Category Archives: dessert


Dessert is bad for you, so if you’re going to eat it, I think it should taste really good. It should be worth the butter and sugar. So, when the Purim party planning committee at our temple suggested buying hamentashen (triangular, fruit-filled cookies) from a bakery, I cringed. Then, much to Anne’s frustration, I volunteered to bake about 150 cookies for the party. And, because I’m crazy and a perfectionist, I decided we’d make the filling from scratch too.


The thing is, once you’ve eaten really good hamentashen, it’s hard to go back to those flavor-less, cardboard-y cookies with gooey, cornstarch-y fruit filling from the grocery store or local kosher bakery. What makes these hamentashen so yummy is the orange zest and juice in the dough. As one of my co-workers once told me, it was the first time (ever) that he’d eaten a hamentashen where the cookie part actually tasted good.

Solo Poppy Seed FillingTraditionally, hamentashen come with three fillings: apricot, prune and poppy seed. You can fill them with whatever you like, though. Some people will tell you to use jam to fill your hamentashen, but I have had bad results using jam. Because of the high sugar content, the filling tends to bubble out and burn in the hot oven. If you live in a neighborhood with a sizable Eastern European population, you can probably buy Solo brand filling in your local grocery store. It works very well, and you can also order it from the company’s website in many flavors. If you can’t get Solo filling (and you don’t want to make your own), you can use canned pie filling, but you should whiz it up in the food processor so it’s smooth.

Folding Step 1Folding Step 2Folding Step 3Folding Step 4

But if you’re getting out the food processor, you might as well make your own filling. It tastes so much brighter and fruitier than the canned stuff, and it’s totally easy. You combine dried apricots (or prunes) with equal parts water and sugar, cook it for ten minutes in the microwave, whiz it up in the processor and add lemon juice and almond extract. The recipe is in the Urban Feed archives, as part of the Danish braid recipe. To make prune filling (which is my favorite — it tastes so wonderful with the orange in the cookie), substitute prunes for the apricots in the recipe and replace the almond extract with vanilla extract.

The Best Hamentashen You Will Ever Eat
Adapted from the Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook, via Anne’s Grandma Mildred

¾ cup sugar
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup solid shortening, butter or margarine (at room temperature)
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 recipe apricot or prune filling (the filling will keep in the refrigerator 2 weeks and leftovers can be frozen)

Hamentashen DoughSift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add orange zest and stir. Add shortening or butter in tablespoon-sized pieces and combine with the paddle attachment until the dough has big crumbs. (If you don’t have a mixer, you can cut the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, two knives or a fork until dough looks like big crumbs, about the size of peas.)

Combine orange juice and beaten egg. Add these wet ingredients to the dough and mix until a dough is formed. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill 2 hours or overnight, if possible.

Grease two cookie sheets (or line with Silpats or parchment paper). Position oven racks in the upper and lower middle positions and pre-heat oven to 400º. On a well-floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/8” thickness. (If you chilled the dough over-night, you’ll need to let the cold dough rest on the counter 5 – 10 minutes to warm up a bit). Using a 3” circular round cutter, cut dough into circles. Gather scraps together and re-roll until all the dough has been used. (If the dough gets too warm, re-chill it for 15 minutes). Place about 1 (scant) teaspoon of filling (use Solo filling, pie filling or make your own) in the center of each circle. Carefuly fold the circles into triangles. Place cookies on cookie sheets and bake 12 – 15 minutes, rotating top to bottom about half way through, until delicately browned on top. Let cool on sheets about 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This makes about 24 hamentashen. The recipe doubles easily.



I always think of rice pudding as something you do with leftover rice. I know others disagree — for some, rice pudding is the main event. As rice pudding lacks chocolate, this is a position I don’t entirely understand.

But, apparently, the rice pudding lovers of the world are not alone. A recent scan of my cookbooks revealed a bevy of recipes that begin with measurements for dry, as opposed to cooked, rice, and then the directions for cooking the rice before adding the milk and cream. But let’s say you just made rice-stuffed peppers and now you have some leftover rice and a seven year-old is coming for dinner and his mother’s advice — “He’ll eat anything as long as dessert is in play,” — is ringing in your ears? What then? Then, this:

Rice Pudding With Spoon

Cherry Vanilla Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked rice
1 ¾ cups whole milk (really, you have to use whole milk)
1 ¾ cups half-and-half
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
½ a vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1/3 cup dried cherries

Rice PuddingIn a 3 quart pot, bring rice, milk, half-and-half, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low (or lower, depending upon your burner) to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring regularly until the mixture is thick, about 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occassionally, for about 15 more minutes until the mixture is quite thick. Remove from heat and stir in cherries. Pour into six custard cups. You can either eat it warm or cover the cups with plastic wrap, refrigerate and eat it chilled.

