Archive for the ‘Favorites’ Category


Christmas Sweets

December 18, 2009



It’s official. I have finally decided what I will make for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day desserts. Making up my mind is not a simple task. There are so many choices. Since it is Christmas I want to make sure they are worthy of the occasion. For weeks I go back and forth muttering several options to myself. It drives my poor husband crazy. On Monday I will tell him we are having one thing and Wednesday I say something else. He will say “But what about the …. you were so excited about two days ago?”  Once he has heard me say the same dessert several days in a row then he figures that is what he will get to have.

I always choose classic desserts. It’s a traditional holiday so I like to go with something time-honored. In past years I have served Crepes Suzette, croquembouche, tiramisu, passion fruit soufflés, Baked Alaska and buche de noel. This year I have decided to make a frozen bouche de noel with chocolate cake and brown sugar ice cream. I will cover it in meringue and serve lots of chocolate and caramel sauces on the side. Come to think of it I better make two so there is enough for Santa. I leave a note telling him where to find leftover dessert. Funny thing it is always gone in the morning.

For Christmas Day we will have Gingerbread with warm apples and cider sabayon. While this is not a classic dessert by other people’s standards it has become part of our Christmas since I first developed the combination in 1991 when I worked at Stars Restaurant.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.


Frozen Bouche de Noel

If you want to stagger the production over a couple of days, make the cake and ice cream on the 22nd or 23rd. Spread the meringue on the 24th.

Serves 8 to 10

Brown Sugar Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Chocolate Roulade

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons water

6 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

To make the ice cream: Combine the cream, milk, brown sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Pour the mixture into a bowl and cool over an ice bath to room temperature. Refrigerate the custard for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze until firm but still spreadable, about 2 hours, depending on your freezer.

While the ice cream is freezing, make the roulade: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray an 11-inch-by-17-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and water together in a double boiler over hot water. Stir until smooth.

Whip the egg yolks on high speed until light in color, 2 to 3 minutes with a stand mixer, 3 to 4 minutes with a hand mixer. Reduce to medium speed and add 1/3 cup of the sugar. Increase speed to high and continue to whip until thick and ribbony. On low speed or by hand, stir in the 1/4 cup of the cocoa powder and the salt. Stir in the melted chocolate.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy and begin to increase in volume. Gradually whip in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a steady stream. Whip until satiny, stiff peaks form. In two additions, fold the whites carefully into the chocolate mixture. Gently and evenly spread the mixture in the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the top of the cake springs back when pressed with your fingertip and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, lay a clean thin cotton dish towel on the work surface with a short end toward you. Dust an area of the towel the size of the cake pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa powder. Remove the cake from the oven and run a small knife around the inside edges of the pan. Place one of the long ends of the cake pan on the right side of the towel and invert the pan and the cake on top of the towel so it falls at the end of the towel closest to you and on top of the cocoaed area. Carefully remove the pan and then the parchment paper. If the cake is not sitting at the end of the towel, fold the towel under itself so it is. From the end closest to you, carefully roll the cake and the towel up together like a jelly roll. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

To assemble the roulade: If necessary, soften the brown sugar ice cream while the cake is cooling. It should be firm but spreadable. Carefully unroll the cake. (If it splits anywhere, carefully push the broken pieces together.) Gently spread the ice cream over the cake with a thin metal spatula, leaving a 1/4-inch border on all sides. Reroll the cake without the towel. Place on a large platter or baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours, depending on your freezer. Cover with meringue (see recipe below). If desired torch just before serving.


1/2 cup egg whites (about 4)

1 cup sugar

In a bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar until combined. Put the bowl in a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the egg whites are very warm. Remove the whites from the hot water and whip with an electric mixer on medium-high speed with a stand mixer, or high speed with a handheld mixer, until stiff, glossy peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature. Remove the ice cream log from the freezer. Using a small spatula, spread the meringue about 3/4 inch thick over the cake completely covering it. This can be done several hours in advance. Do not cover. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Just before serving, using a butane torch, constantly move the flame over the meringue about 1 inch from the surface of the meringue until lightly browned. Or briefly put underneath a preheated broiler.

Gingerbread with Apples and Cider Sabayon

The gingerbread can be made a couple days in advance. Store at room temperature. The apples two days ahead and the sabayon one. Keep both of these refrigerated.

Yield: 9 by 13 inch pan


1 cup molasses

1 1/2 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon baking soda

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 by 13 inch pan.

Mix molasses, boiling water and baking soda together in a large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light. Mix in the egg.

