Plum (or Apple)and Almond Paste Tart

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The French and Italians learned a long time ago that more does not always mean better. While I love a really good “mile-high” apple pie (and my mother still made the best, in my opinion) there is definitely something to be said for a simple fruit tart with just a thin, but very flavorful filling. This recipe (and I use the term loosely) is very flexible. I made it with golden delicious apples for Rosh HaShana and it would also be delicious with other stone fruit such as apricots or peaches. It is easy to throw together and the resulting tart will draw surprised looks and oohs and aahs with that first bite. The surprise comes from the layer of almond paste that lines the pastry shell and makes this seemingly simple dessert so decadent and satisfying. This tart was made with some end of season plums that were available in the market.

Lisa’s Plum (or Apple) and Almond Paste Tart

Yield: One 9-inch tart that serves 6-8 (A little goes a long way)

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Ingredients

One unbaked 9-inch pastry shell (This is my go-to crust, which is also vegan)

About 4 medium plums or about 3-4 apples

7 ounces of almond paste (I like Odense brand)

1/4 cup of granulated, raw, or Demerara sugar

2 Tablespoons sliced natural almonds (optional)

1 Tablespoon of Amaretto (optional)

2 Tablespoons of good margarine or unsalted butter (My preference is for butter, but a good margarine will do)

About 2 Tablespoons apple or red currant jelly

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line a shallow pie plate or fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (If you are going to be baking , you really should buy one of these.) Roll out the almond paste into a 9-inch circle. Don’t worry about being perfect. A little patching won’t show. Refrigerate or freeze the dough while you prepare the fruit.
  3. Wash, dry and slice the fruit into thin (but not so thin that you see through!) slices – between 1/8 and 1/4 inches. Remove the dough from the fridge or freezer. Lay out the slices of fruit so that they slightly overlap and form concentric circles. Sprinkle with the sugar and scatter the almonds, if using, and then generously dot with the butter.
  4. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet to catch any oozing that might occur. Bake for about 45-55 minutes. Ovens vary so watch the tart. You want the fruit giving off some juice and the pastry should be golden.
  5. Remove the tart from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Sprinkle the tart with the Amaretto, if using. While the tart is till warm, carefully brush the fruit with a little of the apple or red currant jelly. It isn’t essential to do this step, but this not only adds a bit more fruit flavor but it also gives the tart that gem-like glisten you see in professional tarts. I was able to buy a wonderful apple jelly online that is very clear and which just melts beautifully over the fruit. If you can’t find a really clear jelly you might need to heat and strain the jelly before using it.
  6. Allow the tart to completely cool before removing it from the tart ring. You should slice relatively small wedges for serving. It may not look it, but this is quite rich and a little goes a long way.

Fresh Blueberry Cobbler

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Even though fresh berries are now available year-round, nothing says summer quite like a fresh berry dessert. I make a great blueberry pie and so does Frances, but sometimes you want a blueberry cobbler and this one is it! I came across the recipe from the website kitchn – another favorite food site that I frequent. I don’t know if its claim as the “ultimate blueberry cobbler” is accurate, but I will say that it is darn good. And best of all, it can be thrown together in a few minutes. All you need is some really good quality vanilla ice cream for serving and summer dessert doesn’t get any better than this. One thing I love about this recipe is that it is neither gummy nor overly sweet. And the biscuits are a real treat; they are both light and moist and just perfect for soaking up the blueberry liquid. The recipe’s originator talked about the secret ingredient of the coriander. I honestly didn’t taste anything in particular that I could identify, but the overall effect was just lovely.

