Nectarine and Blackberry Crostata

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Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Whenever I have a question regarding a recipe or a cooking technique, I consult the authorities: my mother, my aunt and my grandmother. Sometimes I need to know if I can safely substitute one ingredient for another, sometimes I may need an old family recipe, and sometimes I just need to know if what I plan to do is acceptable.

Let me explain. These women have established some unwritten rules — chicken stock should always be homemade, pie dough should always be all butter, lamb should be from New Zealand and chickens from a kosher market — that, while sometimes I want to challenge, I ultimately fear breaking.

Another one of their rules regards crisps. Crisp toppings, according to the family arbiters, should not contain oats. Their favorite recipe contains flour, butter, sugar and slivered almonds. It’s perfectly sweet and crisp, and it works well on any seasonal fruit.

I love their recipe but I have found one that I love even more (gasp!) and that fortunately doesn’t break the rule: the recipe requires no oats. This Michael Chiarello crostata topping recipe, made with a mixture of cornmeal, flour, butter and sugar, crisps up beautifully in the oven and tastes perfectly sweet, buttery and crisp.

The addition of cornmeal — an uncommon crisp ingredient — adds a wonderful texture, and the subtle corn flavor really complements the fruit. While I love a mix of stone fruit and berries such as nectarines and blackberries, peaches and raspberries, and apricots and blueberries — any seasonal fruit will do.

I know the authorities will approve.

Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Nectarine and Blackberry Crostatas
Crostata topping comes from Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne
Serves 8 to 10

for the topping:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup sugar
large pinch salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon aniseed, toasted (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 large egg, beaten lightly

for the filling:
2 T. sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
butter
3 lbs. nectarines, pitted and sliced into thick wedges
8 oz. blackberries

for serving:
vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and aniseed (if using) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well combined. Cut butter into bowl. Pulse until butter resembles the size of large peas. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the egg. Using a fork, gently work the flour into the egg until the egg is uniformly mixed throughout the dough. Note: The dough will not form a mass like a traditional dough would. Rather, it will clump together if pressed together.

2. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish or individual ramekins or crème brulee dishes. Stir the 2 T. sugar and 2 T. flour in a large bowl. Add the nectarines and blackberries and toss to combine.

3. Spoon the fruit into the prepared dish or dishes. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit. Bake until the nectarines are tender and the topping is golden and crisp, about 30-40 minutes for individual servings and close to an hour for a large dish. Cool at least 10 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Nectarine and Blackberry crostatas

Grand Marnier Summer Berry Trifle

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If you’re looking for a summery dessert that feeds many mouths for an upcoming dinner party or potluck, consider this trifle. I only wish I had had such an event to attend before I made this massive concoction of Grand Marnier-soaked cake, creme anglaise, whipped cream and berries. With each day that passes, it seems to get better and better, and as it is slowly disappears from my refrigerator I really am afraid I may just polish off the whole thing myself.

Mixed Berry Trifle
Serves 8 – 10

for the cake:
½ C. all-purpose flour
1½ C. sugar
½ tsp. salt
8 large egg yolks
3 T. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 10 x 15 x 2-inch or 9 x 12 x 2-inch baking dish. Line with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar and the salt. Add yolks, milk and extract and whisk again until smooth.

3. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly sprinkle in remaining ½ cup sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks — don’t over-beat. Stir one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites. It’s ok if white streaks remain.

4. Pour batter into pan, place in the oven and bake until cake is golden and springy to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cake in pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, invert cake onto a cooling rack, peel away parchment paper and let cake cool completely. Set aside.

Note: Cake will fall considerably once removed from the oven and will be very moist.

for the custard:
4 yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1¾ cups scalded milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Beat yolks and sugar on medium high speed for 3 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Reduce heat and add cornstarch. With mixture on low, slowly pour hot milk into eggs. Put back on stove, stir with a wooden spoon until thickened, strain, add vanilla and chill.

to assemble:
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. Grand Marnier plus more for sprinkling*
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
6 cups mixed berries such as strawberries (stemmed and halved), blueberries, blackberries and raspberries

*optional, if children will be eating the dessert, leave it out

1. Cut the cake into ¾-inch slices, then cut each slice in half. Set aside. Whip cream on high speed. Drizzle in the Grand Marnier. When cream begins to thicken, slowly sprinkle in the sugar. Beat until thick. Fold into custard and chill mixture until ready to assemble.