Sift together the ginger, cinnamon, flour and baking powder. Add the salt

In three additions, alternately add dry ingredients and the molasses mixture to the butter mixture. Mix thoroughly after each addition to make sure there are no lumps.

Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool before cutting.


7 medium apples (Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Braeburn)

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons (Approximately) apple juice or water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pinch kosher salt

Peel, core and slice the apples 3/16 inch thick. Cook the apples with the remaining ingredients until the apples are soft but still hold their shape. If the liquid evaporates before the apples are cooked, add more apple juice.

Cider Sabayon

8 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch kosher salt

3/4 cup sparkling apple cider, hard cider or 1/4 cup Calvados and 1/2 cup apple juice

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

To make the sabayon: Fill a medium bowl two-thirds with ice and water to make an ice bath. Fill a medium pot one-third full of water and bring it to a low boil. In a stainless steel bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and sparkling apple juice until smooth. Place the bowl over the pot of water and cook, whisking constantly, until thick, about 2 minutes. Place the bowl in the ice bath. Cool, whisking occasionally until at least room temperature. Remove the bowl and discard the ice bath.

Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream into the apple mixture.

Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Serve the gingerbread with the apples (warm or room temperature) and the apple sabayon.


The Days after Thanksgiving- Favorite Food Magazines

November 26, 2009

Once the turkey carcass has been picked of any last remaining meat and the pie crumbs wiped from the counter, I like to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving catching up on reading. It’s time for some R&R after all the cooking and entertaining.  Inevitably I have a stack of magazines that have piled up over the last few months. I settle into the sofa with a blanket and I am set for the day. It may seem odd to read about food after a day of serious eating but not for me. Over the years magazines come and go in my house as I lose interest or they become predictable. I have four favorites that I wait impatiently for the postman to put into my mailbox each month.

One is California Country magazine published by The California Farm Bureau. If you want to learn about farmers, ranchers and agriculture in California, this is a must read. Printed without a big budget or advertising, California Country has articles about water issues, wineries, nuts, citrus, produce, flowers and anything relating to California agriculture. It focuses on big and large scale farms. Once you start reading California Country it sinks in how much food is grown in this state and how much the rest of the country (and the world) depends on California. One of the things I like best is you get to know the people who are involved in agriculture. They are dedicated, hardworking, fun and caring people. The magazine also has a companion television series shown within the state of California. If you can’t catch it on television you can see watch many of the episodes on their website.

Another favorite is Saveur magazine. Like other food periodicals it offers recipes but it doesn’t stop there. Regional and international foods are explored from cultural, historical and culinary perspectives. Saveur is about “real food, real places, real people.” The latest issue featured kimchi, a Jerusalem food market, as well as a turkey article celebrating and attempting to preserve heritage breed birds.

Another favorite monthly, but surely not in third place, is Vogue Entertaining and Travel from Australia. Each time I pick up this magazine I have to restrain myself from calling the airlines and booking a flight to Sydney. The first time I went to Australia in 1987 I was amazed by the food. It equals California in terms of style and ingredients but is also influenced by Europe and Asia. The food is simple but sophisticated. I want to eat every recipe in every issue.

My go to magazine when I want to get into the nuts and bolts of baking and cooking is Cook’s Illustrated. I admit I often read the last part of an article to see the best way to make something and then I go back and read all the versions that got them to the finished recipe. Kind of like reading the end of a mystery novel first. Chris Kimball and his crew are amazing at analyzing recipes in painstaking detail. I can make their recipes for a dinner party and not have to try them beforehand. They always work.

These magazines keep me inspired, cooking and well fed all year. For that I am thankful.


And the winner is…

October 29, 2009

Thanks to everyone for their ice cream sandwich ideas. You all sent in some delicious combinations. It will take me quite a while to make them all. They are inspiring.

It was really hard to pick a favorite. Next time I will ask you to mail me samples. Fedex and dry ice required of course! My favorite of all was submitted by Sarah. In honor of fall her entry was pumpkin-butterscotch cookies filled with brown-butter ice cream.  As Sarah said, “These cookies are cupcake-like, so the sandwich’s texture is something like a whoopie pie. Yum!” I second that YUM! There’s a reason you are starting to see brown butter on dessert menus across the country. It brings so much flavor to anything and everything.

If you have never made brown butter it is easy. Put butter (I use unsalted) in a pot and cook over medium heat until it starts to brown. It will fill the kitchen with amazing aromas. Stir it occasionally as you don’t want bits to stick to the bottom and burn. The trick is to get it a rich brown color but not to let the little pieces turn black. Some chefs strain the butter but as long as none of it is burned I leave them in. I like the color. As soon as it is finished pour it into another container. If you leave it in the pot it will continue to cook and get too dark.

