Dark Chocolate Pots

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that you were invited to dinner at a friend’s house and you say “what can I bring?” and it ends up that you’re bringing dessert. And then let’s just say, for example, that you had bought a bag of lemons and were planning to make a lemon tart, but then the crumb crust that you put in the oven while your dear spouse is taking a nap on a Saturday afternoon starts leaking butter into the bottom of the oven and billowing smoke sending you running into the hallway with a towel to frantically wave under the fire alarm in the direction of the kitchen window that you flung open so that it doesn’t go off and wake everyone up. And then just say you are totally out of ingredients to make the crust again and your totally fed up with crusts anyway and are completely over pastry in general and don’t feel like going to the grocery store but are still on the hook for dessert in a couple of hours. What is one to do? Hypothetically, you know. Ahem.

Chocolate Cream Pots

serves 4

– 1 cup heavy cream

– 6 ounces dark chocolate (I used 72%)

– 2 egg yolks

– 2 tablespoons raw sugar

– 1 tablespoon strong coffee or espresso

– 1 tablespoon rum

– 1 1/2 tablespoons butter

– tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

– sweetened whipped cream*

Chop the chocolate into little bits. Heat the cream in a heavy bottomed pan until it comes to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the chocolate; let the chocolate sit in the cream for a minute or two and then whisk together until dark and smooth. Beat the two egg yolks together with the sugar and then pour a little of the hot cream into the eggs to heat them up. Put the pan back over low heat and whisk the egg mixture back in. Heat until the faintest wisps of steam begin to rise, stirring the whole time; it should only take a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee, rum, butter, and cayenne, whisking to melt the butter and blend everything into a silky smooth custard.

Pour the hot custard into small bowls, espresso cups, or ramekins (I used little jam jars) and allow it to cool. Because this is such a rich dessert, it only takes a small amount to satisfy; and because of this richness, it’s best not served cold, but at a softer, silkier room temperature.

Top with a generous drift of sweetened whipped cream. *I whipped the cream with sugar and a splash of rum and vanilla extract. The contrast of airy vanilla scented cream and meltingly truffle-like chocolate is heavenly.

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Banana Bread

We had a short visit this past week from Grace and her husband, one last visit before the baby is born. One of the reasons they are great guests is that they will enthusiastically eat whatever I cook. Jonathan once at so much potato leek soup at my house that he had to lie down on the floor for a little while afterward to recover. Come to think of it, that may have been when I decided he was probably a keeper. Since I’ve been tinkering around with a banana bread recipe for a while, I made a loaf of my latest version to see what they thought.

It’s not like there is a shortage of banana bread recipes. It’s just that a lot of them are too something (sweet, greasy, crumbly, dry, cakey, dense) or not enough something (banana-y usually) to suit me. I don’t want cake and I don’t want something that tastes too “health food-y.” I’ve had banana bread that is so buttery that it will leave a grease stain on a napkin. That’s not what I want. So I tinkered.

I kind of think of bananas you want to use to make your banana bread in terms of the story The Velveteen Rabbit, the premise being that if you love your velveteen rabbit enough (in the case of bananas, love = letting them sit on the counter), when it gets old and ugly and looks like garbage, it becomes a REAL rabbit (in the case of bananas, REAL = banana bread). The bananas in this picture are gorgeous compared to what you want. You want them to be brown and soft and ripe to the point when as many of the starches in the banana have turned into sugar and intense banana flavor and they have a face only a baker could love. That’s when a banana really shines. What I was trying to figure out was how much: you want enough of them so that you aren’t needing to add lots of extra sugar to sweeten the bread or more butter to keep it from being dry.

I think I’m going to keep this version. I may still tinker a little for fun; I’d like to try coconut oil instead of butter sometime. But this one gets the “Family Taste-tester’s Seal of Approval”; we ate the whole thing in two days.

Banana Bread

-2 or 3 large very ripe bananas, mashed (enough for 1 1/2 cup coarsely mashed)

– ¾ cup brown sugar

– ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted

-1 egg

-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-1/2- teaspoon lemon extract

-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

– 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

-1/8 teaspoon ginger

-1 ½ cups all purpose flour (or white whole wheat)

-1 teaspoon baking soda

-1/3 cup ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter and dust the inside of a loaf 9×5 inch loaf pan with flour, tapping out the extra flour.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the bananas, sugar, butter, and egg until thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla and lemon extracts. In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together thoroughly, then fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 45- 55 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.

