Tag Archives: Dessert

From the ruins

lavender lemon shortbread

Years and years ago, when I first moved back to London for graduate school, I was lucky enough to live in a furnished apartment. Or, almost. The one thing that was missing was a desk *, which seemed essential at the time, given that I was a student.

My roommate—who I had met through a mutual friend but not actually met in person—and her parents knew this and mere minutes after I arrived, whisked me off to Ikea. Or, it felt like that anyway.

I was still bleary eyed from the red eye transatlantic flight and the surreal experience of presenting the customs officer with a notarized acceptance letter and a bank check for thousands of GBP made out to University College London. And, I was in need of everything that didn’t fit within the confines of two suitcases. And, also, very, very tired.

By the time we got to the bays holding the desks, I was dead on my feet. But, it hardly mattered. I knew what a wanted—an understated blonde wood one that would blend in perfectly with the rest of the furniture in my bedroom. I pointed to it, my roommate’s father helped me get it down and then it sat in my flat for two days before I had the energy to open up the box and build it.

When I did, it was bright orange.

Stay with me here. There’s a point, and I’m getting to it.

I was alone in my flat and started to laugh aloud, like a crazy person. This wasn’t what I wanted at all. But, I had no access to a car, and no easy way of getting to Ikea to return the desk without one. I had no choice but to start building. The funny thing was that, as I did, I realized that aesthetically, the orange desk worked and, in fact, made my bedroom look far better than the beech wood version ever could.

The recipe below was meant to be something different.

I had visions of flaky buttery cookies sandwiched between tangy lemon curd. There would be just enough acid to counterbalance the richness and just enough heft to the cookie so that it would be easily stackable. They would be delicious.

And, then the cookies came out of the oven and they too flaky.

I tried to dollop some lemon curd between two and they fell apart. Once I got over the initial disappointment, I realized I was right about at least one thing—they were delicious and tender enough to almost melt away.

All of which is to say, from the ruins: shortbread.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBS lemon zest
1 tsp dried lavender
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup corn flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp salt

Cream the butter and powdered sugar. Add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and lavender until it is well blended. Sift the flours and salt together, then add it into the creamed butter/sugar and thirds. The mixture will appear sandy at first. Beat util a soft dough forms, taking care not to over blend.

Roll into logs about 1″ in diameter, coating in cornmeal. Cover in wax paper and refrigerate at least one hour.

When you are ready to cook, heat your oven for 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the shortbread into rounds 1/4″ wide. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake 12-14 minutes. The shortbread will be pale. Allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes on the baking tray to crisp.

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry

*Actually that’s not entirely true. For the first two months in the flat, we were also missing dining room table chairs. How we finally got them is another story.


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Filed under Cookies, Dessert

Setting the Bar High

Before we begin, let me get this out of the way. The last time I made marshmallows, I swore I would never do so again.

They’re sticky. And exacting. And, truth be told, unless they’re charred within an inch of life, I don’t really enjoy them that much. Okay, that might be overstating it, but I don’t enjoy them nearly enough to go through all of that effort to make them from scratch when there’s a perfectly good fall back option.

And, yet, here I was doing just that.

Because, I make things complicated.

There, I said it. In black and white print for all of the world to see.

And, now for the rationalization. You knew this was coming, right? This weekend, I’ll be hosting my Summer Picnic. It’s the third year, and I’m setting the bar high. It’s becoming a tradition, albeit one that’s slightly earlier this year, owning to some travel plans. Still.

The first year was all about learning the process. It was small, partially on the theory that if I charred the pork or made a mess of things, then it was easy enough to order pizza for 9 people. I think about these things.

Last year. Well, what is there to say about last year? A gathering of nine became a gathering of almost thirty. There were menu additions. And, eight pounds of pork devoured within the first hour.

Not content to rest on my laurels this year, I’m setting the bar high. Which means, in practical terms that the cooking has started. As has the culling of new recipes. When I saw a recipe for S’mores bars it seemed just thing.

Except that I cannot leave well enough alone. The thought process went something like this, If I’m already making the brownies, why wouldn’t I make the graham crackers, too?

