Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jam Session

As the summer winds down, so do the farmers’ market baskets brimming with peaches, plums and nectarines. One of the best ways to hang on to a little bit of summer during the cold, cruel winter months (forgetting for a moment that I live in South Florida) is by making homemade preserves. When I think of the best 

preserves I’ve ever tasted, I think of Frenchwoman Christine Ferber. Ferber has a small shop in the Alsatian village of Niedermorschwihr. She is the daughter of fourth-generation bakers and pastry-makers and as a child spent hours watching her father work. When it was time for her to do her apprenticeship, she couldn’t

find an Alsatian pastry master who would teach a woman, so she left home to spend three years in Brussels. When she returned, she devoted herself to her passion: creating the finest jams in the world by capturing the essence of natural fruit flavors. Her secrets? Precision and patience. She makes over 200 flavors of

jams and sells them to some of the finest restaurants in the world. Here are some of her intriguing flavor combinations:

            Strawberry with Black Pepper and Fresh Mint
            Peach with Lavender Honey
            Wild Blueberry with Pinot Noir and Licorice
            Pear with Jasmine Mandarin Tea
            Green Apple & Wild Prune Jelly
            Melon and Raspberry with Citrus Zest
            Raspberry and Litchi with Rose Water
            Rhubarb, Apples and Gewürtzraminer
            Spiced Green Walnut

You can find many of Ferber’s recipes in her book Mes Confitures (Michigan State University Press, 2002), or, if you prefer, you can buy her jam online from Borne Confections ( Following is a recipe I adapted from the book. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Frozen Strawberries-and-Cream Parfaits

It’s a beautiful day in South Florida. Hot, yes, but sunny and not terribly humid. I started this fine Sunday off playing tennis, and after about an hour of batting the ball around I resembled a half-drowned water rat (not a good look, in case you were unsure). But after a quick shower, I was revived and ready to whip up

something sweet and refreshing. Given the weather, granita came to mind, but I wanted something a little more indulgent – something more like a snowcone on steroids.  I ultimately decided to pair a fresh strawberry granita with vanilla ice cream in a simple parfait as a play on strawberries and cream. The result reminds

me of a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar, but, of course, much better (as it’s actually made with real ingredients). You can use homemade ice cream or a good quality store bought – I used Haagen Daaz, which I think is really excellent. Another good option for the granite flavor is orange (think creamsicle) or Campari Grapefruit, a more sophisticated combination.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Perfect Peach Pie

I must apologize for my neglect of this blog lately – I’ve been working feverishly on a new cookbook and find I don’t have as much time to devote to extra-curricular activities as I’d like. But there are occasions when I come across a beautiful ingredient, the look and fragrance of which compels me to make a

dessert and share it with you. Yesterday, I succumbed to a batch of fragrant peaches at the farmers’ market. One sniff and I was committed. Next thing I knew, I was rolling out pie dough, slicing peaches and laying down strips of dough to form a lattice top. Nothing says summer like a home-baked peach pie. Simple

as they are, pies take time to craft, but they are worth every bit of the effort that goes into them. For the pie crust, I chose to add a little whole wheat flour to give it an earthy note that complements the sweet peaches. A bit of white vinegar (undetectable in the finished pastry) make the crust tender, while a sprinkling of

demerara sugar gives it some crunch. For the filling, I decided not to peel the peaches; just sliced them and tossed them together with some lemon juice and zest, ground cinnamon and some finely chopped crystallized ginger. Quick-cooking tapioca thickens the juices in the finished pie. The crust gets a jump on

browning when it’s put in a 425 degree F oven for the first 15 minutes of baking. If you find it’s browning too quickly, simply tent some foil over the top for the remainder of baking. After it’s cooled, serve a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato. Perfection.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Black & Blue (Berry) Crisps

