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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.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

Raspberry Christmas bombe

For years we celebrated Christmas dinner with my friend Jan and her family. Jan would always prepare this bombe for dessert, while I made a chocolate yule log.
When I was thinking about what to serve my large family clan for dessert after our traditional Christmas Eve fish dinner, this bombe naturally came to mind. It’s refreshing, it’s light, it’s colorful and it can be made ahead of time. Plus there’s no baking involved. It’s as easy as scooping sorbet into a bowl.
You don’t have to wait for Christmas to make this though. I’ve served it at dinner parties and it’s always a hit. Plus it can serve a big crowd with no last minute fuss.
I normally make it with only one type of sorbet, as Jan does, but this time I chose to use a larger bowl than in the past and the one quart of sorbet called for in the original recipe doesn’t fill the entire bowl. So I bought another type of sorbet and filled the rest of the cavity with that. I think I’ll make it this way each time, since the contrasting colors of the sorbet makes it look even more festive. You don’t have to fuss with the whipped cream piping on the top either. You can simply turn it out from the bowl and pour the raspberry sauce on top. One other variation I make from the original recipe is to use candied walnuts rather than plain ones.

It’s a versatile recipe you can alter any number of ways – using pecans, almonds, or pistachio nuts – or using ice cream instead of sorbet. Be creative and come up with something of your own. I’d love to hear how you customize it.

Raspberry Christmas Bombe

1 pint of heavy cream, whipped
fold in 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup maraschino cherries, sliced
1 1/2 cups candied walnuts (optional)

Make the candied walnuts ahead of time by taking 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tsp. water. Melt the sugar in a nonstick pan, add the water and bring to boil. Add the walnuts, stirring and cooking together for about 5 minutes at high heat, until the mixture starts to turn light tan and the sugar starts to coat the walnuts. Remove from heat and spread on waxed paper until cool.

Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla. Add the candied walnuts and sliced cherries.

Line a two-quart bowl with plastic wrap. Line the bowl with the whipped cream mixture, leaving the center hollow. Freeze for several hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer and leaving a hollow semi-hemispherical space in the center, layer one quart of softened sorbet over the whipped cream mixture. I used a pomegranate sorbet, which is the pale pink color in the photo. Place in freezer again for several hours or overnight. Remove from freezer and fill the center hole with one pint of a different flavor of softened sorbet. I used raspberry sorbet here, but it would beautiful and delicious to try something like a bright orange mango sorbet too. Cover with saran wrap and place back in freezer. After several hours in the freezer, serve by turning upside down onto a plate and removing the plastic wrap. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Or you can take it one step further to make it more decorative, as I did in the photo:

About an hour or two before guests arrive, whip up one pint of heavy cream with 3 T. confectioner’s sugar. Whip until you get firm peaks, but not so firm that the cream turns to butter. Place whipped cream in a piping bag, or a plastic bag fitted with a large piping tip at one corner that has been snipped. Remove the bombe from the freezer and turn over onto a serving plate. Pipe rosettes of whipped cream over entire bombe. Place it back in the freezer as is, with no plastic covering on top. Otherwise, you will smash the pretty rosette design. Don’t leave it like this for more than a couple or three hours in the freezer though, or you may get ice crystals forming on the bombe. Decorate with candied violets or small non-pareils. Serve with raspberry sauce.

Raspberry Sauce:

Boil together one 10- or 12-ounce package of frozen 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.

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Do you ever forget you’ve got carrots in your refrigerator and find yourself buying yet another bag of them at the supermarket? It happens to me more than I’d like to admit, and I was getting a bit tired of cooked carrots as a side dish to dinner. So I dusted off an old recipe I used in the 1970s when carrot cake emerged as a standard dessert in my repertoire. Although I loved it then, it was a bit heavy and weighed-down with ingredients, including crushed pineapple and shredded coconut. So I omitted those ingredients this time around and made this version instead, which I have to admit, I like even better. I hope you will too.

I baked this recipe in two 8″ x 8″ Pyrex glass pans. I dusted one of them with powdered sugar and we ate it right away. The other I put in the freezer, later thawed, and served with a buttercream frosting. You could also make this in a rectangular 8″ x 13″ pan, or in two 8″ round layer pans.

