By Gwen Ashley Walters | MARCH 08, 2014 | DESSERTS

Shortbread cookies are buttery, crumbly, and delicious. They’re easy to make but chilling the dough is crucial, or the cookies will spread in the oven. They’ll still taste good but they won’t be as pretty. I use a 2-inch, scalloped edge cookie cutter, but you can cut plain circles or cut them into squares or rectangles. I even think they taste better the next day. Give them a try.

Poppy Seed Shortbread Cookies
The key to keeping shortbread cookies from spreading in the oven (because of the high butterfat content) is to keep the dough chilled before you cut the cookies, and then chilling the cut cookies before baking. I think they taste better even the next day. This recipe makes 16 (2-inch) cookies)
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  1. Cut the butter into chunks and place in a stand mixer and mix on low for about 30 seconds to soften the butter. Add the sugar and vanilla. Mix on low for 30 seconds, and then on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple times.
  2. Whisk the flour, poppy seeds and salt together in a medium bowl. Sprinkle half the flour mixture in the mixer and mix on low until just combined. Add the remaining half and mix just until combined. The dough will look crumbly but will hold together when pinched.
  3. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Top with another sheet of plastic and roll and form the dough into a rectangle about 11 X 7 inches and ¼-inch thick. Wrap tight and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pull the dough from the refrigerator and let rest about 5 minutes.
  5. Cut the dough into 16 cookies with a 2-inch round cookie cutter. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes or place in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes to firm up the dough.
  6. Place on a lined baking sheet about 1-inch apart and bake until lightly golden brown on the edges, about 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. Cool 15-20 minutes before serving.


By Gwen Ashley Walters | SEPTEMBER 15, 2013 | DESSERTS


Are you pie-dough challenged? I am. But a rustic, open-faced pie called a crostata? That I can do. And so can you.

The best part is my recipe makes two small crostatas — one to keep and one to share.

The recipe is based on a pear and sour cherry crostata in my first cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook, but I’ve made a few significant twists. First, I’ve replaced the pears with plums, and I’ve replaced the dried tart cherries with fresh blueberries and I’ve eliminated cooking the fruit.

Because fall is near, I’ve added a warm spice to the crostata, and because the round, sweet black plums I’m using originated in China, I’m using Chinese 5-Spice, plus some orange zest.


Choose any plum you like. The round black plums I’m using are much juicier and sweeter than the oval-shaped European versions that are primarily turned into dried plums (formerly known as prunes).

If using the fat round plums, cut them in half, and then cut each half into eighths, so that each plum yields 16 thin wedges.


Fresh blueberries are still in season where I am now, but if they weren’t, I’d used dried blueberries, steeped in orange juice in place of fresh ones, or in a pinch, frozen blueberries.


Chinese 5-Spice power traditionally contains the tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns as one of the five spices, but this Penzey’s blend replaces the Sichuan peppercorns with peppery-flavored ginger.

The other four ingredients are cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, and cloves. It’s a fragrant mixture, with spicy licorice notes.


These plums are sweet but still need some sugar. I’ve called for 1/2 cup. If the plums seem mouth-puckering tart, add another couple tablespoons. If they seem particularly sugary, subtracted 2 tablespoon.

A couple tablespoons of instant tapioca will help thicken the inevitable juices. Add orange zest because it is attracted to 5-Spice like a moth to light.

Toss all the filling ingredients together and then let it sit for 15-20 minutes, or you can stick it in the fridge up to overnight. You will still see tiny bits of instant tapioca, but they will disappear after baking.

And now we come to the (not) tricky part…. the dough. Use the recipe and method for my easy, buttery pie dough and you won’t have a thing to sweat.


Instead of making one big crostata, divide the dough in half to make two small pies. It’s best to use a scale, but you can eyeball it, too. It is a pie, after all, and not concerned with perfection in the least.

Each small crostata serves four, so you have enough for a dinner party of eight, or you can keep one and give one to the new neighbor who just moved in as an “I’m so sorry my dog peed on your floor.” (Don’t ask.)


Roll each dough out to 9-inches, one at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. It’s much easier to transfer it to the baking sheet that way.

Sprinkle a gossamer amount of flour on the baking sheet and the dough before you mound half the filling in the center, leaving a 2-inch border to fold in. Fuss with the arrangement of plums and blueberries if you must.