Sweet Potato Casserole

I’ve been trying to think of ways to say this without sounding like a strident bossy health obsessed food tyrant, but really, when it comes to sweet potato casserole, YOU PEOPLE ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG!!!!

I’ve been reading Laurie Colwin’s  Home Cooking in which she states in her chapter “How to Fry Chicken”: “As everyone knows, there is only one way to fry chicken correctly. Unfortunately, most people think their method is best, but those people are wrong.” Her method is not 100% correct – she uses a chicken fryer instead of cast iron –  but I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. A short, non-scientific survey of a number of my cookbooks bears me out. They all tell you to add at least a cup of sugar to your sweet potato casserole! Outrageous!

It’s a SWEET potato. When roasted, it has very tasty, flavorful, SWEET flesh. If one adds a cup or more of sugar, the tongue (figuratively) throws in the towel and refuses to taste any more flavors. All of the lemony spicy goodness is lost in a bland tidal wave of sugary sweetness. If you like a little sweet crunch for contrast, add the nutty streusel to the top. It’s plenty.

Which brings me to my second point: the spices. If you desire a creamy orange dessert with the flavor of cinnamon, cloves and allspice, make a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is delicious with cinnamon. But the flavors that truly make a sweet potato sing are nutmeg and lemon. If you don’t believe me, feel free to take it up with Edna Lewis’s  In Pursuit of Flavor, page 47 “Baked Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Flavoring”.

This is the only way to make sweet potato casserole correctly-

Sweet Potato Casserole

– 6-8 medium sweet potatoes

Bake whole unpeeled potatoes at 400 for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours until they are soft when squeezed with a pot holder. Allow them to cool to the point at which they can be handled without inflicting terrible burns on yourself (or completely). Peel and scoop out the flesh into a bowl and mash until it has the consistency you desire. I like to use the paddle attachment on my mixer, but a potato masher or even a fork will work.

With the potatoes in a large bowl, add the following:

– 5 Tablespoons butter (melted if the potatoes are cool)

– 2 teaspoons salt

– 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1 teaspoon of lemon extract (or lemon juice/ zest)

– 4 egg yolks

Beat together until smooth. If the mixture is really thick, add a little half and half , milk or cream to thin it out slightly. Since sweet potatoes can be a little fibrous sometimes, I use the whisk attachment or the beaters of an electric mixer to whip everything together; any little stringy bits that wrap around the beaters get thrown away. Those things are bad for getting stuck between your teeth. Pour everything into a buttered baking dish (about 9×13)

If you like, scatter the top with this:

Streusel

Crumble together with your fingertips into a nutty rubble:

– 5 Tablespoons of cold butter

– 1/2 cup flour

– 1/3 cup brown sugar

– a little salt and

– 4 oz chopped pecans

Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. The sweet potatoes should puff up a little and the topping should be a crisp brown lid. Cool a little before serving or it can be eaten at room temperature.

I’m so glad I got that off my chest. I feel much better now.

Oatmeal bacon scones

Scott got home late Thursday night from a flight that tipped him over the “100k miles flown in a year” mark. He has also spent more than 60 days away for business travel this year. So last night, to celebrate his return home from what should be his last trip of the year, I cooked a steak, a baked potato, and a salad per his request. I went to Ottomanelli & Sons on Bleeker Street in the West Village to get a dry aged porterhouse and a genial hard time by the old school butchers behind the counter. I love old school butcher shops; butchers usually seem to like their jobs, enjoy giving advice, and take pride in the meat that they sell, and with good reason in this case. The steak was exceptional.

I don’t generally do a lot for breakfast; I’m not usually great at measuring ingredients first thing in the morning, but since I was on a roll with the “Welcome home Scott/ holiday baking spirit” I made an exception today and baked. Combining three of Scott’s favorites- scones, bacon, and the healthfully virtuous feeling one gets from eating oatmeal- I combined bits of lots of scone recipes and the memory of eating “pannenkoeken met spek” (pancake with bacon)  years ago in the Netherlands (and persuaded a Waffle House cook to semi-replicate by putting an order of bacon into the waffle iron with my waffle batter) into a slightly sweet, hearty, flaky, just a little salty/bacony scone.