In other ice cream sandwich news, I have created some new combinations for a conference I am attending at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa next month. The conference is an annual think tank for food professionals. Chefs come in from around the world and we all share ideas and of course, food.  This year’s theme is Frontiers of Flavor: World Street Food, World Comfort Food. As soon as I heard the title I instantly thought of the ultimate American comfort food ice cream. And what better way to enjoy it than from a cart in an ice cream sandwich. No plates or utensils required. In keeping with the international theme, I created four different sandwiches based around Thai, Vietnamese, Latin American and Asian cuisines.

Thai- Coconut Meringues with Mint Lime Ice Cream

Asian- Pistachio Orange Shortbread with Rosewater Ice Cream

Vietnamese- Ginger Cookie with Cardamom Coffee Ice Cream

Latin American- Chocolate Cookies with Dulce de Leche Swirl Ice Cream

Here’s the recipe for my Thai creation.


Coconut Meringue with Mint Lime Ice Cream Sandwiches

Yield 10 sandwiches


Coconut Meringues

6 ounces egg Whites

.75 ounces sugar

3.5 ounces sugar

3 ounces powdered Sugar

2 ounces sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut, finely ground, not toasted

  1. Whip Egg Whites until frothy.  Add first amount of sugar and whip to stiff peaks
  2. When Meringue reaches stiff peaks add second amount of sugar, whip to very firm peak
  3. Place meringue in a bowl and gently fold in powdered, third amount of sugar and coconut.
  4. Pipe meringue into 1 3/4 to 2 inch circles with #802 tip (about 1/4 inch) on parchment lined sheet pans.  Bake 150-200 degrees until dry.


Mint Lime Ice Cream

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 cups cream

1 1/4 cups whole milk

Zest from 3 limes

5 grams mint leaves

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

  1. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt.
  2. Scald milk and cream with lime and mint.
  3. Temper into eggs.
  4. Make creme anglaise to 170 degrees.
  5. Strain and cool over ice bath.
  6. Stir in lime juice.
  7. Refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight.S
  8. pin into ice cream.
  9. Harden off in freezer.


October 23, 2009



Now that daylights savings time is a little more than a week away I feel we are finally in autumn. As much as I love Indian summer days, the crispness of fall puts me in the mood to bake. This is the time of year I get excited about caramel. I use it all year round but it really shines and shows all its complexities when it is paired with pumpkin, apple, pears and other fall flavors. It is remarkable something so much a part of the pastry palate is just sugar and water. Home cooks are reticent about making caramel but once you learn how to do it a whole pastry world opens up- crème caramel, caramel pot de crème, caramel ice cream, apple caramel bread pudding- the list goes on and on. And that doesn’t even include caramel sauce and all its variations- caramel coffee, caramel peanut butter, caramel chocolate, caramel apple, caramel calvados, caramel ginger, caramel pineapple etc etc.

Whatever you make with caramel you start at the same place- cooking sugar until it is an amber color. Most French (and some American) pastry chefs make a “dry caramel”. This is made without water. I avoid making dry caramel as it has a higher chance of cooking unevenly and burning. Adding water takes a few minutes longer (the water has to cook off before the sugar can cook) but it is much easier.

Caramel sauce is the Grand Dame of all things caramel. The first thing you do is gently stir together the sugar and the water in a medium heavy bottomed sauce pan. Avoid using dark colored pots as it is difficult to gauge the color of the caramel. You want to gently stir it because you want to minimize the amount of sugar splashed up on the sides of the pot. Cook the sugar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and no longer looks cloudy. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush the inside sides of the pan above the cooking sugar to eliminate any sugar sticking to the sides. (You can also put a lid on top of the pot for a minute. The steam will dissolve any sugar on the sides of the pot.)

Increase to medium high (or high heat if your stove isn’t that powerful) and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is amber colored. This will take anywhere from 3-8 minutes depending on how much you are making and how high the heat is. While it is cooking put your oven mitts on. The caramel will first start to get colored around the edges. At this point swirl the pot gently to evenly distribute the part that is more colored. Once it is a rich deep amber color, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric stove, remove the pot from the burner as the residual heat will keep cooking the caramel.) Acting quickly, pour in about 3 tablespoons of the cream. You want to add it right after you take the pot off of the heat as the caramel will keep cooking and getting darker even though the heat source is turned off. Be careful as the caramel will sputter as the cream is added. Once you have added the cream, using a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula, stir it in. If the cream sputters a lot, stop stirring. Let the bubbles subside and then stir again. Carefully add the remaining cream. As you add more cream and the caramel cools down you can add it more quickly. Stir until combined. Let cool slightly (should still be warm) and whisk in the butter. This allows the butter to be emulsified into the sauce rather than melt in.

