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Summer Zuccotto

Summer Zuccotto

 Ready for a delicious showstopper of a dessert that’s easy to make too? 

Yes, that’s right, the hardest part of this dessert is cutting the pieces of cake (store purchased) to fit your bowl.
I’m calling this a “summer” zuccotto because it’s not a true zuccotto, but there are so many ways to make zuccotto, who really knows what a true zuccotto is, anyway?
However you make your zuccotto, whether with ice cream or a ricotta filling, or with my recipe using fresh berries and whipped cream, it must be in a semi-spherical shape to be called a zuccotto. In Italian zuccotto means “little pumpkin” after all, and it’s a Tuscan dessert meant to mimic the shape of Brunelleschi’s famed dome in Florence.
I made it recently for our end-of-the-year picnic of my Italian chit-chat group, and it was only one of the many desserts at the table.
And the desserts came after at least a dozen different vegetable and side dishes, plus too many pizzas to count, made by our host Tony, an architect who built a wood-fired pizza oven into the side of his house. They really were the best pizzas this side of Naples.
But back to Florence, and the zuccotto.
Start out by marinating some berries with sugar and lemon. You’ll need that juice later.
What makes this easy is using a store bought cake. I used a Pan D’Oro, the classic egg-rich sponge cake sold in Italian specialty shops. If you can’t find one, buy a sponge cake, or make your own sponge cake, called “pan de spagna” in Italian. My recipe for sponge cake is here, if you need one.
Trim away the brown crusts and fit the cake pieces tightly into a bowl lined with plastic wrap.
Sprinkle the cake with the syrup mixed with liqueur.
Then load in the whipped cream mixed with the drained fruit.
Cover it all with a top layer of cake (this will become the bottom), and sprinkle on some more liquid from the berries (or rum, or whatever you like).
Place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or overnight. Then flip it onto a plate, pour the raspberry sauce on top and decorate.
Dig in and watch it disappear quicker than you can say Brunelleschi.
Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.

 

Summer Zuccotto
3 cups berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemonSlice the strawberries, then mix all the berries together with the sugar and lemon and let them sit for about an hour, or until juices have formed at the bottom of the bowl. While the berries and macerating, prepare the other ingredients:

1 Pan D’Oro, or a large sponge cake

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. gelatin, dissolved in a little water (1/4 cup or so)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup creme de cassis or rum or other liqueur
juice from the drained berries
for the raspberry sauce:
Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen raspberries, or a pint of fresh raspberries, 2 T. water and 1/4 cup sugar. Boil for about five minutes, then force through a strainer. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice and refrigerate.Line a bowl with plastic wrap. (Mine held approximately 2 quarts of liquid).
Cut the cake into large slices (about 1/2 inch thick) and fit them tightly into the bowl.

Drain the juice from the berries and add the orange juice and the liqueur and/or rum.
Spoon some of the juices all over the cake, wetting it all over.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let it sit for a few minutes while you whip the cream.

Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar, adding in the dissolved gelatin. Fold the drained berries into the whipped cream, then spoon the mixture into the cake-lined bowl.

Cover with more pieces of cake, and wet cake with more liquid. If you run out of liquid, you can always use rum, or if you prefer less alcohol, use a simple syrup (make it by boiling some water with sugar and letting it cool).

Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 12 hours, or overnight.

Serve with the sauce and decorate with more berries and mint leaves.

Fig And Lemon Olive Oil Cake And A Photo Tip

Fig and Lemon Olive Oil Cake and a photo tip

After conversing over the blogosphere with her for the last several months, I finally met Stacey of “Stacey Snacks” face-to-face.
Stacey’s recipes and photos gets me drooling first thing every morning, and I borrowed this recipe for fig and lemon cake from her blog. Lucky for me she lives in New Jersey and comes to Princeton fairly often for business. She was also kind enough to teach me a new function on my little point and shoot Canon camera that I’ll share with you now.