Oatmeal Bacon Scones

yield:8-10

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 very heaped tablespoon baking powder
2 very heaped tablespoons superfine or granulated sugar (I had some vanilla caster sugar which I used)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cut into small dice, kept very cold

1/3 cup very crisp crumbled bacon (about 3 strips depending on size and thickness)
1/2 cup buttermilk (start with 1/3 cup and then add by the tablespoon until the dough is soft but not sticky)
1 egg, beaten

Turbinado or raw sugar

Preheat your oven to 400°F

 Cook your bacon until very crisp, to the point that it shatters into little bits when chopped with a knife. Drain on paper and allow it to completely cool before chopping it.

 In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients from flour to bacon and stir to get them thoroughly combined.  Add the cold butter cubes and using either a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until everything looks like breadcrumbs; the butter should still be a little chunky, but nothing larger than a pea.

 Whisk the buttermilk and beaten egg together and pour about ¾ of the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir everything together, gently, just to get everything moist; try not to over-stir. If the mixture isn’t coming together into a soft dough, add the rest of the liquid in tablespoons so the dough doesn’t get too sticky.

 Turn the dough out onto a work surface. I like to use a flexible plastic cutting board for pastry because I don’t have to use extra flour to dust the surface, it allows me to move the dough onto the baking sheet easily, and it’s easy to clean up. Gently knead the dough a few times into a ball, then flatten it into a disc. Using a long bladed knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough into wedges (I did 8).

Transfer the disc onto the baking sheet.  It should still look like a disc with the wedges cut into it. Sprinkle the top generously with raw sugar crystals for a little sweet crunch on the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the scones look like the epitome of Golden Brown and Delicious. Serve hot (or cold, either way they are delicious!)

Burn Part Deux or Oatmeal Chocolate Covered Raisin Cookies

In the last two weeks my wrist has progressed from a  ghastly greyish weeping blistered burn, dramatically  swathed in triple antibiotic ooze and enormous white  gauze bandages, to the shiny  pink of a healing burn, puckered and scarlet like a screaming infant’s face indignantly reminding me of my recklessness, demanding to be cosseted. It’s more sore and tight now than painful, but it is pretty persistent in making its presence known. Hence, in the spirit of circumspection,  I’ve been a little wary in the kitchen, mainly cooking things that allow a safe distance from open flame, a gingerness with red-hot cookware, a certain take-no-risk rote cooking.

I did bake some lovely cookies.

They are different from most cookie recipes I make in that they contain oil instead of butter;  this makes them crisp instead of soft and chewy like buttery cookies. But in the face of a looming cholesterol test in the family, I was trying to make a healthier treat that didn’t taste like a “healthy treat” – you know what I mean. But then, I know plenty of people who live with dietary restrictions all the time, whether for religious reason, allergies or health reasons or during pregnancy, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who can appreciate a cookie that doesn’t preach to you about how healthy it is, that is actually good instead of tasting like deprivation.

 

 

In the first recipe, I used raisins, which were fine, but I had a bag of chocolate covered raisins in my cupboard.  Thinking of Mexican hot chocolate infused with cinnamon, they went into the second go-round. It’s just a nice little upgrade, richer, a hint of cinnamon and chocolate with the raisins in a light crunchy oaty bite.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate-Covered Raisin Cookies

Modified from this recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

 

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups oats (I used quick oats)

1/2 cup chocolate-covered raisins (use dark chocolate or dairy-free if you need to)

 

 

Preheat oven to 350°. Cover cookie sheets with either parchment paper or Silpats.

In a large bowl, mix oil, brown sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla with a whisk. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon; stir into the sugar and oil mixture. Mix in the oats and chocolate-covered raisins last. it will make a rather dry, sticky dough.

 

 

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet. The cookies won’t spread much, so they can be fairly close together. I did about 12 per cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Depending on your oven, you may want to rotate the pans or switch shelves midway through. The cookies will still be a little soft on top but the edges should begin to brown a little. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

Cheese-Straw Apple Tart

I am, finally, back home in New Jersey. It’s still winter here; I’d been sort of hoping it would be done with if I stayed gone long enough. But alas, it is still February. There are mountains of gray snow everywhere, mounded above my head in parking lots and roadsides. The days are shorter here and the high temperature today was supposed to be 25°F. It’s strange and sort of exotic in a way to one who is not even accustomed to many days with the low temperature of 25°. But speaking of exotic Northern climes….