I’m told that rational people don’t have thoughts like this, let alone act on them. Me? I was getting out the standing mixer and soon after covered in fluff. In case you’re wondering, I have gelatin at the ready, for situations such as this one.

Will my guests notice the from scratch difference? Hard to say, although I’m sure that I’ll be pointing it out each time someone takes a bite of something (I’m a great host, I swear).

One last thing, before we get to the recipe—having tasted the homemade marshmallows again, I’ll say this: They’re good. Really, really good..

Worth the effort in fact.


David Lebovitz

2 envelopes (17g) powdered gelatin or 17g sheet gelatin (8 to 10 sheets)
1/2 cup (125ml) + 1/3 cup (80ml) cold water
1 cup (200g) sugar
1/3 cup (100g) light corn syrup
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup, 110g), at room temperature
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

Marshmallow Mix
One part corn starch (or potato starch), one part powdered sugar (about 1 cup, 140g, each)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/2 cup (125ml) of cold water to dissolve and soften. If using leaf gelatin, soak the leaves in about 2 cups (500ml) cold water.

In a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, mix the sugar and corn syrup with 1/3 cup (80ml) of water. Place over medium-to-high heat.

(Note that you will use this saucepan twice, to make the syrup and melt the gelatin, eliminating the need to wash it between uses).

In the bowl of an electric mixer, pour in the egg whites and beat on low speed until frothy. Add the pinch of salt.

When the syrup reaches about 210ºF (99ºC), increase the speed of the mixer to high and beat the whites until they are thick and fluffy.

When the syrup reaches 245ºF (118ºC), slowly pour the hot syrup into the whites, pouring so that the syrup does not fall on the whisk since some of the syrup will splatter and stick to the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the gelatin and water into the pan that you used for the syrup, or put the gelatin sheets and 2 tablespoons of the water into the pan and swirl it to dissolve. (There should still be residual heat left in the pan from making the syrup in it to dissolve it).

Pour the liquified gelatin slowly into the whites as they are whipping. Add the vanilla extract or paste and continue to whip for 5 minutes, until the mixture is feels completely cool when you touch the outside of the bowl.

Dust a baking sheet evenly and completely with a generous layer of the marshmallow mixture. A sifter works well for this purpose. Make sure there are absolutely no bare spots.

Use a spatula to spread the marshmallows in a layer on the pan. Allow to dry for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, uncovered.

Put about 1 cup (140g) of the marshmallow mixture into a large bowl.

Dust the top of the marshmallows with some of the marshmallow mixture. Use a pizza cutter or scissors (dusted as well with the marshmallow mixture) to cut the marshmallows into any size or shape pieces that you’d like and toss the marshmallows in the marshmallow mixture. Shake the marshmallows vigorously in a wire strainer to remove the excess powder.

Alternatively, you can dust a baking sheet and put scoops of the marshmallow on it, and let them cool.

Makes 25-50 marshmallows, depending on marshmallows, depending on how you decide to cut them


Filed under Dessert, Etc.

Any idiot*

Right now, the dishwasher needs emptying. My laundry—clean, at least—remains piled, waiting to be put away. There are bills, unpaid. All the quotidian things that fill up one’s day. And, yet, I can’t bring myself to tend to them. I feel like writing.

I’m going to say that again: I feel like writing.

It’s been a long time.

Too long.

What happened was this: first, I was busy just generally being busy. Somewhere along the line, I stopped cooking all that much. I stopped writing before then. After hours spent in front of a computer screen during the day, I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t do much of anything.

Or better stated, any idiot can face a crisis—it’s day to day living that wears you out.*

They say it takes 30 days to establish a habit and almost no time to break it. So, no sooner than a friend—an editor, no less—had complimented my writing, it all but stopped. We don’t talk about these things.

In the same way we don’t talk about how adding just a hint of cinnamon makes chocolate, making it taste like a truer version of itself. Coffee will do the same. If you bake enough, you just know.

So, what happened was this: walking through the Union Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, the scent of the stone fruit was overwhelming. Luscious, fragrant, the very essence of summer. And, suddenly for the first time in more than a month, I felt like getting out the kitchen scale. A small thing, really. Sort of, anyway. And, as luck would have it, owing to the generosity of a friend who, having heard me talk about wanting to make lavender ice cream had sent me some of the flowers, a recipe was born.

