Archive for the ‘Favorites’ Category


Got Pie?

June 10, 2011

We all know late spring and summer to be baseball season, allergy season and fog season but for me it’s also pie season. I make an endless variety of desserts using fruits but pie has a special place. When I make desserts at home for the next few months it’s almost always pie. It starts with strawberry-rhubarb and quickly expands to cherry as soon as they are at the market. Apricot, raspberry, and blueberry follow as soon as possible.

Nothing beats pie from the making to the eating.

It’s kind of an art to make one but it isn’t difficult. Take your time and focus. Make the same pie recipe several times. Once you get the hang of it you will find it relaxing. I promise.

I use all butter in my crusts, no shortening. While many believe the latter gives a flakier crust you can get a wonderful texture with butter and you get the butter flavor.  Shortening crusts taste bland. They also don’t get that beautiful golden brown color you get from butter.

Pulling a pie hot from the oven with its brown crust and bubbling fruit is a sight to behold. You wait until it cools just enough so the fruit settles and you don’t burn your mouth when you take a bite.

Unless a pie has a cream or custard filling never refrigerate it. Like a tomato, its flavor and texture decrease once you do. If you want to warm it don’t put it in the microwave. Eat a piece warm from the oven or reheat in a preheated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Pie doesn’t need fancy garnishes or presentation. The only thing you have to do after putting a slice on a plate is decide if you are going to eat it with whipped cream or ice cream.

Email me at if you want a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb or blueberry pie.


Christmas Eve Dessert- Tiramisu

December 22, 2010

Pastry chefs like December because people eat a lot of desserts. They are in the mood to celebrate the holidays and dessert adds to the festivities.

This rainy weather is perfect for baking. It’s comforting to be in the kitchen scooping cooking dough, sifting flouring and weighing out chocolate. By the time Christmas Eve Dinner comes around I am in full baking mode. It’s my favorite holiday for desserts; the high point of a month of nonstop baking.

There will be 23 people around the table for Christmas Eve at my house. Actually it will be two tables with some sitting on stools at the counter. It will be served family style. I will make two desserts – one chocolate and one fruit, so chocoholics and those who prefer something lighter are both happy. At least one of these I want to make a day ahead to spread out the work. I don’t want to have to be in fifth gear all day in the kitchen on the 24th. I want to enjoy putzing in the kitchen, baking, cooking and wrapping the last of the stocking stuffers. I don’t want to be exhausted at 6:00 when the first bottle of Champagne is uncorked.

I always pick classic desserts to make on Christmas Eve. It’s a traditional holiday and I want a dessert that is really good but matches the spirit of the holiday. This year I am making tiramisu and Meyer lemon pudding soufflés.

I haven’t made tiramisu for at least 10 years. It’s great for a crowd and is better made the day before. The last time I made it I had a house full of over eager eaters. With the tiramisu made the day before I knew they would start nibbling at it before the party and who knows how much would be left by the time I planned to serve it. To circumvent these human mice, I made it when they weren’t around then wrapped it completely in foil and labeled it “beef stock”.

Later they kept asking me where the tiramisu was and I said I was too busy and hadn’t gotten to it yet. The look on their faces when I unwrapped it to put on the table was priceless. Needless to say, I will never get away with that trick again but it was so good the first time I don’t need to.

Here’s my tiramisu recipe. Some people use lady fingers but I prefer to make a sponge cake. Lady fingers get too soggy and disintegrate. Sponge cake soaks up the espresso but still retains some texture. The cake cuts best when it is a day old.

You can use a turkey baster to soak the cake with the espresso. I will make the cake Wednesday and assemble the tiramisu on Thursday. Wrapped carefully and put in the fridge it will be ready for Christmas Eve.


Serves 8 to 10

Mascarpone Cream

6 large eggs*, separated

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

2 cups (one pound) mascarpone cheese

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 recipe Sponge Cake (see below)

To assemble the tiramisu

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, ground up in the food processor, very finely chopped or grated

1 3/4 cups brewed espresso or coffee (regular or decaffeinated), at room temperature

To make the mascarpone cream: Combine the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high speed until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium, add the mascarpone, and whip until smooth and thick, about 30 seconds

Put the egg whites in a clean mixer bowl and whip on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone cream in 2 additions.