Yesterday was a perfect summer day, all blue skies and gentle breeze. My sister was visiting from California for two short days, so we spent our time together laughing and talking and eating, really not doing too much of anything, just sitting in the sun and enjoying each others’ company. I think that’s what

summer’s all about – taking the time to enjoy life a bit and forgetting around all the minutiae that can clog up our lives. We reminisced about the good old days growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1970’s. My memories of those days are very happy, especially the ones associated with summer. We had a big raspberry

bush in the backyard, and I don’t think anything could ever be as delicious to me as the tart little berries we picked from it. To this day, that particular flavor evokes a flood of good memories. If you have access to freshly picked summer berries, count yourself lucky, and turn them into something simple and wonderful, like a

warm crisp. It couldn’t be simpler to make and when served with vanilla ice cream or gelato, as I did, it’s a 4-star dessert.

Black & Blue (Berry) Crisps

Makes 4 servings

1 pint blueberries
1 pint blackberries
1/3 cup (71 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons (14 g) cornstarch
¼ cup (60 ml) tart cherry juice or water
2 teaspoons (8 g) finely grated lemon zest

Streusel Topping:
½ cup (66 g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (162 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup (60 g) slivered almonds, toasted
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons (70 g) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

Prepare the berry mixture:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl, toss together the berries, brown sugar, cornstarch, cherry juice (or water) and lemon zest. Divide the mixture among four 8-ounce ramekins or gratin dishes.

Make the topping:
3. In the bowl of a food process, pulse together the flour, brown sugar, almond and salt until the almonds are ground (but not finely ground). Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is crumbly.

Bake the crisps:
4. Sprinkle the topping over the berry mixture in each ramekin. Bake the crisps on a baking sheet for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping is browned and the mixture is bubbly.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blueberry Financiers

Everyone told me that once I moved to Florida, I would never want to bake again. “Much too hot, especially in the summer” they warned. “You won’t want to do anything,” they would say with a knowing nod. Well, ok, I thought, I’ll just watch reruns of The Golden Girls and wait patiently for death – that’ll be my new raison

d’être. Plenty of folks in that club down in Florida, right? Well, happily, life (and baking) seems to continue in the Sunshine State. In fact, because almost every day is sunny and beautiful, I no longer feel compelled to rush out and “enjoy the day” while it’s fine, as I did in New York, instead of puttering around in my kitchen

dreaming up new recipes. And since my kitchen is a comfortably regulated 76 degrees F. at all times, I never even notice that it’s hot. Unless of course, I venture out to buy groceries or run an errand. Yesterday I even went for a power walk at midday (I’m still practically a tourist, so I’m allowed to make a few mistakes now

and then). Thanks to the wonder of A.C., I am also able to continue my habit of drinking hot tea everyday, preferably with a home-baked cookie or treat. Financiers, the small French almond and butter tea cake, are among my favorite tea-time sweets. This recipe comes from my friend and pastry idol François Payard

of Payard Patisserie in NYC, and it’s worth saving. Made with almond flour and fragrant browned butter, these little cakes are tender and flavorful. Here I topped each cake with a couple of fresh blueberries, but you can used raspberries or thin slices of plum or peach, if you like. If you don’t have a financer mold (and most people don’t), use mini-muffin pans. They even sell them down here...:)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lavender and Honey Parfait

Lavender is one of those flavors that scares people, and rightly so. Use too much, and your dessert ends up tasting like a bar of your Grandmother’s soap. But when it’s used correctly, lavender adds a subtle touch of summer-in-Provence and an unforgettable flavor. It’s a natural paired with honey and cream, as in this  

delicate frozen parfait, a French classic. I used a dried food-grade lavender (I got mine from, but you can also use fresh lavender from your garden. You can top the parfait with sliced strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries, but I think I like blueberries best. If you prefer, you can also freeze this

dessert in a plastic wrap-lined loaf pan. Just unmold it and serve it sliced with the berries on top.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Watermelon Daiquiris