This shot of a bowl of frozen figs thawing out was taken indoors in my kitchen at night, with regular tungsten light bulbs overhead. Little did I know that you could change your camera’s setting to adjust for the light source, including florescent lighting. Here’s what my photo looked like before I changed it to the tungsten light bulb setting. It had been set on the default setting that came with the camera and doesn’t look so great with that yellow-y overtone does it?
A couple of little clicks on the back of the camera where you set it to a little icon that looks like a lightbulb and you’ve got this instead. What a difference. Thanks Stacey.
Now that it stays light longer into the evening, I will try to use natural light more often, but it’s great to know that my camera has this function for those times when I’m relying on indoor lights. If you’ve got Photoshop (which I don’t), you may also be able to change the white balance in the editing.

On to the cake! Stacey used dried figs for her cake, but I had stashed some fresh figs in the freezer last September and I figured it was time to use some of them. I had both the purple and the green kind put away and used a little of each variety. The cake was delicious with the fresh figs, but I have a feeling that for this recipe, the dried figs might be even better, with their concentrated sweet flavor and chewiness.Here’s the finished cake. Stacey’s recipe follows.Fig & Lemon Olive Oil Cake: (inspired by Martha Stewart)
Stacey’s recipe calls for a removable bottom tart pan, but I used a ceramic tart pan instead. Just make sure to grease it thoroughly first.

2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 oz. package of dried figs, chopped (I used about 1 1/2 cups of frozen figs that had been thawed)
zest of one lemon
1 tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a cake pan lined with parchment paper) with oil; set aside.

In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, milk, and egg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula just until smooth (do not over mix).

Gently fold in figs and lemon zest and rosemary.
Spread batter in prepared pan; set pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Strawberry Almond  Cream Tart

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

I was a good girl. I only ate one piece of this tart, even though I could have eaten the whole thing. But I played nice and let the seven other people sitting around the table have a slice too.

I’m still fantasizing about it though and I’m looking for an excuse to make it again. Has Arbor Day already passed? Grandparents Day? (Oh no, I’m not a grandmother yet. That won’t work.) There’s got to be a holiday today somewhere in the world that I can celebrate, no?

If you’re worried about rolling out that crust, have no fear. You don’t have to. You can just take it from the food processor and pat it into your tart pan with your fingers, as I did. The next time I make this, I may add a bit more sugar and try substituting some ground walnuts or pecans in the crust in place of some of the flour to give it even more flavor.

Be warned there are a few tricks to having the crust come out well. You don’t want to overwork it and make it as tough as shoe leather, and you don’t want the sides to shrink in the oven, leaving you with a flattish-looking tart shell. So pay attention:

For a 9 inch tart shell:
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 1 T. very cold butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 T. ice water

Place flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in food processor and whir for a minute to blend ingredients. Drop butter into the processor in little pieces and pulse until it reaches the consistency of oatmeal or very coarse sand. Add the beaten egg and the ice water and pulse for another few times until the mixture sticks together when pressed between your fingers. The less you work it in the food processor or your hands, the better.

Remove from food processor and press it into a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, making a thicker area around the perimeter. Prick it all over so it doesn’t bubble up in the oven. Place it in the freezer for at least a half hour. Longer is better. Butter a sheet of aluminum foil on the shiny side and lay it over the pastry shell. Bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. Remove the foil and bake 10 to 15 minutes more or until golden.
Let the tart shell cool. In the meantime, take 3/4 cup of sliced almonds and brown them in a nonstick skillet (don’t add butter or anything else to the pan) or toast the almonds in the oven until they turn color. They’ll burn really fast once they start to turn golden so watch them carefully. Cool the almonds. When the pastry shell has cooled, place the almonds inside like so:
You can start making the almond cream while the pastry is baking. Here’s what to do:
Recipe is adapted from a decades-old “Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking”.