Carrot Cake

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsps. vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps. salt
1 pound of carrots, grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour the pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together until pale yellow. Add the vanilla. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt together and add to the wet ingredients. Grate the carrots, either with a food processor or by hand, and add them to the batter with the raisins and walnuts. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake bounces back when lightly pressed. I also use a toothpick to test. Poke it into the center and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Dust with confectioner’s sugar when cool, or frost with a buttercream or cream cheese frosting.

Buttercream frosting:

2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4 tbspns. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
a few tablespoons of milk

Beat sugar, butter and vanilla together and add milk, a tablespoonful at a time, until the frosting is creamy and smooth. This makes enough for one of the cakes – double if making one large 9″ x 13″ rectangular cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

1/2 cup butter
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
2 – 4 tablespoons of milk
1 pound confectioner’s sugar

Mix butter and cream cheese with vanilla and gradually add the sugar. Add a little milk, one teaspoonful at a time, to thin it out. Beat until smooth. This is enough for a large 9″ x 13″ rectangular pan or for two 8″ square or round pans.

“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

“Bocconotti” – Little Chocolate Treats

These chocolate treats are one of the many specialties of the region of Italy called Abruzzo. We spent a week there, as part of a recent trip to Italy, visiting my husband’s relatives who live in a small village near the Adriatic coast.
While there, we feasted each day at pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner), moving from one cousin’s house to another, soaking up the warmth, the hospitality and the good food.
Giovanna, the cousin who is pictured here, cooked up a batch of these cookies the night before we left for us to take back to the U.S. Her culinary skills are well-known among her family and neighbors in Italy. Since returning to the U.S., I’ve been sharing her bocconotti with friends and relatives here, so her reputation has spread to the U.S. as well.
Giovanna gave me her recipe, which uses lard in the dough, but I have adapted it with butter. She also told me she uses a mixture of liqueurs in the filling — “Whatever I have in the house,” she said.
Feel free to do the same, or focus on one particular flavor. You could use rum, or brandy, or an orange-flavored liqueur, for example. Or do as Giovanna does and combine several.
They keep for a month, she said, as long as they are in a covered tin or container. Even though the recipe makes about four dozen bocconotti, you might have trouble keeping them for that long!

Bocconotti

For the dough:

10 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
2/3 cup plus 1 T. sugar
6 egg yolks
3 1/2 cups flour or enough to make a soft dough

Cream butter and sugar in a mixer. Add egg yolks, one at a time, blending well. Add flour and mix until it forms a soft dough. Break off small portions and roll out to the thickness of pie crust. Cut and fit into small metal tart tins.

For the filling:

4 ounces espresso coffee
7 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 1/3 cups almonds, toasted and finely ground
3/4 cup plus 1 T. sugar
pinch of cinnamon
peel of 1 lemon, grated
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/2 cup liqueur, any kind
6 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Put the chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot coffee over it, stirring until melted and smooth. Mix in the almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, egg yolks and liqueur. Fold in beaten egg whites.

Pour into the tart shells. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

When cool, melt about 4 ounces chocolate in a bowl with 1 T. oil. Spread over the cooled cookies.

Fig Crostata

Fig Crostata

Most Italians living in the U.S., no matter how much they love their adopted country, yearn for the familiarity and beauty of the landscape in their native homeland. Who wouldn’t miss the majestic Alpine peaks, the sparkling Mediterranean Sea or the rolling Tuscan hills of the Italian peninsula?
But so many of my Italian friends grow something in their gardens that evokes the Italy they know and love: a fig tree. Granted, they have to insulate it every winter to keep it from freezing. But the payoff is worth it. Come the end of summer, the trees produce succulent fruits that are hard to beat — perfect for eating out of hand or with a slice of prosciutto, and perfect for making jam that can be used as the filling in a crostata – or pastry tart. The pastry used in Italy — a “pasta frolla” — differs from American pastry due to its inclusion of egg yolks and sometimes a whole egg too. In mine I use only one egg yolk and a full stick of butter. It’s almost like a rich cookie dough. The trick is to handle the dough as little as possible so that the butter doesn’t completely assimilate into the dough. What you want are small bits of butter solids that will melt into the pastry as it bakes, giving it a tender bite rather than a tough crust. I mix it all in a food processor to avoid excessive handling. The recipe is for a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom plate, but if you have a larger tart pan, you can easily make 1 1/2 times the recipe for the dough and add more jam as well. If you don’t have homemade fig jam, you can purchase it in jars in specialty shops and even some supermarkets. If figs are not your thing, crostata can be made with any kind of jam. The ones most commonly found in Italy are made with either plum or apricot jam.