Serves 6.

candy freak

This year, everyone in my office received a bag of this:


Toffee. It was a somewhat daunting prospect because my co-worker, Nancy, is a toffee connoisseur and because, until two weeks ago, I had never made toffee. After searching through my cookbooks and several on-line recipe banks, I decided on this recipe from Epicurious, a play on the contrast between salty cocktail nuts and sweet, caramelized butter.

The results were outstanding and addictive. I predicted that none of the bags I delivered to my co-workers last Wednesday morning would make it out of the office at the end of the day. When I was wrong, I was totally disappointed — had I been blinded by my own candy-making self-satisfaction? It turns out that not everyone is a glutton like me, curiously popping morsels of new food into their mouths regardless of the hour or their own hunger. Although most folks waited until later that evening to sample, everyone loved it. My boss even called me this week from vacation to ask, “Did you make that delicious toffee I found on my desk last week?” Yes, yes I did. And you can too.

Cocktail Nut Toffee

Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2002

This recipe requires the use of a candy thermometer. If you don’t have one, you can test the temperature of the candy by dripping a few drops of the mixture into cold water. According to Joy of Cooking, 290º is the soft crack stage when “firm strands that can be stretched or bent when removed from the water” appear. Whatever — invest in a candy thermometer. Once the hot butter and sugar mixture gets above 275º, the temperature rises so quickly that you won’t have time to fuss with a spoon and a bowl of cold water to test the temperature of the mixture.

2 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup water
½ tablespoon molasses
½ tablespoon corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 cups coarsely chopped, toasted mixed nuts (I used cashews, almonds and pistachios)
5 oz. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or you can use chocolate chips)

Line a half-sheet pan with buttered wax paper or a silicone baking sheet. (The candy is sticky and the Silpat’s usefulness here outweighed my hatred of cleaning the Silpat, so if you have one, use it here.) If your nuts aren’t pre-toasted and chopped, toast, chop and combine them now. Remove ½ cup of the nut mixture and chop them very fine; set these aside to sprinkle on top of the candy.

Melt the butter in a heavy, 3 ½ quart saucepan over low heat. Add the sugars, water, molasses, corn syrup, salt and allspice. Stir the ingredients to dissolve the sugars. Attach a clip-on candy thermometer to the pan (the bottom of the thermometer should be submerged in the mixture, but should not touch the bottom of the pan). Increase heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly but slowly with a wooden spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan (especially the corners) until the mixture reaches 290 º, about 15 minutes.

Initially, the mixture will look separated, the melted butter floating on top. As you continue to cook it, however, the ingredients will incorporate into a thick and cohesive mixture, looking almost solid (and lava-like) by the end.

Melted buter and sugarsFoamy toffee mixtureToffee at 10 min.Toffee at 290

When the temperature reaches 290 º remove the pan from the heat and mix in the 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped nuts. Immediately pour the toffee onto the prepared sheet pan, and spread the candy out to about ¼” thickness. The mixture will be EXTREMELY hot.


hot toffeeToffee with ChocolateToffee With NutsPiece of Toffee




Let the candy sit for about two minutes, then sprinkle with the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand for another minute before spreading the now melted chocolate in a thin layer across the toffee with the back of a spoon or a silicone spatula. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup finely chopped nuts over the candy. Let the candy rest, at room temperature, for 1 hour, then chill the candy in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour more. Once the candy is cool and the chocolate is set, break the toffee into shards and store in an air-tight container, either in the refrigerator (for up to 2 weeks – ha! Like it will last that long) or at cool room temperature.

sunshine for your winter solstice

In my experience, when it comes to dessert, people fall into two categories: the chocolate people and the fruit people. With few exceptions, I feel that dessert is not worth eating unless it involves chocolate. My wife, on the other hand, is a fruit person, and, in particular, she loves desserts involving the resilient lemon.

Lemon Tart

Winter is a difficult time for the admirers of fruit desserts. The apples are only good for so long, after all. And, on top of that, how many apple pies can one really eat over a three month period? Fortunately, winter is also the season of excellent (if not local) citrus. This lemon tart makes use of both the fragrant, tart lemon and the milder, sweeter orange.