1/2 cup sugar
3 T. cornstarch
3 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
2 cups milk
1 slightly beaten egg

1/2 cup whipping cream
1 t. almond extract (or vanilla if you prefer)

Combine sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat; cook and stir till thick and bubbly. Stir a little of the hot mixture into the beaten egg. (If you put the beaten egg directly into the hot mixture, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.) Return to remaining hot hot mixture. Bring just to boil, stirring constantly. Cool, then chill thoroughly, placing a piece of plastic wrap over the top to avoid a “skin” from forming. Whip the cream and fold into egg mixture with the almond extract.

When everything has cooled, spread the almond cream over the toasted almonds in the pie shell. The recipe for this almond cream was meant to fill a pie shell, so you will probably have more than you need to fill the 9-inch tart shell. (Oh, too bad, guess I’ll have to finish up the leftover cream.)
Slice strawberries (about one quart) and arrange over the cream, starting from the outside and working your way to the center like so:
After you’ve covered the entire pie in strawberry slices, heat about 1/2 cup jelly (currant or apricot) in a saucepan. I used currant and thinned it with the juice of 1/2 lemon. Using a pastry brush, paint the strawberries with the melted jelly and place in refrigerator until serving time.The result is a luscious tart with a shortbread crust, velvety almond cream and plump berries coated in a viscous jelly. Who could resist?

Lemon Cake – A Repeat

Lemon Cake – A Repeat

Obviously I’m losing it. My mind, that is. And this recipe too. I must have accidentally deleted this post from a few months back. Fortunately, I found a copy of it in the “edit” file.
So enjoy it now – some things are better the second time around. But if my original brain shows up, I’d like to get that back please.

*********************************

Kulak – what is it?

a. a Hungarian pastry made with cinnamon and almonds
b. a lightweight garment worn by the Inuit people
c. a prosperous peasant farmer in Czarist and early Soviet Russia
d. a traditional Indonesian side dish served at weddings

What’s this got to do with lemon cake you ask?
Well nothing really, except I made this lemon cake to serve Saturday evening, when we gathered with our friends, the Johnsons and the Janis, to play a game of Dictionary. To play it you need a dictionary, some paper and pencils and a good sense of humor. The object for one team is convince the other team of a phony definition for a word. One of the players on a team finds a word in the dictionary that no one has heard of. Each of the players on that team creates a phony definition and all of them are read aloud, including the real one. The players on the other team vote for whichever definition they believe is the real one. The made-up definitions can sound pretty convincing and sometimes hilarious. We were all in stitches by the end of the night.

OK, so back to the lemon cake. This is a recipe given to me more than 25 years ago by my friend Carol, whom I met when our boys were in nursery school together. Carol has been living in Boulder, Colorado for decades and we’ve actually reconnected through this blog – another reason I’m glad I started this. Carol called this cake the “E. 62nd Street Lemon Cake,” and only today, after googling it, did I learn that it’s a classic recipe that originated with Maida Heatter, the doyenne of desserts. If anyone knows why it’s called “E. 62nd St. Lemon Cake,” please let me know. Maybe that’s where she lived when she created the recipe.

The recipe calls for the rinds of two lemons, but I would use another one the next time to punch up the lemon flavor. I would also double the glaze recipe below that soaks into the cake. The original recipe also does not call for the white frosting, but I added that because it just tastes great and looks nice too.

E. 62nd Street Lemon Cake

3 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
finely grated rind of two lemons

Glaze: 1/3 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
Stir lemon juice and sugar together.

Butter and flour a tube or bundt pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift first three ingredients. In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add sugar and beat for two to three minutes. Add eggs and mix a few more minutes. Alternately, add dry ingredients and milk. Stir in lemon rind. Pour into a tube or bundt pan and bake for one hour and 10 to 15 minutes.
Let cake stand about three minutes then cover with rack and invert. Remove pan, then flip back over and while still hot, brush with glaze. Let it cool.

