Saturday, January 28, 2012

Homemade “Hostess” Orange Cupcakes

My husband has a sterling pedigree, and claims that his family landed in America sometime before the Mohegans. I am a bit dubious, of course, and the truth is, I would’ve married him 
if he had been a plumber named Manny, because I’m crazy about 

him (and plumbers are so expensive), but that’s another story. Despite his Mayflower lineage, some of Dicky’s tastes can only be described as, well, low. VERY low. On one of our first dates, for example, he stopped at a newsstand to get some Chuckles after 

dinner. Chuckles??? Who knew they even made those squashed gumdrops anymore, for Pete’s sake?? I tried to convince myself that they were really just commercially-made pates des fruits, but, deep-down, I knew better. And then there’s his unapologetic, misty-eyed 

nostalgia for Swanson’s turkey T.V. dinners. What would the pilgrims say? They feed those to prisoners, don’t they? But nothing is more alarming than his occasional penchant for late-night trips to buy Hostess Orange Cupcakes. You, know, those chemically 

enhanced yellow-orange numbers topped with neon-orange plaster and a squiggle of something that looks very suspiciously like Elmer’s Glue. It’s all quite shocking, particularly given my chosen occupation as a dessert and baking expert. But “in for a penny, in for a pound,” as they say, so I embrace all of Dicky’s low-brow preferences (Salisbury steak, anyone?). So, here’s my homage to that icon of the chemically-enhanced dessert snack world, the Hostess Orange Cupcake, made with real ingredients. It’s an American classic, after all. Just like Dicky.

Note: I used Cara Cara orange zest and juice in this recipe. The Cara Cara is a sweet, low-acid navel orange which has the appearance of a common orange on the outside, but has a pinkish colored pulp as seen in the photo above. For the chocolate version of these cupcakes, click here

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Roasted Banana Muffins

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of roasting. Roasting is a good way to concentrate and intensify flavors in vegetables and fruits. I like to roast my carrots when making carrot soup, for example, and sliced 

mushrooms for mushroom soup. And beets, of course, are lovely when roasted. Though most people don’t think of roasting bananas, it’s an excellent way to bring out their musky flavor, especially if  

you sprinkle them with brown sugar and a bit of dark rum first. I recently came across a recipe for Roasted Banana Muffins, and decided to give them a go. The recipe comes from Eric Lanlard, a

 London-based pâtissier and owner of Cake Boy pastry shop. Eric’s original recipe did not include a streusel topping – he called for topping with banana chips – but I added it because everything

 tastes better with streusel, non? Eric has a book out now, Cake Boy: Home Baking from Master Pâtissier (Mitchell Beazely, 2011), and is working on another book on tarts, Tart It Up, which will be out in the fall. You’ll also be seeing him on t.v. soon, so stay tuned, because after meeting him I can tell you that he’s as charming as he is talented.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

François Payard’s Warm Chocolate Tart

There are times when I want to make something really indulgent, and really simple. You know, a dessert that won’t mess up every pot, pan, bowl and whisk in my kitchen and leave me with bits of 

meringue and melted chocolate in my hair. This warm chocolate tart, created by pastry chef François Payard, fits the bill perfectly. Years ago, I worked on François’ first book, Simply Sensational 

Desserts (Broadway Books, 1999), rewriting and testing all the recipes, and this was one of my favorites. François’ tart dough, made in the food processor with flour, confectioners’ sugar, a whole

 egg and lots of butter, is very easy to work with and doesn’t crumble when you slice it, which is a big plus. The filling is an unfussy combination of melted bittersweet chocolate (I used a good quality 

60% variety), cream, milk and egg. It’s baked for a short time and should be served warm, with either ice cream or whipped cream. Thank you, François, it’s delicious.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Classic Tart Tatin with Rum Raisin Ice Cream

There’s good reason that the classic Tarte Tatin is one of the most popular desserts in France, a country that is known for its great desserts: it’s really, really good. And it also happens to be pretty

easy to prepare, as long as you’re not queasy about intimate action with a little hot caramel. Created by Stephanie Tatin, one of the sisters who operated the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France, 

in the 1880s, Tarte Tatin is an upside down tart that is made by cooking apples in a buttery caramel, topping it with a round of puff pastry and baking until it’s golden-brown, sweet and juicy. Then 

the whole deal is flipped over onto a plate and served warm, au natural, or with whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My preference is for a quenelle of rum raisin ice cream, which has a 

sweet, musky flavor that works so well apples and caramel. I like to use slightly tart Granny Smiths in my Tatin, but feel free to use any firm apple, such as Gala, Fuji or Honey Crisp.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Citrus Ricotta Cheesecake

It’s a new year, and with it comes lots of good intentions and new resolutions. I usually make one or two, half-heartedly, but never seem to keep them. So this year, I’m going to be a realist. My 2012 resolutions are: 1) gain 15 pounds and 2) take up smoking. Okay, so 

I’m not serious, but I’m also not planning on making any unrealistic resolutions that I don’t have a shot at keeping. I love good food, especially desserts, and I plan on eating them (in moderation, of course) throughout the year. Which brings me to cheesecake, one 

of my favorite desserts. I love it in all forms and flavors, and this is one of my top picks, made with ricotta cheese. It’s a no-bake cheesecake that comes together in under an hour, and just needs to chill for at least 4 hours before serving. And because you blend the 

ricotta in a food processor, the cake has a silky-smooth texture that contrasts nicely with the crunchy graham cracker crust. The citrus flavor of the cake is intensified by blending the sugar with orange and lemon zest, which releases the essential oils of the fruit. And just a touch of gelatin gives this cake its soft structure. Oh, one last resolution for me—I resolve not to eat this whole cake (I promise to give my husband a piece). Happy New Year to you all!!