Taking advantage of the abundance of fresh fruit is one of the perks of summer. Fresh berries, melons and stone fruits naturally lend themselves to a variety of desserts, but they also make wonderful cocktails – and nothing puts dinner guests 

in a better mood than being greeted with a special cocktail (with or without alcohol) made with fresh fruit. Though this blog is mostly focused on desserts, occasionally I get a little side-tracked and spotlight something served before the 

main course instead of after. Yesterday I found some adorable miniature seedless watermelons in my local supermarket, and just couldn’t resist their pull. Because of their high water content and natural sweetness, watermelons make 

particularly delicious cocktails. And because the flavors watermelon and lime pair so well, a watermelon daiquiri is one of my favorite summer drinks. Freezing the watermelon ensures an ice-cold drink, while adding a little Cointreau adds a subtle

floral note. This daiquiri is perfectly balanced, with a strong rum kick. Be careful, these babies will sneak up on you. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Raspberry Almond Tartlets

This week I was all set to make some Strawberry Almond Tartlets, but, sadly, I couldn’t come up with any decent strawberries. I really wanted some freshly picked farm strawberries bursting with flavor, but all I could find were big, 

cottony, flavorless berries from the supermarket. Ugh. Not to be deterred, I quickly subbed raspberries for the strawberries and, I must say, was very happy with the results. These little tartlets have a flaky tart crust and a baked frangipane 

filling flavored with a little dark rum, a trick I learned from pastry chef Francois Payard. The rum adds some depth to the almonds without being overwhelming. I topped the frangipane filling with a thin layer of raspberry preserves, then 

garnished the tartlets with fresh raspberries and a swirl of whipped cream. I sweeten the cream with a little confectioners’ sugar, which also stabilizes it (owing to the cornstarch), allowing it to hold up longer than cream sweetened with granulated sugar. If you’re looking for a more rustic, homespun look, don’t glaze the raspberries with jam and spoon the cream on top instead of piping it. I tend to prefer a sleeker, pastry shop look myself, but to each his own, I say!

Raspberry Almond Tartlets

Makes eight 3 ½-inch tartlets

Tart Dough:
1 ½ cups (181 g) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (43 g) cake flour
3/4 teaspoon sugar
¼ plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and frozen for 20 minutes
3 tablespoons shortening
2 1/2 tablespoons ice water

Almond Cream:
10 1/2 Tbsp (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar   
1 2/3 cups (150 g) almond flour
3 large eggs
1 ¾ tablespoons (15 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum, such as Myers’s (optional)

Raspberry preserves
Two 10-ounce containers fresh raspberries
1 cup (232 g) heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely chopped pistachio nuts

Make the tart dough:
1. Place the flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse few times to combine. Add the butter pieces and shortening and toss lightly to coat with flour. Blend the fat and flour with about five 1-second pulses or until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal with some of the butter pieces the size of peas. Sprinkle the water over the flour mixture and process continuously until the dough begins to clump together.  Do not over-process; the dough should not form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape it into a thick 4-inch wide disc. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to roll, about 30 minutes.
2. Place unwrapped dough on a work surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/16-inch thickness, lifting and rotating the dough often, while dusting the work surface and dough lightly with flour as necessary. Using a 5-inch pastry cutter (or use a paring knife with a plate as a guide), cut out as many rounds from the dough as you can. Gently press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of 3 ½-inch tartlet pans. Roll the pin over the top of the pans to trim off the excess dough. Reroll the remaining dough scraps and repeat to make a total of 8 tartlet shells. Lightly prick the bottom of the dough in each pan with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Refrigerate the dough in the pans for 20 minutes to firm up the dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Right before baking, line the dough in each pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and cover with pie weights or dried beans. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the foil (along with the weights) out of the tart pans and bake the crust for 10 minutes longer. Leave the oven on. Transfer the tartlet pans to a wire rack and cool completely.