If desired, make a separate glaze/frosting using about two cups of sifted confectioner’s sugar and about three or four tablespoons lemon juice. It should not be as thick as traditional frostings, but not as thin as a glaze either — somewhere in between. Continue adding either lemon juice or confectioner’s sugar until you get the right consistency. When cake is cool, drizzle on top and let some run down sides.

And for all those of you who stayed with me this far and are wondering about kulak:
The answer is c. a prosperous peasant farmer in Czarist and early Soviet Russia.

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I must be channeling a lot of other bloggers unconsciously since I made this cake the same week that Tuesdays With Dorie bakers chose chocolate amaretti cake as their project. Even though we use the same ingredients, the proportions for mine are different, with more chocolate, more amaretti and more almonds. This is one case where more is more.
I also serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, rather than a chocolate frosting. Just mention the word cream and I’m in. Plus I like the contrast of vanilla and chocolate.

You don’t have to use those expensive, individually wrapped amaretti that come in a red tin. Just buy the kind you find in bags in the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

You’ll understand why this cake is worth blogging about once you try it. It’s rich with chocolate flavor, it’s elegant, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve been baking this for years for my Italian chit-chat group and by now many of them have adopted this recipe too.

This cake reminds me of the time we were living in a fully furnished apartment in Rome and I offered to contribute this cake to a dinner at a friend’s home. Trouble was we had no mixer. The kitchen was large but the batterie of pots, pans and other kitchen equipment was rather deficient to put it kindly. I asked the landlord if he could get us a mixer, a toaster and a corkscrew, and he did come through with the toaster and the corkscrew. But instead of a mixer, he brought over a stick blender – the kind you use to make pureed soups.
Something definitely got lost in the translation.
Oh well, you make the best with what you’re given and I managed to turn out a pretty terrific chocolate amaretti cake using the stick blender. Hopefully you have a real mixer in your kitchen.
Chocolate Amaretti Cake

6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
1 cup almonds
1 cup amaretti cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round cake pan all around and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.
Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Put the almonds and amaretti cookies in a food processor and grind until it resembles sand.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl occasionally.
To the mixing bowl, add the nut and amaretti mixture and the melted chocolate.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
Let it cool and flip onto a serving platter. Remove the parchment paper and decorate with powdered sugar, using a paper doily as a pattern. I have also baked this in a pretty ceramic dish and served it without flipping it. Just be aware that the top may be a little crunchy and cracked if you serve it this way. You can still decorate with powdered sugar, which hides a lot of defects.

Serve with plain whipped cream, or whipped cream flavored with a little bit of coffee liqueur or instant coffee dissolved in a little liqueur, or with ice cream.

Hurry up. Get going. I know you’ll want to chomp down on this:

Pear Apple Crostata

Pear Apple Crostata

Last week I promised you this recipe, courtesy of my friend Jan who brought it for dessert recently following our dinner of stuffed shells. It was warm and beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a photo of the entire thing before we sliced into it, but one can only resist so much temptation. You can call it a galette, a croustade, a crostata or even an open-face pie. But whatever you call it, call it fantastic.

Jan used dried cranberries and dried cherries, but if you don’t have both, you can substitute more of one or the other. Eat this warm topped with a scoop of ice cream, and it could become your go-to dessert.

pastry crust:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel (maybe even a little bit more, but not a tablespoonful)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter cut cross-wise in 1/2 inch slices
1/4 cup or more heavy cream

Whisk flour, sugar, lemon peel, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter; using pastry cutter, blend butter with flour mixture until coarse meal forms. Drizzle 1/4 cream over; toss with fork until moist clumps form adding more cream by teaspoonfuls as needed if dry. I added 2 more teaspoons. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. You may do this a day ahead. In that case, let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Filling:
5 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, peeled cored, and thinly sliced
1 large granny smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2-3 tablespoons dried cherries
5 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons (maybe a bit more) finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon (generous) ground nutmeg
heavy cream for brushing
sliced almonds for edge

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix all fruit, sugar, flour, lemon juice, lemon peel, and nutmeg in a large bowl to coat. (I whisked together the sugar, flour, lemon peel and nutmeg before adding the juice or the fruit.)
Roll out pastry on sheet of floured parchment paper to 14inch round, Transfer crust on parchment paper to baking sheet. Mound fruit in center of pastry, leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold pastry border over fruit, crimping slightly. Brush edges with cream and gently press on sliced almonds.