To assemble the tiramisu: With a serrated knife, cut the sponge cake into quarters. Slice each piece in half horizontally like you were slicing a roll to make a sandwich. Spread a layer of mascarpone cream about 1/2 inch thick in the bottom of a 2 1/2-quart glass bowl. Sprinkle some of the chocolate on top. Place the cake pieces, cutting or tearing to fit as needed, in a single layer over the mascarpone cream. Brush the cake with some of the espresso and top with more mascarpone cream and chocolate shavings. Repeat the layers—cake, espresso, mascarpone cream, chocolate—until the bowl is full or you run out of cream or cake.  Your top layer should be chocolate.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Overnight is great. Spoon into individual bowls to serve.

*If you are uncomfortable eating raw eggs use pasteurized eggs.

Sponge Cake

Makes one 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch cake

1 1/4 cups flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

5 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cups sugar

5 tablespoons boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 °. Grease and then line the bottom of an 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch baking pan with 1-inch sides with parchment paper. (If you don’t have a sheet pan this size uses both a 9 by 13 inch pan and a 9-inch pan. Put a little less than 3/4 of the batter in the larger pan. The cakes will take a few minutes less to bake.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment whip the egg yolks and sugar on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Reduce to medium low speed; add the boiling water and vanilla extract and mix until combined, scrapping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Increase to high speed and again whip until thick, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients.

In a clean bowl of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment whip the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. They should be smooth and not clumpy. Fold half of the whipped whites into the batter and then fold in the remaining whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown and springs back when lightly touched, about 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting. If you have made the cake the day before, store it at room temperature uncovered.


Beyond Pumpkin Pie

November 18, 2010

If you ask most pastry chefs what desserts they are making for Thanksgiving dinner they will include the obligatory pumpkin pie.  We make it because it is what certain family members and friends expect. We know they will be disappointed if they don’t have it. It isn’t on the top of our list and we would leave it off if we could get away with it. It’s not that pastry people don’t like pumpkin pie it’s just kind of boring, even a good one.

Native Americans grew pumpkin so it was probably on the first Thanksgiving menu but not in the pie form that we know today. The Pilgrims didn’t have flour so they couldn’t have made a crust. If their pumpkin dish was sweetened they would have had to use honey as white sugar wasn’t around either.

I know many will disagree with my ambivalent feelings about this humble pie but there are better pumpkin desserts. You can carry on the tradition of pumpkin but go outside the box. Make pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin ice cream cake, or cranberry pecan pumpkin upside down cake. All can be made a day ahead leaving more time to stuff the bird, go for a hike or watch football on TV.

If you are cooking the whole Thanksgiving dinner and are pressed for time, don’t worry about making your own pumpkin puree. Canned will work just fine. You can even find organic puree. Make sure to get plain puree and not one with added spices. In the latter the spice balance is way off.

To help you get started branching out; here’s a recipe for cranberry pecan pumpkin upside down cake. It will be on my table this year. What are you making for Thanksgiving dessert?

 Cranberry Pecan Pumpkin Upside Down Cake

Emily Luchetti

Serves 8-10

8 ounces (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 cups cranberries

4 ounces (1 cup) coarsely chopped pecans, toasted

2 large eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

 Chantilly Cream (see recipe below)

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour the brown sugar mixture into the bottom of the cake pan. In a medium bowl combine the cranberries and pecans. Place them in the pan over the brown sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, and oil.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Carefully spread the batter over the cranberry pecan topping.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool the cake for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Place a large plate or platter on top of the cake. Invert the cake and plate together. Remove the pan. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Cool completely before serving. Serve with Chantilly Cream.

Chantilly Cream                                 

Makes 2 cups

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.


SF Chefs Weekend

August 19, 2010

Last weekend was the second annual SF Chefs weekend organized by The Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Conceived as a marketing venue for the city’s restaurants it offers consumers a great opportunity to try many chefs’ creations.

The ribbon at the opening ribbon cutting ceremony was a thing of beauty. Not merely a piece of cloth, it was a garland made of herbs and vegetables. It was cut by Chris Cosentino and Dominique Crenn with about a dozen other chefs holding up the ribbon and waving kitchen tools.

Even with the fog you couldn’t complain about the weather. It’s easier to eat and drink if it isn’t 85 degrees. It’s certainly more pleasant when you are on the worker side of an event. Of course it didn’t hurt the events were inside a tent at Union Square. If you were there all weekend and tasted every dish you would have sampled food from a good majority of the restaurants in the city.

On one level chefs participate because it helps us keep our names out there in a competitive business. People who try and like our tastings will come (we hope) to our restaurants and eat.

On another level, and just as important to us chefs, the weekend is a way for chefs to see each other. In our kitchens we are caught up in the day to day stuff- managing employees, writing menus and cooking, or in my case, baking.  It is necessary and even gratifying but not that enlightening. Rolling out dough and mixing batters satisfies the introvert in me but I also need to get out and see what others are doing. It’s fun to be part of an event that includes so many of the Bay Area’s culinary talent.