When I was little, my paternal grandparents lived in upstate New York. Whenever they came to visit their grandchildren in Atlanta, they would bring gifts of apples and maple syrup and sharp cheddar cheese. I remember apples with names I had never heard, exotic and fragrant Winesaps with their coarse skin and red-veined flesh, tart/sweet crisp Empires, Northern Spy and Cortland. They favored crisp crunchy apples with balanced sweet and tangy flavor and brought bags full from the roadside stands they passed on their drive down. They also introduced me to the awesome combination of a cool slice of  apple and a sliver of creamy sharp cheddar cheese, one of the most perfect bites ever devised, in my humble opinion.

With that combination in mind, I started working on this tart a few months ago. I had the idea of a sharp cheddar short crust with a tart apple filling and combined the easy cream cheese tart crust recipe I love to make with a Southern-style cheese straw recipe to make the crust. It has the faintest kick , more like a poke really, of cayenne that just underscores the tang of cheese in the crust. It’s a tart that combines the flavors of fond nostalgia with my ideal of sweet/salty/tangy/crisp balance.

 

Cheese-Straw Apple Tart

Crust-

1 stick (8 oz) butter, softened slightly and cubed

5 oz finely grated extra sharp cheddar

1 tablespoon sugar

dash cayenne pepper

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Use the whisk attachment on a stand mixture to blend the butter and cheese, sugar and pepper, until it’s a smooth blend.

 

 

Throw in the flour. Slowly mix to combine the flour with the butter and cheese. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then speed things up until the dough starts to look like pebbles and pull together. Stop and gather the dough into a ball, kneading it a couple of times to keep it from crumbling.

 

Press the dough into the bottom of a 9 -inch tart pan. Using your fingertips, start from the center of the pan and press the dough out and up the sides as evenly as you can manage. Cover well and chill the crust in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

In order to keep the edges of the crust from slumping when I blind bake it, I put a ring of rolled up foil around the inside of the sides while it cooks. Blind bake for about 20 minutes at 325°.

Cool a bit before putting in the apple filling; it will help keep the crust from getting soggy.

Bump the oven temperature up to 375°.

 

Filling:

3-4 sweet/tart baking apples, peeled and thinly sliced

(save the peel and core)

2 tablespoons  apple cider vinegar

¼ cup sugar ( I used turbinado, but white or brown is fine)

1 tablespoon butter

Arrange the apple slices in the crust in an arrangement that pleases you; I did a sort of homage to the spiral tarte tatin arrangement, but in my typically disheveled fashion. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the apples are crisp-tender.

Meanwhile, simmer the cider with the apple peels and sugar until the peels are soft. Strain the peels out through a fine mesh strainer. Whisk the butter into the syrup . Brush the syrup generously over the top of the apples.

Dark family secret-

 

I’m at my in-law’s. There is a dangerous amount of cake  and candy in the house, enough to send the entire staff at Atkins into a diabetic coma;  there are a number of tubs of something called puppy chow that involves peanut butter, cereal and chocolate. There are enough at least five different kinds of candy canes, even a clove flavored one. There are Zots and Mary Janes and peppermint patties.  There are not, however, any brownies. There haven’t been any since I’ve been in the family and I think I may have finally stumbled upon the real reason why they seem to be contraband here. There have been rumors swirling around for years, and I had heard a vague and mysterious story by way of explanation a few times, something about voices and an overdose. But I think I may have finally gotten the real story on a dark family secret during my last visit.

First a little background: There are several refrigerator magnets and a number of mugs and aprons in the house proclaiming a deep and passionate love of chocolate. There are also several (and I mean several) candy dishes that maintain a pretty high level of chocolate candy occupancy scattered around the house and not just at the holidays. The most popular cake in my mother-in-law’s extensive repertoire is Chocolate Mocha Butter cake. People were pressing their fingers onto the crumbs of the chocolate and raspberry wedding cake she made when I got married so as not to waste even a smidge of it. She bakes a mean chocolate cake, this woman. Nothing gets her heart racing like an all you can eat chocolate buffet with a chocolate fountain. So let’s just say euphemistically speaking that there may or may not be a chocolate “issue” here.

