Recipes for Desserts

So Simple: Marion’s Kumquat Cake

October 22, 2018


Came upon this recipe just this morning, and it made me miss Marion so much.  I love her language: “This will now look like a bowl full of lumps.”

Trying to remember why I’d asked Marion for a cake recipe, it hit me that I wanted to make cupcakes to send to Nick’s class for what might have been the last day of first grade.  Or maybe it was for a simple cake for Michael’s birthday. Can’t remember.

But looking at it now, it strikes me as the perfect recipe for this time of year. Kumquats are just appearing in the market.  And so I will ignore Marion’s advice and go for the kumquats.


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How to Cope with Too Much Snow

March 15, 2018

The snow is incredible.  Three feet and still coming down.  We haven’t been able to leave the house for days now – the driveway is impassable – and I’m feeling isolated and alone.

But lemons make everything better. On days like this I find myself going to the refrigerator, reaching for a lemon, running my fingers across the peel and allowing the fragrance to float into the air. It’s an instant reminder that this weather won’t last, that spring will come.

And then I make a lemon tart.

Begin by making the tart shell. If you have some nuts on hand – I like cashews in this crust but almonds or hazelnuts are also excellent – carefully toast a handful, then grind them up with 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut half a stick of cold butter into the mixture with two knives, then stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and an egg yolk.  Press the mixture gently into a 9 inch tart shell with a removable bottom. Chill if you have time; if not, bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and allow to cool.

 To make the filling, grate the zest from one lemon.  Then squeeze 4 lemons and mix the juice with the zest, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 whole large eggs plus 2 large yolks. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture begins to boil; keep whisking for a couple more minutes.  Remove from the heat, add ¾ of a stick of butter, cut into pieces, and whisk the mixture until the butter has vanished.  Spread into the tart shell, allow to cool, then chill for at least 2 hours.



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Today’s Perfect Recipe

September 1, 2017

This is one of America’s best-loved fall desserts. And for good reason. Originally published in the New York Times by Marion Burros, it has been tweaked by any number of people. Including me.

Prune plums have a short season, that begins now.  Rather dull eaten out of hand, they positively sing when baked into this sweet fruity cake.

Plum Torte

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

zest of one lemon

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

12 large or 20 small prune plums, pits removed, halved the long way

4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided

Heat an oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan with high sides. (You really do need the height; a spring form pan is a good option.) Butter the bottom and sides of the pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.  Butter the parchment paper and dust the whole pan with flour.

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy in a standing mixer for about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time and thoroughly combine after each addition. If the batter appears curdled, do not worry, it is because the eggs may be cooler than the rest of the mixture, and the butter hardened when the eggs were added. The batter will become smooth with the addition of the flour..

Beat in the the buttermilk or yogurt and add the vanilla and lemon zest, medium speed

Whisk together the flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt, and add to the butter mixture until just combined.

Separate the halved plums into two equal piles.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and level the top with a small offset spatula.

Place the plums, cut side down on the batter, and sprinkle with two tablespoons brown sugar.

Spoon the rest of the mixture over the plums, and place the rest of the plums on top cut side up. Sprinkle with the remaining brown sugar.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden.

Cool the cake on a rack for 5 minutes. The cake will pull away from the sides of the pan.

Run a knife around the edge of the cake. Invert onto a plate, peel away the paper, and invert again onto a serving plate.

Best served warm but delicious at any temperature.


Sour Cherry Crostata

July 8, 2017

Sour Cherry Crostata

Most sour cherry recipes are too sweet, which ruins the unique flavor of this elusive fruit.  This one, I think, is just about perfect.  Another bonus: unlike so many pastries, this one is better when it’s had a little time to itself, and it tastes better on day two (provided it actually lasts that long).

Crostata Crust

This can be a soft and difficult dough to work with in the heat of summer.  But unlike regular pie dough, it’s a cookie-like pastry that’s very forgiving, and refuses to get tough, no matter how much you handle it. When it gets too soft, simply put it back in the refrigerator for five minutes to let it cool off. It will become much more accommodating.

Mix one and a half sticks of soft butter with a third cup of sugar in a stand mixer until fluffy. 

Break an egg into a small dish; reserve a bit to wash the pastry later, and add the rest of the egg to the butter. Toss in a teaspoon of vanilla.