I participated in the Sugar party (i.e. ice cream social) at The Westin Saint Francis Hotel. Pastry chefs teamed up with artisan ice cream makers to create desserts using ice cream. Here’s a line-up of the pastry chefs, the artisan ice cream companies they worked with, and what they made. You can see they are doing some cool stuff.

William Werner (Tell Tale Preserves) and Jake Godby (Humphrey Solcumb Ice Cream): charentais melon sorbet-prosciutto ice cream bon bon; raspberry-sweet corn ice cream sandwich; imperial stout float, roasted white chocolate; praline marshmallow, pluot pate de fruit, blackberry-nib financiers

Dominique Crenn (Luce): Corn textures and foie gras

Luis Villavelazquez (Absinthe) and Robyn Goldman (Smitten Ice Cream): Cantalope, Lavender and Lemon
Christine Law (Anchor & Hope): Blue Bottle Coffee Milkshake with Maple Whoopee Pie
Jean-Francois Houdre (Westin St. Francis): Peach Assemblage-slow roasted peach puree poached peach in anis syrup, thyme financier, thyme meringue sticks

Elizabeth Falkner (Orson), Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio (Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous): grilled sour dough ice cream sundaes with concord grape syrup, salted brazil nuts and spanish peanuts and chantilly
Ethan Howard (Cavallo Point): “Flufferberry”- Marshmallow ice cream sandwiched between two peanut macaroons with peanut butter buttercream and strawberry preserves
Catherine Schimenti (Michael Mina): Smoked Vanilla Bean Parfait, with cashew butter, fudge and marshmallow

Emily Luchetti (Farallon and Waterbar), Anne Walker and Sam Mogannam (Birite Ice Cream); Peach Split- crème fraiche ice cream, butterscotch sauce, raspberries and toasted almonds

 We all had the common theme of ice cream but it was interesting to see how each chef did something unique.

I got to meet several pastry chefs I had not previously met and others who I had not seen in some time. Pastry chefs (it must be all the sugar) are a friendly gregarious group. I felt energized by all the talent in one room. We could have stayed there for some time laughing and chatting. We each have our own distinct style but we all have the common goal to make great food. We each want to be good but we know there is a place for all of us to succeed. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of the San Francisco dessert world. I don’t think any other city in the country has the caliber and camaraderie around desserts as San Francisco.

Judging from the feedback, the ice cream social will be back at next year’s SF Chefs Weekend. Elizabeth Falkner and I are routing for a brass band like they have at old fashioned ice cream socials. I know it’s a year away but mark your calendars.


Easter Saturday Shopping

April 6, 2010

I know Easter has come and gone but I wanted to share an Easter weekend tradition in my husband, Peter’s family. On Saturday, the day before Easter, the whole family gets together and goes shopping in San Francisco’s North Beach to buy food for dinner that night. This custom started over 50 years ago and they haven’t missed one. In the beginning there were just 5 of them- Peter, his parents and three of his brothers. His younger brother and two sisters hadn’t even been born yet. Fast forward all these years later and add younger siblings, spouses, children, and a few good friends for good measure and the group is up to 24. This year the oldest, Peter’s dad, is 87 and the youngest, Isa, is almost a year old. Four generations shopping together.

We have the same route very year. We start at Peter and Paul Church on Washington Square where Peter’s great grandparents were married. There we sit on the steps and get a family history lesson. (People walking by stop and listen as they think we are part of an organized tour group.)  The first food stop is Liguria Bakery. It has the best focaccia in North Beach, if not the country. You have to get there early as they always run out. They have many different kinds but the pizza is the best. For a nickel more you can get it cut up to go. Otherwise they wrap it up in white paper like your shirts at the cleaners. (When you go make sure you peak into the back and see the huge oven where they do the baking.) The next two stops are at bakeries where we pick up bread and breadsticks. Then it is off to the site of Figone hardware on Grant Street. Mel Figone was a duck hunting buddy of Peter’s grandfather. When he owned the store the Luchetti clan would stop by and give him a bag of cookies from one of the Italian bakeries. Now the shop is an art gallery but we still stop by and reminisce about their duck hunting excursions. Mel’s picture is in the window of the gallery.

