Irresistible Little Custards—Vanilla Pots de Crème Topped with Pecan Toffee Crunch

Vanilla Pots de Creme with Pecan Crunch Topping 2When it comes to desserts, custards have been long-time favorites in our family. My dad adored a Southern staple of plain boiled custard. My spouse never met a crème brûlée that he didn’t like, and will fore go exquisite cakes, tarts, or pastries on any restaurant menu for custard with a burnt sugar topping. For me easy-to-make pots de crème are irresistible.

The French version of custard, pots de crème are assembled with a basic trio of eggs, sugar, and cream and can be complemented with an infinite variety of flavors. I’ve made dark chocolate ones garnished with white chocolate whipped cream, savored chocolate and chestnut creations accented with dark rum, and swooned over butterscotch and coconut pots de crème.

This spring, though, I decided to make classic pot de crèmes scented with vanilla, tweaking the traditional version slightly. Instead of vanilla extract, the pulp from a vanilla bean provided a more subtle taste, and in place of heavy cream, crème fraîche was a more delectable option. As a contrast to the custard’s velvet-smooth texture, I added a crunchy topping of pecans and toffee. Continue reading

Savory Little Bites for the Holidays

When you’re pressed for time, but want to entertain during the holidays, nothing could be easier than inviting friends over for a glass of prosecco or champagne and some simple appetizers. I’ve entertained this way several times recently, and have discovered that warm homemade cheese crisps, a definite crowd pleaser, are a snap to make for this season’s parties.

These savory wafers are prepared with a basic formula. Flour, butter, grated cheese, and seasonings are blended in a food processor, then rolled into a log. This log is then sliced into thin rounds that are baked quickly in the oven. You can vary your choice of cheese as I’ve done often when making these delicious nibbles. Fontina paired with crushed fennel seeds, Pepper Jack blended with toasted cumin seeds, as well as Cheshire cheese accented with chopped watercress have all been winners with friends. Continue reading

Apple and Golden Raisin Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Early this spring I had a chance to dine at Ottolenghi, an excellent, yet unpretentious restaurant in the Islington area of London. My meal was so memorable that I wrote about it on my blog, mentioning a celestial Apple and Sultana Cake with Maple Frosting.

Back home, I couldn’t get the heavenly cake out of mind, and set out to reproduce it.  After multiple tries, including several failed icing attempts, I had a version close to my remembrance of the original. Then, by chance, I found the recipe for the Ottolenghi cake on line, reprinted from one of the chef’s earlier cookbooks. The British cake was made with olive oil, mine Continue reading

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams – the Best of the Best

Jeni Brixton Bauer, ice cream maker par excellence, started making ice creams 15 years ago when she was a mere 22 years old. Today she oversees Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, a Columbus, Ohio-based company that includes quite a few stores and a thriving mail order and restaurant business.

On a recent visit to Ohio’s capital, I stopped by one of her shops and was greeted by a welcoming staff who offered me samples of some of their best selling sweets. I was swept into ice cream heaven while I savored Salty Caramel; Ugandan Vanilla Bean; Pistachio and Honey; Wildberry Lavender, plus Mango Lassi Frozen Continue reading

Lime and Ginger Cream Cheese Bars

Lime Ginger Cream Cheese Bars 1 3383x2728These rich creamy bars with their bracing citrus accent and crisp gingersnap crust are irresistible, yet quite easy to make. For the crust you’ll need only three ingredients–ground ginger snaps, sugar, and melted butter. This mixture, packed into a pan and baked for a few minutes, is topped with a cheesecake-type batter flavored with bits of crystallized ginger and lime. The mixture is baked 25 minutes, and then a final addition of sour cream, sugar, and lime zest is spread over the thin cream cheese layer. Five more minutes of baking and this dessert is done! Continue reading

Almond Pound Cake with Peaches and Mascarpone Cream

Peaches and cream are a celestial pairing, and make sublime garnishes to the almond pound cake featured here. The cream in this particular duo is extra special, enhanced by the addition of some mascarpone cheese, while juicy summer peaches are simply peeled and sliced.

Butter, sugar, eggs, and flour plus a touch of almond (from chopped nuts and extract) are all that are needed to assemble this delectable pound cake. It can be baked two days ahead and easily serves 12, making it an easy finale for a summer cookout for a crowd! Continue reading

Lemon Pudding “Cakes”

Lemon pudding “cakes” are actually a cross between a pudding and a light, airy souffle-like cake. In the following recipe, you simply cream butter and sugar, and then add egg yolks, lemon juice and zest along with milk and a small amount of flour. Finally, you fold in beaten egg whites, and bake until the batter is set. When done, the pudding cakes seem to divide into two distinct layers, an airy cake-like layer on top and a dense rich pudding one on the bottom. They are heaven to eat either warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Continue reading

Heavenly Chocolate, Northampton, MA

Heavenly Chocolate 150 Main Street (in Thorne’s Market), Northampton, Massachusetts

Recently a friend brought me a small box of beautiful dark chocolates as a hostess gift. Several days passed before I got around to sampling one, but after a single bite I knew these candies were out of the ordinary. And, here’s the surprising part of this story. The chocolates were not from New York or Paris or some other metropolitan center where you’d expect to find superb artisanal confections. No, they from a shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, the next town over from mine. Continue reading

Bittersweet Chocolate Caramel Bars

For Valentine, why not try these scrumptious chocolate caramel bars composed of three sublime layers- a buttery crust, a caramel center, and a dark chocolate coating! They can be prepared 2 days ahead so there’s no last minute work, and the recipe, which yields 16 bars, can be doubled or tripled depending on your needs. Continue reading

Cranberry Pear Upside Down Cake

In October a young friend and former assistant told me of a Concord Grape Upside Down Cake that she had baked for a special dinner. Intrigued, I asked for the recipe, but put off trying it for a few weeks. By the time I got around to testing this seasonal dessert, Concord grapes had passed their peak, and my results were lackluster. The clever concept for an unusual upside down cake, however, stayed etched in my mind, and I began to think of other possibilities.   Continue reading