Did you know that adding just a hit of lavender to stone fruit will make the fruit the best version of itself? Truer, more floral.

Well, now you do.

Stone Fruit and Lavender Crostada

For the Pastry:
1 cup flour
3 TBS sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 TBS butter (1 stick)
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp lavender

For the Filling:
1.5 lbs peaches, plums, apricots
juice of 1 lemon
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS flour

For the pastry:
Sift the flour and salt in a large bowl, adding in the sugar, lavender and lemon zest, stirring to combine. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and the water until the dough is pebbly. Then, turn the dough out onto a well floured surface, rolling it into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. While the dough is chilling, make your filling and preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

To assemble the filling:
Cut the peaches, apricots, and plums into wedges and place them in a bowl. Toss with the juice of a lemon, 1 TBS flour, and 1 TBS sugar. Set aside.

Assemble the crostada:
Roll the pastry out into a 10-11″ circle on a lightly floured surface, then transfer it onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a fork, piece the dough to allow air to escape. Place the fruit in the center of the dough, allowing for an inch border on all sides. Fold the border of the pastry over the fruit, pleating it to form an edge.

Bake 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

*with thanks to Chekhov

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And, just like that.

I’m back!

mex choc cake

Please forgive my absence. To put it in perspective, it took me two days to finish this article. It’s short, I know. I have no excuse, other than that I got too busy. I’m fully aware of the irony of that statement.

For what it’s worth, it once took me over a month to finish an article from The New Yorker on procrastination.

This will seem all the more appropriate when I tell you that I began to write this post back in February, when I was recapping one of the many dinners that I had hosted.

It was months ago, and, had I gotten around to writing this when I originally planned, I would have regaled you with stories of wandering around midtown Manhattan with some colleagues trying to find a place to buy lottery tickets. It was one of the largest jackpots in New York history, or at least that’s what the news was saying.

Did we think we would win? Probably not, although it should be noted that there’s something to be said to surrendering one’s self to any sort of possibility, however far fetched. Even I got caught up in the frenzy. A first for me—when I was younger, I was always the killjoy at the bodega, opting out of lottery tickets in favor of violets.

I know, I sound like a bit of a killjoy here, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won plenty. The short list includes:

  • Camper of the year (Twice. I’m still flummoxed by that one)

  • several bottles of wine

  • $100 from FreshDirect

  • Another $100 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce

  • a book about women’s lives.

There was an award associated with the last one, although I’m fairly certain that, as with the rest of the cases mentioned above, luck played a great part. Well, luck and having some not so busy moments at various jobs when I could fill out surveys.

Still, winning seems to be missing the point. Ultimately, what it comes down to is that not everything can be a victory. Not every cake can be a celebratory one, with craters of butter cream and fondant (although once it cools down again, I may have a new dinner party project). When it came to the lottery, I didn’t stand a chance.

And, when it comes to cake, lately I prefer this one. It’s a workhorse of a cake, by which I mean that there’s really no occasion for which it’s not suited. It’s versatile enough that you can eat it for breakfast. But, with the right company, and a scoop of just the rice kind of ice cream, it makes any dinner special. Just the thing as my days become more manic. Turns out, I’m not busy so much as overly ambitious. Here’s to hoping I’ll be able to focus some of that ambition to this corner of the internet.

Mexican Spiced Chocolate Cake
Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour an 8″ round cake pan.

Cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well. Then, add the buttermilk and vanilla. Sift in the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chipotle, baking soda, and salt into your creamed sugar mixture. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Pour batter into your pan, and bake it for approximately 50 minutes. When your cake is fully cooked a tester placed in the center will come out clean. Cook the cake for 10-15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

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The Apotheosis of Arrogance

I’ll say this: it takes a certain kind of person to see a recipe from a well respected pastry chef and think, I can do that better.

sweet potato ice cream

Probably the same sort of person who goes to a bakery to buy ingredients for the sole purpose of recreating their recipe or goes through the trouble of making homemade marshmallows. (Sorry, folks, there will be no recap for that one. Just a statement: it’s an even sticker process that you think.)

There are names for people like me, none of them flattering.