Grate the rind of one lemon into 2 and a quarter cups of flour. Add a pinch of salt and slowly add to the butter/egg mixture until it just comes together.  Divide into two disks, wrap in wax paper, and put in the refrigerator to chill for half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the cherry filling by removing the pits from 2 pints of fresh sour cherries; you should have 4 cups once the pits are removed. To pit the cherries, open a paper clip one fold, and use it to flip the pits out.  Works like a charm!  The pitted cherries freeze well; I try to freeze enough to last at least until Christmas.  Do not defrost before using.

Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.  Add the cherries, a half cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon and stir gently, just until the liquids come to a boil. Don’t cook them too long or the cherries will start to fall apart.

Make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons of cold water and stir it into the boiling cherries. Cook for about two minutes, stirring, just until the mixture becomes clear and thick.  Allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 and put a baking sheet on the middle shelf.

Remove the pastry disks from the refrigerator.  Roll out the first one, between two sheets of plastic wrap, to a round about twelve inches in diameter.  This is the tricky part: invert it into a 9 inch fluted tart pan, preferably one with high sides.  It will probably tear; don’t worry, just patch it all up and put it back into the refrigerator.

Roll out the second disk in the same manner, put it onto a baking sheet (still on the plastic wrap), remove the top sheet of plastic and cut this into 8 or 10 strips, about an inch wide.  Put the baking sheet into the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes.

Remove the tart shell and the strips from the refrigerator.  Pour the cherry filling into the tart shell. Now make a lattice of the strips on the top, criss-crossing them diagonally.  Don’t worry if they’re not perfect; no matter what you do, the tart’s going to look lovely when it emerges from the oven.  Brush the strips with the remaining beaten egg, sprinkle with sugar and put into the oven on the baking sheet.  (You need the sheet to keep cherry juices from spilling onto the oven floor.)  Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden.

Cool for an hour, on a rack, before removing the side of the tart pan.

Eat gratefully, knowing that fresh sour cherries are a short-lived summer treat.


Gift Guide: A Cake for Christmas

December 23, 2016


Part sticky toffee pudding, part upside down cake, this glorious English confection comes together easily, requires no exotic ingredients- and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Best of all, it fills your house with the warm mingled aroma of ginger, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.

If you’re looking for the perfect dessert to take to a Christmas feast, look no farther.  This is easy to transport, and it keeps very well.

Should you want to make this a really impressive present, throw in a 10 inch pre-seasoned cast iron skillet.l8sk3_nYou can find them at most stores – or go right to the source, the Lodge Company.  I consider this particular skillet an essential kitchen tool; you can never have too many.

And now… The Perfect Christmas Cake

Sticky Upside Down Pear and Gingerbread Cake

Preheat the oven to 350.

Butter a 9 1/2 or 10 inch cake tin, then line the bottom with parchment paper.  (Alternatively, use a 10 inch cast iron skillet; if it’s well-seasoned you won’t need the parchment paper.)

Melt 2/3 of a stick of butter with 3/4 cup of brown sugar in a small pot until it turns into a creamy, caramel-colored glop.  Pour it into the cake tin and tip the pan to make the syrup evenly cover the bottom of the pan.

Peel 4 fat Bosc pears and cut off the tip and bottom end. (Do not core them; they’ll look so much better left to their own devices). Cut each pear in half and lay it in the pan, cut side down, with its tip pointing into the center of the pan. Set aside while you mix the gingerbread.

Put 1 and a half cups of all purpose flour into a small bowl.  Whisk in 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a teaspoon of ground ginger. Grate in a bit of nutmeg. Add a pinch of ground clove.

In another bowl beat 2 eggs.  Stir in a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup molasses or sorghum, 2/3 cups milk and a stick of melted butter. Grate in a small knob of fresh ginger.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until comes together into a smooth batter.  Pour over the pears, smooth the top and bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out fairly clean.  (Timing will depend on the size of your pan.)

Set on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then run a knife around the edge.

Find a large plate or cake platter. Place a sturdy oven mitt on each hand. Set the plate on top of the cake, then turn the whole thing upside down as quickly as possible.  The cake should slide easily out of the pan, leaving the pears smiling up at you. 

Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.