I’ve heard bits of the story before, but during my last visit I asked about the brownies she made that made her hear voices in the night.

She made a large pan of her favorite brownies. Frosted.

There was the original “taste test” square that afternoon, just to make sure the recipe was still good. Then a couple more squares nudged out of the pan before supper, because the recipe was still good. Then just a tiny piece more to even out that side of the pan, not a whole brownie…just a sliver. Then a couple more for dessert. Pre – bedtime snack. Midnight snack. By 1 AM about half the pan of brownies is gone, like a lasagna pan sized pan.  And she can’t go to sleep. She’s tossing and turning for hours, buzzing, can’t turn her brain off, can’t go to sleep. Man, those brownies are good. It’s like they are calling her name from their pan all the way across the house in the pantry.

About 4 AM, she hears my father in law stirring in bed next to her.

“Hey – Johnny……”

………….

“Hey……Johnny…….. are you awake?”

“Hrrmph”

“I can’t sleep”

“Hrrmph….”

“You know how sometimes when you can’t sleep, you say maybe God is trying to tell you something?”

“Yes”

“Do you think God is trying to tell me something?”

“Yep”

“Well, what do you think?”

“He’s saying ‘Don’t eat any more brownies!'”

This is her recipe as she wrote it down for me – what I like to call “still small voice brownies”.  If you make it and hear voices, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“My Favorite Brownies

2 sticks butter or margarine

1/2 cup cocoa

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups plain flour

1 1/3 cups chopped pecans or other nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting

Melt butter and add cocoa, stir well. Beat eggs and sugar. Add to butter – cocoa mixture and then add vanilla. add flour, baking powder and nuts. Mix well. Bake about  24 minutes at 350. I use Baker’s Joy to prepare the pan. frost when cooled.

Frosting

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 pound powdered sugar

1 stick butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

Milk to right consistency

Mix all together over low heat. Don’t cook too long, just enough to heat thoroughly and blend.

Enjoy!”

Easy Peasy Key Lime Squeezy

We’re celebrating a birthday at our house this week. The tough thing about a December birthday is the tendency for it to get swallowed alive by the greater holiday season. People are busy, headed out-of-town, shopping, going to Christmas parties. I really try to maintain its individual specialness by not using Christmas wrapping paper for presents, not doing Christmasy stuff on the actual birthday and not fobbing off Christmas baking as birthday cake. The birthday boy likes pie, so pie is what he gets.

 

 

This year, I took about 20 minutes out of my busy schedule to make what may be the best bang for your buck homemade dessert ever- Key lime pie. I have told people how to make it before and gotten “Seriously? That’s it?” in response. Yes, seriously. It is a crumb crust and three ingredients, baked for about 15 minutes and that’s it. If you want to get really fancy, you can make the crust yourself,  but don’t even think about squeezing the limes, or you are on your own as far as I’m concerned.

 

Key Lime Pie

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)

1/2 cup bottled Key Lime juice

3 egg yolks

1 Graham cracker crumb crust

 

Preheat the oven to 350. Blend the first three ingredients with a whisk or electric mixer until smooth. Pour into the crust and bake for 12-15 minutes until it has a softly set, slightly jiggly center. Cool. A snowdrift of whipped cream would also be lovely dolloped on top.

 

 

See? Tangy, custardy, creamy, and easy peasy!

 

I’m adding, for those of you who might want to make you own crust, and in keeping with the three ingredient limit on this post, a recipe for a crumb crust.

Crumb Crust

1-9 inch crust

about 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs, like graham crackers, gingersnaps, or vanilla wafers

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup white sugar

Mix the three ingredients together, thoroughly combining to make sure the butter is all mixed in. Pour the crumbs into your pie plate and firmly press them into the bottom and sides to cover it evenly. I use the bottom of a glass or another pie plate to get a smooth, even crust. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 350˚.

Happy Thanksgiving!

When I reflect on this epochal year in my life, it’s too easy to concentrate on the parts of it that have been painful, uncomfortable, overwhelming. And while I know that there is a “time to mourn and a time to dance,” there are so many things that I am thankful for this year; I’m thankful for the grace of enduring friendships, for precious time with my family, a new nephew and brother-in-law. I’m grateful for the stability of employment and healthy babies born to friends, for dear friends beating cancer, for adventure, for a sense of humor, for not going through this year alone, for love.