I first learned this recipe almost ten years ago from an episode of Cooking Live. Cooking Live was this great show on the Food Network, in the days before yumm-o and shows about the origins of the Pop Tart. Hosted by Sara Moulton, the hour-long, live show took the viewers step-by-step through dinner preparation with Ms. Moulton answering viewer’s telephone and email questions along the way. My first roommate and I watched it religiously. Sadly, it went off the air a few years ago (I think it was a lot of work for Ms. Moulton), and was replaced by the less-exciting, half-hour Sara’s Secrets.

This lemon tart comes from an old Cooking Live episode, and I have made it dozens of times in the many years since I first saw it prepared on TV. Light and tart with a rich crust, it is a total crowd pleaser. Seriously, I have never met anyone who doesn’t like this tart, and I have made it for company, for family, for dinner at my boss’s house, for dinner with at least two sets of Anne’s co-workers. It is always a big hit, and people frequently ask for the recipe. Plus, it’s probably Anne’s favorite of all the desserts I make.

With the sun setting around 4 o’clock here on the East Coast, I think we could all use a little extra sunshine in our day. This tart promises to deliver. Serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, and you will make people very happy.

Lemon Tart Slice

Lemon Tart

(The original recipe called for a crust that involved sugar and an egg yolk. I’ve abandoned that in favor of an un-sweetened, traditional pie crust recipe — in part, because that is what I often have in my freezer. If you have another tart shell that you like, feel free to substitute it, adding the egg-white wash at the end.)

For the Crust:
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cold shortening
3 – 4 tablespoons icy cold water
1 egg white, beaten

Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter butter and shortening over the flour mixture and pulse (about 8 one-second pulses) until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water on top of flour mixture and run processor until the dough begins to come together in 2-3 solid masses. If needed, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of water to get the pastry to come together. (If you don’t have a food processor, this can be done in a bowl, by hand, working the butter and shortening into the flour with a fork, pastry blender or two knives.)

Turn the dough out onto a piece of cling wrap and, working quickly, form the dough into a 6” disk. Wrap the dough up and chill overnight (if possible) or for at least 3 hours.

Roll the chilled pastry dough out on a floured surface to about 12” in diameter. (If the pastry dough is really cold, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so. It may also help to whack – à la Julia Child – the disk of dough a few times with your rolling pin.) Gently lay the rolled out dough into a 10” tart pan with a removable bottom. Being careful not to stretch the pastry, carefully lift it up and set it down into the corners of the tart pan. With a sharp knife, trim around the circumference of the dough so you have about a 1” overhang. Carefully fold this extra dough back and tuck it against the inside of the tart pan. Gently press the dough up against the edge of the pan and chill the shell in the freezer for about 20 minutes until it is firm. (Save any scraps of dough, wrapped in cling wrap in the refrigerator. You can use this to patch the shell if it tears or breaks during the blind bake.)

Folding Back DoughDough With Pie Weights

Pre-heat the oven to 350º. Set the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, fill with pie weights (or dry beans) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the shell from the oven, remove the parchment and weights. (At this point, if the shell has puffed at all, carefully prick the bubbles with the point of a sharp knife to release the steam.) Return the shell to the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until lightly golden. Upon removing the shell from the oven, immediately brush the bottom of the hot shell with the egg white.

For the Filling:
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
grated zest of 1 orange
grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup heavy cream

While the shell is in the oven for the second baking, whisk the ingredients for the filling to combine. Transfer the mixture to a 1 quart measuring cup or other large pitcher. After brushing the hot tart shell with egg white, return it to the oven.

The easiest way to fill the tart shell is to fill it while it’s on the oven rack, with the rack pulled out a bit so you can pour the filling directly into the shell without burning your hand. Depending upon the size of your eggs and how much your shell may have shrunken during the blind bake, you may not use all of the filling. Pour in as much filling as you can to reach the top of the shell and then slowly slide the rack back into the oven.

Bake the tart for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is just set. It’s important not to over-bake the tart, so start checking it after 20 minutes. Cool the tart to room temperature (or chill) before serving. Serve with barely sweetened, lightly whipped cream.

retro chic

My story goes like this: long ago and not so far away, I fell in love with a Jewish girl. We moved in together, bought a house, adopted a neurotic beagle and eventually got married. Somewhere along the way, I stopped celebrating Christmas. For the most part, Christmas was a habit I was happy to kick. Growing up in a totally non-religious house, the holiday didn’t hold a lot of spiritual significance for me. Growing up in America, Christmas was usually fraught with anxiety and stress, most of it related to consumption, both by own and my efforts to enable the consumption of others.

In the years since giving up Christmas, I have found December a much more enjoyable month. Sure, I still love the smell of an evergreen tree or a holiday wreath, but my life is no longer filled, from Halloween until December 25th, with the compulsive need to buy. Anne and I spend most Christmases in the Jewish way — movies and Chinese food. This year, however, my sister decided to stay in town and wanted to spend the holiday, which she still celebrates, with us, and so I was called upon to make Christmas dinner.