Fresh Blueberry Cobbler by Sheela Prakash of the kitchn and tweaked ever so slightly by me

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

2 pints or 5 cups fresh blueberries (24 ounces total), washed and dried well
1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Sanding or casting sugar for garnish
Vanilla ice cream for serving

Directions   IMG_3371

  1.  Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375°F.
  2.  Toss together the blueberries, 1/2 cup of the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and coriander in a large bowl.  (I mixed the dry ingredients together first and then sifted them over the berries so there wouldn’t be any lumps. Then I added the lemon juice and gently tossed everything being careful to not break up the berries.) Transfer the mixture to an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or divide among 8 (6-ounce) ramekins.
  3.  Mix the flour, remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt for the cobbler topping in a separate large bowl. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of the cream and stir until the dough is shaggy.
  4.  Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead the dough just until it all comes together, about 30 seconds.
  5.  Pat the dough into a 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Cut into 8 square pieces or pat handfuls of dough into thick palm-sized disks if using ramekins. (I used a star cookie cutter because it was the 4th of July and because it was fun.)
  6.  If baking in an 8 x 8-inch baking dish, overlap the disks on top of the blueberries to make a “cobblestone” look. If baking in individual ramekins, top each ramekin with a disk of dough. If you have any extra topping, crumble it and sprinkle it over the surface of the cobbler. Sprinkle the biscuit dough with the sanding or casting sugar.
  7.  Place the baking dish or ramekins on a baking sheet to catch drips, or place aluminum foil beneath it in the oven. Bake until the topping is turning golden-brown around the edges and the fruit filling is bubbling, 25 to 30 minutes for the individual ramekins, or 45 to 55 minutes for the 8 x 8-inch baking dish.  The blueberries will bubble up quite a bit and then will settle down once it is out of the oven.IMG_3372
  8.   Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Everything needs to settle down. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with vanilla ice cream.

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

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My husband has never met a custard that he didn’t like, so when he asked me what a clafouti was that was in the case of a local bakery, I decided to surprise him by making one. I confess that I actually enjoy the occasional mindless, slightly tedious task that can be involved with food preparation. It’s a great time to catch up on my own thoughts or to have a cozy moment with a child, spouse or friend. So when this recipe called for 1 pound of stoned cherries, I didn’t flinch. If you don’t enjoy snapping the ends off of crisp green beans or peeling vegetables, then you can use a different fruit or a well-drained canned, pitted cherry. I, however, had some lovely, ripe cherries, a sharp paring knife and 20 minutes to spare for the task.

This recipe comes from an old French pastry book that I purchased in 1977. It is the Gaston Lenôtre’s Desserts and Pastries. So what is clafouti? It’s a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. This recipe uses a short pastry crust underneath. I know that my husband will be very happy tonight when dessert-time rolls around.

Cherry Clafouti (Clafouti aux Cerises)

Yield: Two 8-inch flans (about 6-8 servings)

Ingredients

Short pastry dough for 2 8-inch pie plates or flan pans

1 cup of whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

6.5 Tablespoons heavy cream

4 large eggs

Generous 3/4 cup, granulated sugar

4 drops orange blossom water (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1 pound of fresh, ripe cherries, halved with the pits removed (You will end up with about 3 cups of fruit)

Directions

  1. Roll out the dough and line 2 lightly buttered 8-inch pie plates or flan pans
  2. Refrigerate the pans for at least 1 hour before baking. This can be done one day ahead.
  3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Line the 2 pie shells with waxed paper or foil and using dried beans or pie weights, bake the pie shells for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the paper or foil and weights and set the shells aside.
  5. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan and allow it to gently boil for one minute. (If you are using a vanilla bean, you will add it in with the milk.) Don’t do what I did which was to carry on a texting conversation with my husband while the milk was on the stove. Of course, the milk boiled over. What a mess! After 1 minute, turn off the heat and add the cream and vanilla bean paste, if using. In all honesty, I’m not certain that this step is necessary. I have made plenty of flan and other custards over the years and I never cook the milk first…
  6. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with a wire whisk, until smooth and light yellow in color. Beating constantly, add the milk mixture a little at a time to temper the eggs. Stir in the orange blossom water. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of cold water and continue beating until the mixture is smooth and cold. You should end up with 3 cups of liquid.
  7. Fill the half-cooked pie shells with the cherries. Pour the creamy filling over the fruit. The pie pan should be no more than 3/4 full. Bake for about 20 minutes. Serve the clafouti warm or cold. IMG_3342

NOTE: If you use a fluted flan pan instead of a pie plate, you will have more ingredients than the pan can easily hold. I used one flan pan and one pie plate (both 8-inches) and ended up with a little of the custard left over because the flan pan isn’t as deep as the pie plate. The flan pan baked in exactly 20 minutes. The pie plate which was deeper took somewhat longer.

