Category Archives: dessert

Citrus with Spiced Maple Syrup

citrus fruit salad

This is the shoulder season, when anticipation builds for spring flavors. I can’t wait for ripe strawberries. I wander through our neighborhood farmer’s market on Saturdays, taking the produce pulse. Have the ramps come in? When will we see asparagus?

Luckily, we still have citrus. Shipped in from Florida, Texas and the west coast, pink grapefruits and Mineolas are delicious right now. Tangerines, navels, kumquats and pummelos. Even the fruits’ names carry me away to sun-soaked places. Sumo, Valencia, Golden Nugget. They could be names on the Las Vegas Strip. Or given to champion race horses in Saratoga Springs.

whole citrus fruits in rainbow colors

I learned this simple, outstanding dessert recipe when teaching my very first cooking class at The Sylvia Center, in Soho. One of my dearest old friends, a fellow food-lover and chef-instructor named Nina, invited me to be her assistant. The students were reluctant teenagers, struggling academically and exploring career options in the food industry. We taught them knife skills. But we also exposed them to vegetables and fruits some had never tasted. It was a revelation.

ingredients for spiced citrus salad

This is no ordinary fruit salad. It marries the tart with the sweet (citrus plus maple syrup), with an exotic overlay of earth and warmth (spices). Make it with whatever citrus fruit you have. The more variety of oranges you add, the more colors and hidden flavors your salad will contain.

maple syrup with spices

At first, supreming citrus seems challenging. Using a sharp knife, you cut away the peel and pith, leaving a naked orb of fruit. You then cut out neat segments, filling a bowl with bright, colorful citrus wedges. Be sure to squeeze every last drop of juice from the remaining membrane before discarding.

details of how to supreme citrus

The fruit will perk up your taste buds. It is fresh and succulent. The “broth” tastes like nectar. You will want seconds. It’s my favorite cold weather dessert, good for parties and those who avoid dairy, gluten and carbohydrates. Unbelievably delicious and packed with vitamin C.


Citrus with Spiced Maple Syrup
Serves 6-8

Count on about 2 whole citrus fruits per person. Choose an assortment of citrus, including at least 3 different ones from the following (suggested) list, preferably of different colors:

Blood oranges
Navel oranges
Valencia oranges
Cara Cara oranges
Hamlin Oranges
Mango oranges

½ cup maple syrup, preferably grade B
1 cup of water
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
4 juniper berries
4 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 small knob of fresh ginger
Pomegranate seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)

Put maple syrup and water in a saucepan. Add star anise, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, cardamom pods, cloves and fresh ginger. If there are certain spices you prefer, feel free to eliminate some and/or add others. Bring syrup and spices to the boil, then lower heat, and simmer gently, until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, supreme all citrus into sections over a bowl, squeezing the juice of each before you throw out the membrane. Be sure to remove all the pith and seeds. Depending on the overall quantity of juice, you may want to pour some off and drink it separately.

Add strained, cooled maple syrup broth to the citrus and juice, and stir gently. Serve in glass bowls, with optional pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top, as a garnish.

When serving, citrus should rest in about 1 cup of “broth,” juice with maple syrup mixed, with fruit piled up and not floating in too much liquid.


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Filed under dessert, Recipes, Salad, vegan, winter

Plum Clafoutis

pints of plums at the farmers market in brooklyn

Every year of my conscious life I mourn the last delicious peach of the season. The chin dribbling peach, the fuzzy skinned peach, the tart-and-sweet-at-the-same-time peach, the misshapen doughnut peach. The smell of a perfect white peach! I feel dizzy with pleasure. But once I have had that fateful bite of a mealy peach, sometime in September, I know the book is closed until the following July. The good news is… there are plums.

plums at fort greene farmer's market

At the Fort Greene farmer’s market here in Brooklyn this weekend, piles of plums announced “We are faking out autumn!” Purple like a queen’s velvet cape, pert and tart and full of flavor, plums are the latecomers to the summer party of irresistible fruits. They’re called prunes in France. They are best cooked (or dried, like the prunes we can buy in a bright box all year, known to promote good digestion).

sexy purple plums

I made a few versions of Plum Clafoutis before settling on this recipe. The classic clafoutis (French, bien sur) is made with unpitted cherries. Basically a batter poured over fruit, I’ve always found it a little on the eggy side. I prefer crispy things. So to add texture, I frothed up the egg whites, folding them into the batter. Next time, I will scatter almond slivers on top before baking, to add more crunch.

plum clafoutis recipe prep

In Ottolenghi’s cookbook (an absolute must-have and just published in the US), the recipe suggests making little mini-clafoutis, in ramekins. That sounds lovely, but I wanted this to be a fast and easy dessert. Minimal fuss. Maximum Can-I-Pretend-It’s-Summer-For-A-Few-More-Weeks. Please?

baked plum clafoutis

plum clafoutis for breakfast


Plum Clafoutis

Serves 8

Butter to grease pan
1¾ pounds small, firm-ripe plums
3 eggs separated
6 tablespoons sugar
½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup flour
pinch of salt
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Generously grease a 9” tart pan (or pie plate, or cake tin). The pan should be at least 1½” deep. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cut plums lengthwise into 6 wedges each, discarding pits and stems. Reserve 1 cup of cut plums and scatter the remaining plums on the bottom of the greased pan.

