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
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1/4 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 1/4-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 Linda Avery | DECEMBER 01, 2013 | BOOK & PRODUCT REVIEWS

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at award-winning Chef Suzanne Goin’s new book, The A. O. C. Cookbook, named after her second restaurant, plus Linda takes one of Chef Goin’s seasonally appropriate dessert recipes for a spin. 

by Suzanne Goin
with wine notes by Caroline Styne
Photographs by Shimon and Tammar Rothstein

Facts: Alfred A. Knopf, 448 pages, $35.00 (or at Amazon Hardcover: $22.14; Kindle: $13.29)
Photos: over 125
Recipes: 98 not including sub-recipes

Suzanne Goin opens her new cookbook The A.O.C. Cookbook by telling us why it’s taken seven years from receiving a James Beard award for Sunday Suppers at Lucques to write a second cookbook.

She “opened two more restaurants, had three children, moved homes” and more! There’s no question about her ability to multitask. I always felt I liked this woman but the thought was solidified when she said that before having children, she never had anything in the freezer but ice cream and gin (my preference would have been vodka but hey, it’s the thought).

As her first book was named after Lucques, her first restaurant, A.O.C. is the name of her second restaurant. A.O.C. stands for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, the French government’s system for regulating and designating wine, cheese, and other artisanal products. The definition embodied what she wanted from the new restaurant i.e., “celebration of unique products and the joy of tasting and drinking them.”

The book: after the first two chapters, Cheese and Charcuterie, each chapter, from Salads through Dessert, has recipes categorized by season (as she did in Sunday Supper). This book also introduces Goin’s business partner and wine director, Caroline Styne, who has written insightful wine notes for each recipe.

Goin doesn’t disappoint my thirst for headnotes. Whether she’s defining soubise, explaining how she developed a recipe, why she swapped ingredients at the last minute, or telling the story of her six-year-old daughter’s salad dressing recipe, she’s bringing us closer to knowing her.

Here is a sampling of recipes included in the book: Young Goat Cheese with Dried Figs and Saba; Duck Sausage with Candied Kumquats; Roasted Kabocha Squash with Dates, Parmesan, and Pepitas; Grilled Orata with Cauliflower, Fregola, and Persimmon-Pomegranate Salsa; and Pork Cheeks with Polenta, Mustard Cream, and Horseradish Gremolata. There’s also a smattering of recipes from the wood-burning oven and sixteen desserts including S’mores with Caramel Popcorn and Chocolate Sorbet.

Following the recipes is a 50-plus page compendium of A.O.C. cheese which she describes as “a marathon opus collection of cheese information” and she’s not wrong. The list and descriptions are wonderfully informative. If you’re interested, go to this Amazon link and “Look Inside” – type in Page 355 to see some examples.

In the meantime, here is a wonderful, season-appropriate cake you might consider for the holidays.


Persimmon Cake with Crème Fraîche and Maple Pecans

Photo © 2013 Shimon and Tammar Rothstein

Crisp, crunchy varieties of persimmons, like Fuyus, are great eaten out hand, sliced into salads, and diced into salsas, but this cake is the perfect way to show off the softer Hachiya types, which need to be completely soft before they are eaten. My palate has strange textural issues—mostly that I like some oddball ones that other people generally don’t appreciate. Bring on the chewy, the stringy, the slimy, and even snotty textures! The strange gelatinous interior of a super-ripe persimmon reminds me of an aloe plant in a way, and I think it’s that very dense and wet texture that makes this cake so ethereal. This recipe was inspired by farmer James Birch of Flora Bella Farm, who is, shall we say, a little spacey, in the most charming and lovely way— meaning that sometimes he forgets to let anyone know what he’s growing and what he would like to sell. When he comes for lunch, for example, I’ll ask him, “Hey, James, how’s it going?” Then he’ll just happen to mention, “Well, I do have four cases of very ripe chocolate persimmons on my truck.” Thank goodness, Christina and the gang are used to this type of kooky farmer behavior, so she responded, “Great! Let’s bake a cake or two.” I love that these persimmons actually taste of fall and winter—as if they have been grown in fields of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. It’s very strange but so magical to have those flavors reinforced by the fruit itself. This is a great one for the Thanksgiving or Christmas buffet.