Fig Crostata

1 recipe for pasta frolla
1 1/2 cups fig jam

Pasta Frolla

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 stick of cold unsalted butter
1 T. grated lemon peel
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water

Place flour, sugar and baking powder into food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add the butter in small pieces and pulse again, along with the lemon peel, until it resembles coarse sand. Beat the egg yolk slightly with the water and add to the food processor, pulsing until the mixture starts to form a ball. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, if necessary. Remove from food processor and refrigerate for at least a half hour. Divide the dough into 2/3 for the bottom and 1/3 for the strips. Roll the bottom onto a floured surface and fit it into a buttered tart pan, letting any excess hang over the edge.
Fill the crust with jam. Roll the remaining 1/3 of the dough on a floured surface and cut into strips. Place them lattice-fashion over the jam, attach them to the dough along the rim, then trim the edges of the crostata. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until the dough is golden brown.

Tender Chocolate Cake

Tender Chocolate Cake

I love layer cakes as much as anyone. Give me a slice of a three-tiered chocolate cake oozing with frosting and I’ll finish it off quicker than you can say “red velvet.”
But I’m also partial to the cakes that are more common in Italy — low, one-layer desserts that typically are served with just a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or no embellishment at all. This is one of those — dense, not too sweet, delicious, and easy to make in just ten minutes. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top, and you’ve got the perfect ending for a meal any night of the week or even for company.
The recipe comes from the handsome young newlyweds you see in the photo — my cousin Matteo Passeri and his wife Silvia de Domenicis, who live in Piacenza, about 40 miles south of Milan. The cake served at their wedding in June wasn’t chocolate, and it too, was very different from what you see at American weddings. Picture a giant sheet cake, with one very low layer of white cake, anchored on the bottom with puff pastry, then smothered entirely in whipped cream. Now picture rows of strawberries marching up and down the perimeter of the cake and you’ve got a dream of a confection that will make you forget you ever asked for a towering layer cake on your birthday. Maybe this recipe will become your annual celebratory request instead.
I’ve tweaked Matteo’s recipe just a tad by adding a teaspoon of vanilla, which adds another layer of flavor and enhances the chocolate.

Torta Tenerina

3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
***For the recipe, I used all but three small pieces of a 4.25 oz. bar of dark chocolate. Those I ate. (Well, the cook needs anti-oxidants too, you know.)

1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 T.
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
a pinch of salt

Place the butter and chocolate into the top portion of a double boiler. Let the ingredients melt over gentle heat. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a mixer and beat for about a minute, then add the sugar and beat for about five minutes, or until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color. Add the vanilla, salt and the flour and beat another minute until all ingredients are blended. Take the chocolate and butter mixture and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the ingredients in the other bowl. Pour into a greased and floured 8 inch cake pan and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a cake rack for 10 minutes, then loosen edges with a butter knife and invert onto serving dish. After cake is completely cooled, place a paper doily on top, sprinkle confectioner’s sugar over all, then carefully lift the doily to reveal a beautiful pattern.
Serve with freshly whipped cream.

Peach Crisp

Peach Crisp

Our friends were here for dinner Saturday night, and I had planned this dessert for them, but the peaches weren’t quite ripe. Instead we had the ice-cream that was meant to accompany the peaches, with a dense dulce de leche sauce my daughter had brought back from a trip to Buenos Aires. By Monday however, the peaches were perfectly juicy and ripe and ready for prime time, so I made the crisp. Of course by then, the ice-cream, which would have made a luscious topping, was all gone. Still, the peach crisp was delicious in its own right. But if you want to gild the lily, you can’t go wrong with a creamy vanilla ice cream on top.

Peach Crisp
(serves 6 people)

6-7 large peaches
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 T. flour

Topping:
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal (not instant)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
6 T. unsalted butter

Peel and slice peaches and mix with the lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and 1T. flour. Place into a buttered, 4-quart casserole.

For the topping, mix flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and cinnamon, then cut in the butter. Use your fingers to evenly distribute the butter. Place on top of the peaches. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Wait at least 15 minutes before eating or it will be very runny.