In a medium bowl, using a whisk or an electric beater, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and creamy. Slit the vanilla bean in half longwise and scrape the seeds into the egg yolk mixture. Blend in with the vanilla extract and cream. Stir in the flour.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until they form stiff (but not granular or dry) peaks. Fold beaten whites into the batter. Pour batter over the cut plums. Scatter reserved plums on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top.


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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, Uncategorized, vegetarian

Lemon Crème Brûlée

Like most, I crave a sweet thing at the end of a meal. A square of chocolate usually does the trick. But when people come over, I make dessert. Mostly, I do it to please others. I learned long ago that a grand, sugary finale makes people swoon. It matters less the hours you marinate the protein, the itsy bitsy chopped herbs you sprinkle on the plate. What they really want is dessert.

And so I have developed a small repertoire of killer sweets. Having recently acquired a new, slim kitchen toy that doubles as a welding tool, I have added crème brûlée to my dessert list. This is that chilled, creamy dish with a brittle veneer you find in most French restaurants. Most of us have the ingredients in our fridge at all times.

Crème brûlée can be mixed up in half an hour. It keeps in the fridge for a few days. If you don’t want to spend about $20 on a torch, get your broiler very hot and run the filled ramekins under the flame for a few minutes. You really can’t serve crème brûlée without the crispy top.

For extra credit, play around with flavored crème brûlée. Because it’s made with cream, you can drop tasty things into the cream while it heats. This infuses the dish with the flavor you choose, be it lemon peel, lavender springs, cloves, dried roses, lemongrass stalks, ginger knobs, etc. For fancy flecks of black from vanilla, scrape the insides of a vanilla pod into the cream. Strain the cream after it’s heated and proceed with the recipe.

Take my advice. A sure-fire way to make your guests happy is to make them a homemade dessert. Don’t worry about ironing the napkins or clearing away the clutter before the guests arrive. Cook them something sweet. Dessert masks many a domestic shortcoming.


Lemon Crème Brûlée
Adapted from long departed, good old Gourmet magazine

Serves 8

3 large lemons
3 cups heavy cream
About 10 tablespoons sugar, preferably turbinado
6 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Special equipment: 8 (4-oz) flameproof ramekins; a small blowtorch

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325º F.

Finely grate 3 tablespoons zest from lemons into cream in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Stir in 7 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt. Heat mixture over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until almost boiling. Remove from heat.

Lightly beat yolks in a bowl, then gradually whisk in hot cream. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a quart-size glass measure and stir in vanilla and 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Divide among ramekins.

Arrange ramekins in a roasting pan and bake in a water bath (filling roasting pan with boiling water to halfway up sides of ramekins), until custards are just set around edge but centers wobble when pan is gently shaken, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool custards in water bath 20 minutes, then remove from pan and chill, uncovered, at least 4 hours. (Custards will set completely as they chill.)

Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon sugar evenly over each custard, then move blowtorch flame evenly back and forth close to sugar until sugar is caramelized. Let stand until caramel is hardened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Cooks’ note: Custards can be chilled, covered with a sheet of plastic wrap after 4 hours, up to 2 days. Very gently blot with paper towels before sprinkling with sugar and caramelizing.


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Filed under dessert, Recipes, vegetarian

Pear Cranberry Crisp

pear cranberry crisp using bosc pears


On the eve of America’s greatest food holiday, Thanksgiving, I am tasked with making a fruit dessert for the family spread. As I’m not a pumpkin pie person (texture problem), nor one to deny people their right to butter (life is too short), I chose to make a crisp. Pears and cranberries will be deployed. Both are fruit stars of the season and locally grown to boot.

Also called a crumble, a cobbler, or “Apple Brown Betty” by my mother’s generation (who made it with bread), a crisp should be just that. Crispy on top, melting and yielding inside. It can be as sweet as you like, or even salty if that’s your thing. Think salted caramels. Or our local ice cream shop’s genius flavor, “Salted Crack Caramel,” made with saltines. Use the fruit at hand. Apples, rhubarb, quince, figs, cranberries, figs. Berries in summer.

As soon as the weather gets cool enough to warrant wearing wool, I mix up a batch of the crisp topping, decant to Ziploc plastic baggies and freeze for instant use when dessert must be summoned. Homemade fast food. Sometimes, you just want to eat crisp! Peel and cut up whatever fall fruit you have around, toss with a little sugar and spice, sprinkle over your frozen topping and bake. Presto, a warm dessert that comforts instantly.

Or breakfast. Cold crisp with a spoonful of yogurt makes a perfect morning food, especially if you add oats to the topping for extra nutrition and rib-sticking. Home cook wonder woman Deb Perelman has a brand new cookbook out with the ideal recipe.