Bake until filling bubbles and almonds are lightly toasted, about 1 hour. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream if desired.

Related Posts:

Fig Crostata

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

When I was a young girl, my mother made a lamb cake for Easter, using a specially shaped aluminum cake pan. I inherited the pan decades ago, and carried on the tradition when my kids were little, but then forgot about it as they grew up. A few years ago, I resurrected it when my niece and her then two-year old son Hayden came for Easter. It was a big hit, even though it just didn’t seem right cutting into the cute little creature for dessert.

I don’t have my mother’s original recipe, but I found a pretty good one on Allrecipes.com a few years ago that I’ve included below. It’s a nice firm-textured white cake that holds up well as you stand the lamb upright to frost and serve. I once used this cake pan for my daughter’s birthday, repositioning the ears and frosting the cake to resemble our cat Rocky. At that time, I used a cake mix, but the softer texture didn’t hold up well. When I went to serve the cake, to my dismay, Rocky’s head had fallen off. A few wooden skewers later and a camouflaging ribbon around the neck and he was good as new. Lesson learned – don’t use a box cake mix for this specialty pan.

I like it with a buttercream icing, but you can use a cream cheese icing, or any kind you prefer.
The hard part is cutting the first slice. I hate to see that little lambie’s butt sliced off. It’s even harder to see it decapitated, but all that icing and coconut around the ears makes me come to my senses.

I know there are similar pans available for sale on various websites including Amazon.com. You may even be able to find one at a good kitchenware store where you live. If you don’t have a lamb form, it’s also delicious as a layer cake using two 9″ cake pans.

Lamb Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites

Directions

  1. First, prepare your mold. Coat with vegetable oil, let sit for a few minutes then wipe clean with a paper towel. Then grease and flour your mold, making sure to get all the little areas.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Sift the cake flour, then sift again with the baking powder and salt; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Add the vanilla.
  4. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then quickly fold in the remaining whites.
  5. Fill the face side of the mold with batter. Move a wooden spoon through the batter GENTLY, to remove any air pockets. Make sure not to disturb the greased and floured surface of the mold. Put the lid on the mold, making sure it locks or ties together securely so that the steam and rising batter do not force the two sections apart.
  6. Put the mold on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for about 1 hour. Test for doneness by inserting a skewer or wooden toothpick through a steam vent. Put the cake, still in the mold, on a rack for about 15 minutes. CAREFULLY, remove the top of the mold. Before you separate the cake from the bottom let it cool for about 5 more minutes so that all the steam can escape and the cake can firm up some more. After removing the rest of the mold, let the cake cool on the rack completely. DO NOT sit the cake upright until completely cooled.
  7. I frosted my lamb with a buttercream frosting, then covered it in coconut and pressed in some small pieces of raisin for the eyes and nose. Give it a little ribbon collar and lay it on a bed of coconut dyed green with food coloring. Decorate with jelly beans and/or small chocolate eggs if desired.
Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

I was inspired by Marie of “Proud Italian Cook” to make this dessert, after she posted her recipe for a decadent Nutella Hot Chocolate earlier this week.

I got to thinking … hmm, I have a jar of artisanal chocolate and hazelnut spread that was given to us last October by a young couple we met at a chestnut festival in Soriano, Italy. It’s made with dark chocolate – my favorite – but after microwaving it in the jar several times to pour over poached pears and ice cream, it had hardened beyond hope. Maybe I could salvage it by melting it in some heated cream to flavor a rice pudding — one of my husband’s favorite desserts.
I had just enough for about three servings.
That was last night.
Now who gets to eat the one serving that’s left in the fridge?
This is not going to be pretty.

