Archive for April, 2009


Why make just one chocolate cream tart when you can make five?  And why top them all with whipped cream, when you can try coconut cream, or peanut butter mousse, or….?

Had we but world enough, and time, the list of possible variations could go on forever: raspberries, bananas, spice, mint, caramel, nutella, chocolate ganache.  The chocolate custard base for this tart is that good.  It’s my new favorite chocolate pudding and I ran a serious risk of not having enough to fill my mini-tartlets because so much of it was ever-so-lightly skimmed out of the saucepan directly into my gullet.  Spoon, swallow, repeat.

Everybody loved these.  My daughter turns 4 years old in two weeks.  Last year, for her birthday party, we made doggy cupcakes.


But when she saw these mini-tarts in the refrigerator this morning, she gasped, pointed, and said “I want THOSE for my birthday!”  This child is being brought up right.

If you want to try the chocolate cream tarts with the peanut butter mousse, here’s my favorite recipe, in a small enough quantity for about 5 tartlets:

Peanut butter mousse

Adapted from Epicurious.com

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup chilled whipping cream

Using electric mixer, beat peanut butter and cream cheese in large bowl to blend. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. Using clean dry beaters, beat whipping cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form; fold into peanut butter mixture in 4 additions. Spoon filling into prepared crust.

You can find Dorie’s chocolate cream tart recipe on Kim of Scrumptious Photography‘s blog or on pp. 352-53 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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One of the fascinating things about cooking all the way through a single cookbook is you start to recognize and anticipate the author’s style.  Maybe she tends to go thin and crispy, when you like thick and chewy.  Or she adds nuts where you wouldn’t.  But they’re perfectly honest differences, and it’s easy enough to find a happy workaround.

But I’m having a hard time rationalizing this week’s botched TWD experience.  Call it mission creep, psychic entropy, good old-fashioned mule-headedness.

Or I’ll just blame it on the eggs.

You see, the two recipes that have fallen flat for me from Dorie’s cookbook were, very simply, too eggy: 1) the floating islands (though I’m in love with the stunning caramel threads) and 2) the lemon cup custard.  So when I saw that Dorie wanted us to use 3 large eggs and 4 large egg yolks, I balked.

So I decided to cut back to 4 eggs.  And then I noticed that this recipe required tempering the eggs so they don’t curdle, a maneuver I don’t especially enjoy (it’s so demoralizing if those grubby little bits of scrambled egg appear); furthermore, it was quite possible my custard wouldn’t come together properly without the extra egg yolks in there.  So I looked for a way around that step.  And let’s just cut to the chase.  I basically ended up making my family’s go-to chocolate raisin bread pudding recipe from Epicurious.

I’m not proud of this turn of events, though the standby recipe is very easy and quite good.  I did pour Dorie’s chocolate sauce on top.  Does that count for anything?

I used a mix of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate, along with dried cranberries and dried cherries.  Somehow this dessert tastes a little better to me in the dead of winter, which is when I traditionally make it, but it was darn good nonetheless.

Surely, Dorie’s 4-star chocolate bread pudding is wonderful, particularly if you make it with challah or brioche, as she suggests.  You can find the recipe on Lauren’s blog, Upper East Side Chronicle, or on pages 410-411 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Amaretti cookies.  Where have you been these past two decades?  And how could I have strayed so far?

When I was in 6th grade, my parents took me and my brother Mike on our first trip overseas.  To Italy.  Though I was only 12, I have so many lovely memories of that trip: learning the difference between tortellini and tortelloni; my first taste of zucotto (amaretto and cream-filled cake, sold in plastic tubs); the Coppa Olimpica at Giolitti gelateria in Rome; my brother trying to order a hot cocoa at breakfast — in Italian — and receiving a Coca-Cola instead….

We also discovered Lazzaroni amaretti cookies, and for a few years after that trip my dad would buy a big red box around the holidays.  Somewhere along the line, this tradition faded (to be replaced with panettone and eggs benedict — not such a bad trade).  But when I tore open the bag of amaretti to begin this recipe, I was transported back to that first experience visiting Italy with my family.  How can food do that?  Unlock memories of times long-ago.

The cookies are just as good as I remember.  And this chocolate amaretti torte –completely delicious in its own right — has given me all kinds of ideas about how to reintroduce amaretti cookies into my life: amaretti cookie pie crust; amaretti cookie ice cream; amaretti cookies crumbled into World Peace cookies.

Thanks so much to Dorie Greenspan for creating this divine chocolate cake recipe, and to Holly of PheMOMenon for selecting it this week (visit Holly’s site for the recipe).  Now it’s time to check on Alitalia fares….

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My mom is a pack rat.  Not the pathological kind, where you open a cabinet and 500 empty bottles of Mrs. Dash come tumbling out… but she keeps things around longer than I’d like.  Spices, little-used baking ingredients, ancient cookie decorations.  They’re good for a rousing game of “Hey, guess how much this stuff cost in the 1970s!!”

My mom tried, she really tried, to throw away her old cooking magazines, but it proved a difficult task.  To ease the blow, she “handed them down” to me.  I had gigantic stacks of 30-year-old Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines lying around for months, and finally started making my way through them all.  Scattered in among them I found a few issues of “Cuisine,” a magazine that seems to have gone extinct, but I thumbed through it anyway.  My mom always put a little sticker on the front with a list of recipes she wanted to try, and this one had a note about a plum pie.

Have you looked at recipes for baked goods from the 70s?  Plum pie sounds pretty good, but this one was all gelatin and cornstarch and food coloring.  I’m not even sure it included real plums.  On the next page, I found a recipe for pigs’ knuckles and red beans.  There is a photo of the long-simmered knuckles (about 3 pounds of them), and let’s just say they were wise to shoot these in a shadowy corner of the large buffet table.  It’s unclear how they are to be eaten, though it seems gnawing would work best.

But flipping through these magazines reminded me of a dessert my mom used to make all the time with Nabisco’s Famous chocolate wafers.  The chocolate ice box cake.  Now that was a darn good recipe from the ’70s.

This is just to say…. while pondering this week’s banana cream pie recipe, I felt like going retro.  Boomeranging between the troubling Cuisine magazine recipes and the beloved Famous wafer cake, I hit upon it.  It had to have a Nilla wafer crust.

Nilla Wafer Crumb Crust

35-40 Nilla Wafers, finely crushed (about 1-1/4 cups)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar

Mix all ingredients until well blended.  Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up side of 9-inch pie plate.  Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.

This made a lovely banana cream pie.  Dorie added some brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to the pastry cream, and a bit of sour cream to the topping.  These touches are an obvious move to update the classic pie.  So mine was a chronological culture clash, updated and retro at the same time.  (I really wanted to drizzle a bit of caramel on the top — my favorite way to serve banana cream pie — but I ran out of time.)

It makes me wonder how our recipes will look to bakers 40 years from now.  What techniques and ingredients do we use now that will make cooks wrinkle their noses or scratch their heads in wonder?

Thanks to Amy of Sing for your Supper for selecting this week’s pie.  You can get the recipe on her site or on pp. 342-343 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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