Happy and delicious Thanksgiving to you, dear reader. Ever grateful, Nan


Pear Cranberry Pecan Crisp

Serves 8-10

For topping:
2/3 cup pecans, toasted for 6 minutes in 375˚F oven
1 1/3 cups flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks/6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces

For the filling:
4 lbs pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled, cored and cut into 1” chunks
1½ cups fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

Mix the dry topping ingredients together in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly, but not sandy texture. Or use a food processor and pulse a few times until you get the crumbly texture. Chill until ready to use. Topping can be made ahead and refrigerated for about a week, or frozen up to 2 months.

Mix pears, cranberries, sugar, flour and cinnamon in large bowl. Transfer to dish. Crumble topping over fruit. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is lightly browned, about 1¼ hours. Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.


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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, vegetarian

Meyer Lemon Tart

easy, pretty lemon tart

One of the joys of winter, to brighten the dull days of February, is the plethora of citrus fruits. In my market this week there are no fewer than fifteen varieties: Cara Cara, Blood, Navel, Temple, Honey Tangerines, Mineola, Tangelos, Clementines, and Sumo oranges, along with pink grapefruit, pommelos, kumquats, lemons, limes, and Meyer lemons. The colors! The smells! The flavors!

make little curls of zest

I use zest in many dishes, savory and sweet. Grate lemon zest over buttered pasta, throw in a handful of arugula and powdery parmesan with lots of ground black pepper, and presto-zing, you have dinner. Zest makes salad dressing sing, brings liveliness to roasted meats, coaxes flavor from simple chicken dishes and vivifies butter sauces for fish. Sprinkle grated zest on quinoa or couscous to give it dimension. Lemons are not just for lemonade.

ingredients for a lemon tart

If you don’t already have one, order yourself a microplane grater today. It costs about 12 bucks. It is in my top ten, must-have, bring-on-every-foreign-travel-experience kitchen tools. Use it to quickly zest citrus, make tiny curls of grated chocolate and to convert Parmesan or other hard cheeses into cloud-like mounds of shavings.

use meyer lemons if you can find them

This lemon tart uses the zest and the juice. It’s a mouth puckering blast of citrus in an elegant sliver of tart, threaded with pretty little shards of zest. I love Meyer lemons for their complex taste. Kind of like a hybrid of orange, lemon and grapefruit. Floral and rich. Acidic yet bewitching. If you can get your hands on these babies, snap them up! If not, use whatever lemons (or limes or anything citrus) in this tart.

slice of meyer lemon tart

Thank you to my daughter, Eliza Jane, for helping me this week. She used some of her precious vacation time to shoot the photos in this post. Talented girl.

Meyer Lemon Tart

Based on a recipe from Patricia Wells

Serves 8-10

The beauty of this recipe is time and flavor. Unlike most pastry-making recipes, this one uses melted butter, which means no rolling pin or chilling time needed. Just mix up the dough and press it into the tart pan with your fingers. Bake it and fill with the lemon curd. That’s it. A fancy, winter citrus dessert in about one hour. Plus you can make it in advance. This goes on the “Best Of” list of winter desserts!

For the Pastry Shell

8 tablespoons (4 ounces/120 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for buttering the tart pan
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Grated zest (just the peel) of 1 Meyer lemon, blanched and refreshed*
1/4 cup (30 grams) confectioners’ sugar
A pinch of fine sea salt
1¼ cups (180 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Lemon Curd

2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/120 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
Grated zest (just the peel) of 2 organic Meyer lemons (or regular lemons), blanched and refreshed
1/2 cup (12.5 centiliters) freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons), strained

Make the Pastry

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-10” fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, vanilla and almond extracts, grated zest, sugar and salt, and stir with a spoon to blend. Gradually incorporate enough flour to form a smooth, soft dough (The dough will resemble soft cookie dough). Place the dough in the center of the buttered tart pan. With the tips of your fingers, press the pastry evenly on the bottom and sides of the pan. The dough will be quite thin. No need to weight or prick the pastry shell before baking.
  4. Place the shell in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is firm and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes before filling. Do not remove from the pan.

Make the Lemon Curd/Assemble Tart

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, lower heat to simmer, and place a large metal bowl (non-reactive, such as stainless steel) over the pot. The water should not touch the bottom of the bowl. Combine the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in the bowl. Whisk frequently until the curd thickens and is pale lemon colored, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, allowing each tablespoon to melt before adding the next. Add the zest and lemon juice, whisking frequently over the simmering water, until thick and custard-like, about 5 minutes. The mixture should not boil or the curd will break up. Pour the curd into the prebaked and cooled pastry shell. Smooth with a rubber spatula and set aside until set, about 30 minutes. Just before serving sprinkle with a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar. Cut into thin wedges and serve.

* How to blanch and refresh lemon zest:
Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Drop zest into boiling water and simmer for a few minutes. Strain and submerge strainer filled with blanched zest into a bowl of ice water. This removes some of the bitterness.


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Filed under dessert