Nutella Chocolate Rice Pudding

If you don’t have Nutella, or an artisanal chocolate-hazelnut spread as I did, you can substitute about 3 tablespoons of cocoa.

1 1/2 cups skim milk
1 1/2 cups cream
or
3 cups half and half

1/4 cup Nutella, or a similar spread
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup arborio riceCheck Spelling
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. Cointreau, rum or any liqueur

In a medium saucepan, gently heat the milk and cream or half and half. Add the remaining ingredients, except vanilla and liqueur. Stir constantly over low to medium heat for about 20 minutes, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add vanilla and liqueur. Pour into serving bowls and cover with a piece of plastic wrap in order to avoid “skin” from forming. Serve as is or with whipped cream.

For Maria – Lemon “Angel Wing” Cupcakes

For Maria – Lemon “Angel Wing” Cupcakes

My mother Maria used to bake these cupcakes for me and my sister to take to school on our birthdays when we were young girls. She called them “angel wing cupcakes.”

My mother was lauded for her wonderful Italian cooking, but not so much for her baking. Indeed, she used a box mix for both the cupcakes and the lemon filling, but to us they were the best cupcakes in the world. Like everything Maria did, she baked these with love.

My mother died 22 years ago, way too young at 64 years of age.

I haven’t eaten these cupcakes since I was little, but I baked them yesterday – on my mother’s birthday – in tribute to a loving woman who is still dearly missed.

Lemon Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup milk

Sift together dry ingredients. In mixer, beat the butter until creamy, then add sugar and beat until mixture is well blended and light, about three or four minutes. Add whole eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, then add vanilla extract and lemon zest and beat a little more. Mix in lemon juice. The batter will look curdled but don’t worry about it – when you blend in the flour mixture it will become smooth again. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk until completely blended. Fill cupcakes 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. I filled mine too full and had to trim off the part that spilled over after they had cooled.

When cupcakes are cooled, take a small paring knife and excavate a small pyramid shape from the top of each one. Set aside the small cut-out. Fill the hole with lemon filling. Cut the reserved pyramid shape in half and arrange on top of the filling. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and place a maraschino cherry in center.

Lemon Filling:

1 cup sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
3 T. cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups water
juice and zest of 2 lemons
2 T. butter
4 egg yolks

In a pan, stir together sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Add water, lemon juice and lemon zest and cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the butter. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk, then stir in a small amount of the hot lemon mixture. Continue to add a small amount of the hot mixture to the egg yolks, whisking all the while. If you add the hot mixture too quickly, you risk curdling the eggs. The idea is to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs with a small amount of the hot lemon mixture. Use it for the cupcake filling “as is,” but if you’re worried about raw egg yolks, put everything back on the range and cook another minute or two. The mixture should be thick, but will thicken even more when cool.

A Very Late Buche De Noel

A Very Late Buche De Noel

This is what I normally prepare for Christmas Day dessert, but this year I chose to make a Raspberry Bombe instead. As tasty as the bombe was, I have to say I missed the buche. The yule-log was missing from our yule.

So I took the opportunity to make it for a post-Hanukkah party this weekend. It doesn’t have to be a holiday treat. It is sensational for any large, winter gathering, with shredded coconut strewn for snow and little meringue mushrooms sprouting up around the log.

It’s not a project for the faint of heart, but if you’re patient and follow the directions carefully, you can do it. If you can read, you can cook, I always tell friends who lament that they can’t cook. Muster up your courage and go for it. Make sure you read the directions thoroughly before starting. If you really mess it up, you can throw it all in a glass bowl and call it a trifle. If you don’t tell anyone it was supposed to be a yule log, they’ll never know.
I’ll never forget my first attempt at making a chocolate souffle, decades ago. It never rose to puffy heights, but my husband proclaimed the dessert “the best brownies I’ve ever eaten.”