Makes one 10-inch cake

For the cake
1 3/4 cups (approximately 3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus a little for the pan
About 3 ripe Hachiya persimmons (to yield 1 cup puréed flesh)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup crème fraîche

For the maple pecans
1 1/2 cups pecans
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (see Note below)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Note: Maple sugar can be found at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, specialty stores, and, of course, online. Although you can substitute turbinado or even brown sugar, the maple sugar makes it extra maple-y and special.

Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

2. Prepare a 10-inch round cake pan by lightly buttering the inside surfaces, lining the bottom with parchment paper, and buttering the parchment.

3. Cook 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) in a small saucepan over high for a few minutes, swirling the pan, until the butter browns and smells nutty. Set aside to cool.

4. Scoop the ripe flesh from the persimmons, and puree in a blender until smooth. Measure out 1 cup puree.

5. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, the spices, and salt in a small bowl, and set aside.

6. In another bowl, combine the puree, 1/4 cup cream, vanilla, and cooled browned butter.

7. Paddle the remaining 1 1/2 cups butter and the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium-high for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg.

8. Decrease the paddle speed to low. Alternately add the flour mixture and persimmon-puree mixture to the bowl, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

9. Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until cake feels springy to the touch.

10. Whip the remaining 3/4 cup cream and the crème fraîche to soft peaks.

Make the maple nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Spread evenly across the prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring every few minutes, for about 10 minutes, or until nuts are toasted.

Cut six slices from the cake (the cake will yield ten to twelve servings), and place on six dessert plates. Dollop with whipped crème fraîche, and scatter the candied pecans over the cake and around the plate.

Wine Note
This cake epitomizes winter with its weighty texture and dense fruitiness. I love how the crème fraîche brings a lightness of body and brightening flavor to the composition, and look for a wine to continue in that mode. Madeira is perfect for this, because, along with its overall nut-laden flavor, it brings a degree of texture and tart acidity to the palate. In this pairing, I opt for one that is in the mid-range of sweetness, made from the Bual or Verdelho grape varieties, which possesses back notes of stone fruits and caramel that will marry with the sweetness of the persimmons and pecans, while its tart acidity works in sync with the crème fraîche.

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 Linda Avery | JULY 28, 2013 | BOOK & PRODUCT REVIEWS

Editor’s note: Linda Avery returns with a look at a new book about Austrian desserts. Take a look and you might, like me, learn a couple new terms. One thing I already knew is how fabulous Quark is. You might check with your local cheese maker if you have one. Phoenix’s Crow’s Dairy makes a fine quark.


Austrian Desserts

Over 400 Cakes, Pastries, Strudels, Tortes, and Candies

by Toni Mörwald and Christoph Wagner @ 2013
photography by Ulride Köb

Facts: Skyhorse Publishing, 448 pages, $29.95 (or Amazon $20.85)
Photos: Over 100
Recipes: Over 400

I came across an interesting dessert book. Austrian Desserts was authored by award-winning pastry chef Toni Mörwald and restaurant critic Christoph Wagner.

It definitely has a foreign flare but it’s very approachable and the recipes are well written. I usually steer away from cookbooks that have been translated for the American audience. Sometimes a straight conversion of ingredients from metric to standard isn’t always precise (another reason to use weights instead of volume!). I’ve also found that on occasion the foreign sourced book may jump from A to C — i.e., the author assumes you know what to do in between.

The book includes cakes, tarts, schnitten (the word threw me for a bit – literally it means cut, but in this context, the author says “the little sister of a torte” – or cut cake), compotes, caramelized fruits, cookies, candies, ice cream, sorbets, sweet dumplings and pancakes. Just when I thought I was gaining weight looking at the list, I came across the “Sweet Health Food Kitchen” chapter which includes recipes like Rice Casserole with Peach Sauce and Almond Gugelhupf, AKA, a Bundt cake.

With an abundance of fruits available to us at this time of year, this book provides a plethora of fruit recipes utilizing apples, apricots, plums, pears, and all sorts of berries (including gooseberries and lingonberries).

Quark makes numerous appearances in this book. This is not the Star Trek character but instead a dairy product. Some have likened it to mascarpone but its flavor is tangier. A better substitute would be Greek yogurt or yogurt cheese but quark is available at Whole Foods. This recipe offers an excellent opportunity to try quark.


Quark Gratin with Apricots

photo by Ulride Köb

Editor’s note: the vanilla sugar required below can easily be made by putting a scraped vanilla bean into (2 cups) sugar. Bury the bean in the sugar and let sit in an airtight container for a week. Or it can be purchased at Penzeys or The Spice House.