2. Line the bottom of a bowl (ideally a clear glass bowl with straight sides) with cake. Sprinkle with Grand Marnier. Top with 1/3 of the fruit mixture. Top with half of the custard. Layer more cake on top. Sprinkle with Grand Marnier, top with 1/3 of the berries and the rest of the custard. If more cake remains, layer it on top, sprinkle with Grand Marnier and top with the rest of the berries.

Pluot And Frangipane Galette

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Little could 16th century Italian nobleman, the Marquis Muzio Frangipani, have guessed a perfume he invented to scent the gloves of Louis XIII would inspire pastry chefs for centuries to follow. Soon after Frangipani, living in France, released his fragrance made from bitter almonds to the public, the local patisseries created a cream made with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and ground almonds. They named it frangipane.

While frangipane can be applied to myriad desserts, it nicely complements fruit, particularly summer stone fruit. A layer of frangipane beneath warm sweet peaches, plums, apricots or nectarines, encased in a free-form pastry shell transforms a simple tart into an elegant finale.

For a change from tradition, try making this galette with pluots, a three-quarter plum, one-quarter apricot hybrid. Introduced to the markets in 1989 by Floyd Zaiger, pluots exist today in over 20 varieties. With an intense plum perfume and taste, and a higher sugar content than either apricots or plums, pluots make a nice addition to morning cereals, afternoon salads and evening summer tarts.

Pluot-Frangipane Galette

Yield = One 9-inch tart

Note: The galette dough yields enough for two tarts. Halve the recipe if desired, or freeze the remaining dough round for a later use.

Galette Dough
yield = Two 9-inch tarts

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
½ tsp. table salt
16 T. unsalted butter
½ C. + 2 T. ice water

Whisk flour, sugar and salt together. Cut butter into flour and using the back of a fork or a pastry cutter, incorporate butter into flour mixture until butter is in small pieces. Add ice water and continue to stir with fork until mixture comes together to form a mass. Add more ice water if necessary, one tablespoon at a time. Gently form mass into a ball and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use.

Frangipane

½ C. almond paste
¼ C. sugar
4 T. butter at room temperature
1 T. rum
1 egg

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, combine almond paste, sugar and butter. Beat until combined, then add rum and egg and beat until smooth, or until only small lumps remain. Set aside.

Finishing the tart:

1½ lbs. stone fruit such as pluots, peaches, nectarine, apricots or plums
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. sugar
parchment paper
Frangipane (see recipe above)
Galette dough (1 9-inch disk, recipe above)
vanilla ice cream

1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one disk out approximately into an 11-inch circle, using flour as needed to prevent sticking. Line a rimless cookie sheet (or upside-down jelly roll pan) with parchment paper. Transfer dough to parchment paper and chill for 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

2. Spoon the frangipane in center of tart and spread toward the edges, leaving a 2-inch border all the way around. Cut the fruit into ½-inch thick slices. Arrange the fruit in concentric circles over the frangipane.

3. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over the tart on itself, crimping to make a folded-over border. Chill tart again in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Brush dough with butter and sprinkle sugar over entire tart. Place in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until crust is golden. Let cool for five minutes on tray then slide parchment paper and tart onto a cooling rack. Let cool another 20 minutes before slicing.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Classic Cherry Clafouti

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Sweet Bing and Rainier cherries currently abound in the markets. While cherry pie is traditionally made with tart cherries — the smaller, bright red variety grown primarily in northern Michigan — sweet cherries can still be used for desserts until the sour Montmorency cherries arrive, usually in mid-July.

Although clafouti, a batter cake originating in the Limousin region of France, is traditionally made with unpitted black cherries, pitting makes the dessert far more pleasant. A cherry pitter expedites the preparations for this classic dessert. Many grocery stores carry plastic stoners for $3.99 that work perfectly well — there is no need to spend $25 for a fancy OXO brand pitter: It likely will get used only once a year. With the help of a food processor or a stand mixer, preparations take fewer than 15 minutes. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, this sweet cherry clafouti looks particularly elegant in individual crème brulée dishes.

Cherries are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and Vitamins A, C and E. They also have high levels of melatonin, which not only controls sleepiness at night and wakefulness during the day but also functions as an antioxidant to help the body destroy free radicals. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends sweet cherries for their powerful phytochemicals, believed to help prevent cancer of the breast, lung, liver and skin. To read more about a recent study linking an increased intake of tart cherries to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, click here.