The trick is to get the caramel at just the right color. Too light and your sauce will be thin and more tan in color. Too dark and it will have a bitter taste. Once you have made it a couple of times you will get the hang of it.

Here’s one of the best pastry tricks I know. Cleaning caramel pots can be dfficult when the caramel sticks to the sides of the pot. For quick clean up fill the pot half with water and bring it to a boil. The hot water will dissolve the hard caramel. Similarly, if you burn the caramel and need it to stop cooking so you can get rid of it, add a couple cups of water, carefully at first, just as when you add the cream, to dilute it and stir to combine. This mixture can be poured down the sink.

Now that I have walked you through making caramel sauce here’s my recipe. Use your imagination to decide what to serve it with. Sometimes I don’t get past vanilla ice cream but who would argue with that as long as there are some warm toasted sliced almonds and bittersweet chocolate chunks.

What’s your favorite thing to serve caramel with?

Caramel Sauce

Yield: 1 3/4 cups

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Stir together the sugar and the water in a medium saucepan. Heat the sugar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Brush the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to eliminate any sugar sticking to the sides. Increase to high heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar is amber colored, 3-5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Wearing oven mitts, slowly add a little bit of the cream. Be careful as the caramel will sputter as the cream is added. Using a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula, stir the cream into the caramel. If the cream sputters, stop stirring. Let the bubbles subside and then stir again. Carefully add the remaining cream. Stir until combined. Let cool slightly (should still be warm) and whisk in the butter. Keep refrigerated for weeks if it lasts that long.


Still Jamming

October 8, 2009


I have a nice stash of jam in the back closet. I have been adding to it since the spring when I first made Meyer Lemon and Orange Marmalade. Next up was apricot and then strawberry. I thought my making jam days for 2009 were over once the calendar turned to September. But I was wrong. At the farmer’s market in San Francisco this past Saturday (on the 3rd of October!) I found the most beautiful looking and tasting strawberries. Most were small and some were tiny, perfect for jam making. Before I knew it I was asking for a case. So much for the rest of my afternoon.

When making jam it is very very (Yes, I said very twice for emphasis.) important to cook it in small batches. Small batches allow the berries and juice to thicken quicker. The faster they cook the more flavor the jam has. It is tempting to make a big pot so you can get a lot of jars done at once but you will regret it. You lose the freshness of the fruit. This goes for any type of jam you make. Use a heavy bottomed pot at least 10 inches in diameter.

Once I finished making the strawberry jam I had a few empty jars that had not been filled. I hate putting away empty jars for a year so I decided to make some pear-vanilla bean jam with some pears that I also had picked up at the market. Pears can be cooked into jam very quickly as they are full of natural pectin. The pectin helps the fruit thicken. Berries have very little natural pectin.

There are several pear varieties you can use. In California I like French Butter pears and the small Seckel pears.  You can find Bartlett and Comice in grocery stores across the country. Check out your farmer’s market to find local varieties specific to your area. Make sure they are ripe.

I like to give jam as a hostess gift when I am invited to someone’s house for dinner. It is unexpected and gives everyone a break from the usual bottle of wine. I also give it as gifts for Christmas. When it is snowing and cold it is nice to have a reminder of the warmer time of the year.

Here’s my recipe for pear-vanilla bean jam. Pears are plentiful at the market. No sense giving you my strawberry jam recipe as the season is over. I’ll give it to you next spring.


Chunky Pear-Vanilla  Jam

Yield 1 pint jar

You can double this recipe but this is the amount of pears I had at home when I tested it. It is quick and easy. Don’t make more than a double batch. I know it is a small amount but it really is worth it. Don’t reserve this just for toast, it’s great with cheese too.


3 cups apple cider or apple juice (no sugar added)

2 vanilla beans

3 pounds ripe pears, Bartlett or French Butter (about 9)

3/4 cup sugar

Put the apple cider in a large pot or saute pan. With a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Run the knife along the pod, releasing the seeds. Put the vanilla bean and seeds in the pot with the apple cider. Bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has reduced to 3/4 cup.

While the apple juice is cooking, peel, half and core the pears. Cut the pears into 1/4 inch pieces.

When the apple juice has finished reducing, add the pears and sugar to the pot and cook at a high simmer, stirring frequently, until thick and jam like, about 10 minutes.

Put up in jam jars or just refrigerate until cold and eat right from the fridge.