Once you have filled and folded one crostata, roll out the remaining dough and repeat.


Pleating is simple.

Think of the circle as a clock. Start at 12 o’clock and with your thumb and first two fingers, pick up and pull dough toward the center of the pie.

Using your right hand, pull up the 1 o’clock position and fold it over the 12 o’clock section and gently press. You now have one pleat. Pull up 2 o’clock and fold over 1 o’clock.

Repeat all the way around, back to 12 o’clock.


It’s OK if not all the pleats are equal in shape, or if you end up with 11 pleats, not 12. I did much better with the pie on the right (above) than I did with the one on left. Practice helps.


The last step before baking is to brush the dough with milk or cream and sprinkle (heavily) with sugar.

I’m using a course, raw sugar crystal because I want to see it on the finished pie. You can use regular granulated and it will still sparkle, but you won’t see individual grains. Now bake until the edges are brown. It takes about 45 minutes in my oven. Yours may take less or more time.

Let the crostata cool about 15 minutes before serving. If you don’t plan on serving it straight away, you might consider glazing the fruit after it cools to prevent the fruit from looking dried out.

Simply warm and strain a few tablespoons some type of red jam or jelly (strawberry, red currant or raspberry) and brush only on the fruit.


And there you have it. A lovely, rustic, warm-spiced crostata. One for you and one to share.

Plum & Blueberry Crostata

[print recipe]

Serve warm or room temperature with a dollop of barely whipped cream or ice cream (suggested flavors: ginger, caramel, huckleberry, or, yawn, vanilla).

Makes 2 (6-inch) crostatas

1 recipe for 9-inch buttery pie dough
1 cup fresh blueberries (fresh or dried which have been steeped in orange juice)
Zest of 1 orange
1 pound barely ripe black plums
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons instant tapioca
1-1/4 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
4 teaspoons milk or half & half or heavy cream
4 teaspoons raw sugar (or regular granulated)

Make the pie dough and let it chill (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the refrigerator) while you prepare the filling.

Slice the plums in half and remove the pit. Cut each half into eighths. Cut each half in half, and then each of those two halves in half, and then again, those halves in half, for a total of 16 even wedges.

Toss the plums, gently, with the blueberries, orange zest, sugar and instant tapioca in a medium bowl. Set aside for 15-20 minutes while you roll out the dough. (You can make both the pie dough and the filling the day before.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll out piecrust, one at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to a 9-inch circle, starting from the center and rolling out, giving the dough a quarter turn after each roll.  Transfer to a lined baking sheet.

Divide the chilled plum and blueberry filling in half (it’s roughly 1-1/2 cups of filling each, and make sure you divide the juices evenly, too).

Mound half the filling onto each dough, leaving a 2” border all the way around.  Fold the border over the filling, pleating as you go.

Think of the circle as a clock. Start at 12 o’clock and with your thumb and first two fingers, pick up and pull dough toward the center of the pie.

Using your right hand, pull up the 1 o’clock position and fold it over the 12 o’clock section and gently press. You now have one pleat. Pull up 2 o’clock and fold over 1 o’clock. Repeat all the way around, back to 12 o’clock. (A good portion of the filling will be uncovered.)

Brush the top of the pleated dough with the milk or cream and sprinkle heavily with sugar.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pastry is browned and cooked through. Do not stress if some of the filling leaks. It’s a rustic pie. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before cutting.

If not serving it straight away, consider glazing the fruit after it cools to keep the fruit from looking dried out. Simply warm and strain some type of red jam or jelly (strawberry, red currant or raspberry) and brush only on the fruit. It will give it a pleasing sheen.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | OCTOBER 29, 2011 | DESSERTS

Thanksgiving is less than 30 days away. In my world, that means planning the menu now, and sharing it with my sous chef (my brother).

Serious negotiations will commence about what we can and cannot accomplish given our busy schedules and travel plans.

Two things are a given: we will have pumpkin pie and we will have cranberry orange compote.

So I’m sharing links to two recipes that will be on our Thanksgiving table, in case you’re new to the blog. If you’ve been reading all along, maybe you’ll remember these.