Make the Almond Cream:
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together at medium speed until well-combined and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the almond flour and mix until combined. Add the eggs in three stages, making sure that each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Add the flour, vanilla extract and rum and mix until combined.
5. Scrape the Almond Cream into the cooled tartlet shells and smooth it into an even layer. Place the tartlet pans on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Finish the tartlets:
6. Spread the tartlets with a thin layer of raspberry preserves. Arrange a circle of raspberries around the edge of each tartlet. Spoon some of the raspberry preserves into a fine-mesh sieve and press it through to remove the seeds (if they’re cold, warm them in the microwave for 10 seconds or so). Brush some of the strained preserves onto the raspberries to make them shine.
7. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and whip to stiff peaks. Transfer to pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip (Ateco #6). Pipe a swirl of whipped cream in the center of each tartlet and garnish with finely chopped pistachios. Refrigerate the tartlets until ready to serve.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Debra’s Ponzek’s Chocolate Espresso Bars

One of my favorite restaurants in New York in the 1990’s was Montrachet, a three-star restaurant in Tribeca known for its innovative, Provence-inspired cuisine. Not only were the food and ambience amazing, but it had the distinction of having a woman chef at its helm, unusual for a French restaurant. Debra Ponzek was a pioneer, and happily, her cooking gained the praise of customers as well as 

critics. Her food was intensely flavored and simply presented – no gimmicks, just well perfectly prepared Meditterranean dishes such as her coq au Riesling (a twist on coq au vin). 
            I was the editor of Chocolatier magazine back then, and we named her pastry chef, David Blom, one of the Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America, so I got to 

meet Debra and see her in action in that small, hot Montrachet kitchen. She was unruffled. Eventually she moved on – got married, moved to Connecticut and opened Aux Delices, gourmet food shops in three locations in Connecticut. Here Debra offers delicious food including main courses (Pork Scallopini with apple raisin chutney), salads (Bloody Mary Tomato Salad), sandwiches and tea 

sandwiches and, of course, dessert. They also offer cooking classes and catering. If you live anywhere near Greenwich, you know all about Aux Delices – Debra’s food is simple and inspiring.
            And now she’s just released a cookbook, written with Mary Goodbody, The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook: Delicious, Inspiring Meals for Busy Families (Running Press, 2013; $22). The recipes are for the same kind of food you’ll find

at Aux Delices, things like Charred Pepper, Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad, Roasted Cod with Bacon and Leeks, Chicken Paillard with Nectarine Chutney and Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto (I’m getting hungry here). There aren’t a lot of dessert recipes in the book (the busy family doesn’t always have time for sweets), but she does have a few favorites, like Apple Bars, Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, Coconut and Lime Cream Pie and Chocolate Espresso Bars, which are really espresso-flavored brownies. I chose these because I was craving a good brownie, and I’m always curious to try new brownie recipes. Debra’s version is indulgent and rich with a strong hit of espresso flavor to round out the intensity of the chocolate. I cut them into squares, wrapped them individually and frozen them so that I could enjoy them whenever I got the urge.  Looking forward to trying lots more recipes – sweet and savory – in this book by one of my favorite chefs.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Caramelized Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Driving around in my new tropical habitat yesterday, I came across a little produce shop that carried farm-fresh veggies and fruit. I asked the proprietor if he had any rhubarb and he said, “We carried it for a while, but it just rotted because no one was buying it.” Imagine that! Local taste be damned. Undaunted, I 

continued the hunt and found some at a nearby “gourmet” supermarket. My first thought was to make a lovely rustic pie, but I wanted something that would be done sooner, as I needed to clean out my kitchen in preparation for some renovation that was about to happen (nothing major – just replacing an appalling 

backsplash). An upside-down cake was just the ticket. I based it on a recipe that appeared in my cake book, the Peach Tatin Cake, which also works well with rhubarb. Because rhubarb is a bit tart, the sweet caramel balances it beautifully. Serve it warm with rhubarb sauce, if you like (email me if you want the recipe), 

and certainly some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Even the locals are bound to love this one.