Cherry Clafouti
Serves 8 (Yield = 4 crème brulee dishes)

unsalted butter for greasing
4 crème brulée dishes, or 1 (10-inch diameter) glass pie dish
4 teaspoons sugar, plus ½ cup
2 cups cherries, pitted (about 32)
2 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1¼ cups whole milk
¼ cup all-purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease the crème brulée dishes with butter and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Gently tap each dish so the sugar disperses evenly. Place the dishes on a rimmed cookie sheet. Drop approximately 8 cherries into each dish and set pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer, beat the eggs with the remaining ½ cup of sugar, vanilla extract and salt until well-blended. Add milk and beat to blend. Sift flour into mixture and beat until smooth. For easier pouring, transfer batter to a bowl or liquid measuring cup with a spout. Pour batter evenly over cherries.

Place pan in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. An inserted knife should emerge with just a few moist particles. Let cool 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches

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During a recent visit to upstate Vermont, I enjoyed several Chester Bars with two of my little cousins. Chester Bars, a Vermont specialty, are ice cream cookie sandwiches, similar to Chipwiches, but so much better. This red, white and blue star-dipped version, while not quite the same as the original, makes a festive dessert for Memorial Day weekend. The cookies, delicious on their own, are soft and chewy and make a perfect base for a rich vanilla-bean ice cream filling.

Memorial Day Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches
Yield = 17 sandwiches

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

½ gallon vanilla ice cream
red, white and blue sprinkles

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Place heaping tablespoons of the dough onto an ungreased jelly-roll pan. (If you have a digital scale, each ball should weigh 1¾ oz. If not, each ball should be approximately equal to two level tablespoons.) Bake only six cookies at a time.

Bake 10-11 minutes. Keep a close watch. The cookies will still look uncooked when you remove them from the oven. (You will think you are removing them too early, but the cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven — this will guarantee a moist and chewy cookie.) Let sit for 10 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

Line half of the cookies on a work surface face down. Scoop ice cream from tub and place on top of each cookie, about ¼ – ½ cup of ice cream. Top each with a cookie and gently press. Wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. (If you have space for a cookie sheet in the freezer, line the sandwiches on a sheet pan, cover whole pan with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.)
Place various sprinkles in separate bowls. Let kids, adults, guests dip their own sandwich in desired topping.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

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Every Tuesday at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market, the Rineer Family Farm from Lancaster brings the sweetest, most fragrant strawberries. Inspired by their prized berries and the rhubarb from the Livengood’s Produce stall, I made this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Unlike most rhubarb desserts — requiring masses of sugar to counter the rhubarb’s tartness — this cobbler, made with naturally sweet strawberries, needs much less. With a buttermilk biscuit topping, this strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, when paired with vanilla ice cream, makes a light and fruity spring dessert.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Cobbler
Serves 8-10

1 lb. rhubarb
1 lb. strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
zest of one lime
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cold
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons demera sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Wash rhubarb and cut into 1-inch lengths. (This should yield about 3½ cups.) Wash strawberries, cut off stem and slice in half. (This should yield about 3 cups.) Place rhubarb, strawberries, cornstarch, sugar, lime zest and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.

In separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture in small pieces and stir with a fork to combine. Whisk buttermilk and vanilla together, then pour mixture into dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture comes together — the dough will be very wet and sticky.

Transfer fruit to a 12 x 8½-inch (2 quart) baking dish. Break off portions of the dough (about 8-10) and arrange over the fruit. Brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle the sugar over both the fruit and dough portions of the dish.

Place in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling.

Let cool on rack 30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Lemon Tart

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In lemon tarts, too often too much sugar compensates for the sourness of the lemon, making them cloyingly sweet. This tart finds a nice balance: at once sweet, tart and lemony. Light and springy, this pleasantly sweet tart is guaranteed to please.

Perfect Lemon Tart
Yield = 1 9-inch tart

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon cold water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, not too cold

7 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
pinch kosher salt
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of two lemons
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons heavy cream

confectioners’ sugar for sprinkling
fresh raspberries

Whisk together yolk, sour cream and water. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse for 10 seconds at 1-second intervals. Add yolk mixture and pulse until mixture gathers together and forms a mass around the blade. Add one more tablespoon of water if necessary.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out approximately into a 10-inch circle, then transfer to 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. With lightly floured hands, press dough into bottom and sides of pan. Line dough with foil or plastic wrap, fill with dried beans or pie weights and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Place tart shell in the oven and bake with weights for 30 minutes or until edges are lightly golden brown. Remove weights and bake for five minutes longer. Remove tart from oven and place on cooling rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bring a wide-mouthed pot filled1-inch high with water to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks, eggs, sugar and salt until just blended. Add the lemon juice and whisk until blended. Place bowl over pot of simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture begins to thicken, about five minutes. When mixture is the texture of thin pudding, remove bowl from heat and whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time. Strain mixture into clean bowl and stir in the heavy cream. Pour mixture into tart shell and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Mixture should feel spongy when gently pressed and filling will jiggle when pan is gently shaken.