Pumpkin Pie

The first is pumpkin pie, and I did a little experiment to determine if roasting a pumpkin was better than using canned pumpkin for our pie. You can see the results here:

Fresh v. Canned: Pumpkin Pie


Which is better? Read the post to find out, but here’s a hint: it depends…

A word about the sugared sage garnish: brush a sprig of fresh sage leaves with a beaten egg white and roll in granulated sugar. Set aside to dry. Really, it’s that easy.

Cranberry Orange Compote

For years (who am I kidding… still …) the canned jellied cranberry sauce landed on our table at Thanksgiving. As long as my dad sits at the head of the table, it always will.

But that doesn’t mean I have to eat it. Instead, I make a wonderfully tart and decidedly grown-up cranberry compote with a healthy dose of ruby port and Grand Marnier.

Now you can too:

Cranberry Orange Compote


Now that we have these two in the “yes” column, all we need to do is decide which sides will accompany our citrus & herb turkey.

For the past few years, we’ve been using a modified dry brine recipe from Rick Rodgers we found in Bon Appetit years ago.

Mom’s corn bread dressing is a given, but I’ve never written a recipe for it. Truth is, we’re still working on it. Every year we think we’re getting closer, but it never is as good as Mom’s was.

But we will try again this year, like we always do.

Happy Thanksgiving planning to you.





By Gwen Ashley Walters | NOVEMBER 24, 2010 | DESSERTS

Have you ever noticed some bread pudding recipes ask you to press down the top (with weight, no less) so that the bread soaks up the custard before baking? Well, I like my bread to float to the top on this recipe.

That’s because it browns beautifully and crisps up nicely — which offers a wonderful crunch to contrast to the creamy custard.

(And yes, you can substitute challah for the brioche — they are basically the same egg-rich dough, with brioche using butter, and challah using oil.)

The secret to this half crisp-half soft bread pudding is to cut the bread into large hunks (seriously large) … and don’t weigh it down.

Sure, I want you to dunk the hunks of bread down into the custard to soak up the vanilla custard before baking, but don’t I don’t want you to mash the bread down.

That’s because I want you to take a bite of crisp, crunchy bread along with a bite of the soft, bread-soak custard underneath.

If that wasn’t enough, I’m calling for chopped chocolate chunks. Sure, you could use chocolate chips in a pinch, but the rustic, uneven chop here and the high quality chocolate adds so much more to the end result.

Trust me. It’s divine — especially when served with this easy, boozy, butter “scotch” sauce.

[printable recipe]

By Linda Avery | AUGUST 11, 2010 | DESSERTS

From The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli

Photo © 2009 Ben Fink

We put this dense, moist spice cake on our menu at SoNo Baking Company in late August, when local Connecticut apples are just starting to come into season. It’s an ideal choice to bring to a picnic or potluck meal, as it can easily be transported in its pan. Here the cake is frosted with a brown sugar buttercream frosting. For more intense flavor, you can use dark brown sugar, rather than light brown as written here. This cake can also be removed from the pan and then iced on the top and sides with the buttercream, and decorated with Apple Chips.

Makes one 8-inch square cake; 16 servings

For the apple cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups grated peeled and cored apples (from any red baking apple, such as Cortland or Rome), about 1 pound
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)

For the buttercream
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, firm but not chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the cake

1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, grated apples, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake on the prepared baking sheet, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering to the bottom, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Make the buttercream
1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg whites with the brown sugar and the salt over (not in) the simmering water until warm to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes. (Be careful to not let the bottom of the top of the double boiler touch the water.) Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. With the machine running, gradually beat in the butter, piece by piece. By the time all the butter is added, the mixture will break, but it will become smooth again as you continue to beat. Beat in the vanilla.

2. Spread the buttercream over the top of the cake. Cut into squares.

Recipe © The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli

By Linda Avery | AUGUST 11, 2010 | DESSERTS

From Fiesta At Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends
by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

Photo © by Paul Elledge

Makes thirty-two 2-inch bars

This recipe is a bar version of the Chocolate Pecan Pie that’s been the sig­nature dessert at Frontera Grill for well over two decades. We’ve replaced that flaky crust with a sweet-salty-buttery pretzel crust that I think is perfect for these luscious bars. Come to think of it, with these bars being so gooey-rich you may want to cut the squares crosswise into triangles, so people can enjoy just a biteful at a time.