In my defense, by better I meant better suited for a very specific dinner party I was hosting. In this case, I was looking for something that combined the flavors of Mexico and Japan. No small feat, until I was flipping though The Perfect Scoop. Then, inspiration: Sweet Potato Ice Cream.

While I can’t claim that my version of sweet potato ice cream was better than the original, it certainly did a good job of hitting all the right notes. Plus, it went really well with Mexican Chocolate Cake. I’ll share that recipe soon. I promise.

Naturally by soon, I mean sometime within the next year.

Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Adapted, very generously from The Perfect Scoop

The most notable adaptations I made here were roasting the potatoes, first, to help deepen the flavor, and omitting the pecans. I’m sure they would be lovely, and, in fact, that version might make it onto my Thanksgiving table.

1 pound sweet potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Piece the sweet potatoes, and roast for 45 minutes, until they are soft. Allow them to cool and then remove the flesh from the skins.

Pour the heavy cream, milk, brown sugar, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt into a blender, and puree until the mixture is smooth. Add lemon juice to taste. Press the mixture into a strainer to remove any pulp.

Chill the mixture, then freeze it in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Freeze until ready to serve.

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Starting with Dessert

It occurs to me that I’ve started the Friendsgiving recaps in the wrong order: with dessert first.

Although, on second thought, that’s probably the best idea I’ve had—along with my late night ice cream inspiration, anyway.

Plus, given the amount of pumpkin within this custard, it could serve as a side dish. A really, really decadent one.

If I’m being completely honest, my family has had many post-Thanksgiving meals where we’ve done just that. All things considered, it’s just shy of being too sweet. Making it the perfect candidate for any meal.

If you choose to eat your leftovers for breakfast, I won’t tell. In fact, I may be doing this same this week.

Pumpkin Custard

3 cups mashed pumpkin
6 TBS butter, melted
9 TBS all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 eggs, beaten

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a pie dish and set it aside.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, melted butter, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Combine well, then add in the sugar and stir. Once all ingredients are incorporated, add in the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour the custard mixture into the greated pie dish.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean.

Serves Eight

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Well, that seems about right.

Remember my kinda sorta planning?

About that.

It began in earnest around midnight that night. File this under: it seemed like a good idea at the time. If you’ve been following along, this should come as no surprise.

In my defense, it was all in the service of a good idea: namely, cinnamon ice cream.

Since I was making a Thanksgiving themed dinner, I wanted to hit all of the traditional notes—to me, that means some sort of variation on pumpkin pie and vanilla ice cream. Mind you, my family has spent more Thanksgivings than most in restaurants, so my conception of traditional Thanksgiving may be a little skewed. And that seemed boring.

Cinnamon ice cream seemed to encapsulate exactly what I was trying to achieve—the traditional flavor in a slightly different format. In other words, it was perfect.

But, if I was going to include it, I needed to get started right away. And, so, there I was tempering eggs at 1 in the morning. I’m nothing if not dedicated.

You could certainly make ice cream over in several hours, but I tend to think it’s one of those things that’s better made over the course of two days, in order to ensure that your custard base has enough time to cool. However you do it, don’t leave out the straining step—it ensures that, if you haven’t tempered the eggs properly, your ice cream will still be creamy.

And, isn’t that the whole point?

Well, that and the indulgence of it, anyway.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
Method courtesy of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
4 egg yolks
pinch of kosher salt

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, setting the them aside and reserve the outside.

In a medium saucepan, warm one cup of the heavy cream, the milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla seeds, allowing everything to come to simmer. Be careful not to bring the mixture to a boil. After the mixture comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat, cover it and let it steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.

While the infused cream is cooling, pour the remaining cup of heavy cream into a large bowl, and put fine mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.

Once the infused cream has finished cooling, slowly pour it into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Then, whisk the warmed egg yolks and cream back into the saucepan. Stirring the mixture constantly using a heatproof spatula, heat over a medium flame. Take care to scrape the bottom of the saucepan as you stir. Once the mixture thickens and coats the spatula the custard is ready. Pour it through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Add in the vanilla bean and stir, until cooled.

Chill the mixture in your refrigerator until you are ready to churn. When ready to churn, remove the vanilla bean, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructors.

Makes One Quart

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