We’re celebrating the holiday in the South this year at my in-laws. We drove down through nine states and the remnants of a beautiful East Coast Autumn in time for my mom’s birthday, a couple of my youngest sister’s senior year events, had a hilarious evening with friends at our favorite pub in Atlanta. We have eaten a little more BBQ than I care to admit. We’ve been having weather that is warm enough to allow us to sit outside with a fire and play guitar. We’ve had time to connect with friends that usually get squeezed by the holiday rush. It’s been nice.

I’m grateful to have been cooked for a good bit on this trip. In contrast to last Thanksgiving where my brother and I did an Amazing Race-meets-Top Chef Lightening Round style turkey dinner between his kitchen and our hotel at the beach in La Jolla, the only thing I really cooked this Thanksgiving dinner was a rather homely but delicious pecan tart. The recipe comes a little late for all of your Thanksgiving dinners, but it’s also eminently suitable for Christmas dinner, or Thursday night supper for that matter.

Pecan Tart

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into squares

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup corn syrup

6 ounces pecans, toasted and broken up into large pieces

1 recipe of Cream Cheese Tart Pastry

With the oven rack in the middle of the oven, par-bake the pie crust at 325 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat. Mix in sugar and salt until all of the butter is absorbed. Beat in eggs, then syrup. Return bowl to hot water; stir until mixture is shiny and hot, about 130 degrees. Remove from heat; stir in pecans.

As soon as the pie crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Pour pecan mixture into hot pie shell. Bake until the center feels soft-set, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 35-40 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and let it cool completely.

The tart shell is the same one used for the lemon tart in “Sweetart” except that I omit the pistachios.

Cream Cheese Pastry

Makes 1 9-inch pie or tart crust

1 1/4 cups all- purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool

Lightly grease your baking tin. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together.

Beat butter and cream cheese together with your electric mixer at medium-high speed until completely homogenous, about 2 minutes. Add flour, sugar, and salt and mix on medium low until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Increase mixer speed and beat until dough forms large clumps and pulls away from the bowl.

Form into a disk and press into the pie tin with your fingers, working out from the center and up the sides until the dough is evenly distributed.

Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bake at 325 for 35- 40 minutes for a fully baked crust or 20-25 minutes for a partially baked crust.

(Rhu)Barbie Pink

I have a soft spot for old-fashioned desserts, especially if I first read about them in one of the books I was always devouring as a child, and even more points if they have a funny name. Cobbler, clafouti, trifle, betty- and fool- are all irresistible. With all of the gorgeous fruit arriving in the farmers market, it is impossible to beat the cool simplicity of whipped cream and fruit compote and the classic combination of rhubarb with strawberry is a freshly tart contrast to the mellow richness of cream and creme fraiche.

Rhubarb Strawberry Fool
serves about 8

1 pound rhubarb, chopped

8 ounces strawberries, coarsely chopped

a scant cup of vanilla sugar

1 pint heavy cream

1/3 cup creme fraiche

Toss the chopped fruit with the sugar and allow it to macerate for a few minutes. When the juice starts to seep out, pour all of it into a shallow saucepan and stew gently over low heat until the fruit is softened and bubbling. Keep the temperature low and an eye on it so that all of the liquid doesn’t cook out and the fruit scorch. When it is soft enough to mash into a chunky puree with a fork, take the fruit off the heat and cool. The fruit should not be smooth- it should still have some chunks so that it doesn’t completely incorporate into the cream, offering a little contrast between tangy fruit and cream in each bite. Cool the fruit completely and chill. This part can be made a couple of days ahead.

In a large bowl or in the bowl of a large mixer, mix the heavy cream and creme fraiche and whip to stiff peaks- when the whisk or beaters are pulled upward out of the cream, the cream holds it’s shape in a stiff peak. Pour the fruit into the whipped cream and gently swirl it into the cream- think caramel swirl in ice cream- by folding the fruit in with as few strokes as necessary.

Spoon the fool into a large glass bowl (maybe a trifle bowl) or individual serving bowls.

It’s a simple dessert, almost like unfrozen homemade ice cream, and I can imagine all sorts of possibilities as the weather heats up. Blackberry fool, anyone?

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