Makes 6 servings

Bake Time: just minutes
Bake Temperature: maximum upper heat (broiler)

Garnish Recommendation: vanilla ice cream or apricot sorbet

18 ounces (500 g) quark
1/3 cup (50 g) cornstarch
1/3 cup (80 g) confectioner’s sugar
4 egg yolks
4 teaspoons (2 cl) rum
4 teaspoons (20 g) vanilla sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites
7 tablespoons (100 g) granulated sugar
4 Apricots
Butter for brushing
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

1. Mix the quark with cornstarch, confectioner’s sugar, egg yolks, rum, vanilla sugar, and lemon zest.

2. Begin beating the egg whites, add granulated sugar, and beat to stiff peaks. Fold into the quark mixture.

3. Pit the apricots and cut into slices.

4. Butter deep oven-safe dishes*, portion the quark mixture into each, and lay the apricot slices on top.

5. Put the gratin on maximum upper heat (under the broiler), for 2-5 minutes (depending on the strength of your broiler). Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve right away.

Editor’s note: *ramekins

By Linda Avery | AUGUST 05, 2012 | BOOK & PRODUCT REVIEWS

Editor’s note: Linda Avery takes Shaina Olmanson’s new cookbook, Desserts in Jars for a spin, including a recipe for caramel cheesecake. After coming to terms with the cupcake trend, read on to see what she thinks about the latest trend in desserts.

Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats That Shine

by Shaina Olmanson
photos by Shaina Olmanson

Facts: Harvard Common Press, 160 pages, $16.95 (or Amazon $11.18)
Photos: 60
Recipes: 50
Give To: Crafty bakers, young moms, anyone with a sweet tooth, and your BFF.

I would have lost big money betting on when the cupcake craze would have ended. After a while I revised my thinking to “okay, it’s not a cupcake craze but a cupcake wave.”

Later I ratcheted it up to a cupcake tsunami… but there comes a time when reality sets in: cupcakes are here to stay.

People love them for a variety of reasons: they’re a single serving, the ratio of frosting to cake is more than on a slice of cake and unlike a slice of cake, they don’t have to all look alike, and they bring back happy childhood memories.

So what could be even better? How about having those qualities and adding greater portability to the mix and not having to worry about smushing the frosting?

In her book, Desserts in Jars: 50 Sweet Treats that Shine, Shaina Olmanson does a credible job of demonstrating the versatility of using a four or eight-ounce jar as the vessel for presenting dessert.

She’s developed creative recipes for cakes, pies, fruit and frozen desserts, all in jars. The last chapter “Mixes for Giving” has seven recipes such as Cinnamon Coffee Cake Mix and White Chocolate Spice Cookie Mix to be made in 1-quart jars, tied with a ribbon and a gift tag. And for those of us who are goal-oriented, there’s a photo for each recipe.

Olmanson gives tips on choosing the perfect jar, how to fill the jars, i.e., layering, scooping, and using a pastry bag, how to bake or freeze in jars, and how to make the perfect pie crust. There’s a list of sources for jars in the book, too, but I found these attractive quilted jars on Amazon – $16.50 for a dozen four-ounce jars.

I love serving individually prepared desserts for guests. I think they convey a “just for you” sentiment. I’ve chosen Caramel Crème Cheesecakes to share with you but you can see her recipes for Peach-Raspberry Verrines with Lemon-Thyme Crème and Cardamom Pear Crisps on Amazon.

Bring these desserts to book club, a picnic, or a potluck — just be sure to count your empties on the way out the door.

This relatively inexpensive book will be one of my hostess gifts – I may even throw in a quart jar filled with Espresso Brownies Mix.

Caramel Crème Cheesecakes

Photo © Shaina Olmanson

There’s nothing quite like a simple baked cheesecake. The creamy perfection, smooth with every bite, slides easily over your tongue, all accented with a crisp graham cracker crust. This particular cheesecake keeps things simple−it’s topped only with a bit of caramel crème.

Makes sixteen 4-ounce cheesecakes or eight 8-ounce cheesecakes

For the graham cracker crust
Oil for greasing the jars
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the caramel sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease the bottoms and sides of sixteen 4-ounce jars or eight 8-ounce jars.

Make the crust
1. In a medium-size bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in the butter and mix until all of the crumbs are coated.

2. Divide the crumb mixture evenly among the jars and use a wine cork or other small, flat-bottomed object to press down into the bottoms of the jars to form the crusts. Set aside.