Well, really, it was Christmas Eve dinner, because that was always the big meal in our house. For some reason, Christmas dinner, for me, is stuck in some sort of time-warp, and so I made us roast beef, twice-baked potatoes, asparagus and the most nostalgic dessert I could fathom, a refrigerator cake. Every Christmas, my great aunt would whip up a refrigerator cake, plant a plastic poinsettia bloom on top and call it a yule log. Through the genius of refrigeration, Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers and heavy cream become a moist chocolate cake frosted in whipped cream — a Christmas miracle!

Yule Log

Maybe I’m blinded by nostalgia, but I could eat the entire cake. The thin, crisp, chocolatey cookies contain coconut as the secret ingredient, and when they swell from the cream, I think the coconut is what gives the cake it’s richer flavor. The resulting cake is super-moist, and the contrast between the dark chocolate “cake” and the light as air whipped cream is dreamy. Honestly, my sister and I fought over the leftovers.

And you should know, the cake works equally well adorned with plastic dreidels. In fact, my friend Liz makes one of these babies (which her son affectionately calls a “zebra cake”) every year for her Hanukkah party.

Refrigerator Cake

1 package Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
chocolate curls or shavings (for garnish)

Whip cream at medium low speed until it begins to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until the cream holds medium-stiff peaks. Spread about ½ tablespoon of cream onto a cookie, top with another cookie and continue, creating a stack of cookies layered with cream. When my sister and I were little, we would have a competition to see how high our cookie-stacks could get.

Cookie Stack

When your stack of cookies begins to get unwieldy, set the cookie stack down, on end, on a serving platter. Repeat, forming two side-by-side rows of cookies stuck together with cream.

Cookies Down

Once you’ve used up all the cookies, use the remaining cream to frost the two rows. Completely encase the cookies in whipped cream.

Frosting Cookie Cake

Garnish with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight (my sister swears she’s had success refrigerating for a mere 3 hours, but I don’t believe her; I think she’s just trying to show off).

When you’re ready to serve, slice the cake on a 45º angle.

Cake Slice

everyone loves chocolate

Well, not everyone, really. For example, if I presented Anne with a bag of homemade truffles, she would certainly shake her head and say, “It’s like you don’t even know me at all.” (Which is exactly what I said to her one Valentine’s Day after she presented me with a garish, multi-colored bouquet involving — I’m not kidding — purple daisies. But that’s another story.)

Chocolate Block

At any rate, people who love chocolate really love it. Can’t live without it. And the truffle is probably the most perfect embodiment of chocolate that there is. With the December holiday season in full bloom, the Boston Globe and the New York Times have both recently published truffle recipes. This was lucky for me because, this year, I had decided to make treats for my co-workers instead of wandering aimlessly around Downtown Crossing trying to decide a) which co-workers it was appropriate to gift and b) what to get them. The better path, I thought, was to give everyone (I work with a relatively small group) something sweet and homemade.

Truffle Soldiers

All truffles are, essentially, a ganache (a combination of high quality chocolate and heavy cream) allowed to stiffen, either at room temperature or chilled, formed into slightly irregular balls and rolled in cocoa. But sometimes the truffles are also rolled in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon-spiked sugar or enrobed in more melted chocolate. My cursory internet research revealed that there are essentially two ways to prepare the ganache: either melt the chocolate in a double-boiler and then combine it with warmed cream, or chop the chocolate very fine and pour the hot cream over it. Once the cream has melted the chocolate, whisk to combine.

Melted ChocolateCreamPoured Cream

Because I am completely incapable of setting limits on myself, I decided to try to make two varieties. First, I made an orange-flavored truffle adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe. Following her advice, I used a mixture of bitter and semi-sweet chocolate, but I omitted the coffee. Because I wanted to boost the orange flavor, I added orange peel to the cream and allowed it to steep for about 20 minutes. I also decided to melt the chocolate before combining it with the cream. Madame Garten, whom I adore, says to let the chocolate sit at room temperature before rolling it, but I found it too difficult to work with, and I chilled it to get it workable. The resulting truffles were creamy and subtly flavored with orange. I don’t know if it was a result of melting the chocolate first or because of the ratio of chocolate to cream (1 lb to 1 cup), but the truffles rolled up easily and almost perfectly round.