After stopping for lunch for some nourishment to keep shopping we stop at Stella Bakery on Columbus Avenue. Here we get a walk around treat. Everyone gets something different- (tiramisu, cannoli, cookies, biscotti, éclairs, cream puffs, panna cotta) plus we pick up a Sacripantina Cake which is their specialty. It’s sponge cake layered with Marsala-Sherry sabayon and covered with whipped cream. From there we go to Molinari Delicatessen. Jeff, my brother in law, orders all the cold meats (prosciutto (20 sheets!), galantina, mortadella, Toscana and Genoa salami, sopressata, head cheese, hot and mild coppa) while I select the cheeses (teleme, aged asiago, fontina, gorgonzola, parmesan, pecorino, and taleggio). Here we also get calamari salad, bean salad, olives, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, and tomatoes as well as house made cheese ravioli, red sauce and wines. At Victoria Pastry we pick up a Saint Honore cake and boxes of cookies. A big box is for us and smaller boxes are for gifts family members take to friends and in-laws on Easter Sunday. The final stop of the day is at Graffeo coffee where we all get coffee ground for our specific machines at home.

We load the cars with our goodies and go over to Peter’s and my house, open the wine and visit while we spread all the food out in a huge buffet. (We always end up with a few more people for dinner that couldn’t make the shopping part of the day.)The ravioli is the only thing we cook that evening so it is a holiday where no one gets stuck doing a lot of cooking when everyone else hangs out.

Years ago I came up with my version of Sacripantina cake. While I make it at other times of the year I wouldn’t think of making it at Easter. Part of the tradition is going to Stella and buying it. It’s fun to have a holiday where I don’t feel obligated to make dessert. I had it on the menu at Stars Restaurant but changed the name to Tuscan Cream Cake. People had a hard time pronouncing Sacripantina so they wouldn’t order it. As soon as I changed the name it sold like crazy.

Tuscan Cream Cake

Serves at least 12

2 recipes Sponge Cake (see recipe below)

1 recipe Zabaglione (see recipe below)

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup chocolate shavings or ground chocolate

3/4 cup crushed amaretti or biscotti

Against a short end of the cake, cut a 9-inch circle out of the sponge cake. With the remaining sponge cake, cut a half of a 9-inch circle. Repeat with the second sheet of sponge cake. Cut each circle and each half circle in half horizontally, so you will have a total of 4 circles and 4 half circles. (You will need all the circles and 2 of the half circles, so freeze the extra half circles and any scrap pieces for making trifles.)

Put a cake layer in the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan. Top with a generous 3/4 cup of the zabaglione. Top with a second cake layer, and then with another generous 3/4 cup of the zabaglione. For the third cake layer, fit two half circles side by side on the zabaglione. Repeat with more zabaglione and end with the fourth full cake circle. You will have 5 cake layers and 4 zabaglione layers. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.

In a bowl, combine the cream and sugar and whisk until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and then remove the pan sides and set the cake on a platter. Frost the sides and top of the cake with the whipped cream. Decorate the top with the chocolate shavings and the sides with the crushed amaretti. Cut into wedges to serve.

Planning Ahead

The cake may be made a day in advance, but frost the cake and decorate with the chocolate shavings and cookie crumbs the day you serve it. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Sponge Cake

You can double this recipe and make both cakes at once if your mixer is big enough.

Makes one 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch cake

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

5 large eggs, separated

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

5 tablespoons boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of an 11 1/2-by-17 1/2-inch baking sheet with 1-inch sides, then line the bottom with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour and baking powder onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add the salt and set aside.

Combine the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, add the boiling water and vanilla, and mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Increase the speed to high and beat until thick, about 2 minutes. The mixture should be thick enough so that when you lift a bit of it with the whip, it falls back into the bowl in a ribbon that slowly dissolves on the surface. Reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated.

Wash and dry the whip attachment. Put the egg whites in a clean mixer bowl, fit the mixer with the clean whip, and beat on medium speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form. They should be smooth and not clumpy. Using a spatula, fold half of the whipped whites into the yolk mixture. Then fold in the remaining whites just until no white streaks remain. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back when lightly touched, about 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan to room temperature.

To remove the cake from the pan, run a small knife around the inside edge of the pan. Invert the pan onto a work surface, lift off the pan, and carefully peel off the parchment paper.

The sauce may be made 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated.


Makes about 3 cups

8 large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher salt

3/4 cup Marsala

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Prepare an ice bath. In a stainless-steel bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until blended. Whisk in the Marsala.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, whisking constantly, until thick and there are no air bubbles, 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture should mound slightly when dropped from the whisk.

Remove the bowl from the pan and place over the ice bath. Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally.

Put the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment and whip on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the cream into the cooled Marsala mixture just until combined.

Cover and refrigerate until assembling the cake.