Make the cheesecake
1. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat for 1 minute until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition. Mix in the sour cream and vanilla. Spoon or pour the cheesecake filling over the crusts in the jars to 1/2 inch from the top.

2. Arrange the jars 2 inches apart in high-sided baking pans, such as 9 x 13-inch cake pans, with each pan lined with a clean kitchen towel. Place the pans with the jars in the oven and carefully add hot water to the pans to come halfway up the sides of the jars.

3. Bake the cheesecakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or just until their centers are almost set. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecakes and water to cool slowly in the oven. When the cheesecakes and water have cooled slightly, remove the pans carefully from the oven and remove the cheesecakes from the pans. Allow to cool completely, cover the jars, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Make the caramel sauce
1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Cover and cook until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Watching closely, boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid turns golden brown, about 15 minutes. As soon as the color turns, reduce the heat to medium and slowly stir in the cream. The caramel will be hard, but continue cooking until the caramel melts into the cream and the sauce is thick, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Pour the caramel sauce over the cheesecakes. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

By Linda Avery | FEBRUARY 22, 2012 | BOOK & PRODUCT REVIEWS

Canal House Cooking Volume No. 7: La Dolce Vita

by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
photos by Christopher Hirsheimer; illustrations by Melissa Hamilton

Facts: Andrews McMeel Publishing LLC,  124 pages, $29.95 (or Amazon at $12.90)
Photos: 55, plus illustrations
Recipes: 66
Give To: Passionate home cooks with a bent toward Italian cooking

At the risk of being accused of having a bias toward Italian cookbooks, I’m going to review two in a row. But, other than the fact that each book has tasty Italian recipes, they couldn’t be more different. And, Canal House Cooking, Volume 7: La Dolce Vita is a gem.

Canal House — which happens to be on a canal — isn’t a restaurant but rather a studio/kitchen/atelier where Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton cook every day. They are proponents of home cooking – even the tagline is “home cooking, by home cooks, for home cooks.”

Oh, and you noticed that this is Volume No. 7? Previous volumes focused on seasonal, holiday, and farmers’ market cooking. Then one afternoon, a lunch of cannelloni inspired them to focus on Italian food, specifically homemade food.

To have true in-depth knowledge of Italian home cooking, they needed to be on Italian soil. A rustic Tuscan farmhouse was their base camp for a month – daily excusions would be their fodder. The first day they noticed that a vegetable farmer was within walking distance and hiking a bit further they “passed a garage with the door rolled up and noticed two aproned women… chatting away as they plucked a pile of chickens.” Back at the farmhouse that evening, they dined on roasted capon with chestnut stuffing. Each day was an adventure that ended in the kitchen developing recipes and recreating flavors.

The experience yielded toothsome recipes like Speck, Fontina & Lemon Panino, Salt Cod with Tomatoes and Green Olives, Braised Lamb & Green Beans and Vin Santo-Poached Pears with Gorgonzola Dolce. All courses are represented in clear and well written recipes, i.e., a few cocktail recipes followed by antipasti, soups, pasta and rice, fish, meats and desserts. Salute Melissa and Christopher!

To see Canal House and hear the authors talk about Italianate cooking watch this video.

Gelato di Gianduia

Makes about 1 quart

photo © by Christopher Hirsheimer

In any form, the classic Piemontese combination of toasted hazelnuts and chocolate is one of our favorite flavors. You’ll see why, when you taste this luxurious gelato.

3 cups skinned hazelnuts
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. When cool, finely grind 2 cups of the nuts in a food processor. Chop the remaining cup of nuts and set them aside.

2. Put the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in finely ground nuts, and steep for one hour. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into another saucepan, pressing on the solids before discarding them. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

3. Put the egg yolks, salt, and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar into a medium mixing bowl and whisk together until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in the cocoa. Gradually ladle about 1 cup hot milk into the yolks, whisking constantly. Stir the warm yolk mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan. Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and registers between 175°F and 180°F on an instant read thermometer, about 3-5 minutes.

4. Strain the custard into a medium bowl. Add the liqueur and vanilla and stir frequently until cool. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 4 hours. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

5. Churn the custard in an ice-cream maker following the manufacturer’s directions. Just before the gelato has finished churning, add the reserved chopped nuts, letting the paddle stir them in. Transfer the gelato to a quart container with a lid. Cover and freeze for a couple of hours or until it is just firm.

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

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