Pistachio, Chocolate and Dried Cherries Tart

Valentine’s Day for some reason always means chocolate dessert for me.  Whether it’s a molten lava cake or a sachertorte or really any other chocolate dessert.  This would be great for this year’s weekday Valentine’s as it is easy to make ahead.

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We found this recipe after watching the Food Network and much to my pleasant surprise, this ended up being one of those recipes turns out exactly as you would expect.  I might have had to go to two or three different grocery stores to find the ingredients (dried cherries in a pinch are at Trader Joe’s, though I’d recommend buying from nuts.com if you have the time to plan ahead)!

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This is a very rich dessert though, so wouldn’t recommend making for a crowd that is looking for lighter desserts.  On the other hand, if one of your crowd members is a dedicated chocolate enthusiast (ahem, Matthew) this is a winner!

Also, I might have called this a cake for the 4 days it was around before Matt finished it off, and was reminded multiple times that this is a TART not a CAKE.  Not that that in any way diminished from its deliciousness.

Ingredients

Crust:
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for greasing pan
  • Eight 4 1/2-inch-long plain or almond biscotti cookies, coarsely broken (about 5 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup cherry preserves or jam, such as Bonne Maman 
Filling:
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup chopped shelled pistachio nuts
  • Salt flakes, such as Maldon, optional

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Combine the biscotti, butter and sugar in a food processor. Blend until the mixture forms moist crumbs that stick together when pressed. Firmly press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake until golden and feels firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Spread the cherry preserves over the cooled crust leaving a 1/2 to 1-inch border.

For the filling: Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat to just below a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the dried cherries and 1/2 cup of the pistachios. Pour the chocolate filling over the cherry preserves and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup pistachios on top. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.

Loosen the tart from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the edge. Unmold the tart and transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt flakes, if using. Cut into wedges and serve.

Pear and Walnut Cake

I’m always intrigued by dessert recipes that sound hearty and rustic, so when Matt found this recipe in the Financial Times one weekend, it was a no brainer to try it out.  Of note, I had no idea which pears to use, and was surprised to find five different varietals at the store.

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I went with my gut of getting a crisper pear (Bosc pears) and it seemed to turn out fine. In fact the little bit of crunch went very nicely with the texture of the walnuts in the cake.

For the topping
(which starts as the base)

4 small pears (I used Bosc, and I think only about 3.5 ended up fitting)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter cut into six pieces

For the cake batter

2 sticks and 2 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground walnuts
1/2 tsp ground nutmet
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
zest and juice of an orange
3/4 cup easy cook polenta
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line your 9″ cake tin with paper, and then wrap the outside with foil (in case it leaks, don’t want it leaking into the oven which makes a mess)
  3. Peel the pears and halve them. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the sugar on the base of the tin. Cut the butter into eight small pieces and place them in the pear cavity you created by removing the seeds. Place the pear on to the bottom of the tin in a flower formation so the butter touches the sugar and the flat part of the pear also touches the sugar. It should look like seven petals around and one in the middle. You may need to trim the pears so they fit snugly.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar, using a mixer with a paddle attachment or by hand with a large spatula, until they are well-combined but not too fluffy. Add two of the eggs and mix well, then add the remaining ingredients including the last two eggs and beat together until you have a smooth mix. Spoon the mix over the pears to cover entirely and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out as much as possible.
  5. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 minutes before rotating to assure an even bake, and continue for a further 20-25 minutes. This cake is a little tricky; the texture will feel rather soft when it comes out but it will settle and firm up after 20 minutes. Check the cake after the provided times — the centre of the cake should feel like the outer rim. The best way to tell if it’s ready is to poke the sides, then poke the centre — they should feel the same. If your finger sinks immediately, add another 10 minutes to the baking time.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave the cake in the tin. If you try and turn it out straight away, it will collapse. Set a timer for 20 minutes, then take a serving plate and place it on the baking tin, flip the cake and ease it out, peel away the baking paper and serve. It is lovely warm but will also keep well at room temperature.