Remove from oven, and let cool for 10 minutes on rack before removing shell. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Spinkle with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with fresh reaspberries.

Biscotti And Homemade Chai

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The base recipe for these vanilla-almond biscotti (pictured above) can be adapted to all tastes. If you’re still looking for something to give your mother, or somebody else’s, on Mother’s Day, try making these. The almonds, pistachios and craisins can be replaced with anthing from chocolate chips to macadamia nuts to shredded coconut. Lemon and orange zests add a nice touch as well.

Although a chocolate coating is unecessary, white chocolate pairs especially well with the cranberry-pistachio variety. Truly, however, the biscotti taste delectable without any additions.

And the dark chocolate, I think, pairs best with the vanilla-almond biscotti. I use the large white and dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You for the glazes — regular chips probably work fine, but the Nuts to You chips harden relatively quickly, making the finished biscotti easy to store. Fante’s sells a similar brand as well.

To really spoil a mother this Sunday, make her a fresh batch of chai tea. Chill the tea in an old fashioned milk carafe, and adorn it with a festive bow. This recipe yields 8 cups, equal to about 16 servings, enabling the recipient to enjoy chai tea for weeks after Mother’s Day. The chai can be served hot, with steamed milk, or cold, over ice. A relatively new appliance, the Nespresso Aeroccino — my new favorite gadget — has enabled me to create tasty chai tea lattes at home. While this tool froths milk nicely, however, it is not critical — the chai, when warmed or chilled with equal parts milk, tastes equally satisfying.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Vanilla-Almond and Pistachio-Cranberry Biscotti
(White and Chocolate Covered)
Yield = 30-35

Note: If you just wish to make almond biscotti, which are delicious, omit the pistachios and cherries.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chopped pistachios
¼ cup dried cranberries or cherries
½ cup sliced almonds
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk
turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)

6 oz. dark chocolate wafers (optional)
6 oz. white chocolate wafers (optional)

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugars until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the vanilla and blend again.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the mixer and blend on low-speed until just combined.

3. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide into two equal portions. (Note: If you are just making almond biscotti, divide dough into 3 equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour — three hours to overnight is ideal. Then proceed to step 5.) Return one portion to the bowl and add the pistachios and dried cherries. Mix until just combined, then remove. Return remaining portion, add the almonds, mix until combined, then remove.

4. Divide each flavored dough ball into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a log about 10-inches long. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Three hours to overnight is ideal.

5. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place 2 (or 1 … 3 seems to be too many) logs on a parchment paper- or Silpat- lined baking sheet. Lightly brush each log with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

6. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are evenly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut the log crosswise on a slight bias with a serrated knife or a bench scraper. Lay the cut slices on their sides on the baking sheet. Return pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the biscotti cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooking rack. Cool completely.

7. Meanwhile, place the dark chocolate and the white chocolate each in separate bowls over barely simmering water until melted. Dip cooled biscotti into desired chocolate and place on cooling rack with dipped half facing up.

Let harden before storing in airtight plastic containers.

Homemade Vanilla Chai
Yield = 8 cups = 16 servings

4 cups water
4 cups milk
8 cardamom pods
1 knob ginger 1½-inches long
½ vanilla bean
1 tablespoon aniseed or fennel seeds
10 whole allspice
1 whole nutmeg
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
12 cloves
¼ cup black tea leaves such as Ceylon or Assam
¼ – ½ cup honey

Place water and milk in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest setting. (Mixture should not even be simmering.) Crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds and add both the pods and seeds to the pot. Peel ginger, slice thinly and add to pot. Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Using a paring knife, scrape seeds into pot, then add vanilla bean to pot as well. Add aniseed or fennel, allspice, nutmeg, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cloves and tea. Let spices steep for 15 minutes. Add ¼ cup of the honey. Taste. Add more honey 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture reaches desired sweetness. (Mixture can always be adjusted later with more milk or honey.) Place a fine-meshed strainer over a large bowl. Pour mixture through strainer, pressing spices against the mesh to release all of the liquid. Chill until ready to serve.

For hot chai tea, heat ½ cup chai with ½ cup milk in saucepan or microwave until simmering. For iced chai, pour ½ cup chai and ½ cup milk into ice-filled glass. Taste, and add more milk, chai or honey if necessary.

