fine options. Or go with almond meal if you want to make something flourless.
Makes 1 clafoutis
- 1 tablespoon /15 grams softened butter
- 1 cup / 150 grams blueberries
- 4 / 225 grams apricots, pitted and diced
- No more than 1/4 cup / 48 grams cane sugar
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons / 15 grams rye flour
- 1 tablespoon / 10 grams cornmeal
- About 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
1. Butter a 9-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Taste the fruit. If it is very tart, sprinkle 1 tablespoon over it and let it macerate with the lemon zest for up to 20 minutes. If it is very sweet, either skip the sugar and mix it with lemon zest or use less sugar-- a teaspoon or two.
3. In a bowl, whip the yolks with 3 tablespoons sugar until the sugar is less granular and the yolks are pale in color. Stir in the flour, cornmeal, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt briefly to combine. Stir in the cream to combine.
4. In a separate bowl with a clean whisk, whip the egg whites with a pinch or two of salt until shiny soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the yolks.
5. Spread the batter over the fruit and bake until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm.
A decade ago when I worked as a cookie baker at La Farine, a French bakery in Oakland, the tart bakers always looked like they were having more fun than the rest of us. I think I know why: once the crust was baked and the pastry cream prepared, making tarts was more like decorating than baking. To finish each tart, the gals brushed a light apricot glaze over the fruit to give it a nice sheen. If there were fruit tarts left at the end of the day, we could take them home (the crust became soft if refrigerated). Days that ended with free fruit tarts were happy days.
While flipping through Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cookbook, by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey (Times Books, the 1979 edition), I came across a recipe for a strawberry tart. It had been a while since I had access to free fruit tarts, so I figured I was well overdue making one myself.
Makes 1 tart
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 baked tart shell, cooled
- 2 cups strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and vanilla bean in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar and eggs until golden yellow, forming a ribbon when the whisk is removed from the mixture. Whisk in the cornstarch.
3. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk. With the mixer on, pour the milk into the eggs and sugar and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture into a pot over barely simmering water (ensuring that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring with a spatula, until the pastry cream is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula. (It will become thicker as it cools. If it looks a little lumpy, strain it and discard the lumps. The recipe makes a generous amount for one tart.)
4. Spoon the pastry cream across the base of the tart shell. Arrange the strawberries, cut side down, in concentric circles within the tart.
5. Stir the apricot jam with enough water to thin it. Bring to a simmer and cook briefly until it reaches syrup consistency. Cool for a minute, then brush over the strawberries while still warm.
Pumpkin Seed BrittleI wanted make something a tad less involved than making toffee that could be used as a crunchy appendage to dessert. Something that could be made in under an hour. The answer: Nut brittle. Basically, you make a dry caramel (meaning no water added), stir in the nuts, and then spread the nut caramel over a Silpat.
Once cooled and hardened, the brittle is ready to be broken into pieces. With an exception for cashews, the formula for nut and seed brittle stays the same. It's only a matter of substituting one nut or seed for another while keeping the sugar and cooking time the same.
I broke my batch of brittle up, put it in a mason jar, and capped it shut to keep it from softening from humidity. If you do want to give this away as gifts, one batch of brittle approximately fits a 1-pint mason jar. Or just keep it for yourself and make cookies or pumpkin seed brittle ice cream.
Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Makes about 2 cups of brittle shards
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
Line a baking sheet with a Silpat (or similar nonstick silicon surface).
To make the caramel, heat the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once the sugar starts to melt (it will become clear around the edges and start to look wet), start stirring the sugar with a heatproof rubber spatula.
Continue to cook the sugar, stirring frequently, until the caramel has a reached a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. If you’re not sure how dark your caramel has become, pull it away from the stove and swirl the pan. If it’s a tan color, it is not dark enough.
Once the caramel has reached the desired color, remove the pot from the stove and stir in the pumpkin seeds. (Be careful, they may pop a bit in the sugar.) Working fast so the sugar doesn’t harden prematurely, spread the caramel in a roughly 9 by 13-inch rectangle. Let it cool completely. Once cool, break into pieces as large or small as you’d like and store in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.
Chocolate pudding was a big part of my dessert repertoire, if you could call it that, when I was in elementary school. I’d open up a package of chocolate pudding mix, follow the instructions on the box, and then refrigerate the pudding until set. Sometimes it would develop a skin on top, which I secretly liked to eat. I also liked that my mom trusted me enough to make pudding by myself. But as I got older and consequently more cavalier in the kitchen, I forgot all about pudding.
Until recently. Prompted by a sweet tooth, and limited resources in the pantry, I returned to making pudding. I’ve had a box of tapioca for a while, mainly for adding to the filling of summer fruit pies. The box has a simple recipe for tapioca pudding, and after a quick glance I remembered how easy it is to make. And so the experiments began. This was the winner.