With a few small changes, this is adapted from a recipe for “bittersweet chocolate roulade” from an episode of “America’s Test Kitchen.”

This cake tastes best served at room temperature.

for the cake:

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup sifted cocoa, plus 1 T. for unmolding
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1/8 t. salt
6 large eggs, separated
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/8 t. cream of tartar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, cover pan bottom with parchment paper and spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Dust surface with flour and tap out excess.

2. Bring some water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine chocolate, butter and water in small heatproof bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set bowl over pan, reduce heat to medium low and heat until butter is almost completely melted and chocolate pieces are glossy and fully melted. Do not stir or let water boil under chocolate. Remove bowl from pan, unwrap and stir until smooth and glossy.

3. While chocolate is melting, sift 1/4 cup cocoa, flour and salt together into small bowl and set aside.

4. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add about 1 t. sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form, about 40 seconds. Gradually add half of sugar and beat until whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer. Do not over beat. If whites look dry and granular, they are over beaten. Remove whites into a large bowl.

5. Beat yolks at medium speed until just combined, and add half of remaining sugar. Continue to beat, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary until yolks are pale yellow and mixture falls in thick ribbons when whisk is lifted, about 8 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine, scraping down bowl once.

6. Stir chocolate mixture into yolks, a small amount at a time so you don’t scramble the eggs. With a rubber spatula, stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold remaining whites until almost no streaks remain. Sprinkle dry ingredients over top and fold in quickly but gently.

7. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing batter into pan corners. Bake until center of cake springs back when touched with finger, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.

8. While cake is cooling, lay clean kitchen towel over work surface and sift remaining tablespoon cocoa over towel. With hands, rub cocoa into towel. Run paring knife around perimeter of baking sheet to loosen cake. Invert cake onto paper towels and peel off parchment. This is tricky and it’s entirely possible that the cake will crack when you’re inverting it, or rolling it, as it did for me. Don’t worry if this happens. It can be covered with frosting.

9. Roll cake, paper towels and all, into jelly roll shape. Cool for 15 minutes, then unroll cake and paper towels. Spread filling over surface of cake, almost to edges. Roll up cake gently but snugly around filling. Put cake seam-side down on top and place in refrigerator for an hour to harden the filling a bit. This will make it easier to frost.

10. Remove cake from refrigerator and trim ends at a diagonal. Spread ganache frosting on cake, including exposed edges. Take the edges that you trimmed off and attach to the top of the log as little stumps, using a long wooden skewer to help prevent them from sliding off. Spread more ganache on the little stumps reserving a teaspoonful for later. Use a fork to make wood-grain striations on the surface of the ganache before the icing has set. Refrigerate uncovered. Before serving, remove wooden skewers and patch the hole with a little dab of some frosting. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best flavor.

Filling:

Espresso-Mascarpone Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1. Simmer cream in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder and powdered sugar. Cool.
2. With spatula, beat mascarpone in medium bowl until softened. Gently whisk in cooled cream mixture until combined.

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T. unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 T. cognac

Microwave cream and butter in measuring cup on high until bubbling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Place chocolate in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. With machine running, gradually add hot cream and cognac through feed tube and process until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer ganache to medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for one hour, until spreadable.

Meringue Mushrooms

2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
dash cream of tartar

Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and sugar, gradually, until mixture forms stiff peaks. Place into a plastic bag and trim off a bit at the corner. Or use a pastry bag. Pipe onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, some in small cap shapes and some in long “stem” shapes. Dab the tops with water to smooth out any pointy tips. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave in the oven another 1/2 hour. Let cool. Before serving cake, cut little holes in the bottom of a cap shaped piece and push a stem shaped piece into it. You can frost the bottom of the cap first if you like, but be aware that these will soften quickly once you frost them. Don’t assemble the mushrooms until you are ready to serve the cake. When all the mushrooms are placed around the cake, dust the caps and the cake with more cocoa, for a “dirt” effect.