9 ounces (about 2 cups) pecan halves
One 9-ounce bag pretzel rods
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the pan
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces not larger than 1/4 inch
3/4 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) finely chopped Mexican chocolate (such as the widely available Ibarra brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups corn syrup, preferably dark (or use a mixture of corn syrup and molasses, sorghum, Steen’s cane syrup or most any of the other rich-flavored syrups)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, preferably Mexican vanilla
Powdered sugar, for garnish

1. Toast the pecans and prepare the crumb crust. In a 325° oven, toast the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet until noticeably darker and toasty smelling, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool to lukewarm (but keep the oven heated), then coarsely chop them by hand — 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces make luxurious-looking bars. Scrape into a large bowl.

2. Use a food processor to chop the pretzels into fairly fine crumbs. (You should have 2 cups of crumbs.) In a small saucepan over medium heat or in a microwave at 50% power, melt 2 sticks of the butter. Scrape into the processor, along with the 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Pulse until everything is combined.

3. Butter the bottoms and sides of two 8 x 8-inch baking pans. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of each pan, then press firmly in place. Butter the parchment paper. Divide the crumb mixture between the two pans and pat into an even layer covering the bottom completely.

4. Make the filling. To the pecans, add the two chocolates and the flour. Stir to combine, then divide evenly between the two pans. In the small saucepan or microwave at 50% power, melt the remaining 2 sticks of the butter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, brown sugar, corn syrup or corn syrup mixture and vanilla, and beat at medium-low speed (if your mixer has a choice, use the flat beater). Slowly add the melted butter, mixing until the batter looks smooth. Divide the batter between the two pans, pouring it slowly and evenly over the surface to ensure even distribution of the chocolate and pecans through the batter.

5. Bake, cool and serve the bars. Slide the pans into the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the center is almost firm. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until firm for easy cutting. Use a small knife to loosen the sides, then turn out. Cut into 2-inch squares. Keep your Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars stored in the refrigerator until just before serving. Transfer to a serving platter, dust with powdered sugar, carry to your guests and await the moans of pleasure.

Recipe © Fiesta at Rick’s by Rick Bayless

By Linda Avery | AUGUST 11, 2010 | DESSERTS

photo © Leigh Beisch

From Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan
by Nancie McDermott
Makes one 9-inch pie

When Dr. George Washington Carver wrote his Agricultural Bulletin #38 in 1936, his goal was to provide African American farmers with much more than just guidance for raising sweet potatoes as a cash crop and food source.

Already in his seventies, and more than four decades into his work as a research chemist, botanist, educator, and author, he tirelessly presented practical, focused information on agriculture, nutrition, and business practices, so that his readers could choose crops that might bring them financial benefits as well as nutritional ones.

His bulletins began with notes on agricultural varieties and how to plant them with success, then moved on to dozens of recipes, including several for sweet potato pies. This one is my favorite.

Carver liked spices as much as I do, but if you don’t have all these in your pantry, you can simply season your pie with cinnamon, or a combination of your choosing. You could prepare this in advance by cooking the sweet potatoes and slicing them in one session, and then assembling and baking the pie the next day.

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (store-bought or recipe below)

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cream, evaporated milk, or half-and-half
1/3 cup molasses, sorghum, pure cane syrup, or honey
1/2 cup hot water, reserved from the sweet potatoes* cooking liquid
3 tablespoons cold butter, chopped into small bits

1. Line a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan with dough, draping it over the edge of the pie pan with a 1 1/2-inch border of pastry extending beyond the rim. Refrigerate until needed.

2. Place the whole, unpeeled sweet potatoes in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and cook until the sweet potatoes are tender enough to be sliced, but not so tender that they fall apart. Depending on their size and shape, this should take between 15 and 30 minutes. Remove any smaller sweet potatoes as they reach the right texture and let larger ones cook until they reach the correct texture.

3. While the sweet potatoes are cooking, prepare the seasonings. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir with a fork to mix them together well.

4. In a medium bowl or a heatproof measuring cup, combine the cream and molasses. When the sweet potatoes are cooked, measure out 1/2 cup of their cooking water. Add this to the molasses and cream and stir to mix these liquids well.

5. Drain the sweet potatoes and set them out on a platter to cool enough to be handled. Peel and trim the sweet potatoes. Slice them lengthwise into slabs about 1/4 inch thick (see Note). You will need about 4 cups; enough slices to generously fill the piecrust.