Mexican Chocolate Tapica Pudding
Makes four 4-ounce servings
- 3 tablespoons/22 grams tapioca
- 3 tablespoons/30 grams sugar
- 2 tablespoons/10 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 generous pinch cayenne
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 cups/475 grams almond milk
- 1 teaspoon/3 grams vanilla
- 1 large egg
1. In a pot, whisk together the tapioca and sugar. Sift the cocoa powder into the pot, then season with the cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Pour in the almond milk and vanilla and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. Whisk in the egg well, then gradually heat the pudding, whisking frequently, until it begins to boil, 4-5 minutes. Pour the pudding into 4 (4-ounce) ramekins and refrigerate, uncovered, for 1 hour for a soft set, 2 or more for a firmer pudding. Once completely cool, cover the ramekins with plastic wrap.
When Ashley asked me if I’d make her wedding cake, my initial answer was no. No way. Wedding cakes make me nervous. The one time I unmolding a large genoise cake base for a wedding cake, I cracked the whole thing. But I paused. Maybe I was up for the challenge, as long as the challenge didn’t involve fondant or tiers.
I checked with Ashley: “How traditional do you want this cake to be? Tiers? Fondant?” I asked.
“It can be anything you want,” she said.
“What about a table full of Bundt cakes?”
And that’s how I came to bake cakes for a California wedding in late June.
Because Ashley loves citrus, I focused on lemon cakes. Our family friend, Sandyrecommended a few recipes from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I decided to give the cake a try, leaving out the poppy seeds to save the teeth of wedding goers.
If you’re accustomed to starting pound cakes by beating butter with sugar until creamy, the method for this cake will sound unusual. Beranbaum creams the butter and some of the sour cream with the flour and sugar, and then adds the eggs and remaining sour cream. The technique results in a light cake with a tender crumb.
It’s easiest to scale ingredients for this cake with a kitchen scale. I poured the flours and sugar directly into the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl. To bring eggs to room temperature quickly, soak them in a bowl of warm tap water.
Lemon Bundt Cake Fit for a Wedding
Adapted from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes 1 cake
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 200 grams / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sour cream
- 15 grams / 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 200 grams / 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 50 grams / 1/3 cup cake flour
- 250 grams / 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 7 grams / 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3 grams / 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 grams / 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Zest from 2 lemons
- 200 grams / 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 112 grams / 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
- 95 grams / 3 fluid ounces lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 10-cup Bundt pan and dust with flour (Wondra flour works well), shaking out the excess.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolk, 1/4 cup of the sour cream, and vanilla.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and remaining sour cream and mix on low speed until the ingredients are moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes until creamy. Add the egg mixture and mix for 30 seconds to incorporate.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a spatula to smooth out the top. Bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Meanwhile, make the lemon glaze.
5. To make the lemon glaze: In a saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar into the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, whisk, remove from heat, and cover until needed.
6. Cool the cake for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake onto a 9-inch cardboard round or a serving plate. Brush a couple of layers of glaze over the cake. Once cool, you can serve the cake or wrap it and freeze for future use. The cake defrosts at room temperature in a few hours.
Ice cream and I were best buds right up through college. And then we did the fade out when I gradually realized that we were incompatible. Like a lot of dunzo relationships, I don’t really miss milk-based ice cream—there are so many other great treats out there. But I do miss is that creamy, cooling, rich-but-never-cloying sweetness that great ice cream delivers.I still remember this amazing vanilla ice cream from Radius in Boston. I tend to be all about chocolate, but there I learned that real, really great vanilla ice cream can trump just about anything else. When I was an extern there, I used to stand, spoon in hand, to sample it as soon as it came out of the ice cream spinner.
But now when friends want to meet for ice cream (and join some insane line to wait for a cone—Bi Rite, I’m looking at you) I scour dairy-free choices.
Besides being dairy-free, a great thing about sorbet is that it’s easier to make than ice cream. In her book Real Sweet, Shauna Sever mixes toasted almonds into this sorbet. For this version, I toasted pecans and kept them out as a topping. To add the nuts to the sorbet, stir them in before adding it to the ice cream maker. For a vegan version, buy vegan chocolate.
Makes 4 cups
Adapted from Shauna Sever's cookbook Real Sweet
- 2 1/4 cups almond milk
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown muscovado sugar (or dark brown sugar)
- 2/3 cup (67 grams) natural cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup cold coffee (optional)
1. Line a large bowl with a fine mesh strainer. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup almond milk and the cornstarch.
2. In a medium (4-quart) saucepan, bring the remaining almond milk, sugar, agave, and salt to a boil for 1 minute. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry and boil for 1 more minute. Add the chocolate and vanilla and whisk until smooth.
3. Pour the chocolate base through the strainer and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 4 hours.
4. Once chilled, if the base looks thick (or you want to add a slight mocha edge), whisk in the coffee.
5. To freeze the sorbet, give the base a good whisk, then pour it into the ice cream machine and freeze until it looks like soft serve. Once frozen, transfer to a chilled container and freeze for 10 to 15 minutes more until firm but not rock hard. The sorbet is best when served the day it is frozen. If serving the next day, leave out at room temperature for at least 10 minutes.