Adapted from The Financial Times, Pear and Walnut cake

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

vegan-apple-cake6My niece and nephew hosted Friday night dinner and I agreed to help by making dessert. Because of dietary restrictions, the dessert needed to be vegan. I decided to use this as an opportunity to come up with a new apple cake recipe that would be good enough for Thanksgiving or anytime you wanted something special for a crowd. I am using the Smitten Kitchen Apple Cake and my own Vegan “Honey” Cake as the source for this inspiration. This cake will not only feed a crowd, but is actually better made ahead so the flavors can fully develop. I find when I am preparing for a big holiday dinner, I like things that I can make ahead so I am not exhausted on the day when everyone descends. This cake could even be frozen without the Applejack sauce which could then be made the morning of or the night before you are going to serve it. Just defrost the cake fully before serving. And if you don’t want the Applejack sauce, you could simply dust this with confectioner’s sugar when you get ready to serve it. After a day, the center of this cake takes on an almost bread pudding-like consistency, fragrant with apples, raisins and spice.

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Yield: About 10 servings  vegan-apple-raisin-cake

Ingredients

For the cake

5-6 flavorful baking apples (There are so many varieties out there and they differ locally so choose something other than Granny Smith. It could be McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Jazz, Jonagold, Braeburn, Ambrosia…) I used Jonagold and because they were on the biggish side, I used 5 apples.

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 cups plus 5 Tablespoons granulated or Demerara sugar

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt

1 cup Canola or other vegetable oil

Zest of one lemon

1/4 cup apple cider or apple juice, preferably fresh

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

3/4 cup raisins soaked for at least 1 hour in 1/4 cup Applejack, Apple Brandy or Apple Cider

Aquafaba from one 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas (This is the liquid from the can that has been strained. Use the chickpeas for a wonderful salad or in homemade hummus.)

For the Applejack Sauce

1.5 cups of confectioner’s sugar

4 Tablespoons Applejack (Hard cider) or apple cider

2 to 3 Tablespoons apple juice or cider OR reserved liquid from apple-raisin mixture

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan with straight sides or use one of the cooking sprays with flour (Baker’s Joy or Pam – these have been a revelation for me and have made cake baking so much easier!)
  2. Peel, core and chop the apples into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them with the cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar and the lemon zest.
  3. Using a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, apple cider, vanilla and remaining 2 cups of sugar.
  4. Drain the chickpeas, placing the liquid in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, whip the aquafaba on high for 10 minutes. You should have soft white peaks.
  5. Stir the oil mixture into the dry ingredients. The result will be quite stiff. Drain the raisins and add them to the apples. Pour the remaining liquid into the batter. Now scrape all of the whipped aquafaba into the stiff batter and mix thoroughly with a heavy spoon until you have a smooth, workable batter. This takes a little elbow grease!
  6. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon or your hands, take 1/2 of the apple-raisin mixture, straining any liquid that may be in the bowl and reserving it and place the apples-raisins over the batter in the pan. The reserved liquid can be added to your Applejack sauce. Cover the apples with the remaining batter and gently smooth it out so the batter is even. Now take the remaining apples-raisins and cover the top of the batter, gently pushing the mixture into the batter.
  7. Place the pan in the hot oven and bake for about 1.5 to 1.75 hours or until a tester comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. The top will sink down some but don’t worry – it’s fine. When you are ready to serve, turn out the cake and carefully flip it over onto a serving platter so that the apples are now on top again. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve the sauce on the side, if you are using it.

For the Applejack Sauce

  1. Sift the sugar to get rid of any lumps.
  2. Whisk all of the other ingredients together. Taste and adjust the sweetness by adding more confectioner’s sugar, if desired. Just before serving, give it a good stir with a fork or whisk. You can zap it in the microwave briefly, if you like- just enough to warm it without killing off the alcohol.  vegan-apple-cake5

Linzer Torte with a Rich Tart Pastry

img_2523I had two favorite cookies growing up – the famous “Black and White” Cookies and the linzer torte cookie, sometimes referred to as “Lunettes.” I still haven’t replicated the Black and White cookies and many that you can buy today are sickeningly sweet, but I have developed my version of a Linzer Torte. Because making cookies can be tedious, I prefer to make this as an actual torte. The only part that I make from scratch is the rich pastry dough, so the quality of the remaining ingredients that you purchase is everything. If you prefer to make a cookie, you can still use this dough recipe. I made this for my pre-Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends and it was a big hit. It also is great since it can be made a day ahead and any leftovers will keep for several days. The crust may soften a bit, but the taste is uncompromised.