6. Heat the oven to 350°F. Roll out the top crust to about 11 inches in diameter.

7. Have the spice mixture, molasses mixture, and butter all ready. Place two layers of sweet potato slices in the bottom of the piecrust. Sprinkle about one third of the spice mixture over this first layer. Add another two layers of sweet potato slices, another third of the spice mixture, and finish up with a final two layers of sweet potato slices, filling the piecrust almost to the very top. Add a few slices of sweet potatoes to the center, to build it up a little higher. Sprinkle all the remaining spices over this third layer.

8. Pour the molasses mixture evenly over the filling (you may have extra, just use what you need), and place the bits of cold butter around the top of the pie. Cover the pie with the top crust. Fold the edges of the bottom crust up and over the top crust and press to seal them together well. Using the tines of a fork, work your way around the piecrust, pressing to make a handsome parallel design on the crust as you seal it. Use a sharp knife to cut eight slits in the top of the pie, so that steam can escape and the filling can bubble up through the crust.

9. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake until the crust is nicely brown, the filling is bubbling, and the sweet potatoes are tender all the way through, 45 to 55 minutes.

10. Place the pie on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel and let cool to room temperature.

Note: You’ll slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise into “planks,” not crosswise into rounds.

Sandra Gutierrez’s Butter Piecrust

Makes two 9-inch single piecrusts or one 9-inch double pie crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 to 6 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon white vinegar

1. In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the flour and salt; pulse for 10 seconds. Add the butter cubes and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some small lumps, 30 to 40 seconds.

2. Add 3 tablespoons of the ice water and the vinegar and pulse 5 to 7 times, until the dough just barely holds together in the work bowl. Add another tablespoon or two of ice water if needed just to bring the ingredients together. Turn it out onto plastic wrap and pat the dough into two separate disks; refrigerate them for a least 1 hour. Set one or two disks out at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling.

3. Roll out one of the dough disks on a lightly floured surface, to a circle about 1/8 inch thick and 10 inches wide. Carefully transfer it into a 9-inch pie plate. Press the dough gently into the pan and trim away any excess dough, leaving about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pie pan. Fold the edges up and over, and then crimp the edges decoratively. Or press the back of a fork into the pastry rim, working around the pie to make a flat edge marked with the tines of the fork. If not filling the crust soon, refrigerate it until needed.

4. To make the crust in advance, wrap it well in plastic and refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 2 months.

Recipe © Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan by Nancie McDermott

By Linda Avery | AUGUST 11, 2010 | DESSERTS

From Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
By Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson

© Keller + Keller

Homemade Oreos

Makes 16 to 18 sandwich cookies

Oreos used to be a mystery to me. The debates about splitting them and eating the filling first, eating them whole, or dunking them—none of it made any sense. My mom never bought commercial sweets, and she certainly never bought the almost-black cookies that looked burnt to her. For the same reason, they never appealed to me either— until one day when i finally bit into one at a friend’s house. Wow. 1 tried to convince my mom that they were fantastic and that we really, really needed to buy them for after-school snacking. She refused, only saying that they looked too black to be good. Years later, I created my own version of an Oreo, made with real chocolate and bittersweet cocoa and filled with a creamy mixture of sugar, butter, and a little vanilla. It’s a decidedly grown-up version of the treat I fleetingly remember. And they are delicious. Flour customers go crazy for them. At first, they expect a very sweet, vaguely chocolaty treat. Instead, they get an intense, rich chocolate cookie with a buttery vanilla cream filling— an Oreo like no other. Even Mom approves. When she visits, she always requests them for the care package I send home with her.

For the cookies

1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (200 grams) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (90 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the vanilla cream filling
1/2 cup (1 stick/114 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 2/3 cups (230 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
Pinch of kosher salt

Make the cookies

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter and granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the vanilla and chocolate. Add the egg and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

2. In another medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well mixed. Using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. The dough will start to seem too floury, and you will find it easiest to switch to mixing it with your hands until it comes together. It will have the consistency of Play-Doh. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about 1 hour to firm up.

3. Transfer the dough to a 15-inch square sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rough log about 10 inches long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Place the log at the edge of the sheet of parchment paper, and roll the parchment around the log. With the log fully encased in parchment, roll it into a smoother log, keeping it at 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm. The log may settle and sink a bit in the fridge, so reroll it every 15 minutes or so to maintain a nice round log. (At this point, the dough log can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If the dough is frozen, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator before proceeding.)

4. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325°F. Butter a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

5. Cut the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place the slices about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cookies are firm to the touch. Check them frequently after 16 or 17 minutes, poking them in the middle. As soon as they feel firm to the touch, remove them from the oven. You can’t judge by color because they start out black. Let cool on the baking sheet to warm or room temperature. They don’t have to cool completely before you fill them, but you can’t fill them while they are hot.

Make the filling
1. While the cookies are cooling, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the butter on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until completely smooth and soft. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Add the milk and salt and again beat until smooth. It will look like white spackle and feel about the same—like putty.

2. Scoop about 1 rounded tablespoon of the filling onto the bottom of one cookie. Top with a second cookie, bottom-side down, then press the cookies together to spread the filling toward the edges. Repeat until all of the cookies are filled.

Note: You can also mix this filling by hand. Make sure the butter is very soft, and use your hands to mix and knead the sugar into the butter. You should have about 1 cup. (The filling can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Recipe © Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang

By Gwen Ashley Walters | OCTOBER 25, 2009 | DESSERTS

The 64-dollar question is…does pumpkin pie taste better made with fresh roasted pumpkin or canned pumpkin?


The answer is…it depends on what your definition of “tastes better” is.

We are no “America’s Test Kitchen”  — who’s got time for that — but we did do a little experiment. (And when I say “we” you know I mean “me.”)

I roasted a pumpkin and made a pie. Then I made the exact same pie with canned pumpkin. Lots of spices were involved.


You should know, roasting a pumpkin takes a bit more work than opening a can. Driving to Costco to pick up one of their monster 12-inch pies might be the easiest thing of all.

(By the way, if you want the recipe for the Costco pumpkin pie, get a pen, ready? … Take 1 ton of pumpkin pie filling…)


Oh, I’m kidding about the Costco pie.


Back to the fresh vs. canned smack down.

My original hypothesis was that it doesn’t matter whether you start with fresh or canned pumpkin — because all the spices would drown out any taste differences.

pumpkin tart raw

And I was right…sort of. In the end, there was a difference between the two pies.

But it has less to do with taste, and more to do with texture.


The canned pumpkin pie was creamier than the pie made with fresh roasted pumpkin.


If I had to choose one, I would choose the fresh roasted pumpkin pie.

I liked the firm texture, although the canned version reminded me of all the pies from Thanksgiving pasts.


So there you have it. Fresh roasted is the way to go…unless I’m pinched for time. Then I’ll pop open a can without a smidgen of guilt.

What will it be for you?  Roasted or canned…or Costco?

Spiced Pumpkin Tart

Pie or tart, it really doesn’t matter what you call it. I named it a tart because I used a tart pan, but it technically is a pie dough, rolled into a tart pan. I did add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the easy buttery pie dough recipe (adding it with the flour in step 1).

The combination of spices — including white pepper — and peppery, fresh ginger makes this a hyper-spiced pie. I love the flavor but really love the tiny bit of heat — a pie that bites back.

Makes 1 deep dish 9-inch tart

1 recipe for easy, buttery pie dough
2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
3/4 cup dark brown sugar*
1-3/4 cup fresh roasted pumpkin puree OR 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon each of: ground cloves, white pepper, allspice
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1. Heat the oven to 375° F. Roll the pie dough out large enough to fill a 9-inch deep dish pie or tart pan (about 13-14 inches). Press gently into pan. If using  a pie pan, crimp edges. If using a tart pan, roll the rolling pin over the top to cut the excess dough off. Chill the dough-filled pan in the fridge.

2. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the evaporated milk and brown sugar.

3. Whisk in the pumpkin puree until blended. Whisk in the remaining ingredients: brandy (if using), fresh ginger, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, white pepper, allspice and nutmeg, until smooth.

4. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the pan. Place in the oven and bake until the center of the pie barely jiggles when moved and the crust is light golden brown (the crust will shrink and the filling will rise.)

5. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. Place the tart pan on a large can, and slip the ring down.

6. Slide the pie off the metal bottom onto a rimless serving platter. (This is a little tricky. I use a thin, large metal pizza spiel, but you could use any wide, thin spatula, working slowly and carefully because a) the pie is hot, and b) it will break if you’re not careful.)

7. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour and then refrigerate until chilled.

8. Slice the pie, when chilled, into 8 or 10 pieces. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream if you like.

*If using light brown sugar instead of dark brown sugar, add 1 teaspoon of molasses.

[NOTE: This pie will keep for 3 or 4 days, but I think it tastes best the 2nd day, which comes in handy, since it needs a while to chill to firm up.]

By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 05, 2009 | DESSERTS

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

Summer Fest 2009 is a multi-week, “cross-pollination” of blogs, created by Margaret Roach from Away To Garden. She enlisted the help of several top food bloggers with the goal of sharing recipes and tips.

The best part is that everyone can participate in the fun, just by leaving comments, and if you’ve written about the topic, leave a link, too. But even if you don’t have a blog, you can still leave a comment. It’s all about sharing — I know I’d love to hear from you.

The first week was all about herbs, this week is fruit-from-trees. Next week is greens and beans, with a grand finale of tomato week.


I’ve chosen nectarines for my Summer Fest fruit-from-trees post. I’ve got nothing against fuzzy peaches, but I just love the smooth-skinned yellow nectarines.

Before I dive into my post about wrapping nectarines and blueberries in a free form pie dough for a very rustic crostata, here’s a look at what some of the other Summer Fest participants are doing:

You’ll find even more links to other great Summer Fest posts by reading the comments on these co-creator blogs. Why, I think you could spend a whole day reveling the wonders of fruits from trees.

Let’s talk about pie, shall we? Crostata is an Italian term for a rustic, free-form, open-faced pie.

This recipe is adapted from a pear and dried sour cherry recipe in my cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook. But since it’s Summer Fest, and pears are definitely not in season, I’ve replaced the winter fruit with what’s in season now.


Nectarines, like peaches, give off lots of juice during baking. I don’t want the juice oozing out of my open-faced pie, so I sprinkle the peaches with sugar and let them sit for a while. It’s really a little bonus for the cook, too. You can drink the juice (maybe mix it with a little rum and a splash of soda? Just sayin’.)


The reason I love crostatas is because they’re fast and easy and you don’t have to be a champion pie crimper. Didn’t roll out your dough into a perfect circle? Who cares! Of course, I do like my silicone pastry sheet with measured circles that lets me know when I’ve reached roughly the right size.


You don’t have to expertly arrange the fruit either. You can just mound it in the center of your not-so-perfect pie dough, letting the fruit fall where it may. Then just pick up an edge and pull it toward the center. Pull up another section a couple inches away, and pleat that over the first piece, working your way all around the pie.


Brush the pie edges with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Granulated sugar works just fine, but raw sugar adds a little more character.


That’s my take on fruit-from-trees for Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?

Nectarine Blueberry Crostata

My Dad would not like this rustic pie for two reasons. 1.) He really hates blueberries. Says they make your breath smell bad. 2.) This pie isn’t very sweet. It’s what I call barely-sweet. That’s why you can add whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream and it doesn’t make the whole dessert just one big tooth-jarring sugar bomb.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 pounds of nectarines, which is about four large ones. I usually buy one more than I need because there is always one nectarine that’s either not ripe enough, or has a bad pit, or bruised. It’s always something.

Serves 6

1 recipe Easy, Buttery Pie Dough
1-1/2 pounds just-ripe nectarines
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon milk or cream or in between
1 tablespoon sugar (I like raw sugar, or big crystal white sugar)
1 tablespoon peach or apricot jam (for glazing, so any light colored jam will do, even strawberry)

1. Make the pie dough and let it chill while you prepare the filling.

2. Cut the nectarines into 1/2-inch wedges. Place in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes. The nectarines will give off about 1/3 a cup or so of juice.

3. Drain the nectarines and return to the bowl. Add the blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss gently.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pie crust out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. And by circle, I mean something similar to round, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a lined baking sheet and unfold.

5. Mound the filling onto the center of the dough, leaving a 2-1/2 to 3-inch border all the way around. Fold the border over the filling, pleating as you go. A good portion of the filling will be uncovered.

6. Brush the dough with the milk or cream, and sprinkle with the sugar.

7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the dough is browned and cooked through.

8. Warm the jam in the microwave for 10 seconds or so and brush the jam on the fruit, to give it a little sheen. Rest the pie 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream if you like.

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