For a chai latte, place ½ cup milk in the carafe of a Nespresso Aeroccino and froth. Place ½ cup chai in mug (or pot) and heat in the microwave (or stovetop) until simmering. Spoon frothed milk onto hot chai and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.

Two Kentucky Derby Day Desserts

Derbycake

A panel of four judges from Jefferson Medical College, led by my sister Lindsey, polished off this mint julep cake in one sitting. A bourbon-butter sauce moistens the vanilla-buttermilk cake when it first emerges from the oven; and a crème de menthe icing coats the exterior once cooled. The boozy and minty flavors make this cake a truly festive Derby Day dessert.

And these assorted bourbon-spiked truffles, particularly the pecan-coated variety, are always a treat. The base truffle recipe is excellent and can be adapted in a number of ways: any alcohol or liqueur, from Grand Marnier to Port to Baileys Irish Cream, can replace the bourbon; and any coating from white chocolate to pistachios to toasted coconut can replace the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar and pecans. Although the truffles do take more time to prepare than the cake, the elegant presentation when combined with fresh strawberries makes the work worthwhile, for any special event. Enjoy!

Mint Julep Cake
Yield = 12-18 servings

2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

½ cup sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup bourbon

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon white crème de menthe liqueur

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with cooking spray.
Beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Meanwhile, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla.
Sprinkle half the flour mixture into the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Add half the buttermilk, stir. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk. Pour into prepared pan and smooth evenly around center.

Bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on cooling rack. Meanwhile combine the ½ cup sugar, butter and bourbon in a small saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Stir until smooth and remove from heat.

Using a skewer, poke holes into cake. Pour sauce evenly over the cake. Let cake cool to room temperature in the pan before removing.

Meanwhile whisk confectioners’ sugar, milk and crème de menthe until smooth. Add more milk or liqueur to reach desired consistency. Drizzle sauce over cooled cake. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Chocolate-Bourbon Balls
Yield = 35

10 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup bourbon
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks*
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Place the chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 minute, stirring after the first 30 seconds.
In a small sauté pan heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol, about a tablespoon at a time, into the chocolate mixture, stirring well after each addition. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a #100 scoop or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a large wide-mouthed pot with one inch of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and place the bowl of chocolate over the pot — make sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes stir the chocolate with a spatula. Place the cocoa powder, pecans and confectioners’ sugar in shallow vessels, preferably with sides. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.
When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Working one at a time, place one ball into the melted chocolate. Quickly coat the ball using a spatula or spoon, then transfer to desired coating vessel. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffle is coated, and let sit while you move to the next one. Repeat with two more before removing the first finished truffle. After 3 or 4 of the truffles have been coated, remove the first completed truffle to the clean vessel.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.
*Merckens brand from Fante’s or the dark chocolate disks from Nuts to You work well.

Passover Chocolate Cake

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

Of all the symbolic foods on the Passover Seder table, matzoh is the most important. Made without yeast and quickly baked, matzoh reminds Seder participants of the Jews fleeing Egypt who had no time to leaven their bread or bake it properly. Flour used to make matzoh is made from wheat that is “watched” from the moment of harvesting to ensure it never contacts any water, which might cause the flour to expand and rise.

As leavened flour is prohibited during Passover, flourless chocolate cakes are popular Passover desserts. This rich chocolate cake rises dramatically, cracks and then falls. When dusted with Passover “confectioners’ sugar” and garnished with berries, the cake looks striking on the table.

Flourless Chocolate – Almond Cake
Yield = 1 9-inch cake

8 oz semisweet chocolate
8 tablespoons margarine or butter
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs, separated
2 large eggs, whole
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
½ cup almond flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon potato starch
or confectioners’ sugar (for non-observers)

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place chocolate and margarine or butter in bowl and microwave on high for one minute, stirring once after 30 seconds.
Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with round of parchment paper, then spray the parchment as well.
Whisk chocolate mixture until smooth, then add salt and almond extract and stir until blended.
Whisk the four yolks and two whole eggs with the 1/3 cup of sugar just until blended. Add yolk mixture to chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in almond flour.
In the bowl of an electric mixture, whip the four egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the ½ cup sugar and beat until egg whites become shiny and hold their peaks, but are not too stiff.
Stir one third of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten. Then, in two additions, gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour batter into pan and place in oven. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes.
Cake will rise and have cracks running across it. It should feel only slightly wobbly when gently pressed. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 10 minutes before removing sides and transferring to cooling rack. Meanwhile, pulse sugar and potato starch in a spice grinder to make a powder. Sift mixture over cake and serve.