Lisa’s Linzer Torte

Yield: One 9-inch Torte

Ingredients

For Rich Pastry Dough (Makes enough dough for two 9-inch pastry shells)

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup frozen butter, cut into 1 Tablespoon-size pieces

3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

3 hard-cooked large egg yolks

1 large egg

Zest of 1 large lemon

3 Tablespoons cold water

For the filling

1o ounces of Raspberry Curd (If you want to make  your own, more power to you. I buy a good commercial brand. Since what is available can vary so much, just look for what is available and check the ingredients. The main ingredients should be fruit, eggs, butter and sugar.)

10 ounces of Raspberry Jam (Again, there are so many fine commercial or artisanal jams out there, that this is not something I personally would spend time on making. Whether you choose with seeds or without is purely personal taste. With seeds is more traditional, but it is your choice.)

7 ounces almond paste (I used Odense brand. I like the quality and it rolls out well which is what you need for this recipe.

1 egg yolk plus 1 teaspoon milk or cream

Casting Sugar or Confectioner’s Sugar (Optional)

Directions

For the pastry dough 

I like to make this in a food processor, but you could make this by hand.

  1. Using the metal blade, add the flour, butter, sugar, egg, egg yolks, lemon zest, salt and water to the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Pulse for 15 seconds and then turn on, processing just until a ball of dough starts to form on the blades. Since all flour is different, if you must add a bit more water for this to come together, add a 1/2 Tablespoon at a time and use as little as you can get away with.
  3. Divide into two dough disks and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Assembling the Torte

  1. Roll out one dough disk to fit a 9-inch fluted flan pan with a removable bottom. (If you don’t own one of these, you can use a 9-inch pie plate, but I highly encourage you to purchase this pan.) Leave a 1-inch overhang and trim off any excess dough. Fold the overhand under and smooth the top.
  2. Roll out the almond paste to fit the inside of the pan, not quite coming to the top of the sides. You might need to trim this a bit. Fit the rolled out almond paste into the ie shell. Ideally you will refrigerate the pie shell at this point, but when I made it, I had neither the time nor the space in my fridge to do this step and it was fine.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. When you are ready to bake the torte, fill the shell first with the raspberry curd and then cover that with the jam. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect and there is some mixing going on of curd and jam.
  5. Roll out the second disk of pastry into a rectangle and trim it so the ends are straight and even. Using a pastry wheel (straight or fluted) or a knife, cut 1/2 inch strips of dough. You will probably need 8 to 10 strips. Any leftover dough can be made into a simple but delicious cookie.
  6. Weave the strips into a lattice pattern (YouTube it) on top of a piece of cardboard. Once you have the pattern, you will carefully slide it onto the top of the torte. You can also weave it directly on the torte, but it is difficult to not get jam all over the dough that way. (I am admittedly still working on perfecting my weaving technique which is why I am advising you to YouTube it.) Carefully tuck the ends of the strips, trimming where necessary, under the edges of the bottom crust. Mine isn’t perfect but it was still wonderful so don’t be intimidated! Pinch the two doughs together and smooth it with your fingers.
  7. Whisk the egg yolk with the cream or milk and carefully brush the strips and outer rim of the torte with the mixture. You probably won’t use it all on this recipe. If you are using casting or sanding sugar, sprinkle it over the strips. Don’t be too anal about this. And if you prefer you can sprinkle confectioner’s sugar on top just before serving, which is a bit more traditional.
  8. Bake for 23 minutes and then turn the torte. Continue baking until the pastry is golden brown. The jams will be a bit liquidy at this point but will thicken as the torte cools. This took about another 22 minutes in my oven, but ovens vary. Allow to cool completely and then remove from the flan ring and using a thin spatula, carefully remove the bottom. It should slide right off, so don’t use any big or abrupt moves or you will see your torte go flying! img_2506