For the second batch, I followed Mark Bittman’s method which calls for 8oz. chocolate and a scant 1 cup cream. Bittman instructs you to chill the mixture for an hour before rolling, and the resulting truffles were equally delicious but more irregularly shaped. I added a pinch of sea salt (because what doesn’t salt improve the flavor of?), a teaspoon of instant espresso and 1 tablespoon of Cognac (a flavor combination I first tried a year ago in a Cooks Illustrated recipe for an updated Bûche de Noël). The truffles were really wonderful; the Cognac made the truffles taste richer, warmer and more complex without being distracting.

Chocolate Truffles With Cognac

7/8 cup heavy cream
8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate*, chopped
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso
1 tablespoon Cognac
Unsweetened cocoa powder as needed (about 1/3 cup)

Put chopped chocolate and sea salt in a large, heat-proof bowl. Heat cream in a pot until it steams. Stir in instant espresso and pour hot cream over chocolate. Let stand for one minute, and then stir slowly with a whisk to melt the chocolate and incorporate the cream. Add Cognac and stir well.

Chill until solid all the way through, 1 to 2 hours. Using a melon baller to prevent the ganache from melting or sticking to your hands, scoop out about a tablespoonful and quickly roll it into a ball. Repeat, lining truffles on a plate or a baking sheet.

Roll truffles in cocoa powder. Serve immediately or store, wrapped in plastic, in refrigerator for up to four days. Bittman says this recipe makes 24 truffles. The small end of my melon baller gave me 40 truffles, however.

* I used Callebaut bittersweet for this recipe. I like Callebaut whenever I am going to be cooking with the chocolate because it’s high-quality, has a clean chocolate flavor, but it’s relatively affordable. (Lucky for me, the local Whole Foods was running a special on it two weeks ago, and I stocked up.) For eating out of hand, I really love Scharffen Berger, but I find that it’s subtle acidity is lost once you add heat. Plus, it’s very pricey.

a chill in the air

As soon as I saw the forecast for last weekend, with the sinking temperatures on Sunday, I knew I wanted to bake a pie. And when I saw Northern Spies at the Cambridgeport farmers’ market on Saturday, that sealed the deal. In my memory, apple pies were practically a weekly event during the falls of my childhood, but that cannot possibly be true. Still, my loyalty to apple pie runs deep, the recipe long ago memorized (even though flashier pie varieties – cherry, nectarine, chocolate cream – steal my attention most of the time).


Why isn’t there a place to get a decent slice of pie in downtown Boston? Could you imagine anything nicer on a dreary work day than sitting at a counter at 3:30 with a slice of fresh pie and the caffeinated beverage of your choice? Am I the only one who has this fantasy?

Apple Pie
Besides making the whole house smell great, this pie is really apple-y, owing to a minimal use of spices and an outrageous quantity of apples. My mom’s crusts were always made with shortening as the only fat, which does make a flaky crust. But after experimenting on my own, I prefer a crust made with a mixture of shortening (for the flake) and butter (for the flavor). It’s a little more difficult to work with, but I think it’s worth it for the taste. I like the pie dough recipe from Baking With Julia; it makes four rounds, so you can stash two in the freezer for another day.

For the Dough:
5 ¼ cups AP flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 oz. (1 ½ sticks) cold, unsalted butter cut into pieces
11 oz. (1 ¼ cups) solid vegetable shortening, cold
1 cup ice water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Using your hands, two knives, or a pastry blender, cut butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. A little at a time, add shortening to the mixture (again, using your hands or the pastry blender) until the mixture resembles curds. Add the cold water, and stir with a fork. Once the dough has mostly come together, pour it out onto a lightly floured surface and pull it together with your hands, being careful not to work it too much. Divide into four equal discs, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate 2 hours (or up to 3 days – wrap extra in foil and freeze).

For the Filling:
7 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 slices each (If you can get Northern Spies, they are great; or I like to use about half Granny Smith and half Macintosh)
¾ — 1 cup sugar, depending upon tartness of the apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons cornstarch
juice from up to half a lemon, depending upon flavor of apples
pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl. Roll out one disc of dough and carefully fit it into a 10” pie dish; trim so about 1” of dough hangs over the sides. Fill the shell with the apple mixture. You may have to do this in stages, fitting the pieces in so that the dish can accommodate all the apples. Roll out the second disc of dough and carefully lay it over the apples. Trim excess dough so 1” overhang remains. Seal the top and bottom crusts by taking them together and folding them under around the perimeter. Then, crimp the edges with floured fingers.

Pie Crust

Cut a few vents in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush pie with an egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water). Bake the pie, on a rimmed baking sheet, at 425° for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350° for about an hour. Allow the pie to cool to room temperature before cutting in.