Category Archives: Dessert

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Only Opportunities

Recently, I was Marion Nestle’s guest at a luncheon hosted by the Food Studies students at NYU.  As Marion proudly showed me through the kitchen, she introduced me to a young woman dressed in a chef’s jacket and wearing a dismayed look on her face. 

“Oooooo!  Can we try some of those?” Marion asked the student when she spotted the sheet pan of coconut concoctions nearby. 

“Oh, those.  They didn’t turn out right.  They spread out too much, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with them now.”

We tasted them anyway, and they were fabulous.  The batter seemed to have separated as they baked, with the butter and sugar falling to the bottom and caramelizing into a sweet, brown, nutty, crispiness that turned ordinary macaroons into something extra special.

“Really?  You like them?” asked the student, seeming surprised as we helped ourselves to seconds.  “I’m glad.  I guess I’ll serve them, but I still don’t know what am I going to do with these completely flat ones on the other tray.”

“If they were mine,” I replied, “I’d chopped them up and used them as a crust for a cheesecake.  I think it would make a fantastic combination.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, a genuine smile finally on her face.

More importantly, it was a good reminder for all of us that, in cooking, mistakes are really only opportunities to create something new.

Coconut Macaroon

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Valentine’s Day

I used to own a rather large wholesale bakery.  Along with that, came the ownership of hundreds of cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes.  When I sold the bakery, I kept a box full of cookie cutters for my personal use.  Many years later on Valentine’s Day many years later, I looked through the box for the large copper heart-shaped cutter . . . but it was nowhere to be found.  As I busily cut dozens of tiny hearts with the miniature cutter I finally located, I remembered why I hadn’t saved the large copper heart: on the day I sold the bakery, I had no one to love.

Chocolate Shortbread Hearts

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Gingerbread House

Gingerbread houses seem to be experiencing a bit of resurgence in popularity.  People make special trips and battle crowds for a chance to see elaborate gingerbread villages made by local chefs.  I made many gingerbread houses over my own career as a chef, but my favorite was this one that I made at home with Kay a few years ago over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  She had mentioned once that she’d never made one, so I surprised her with a big box of assorted candy, along with gingerbread walls and a roof that I had made one day while she was at work.  The project took many, many hours and, when we finished, Kay broke into tears.  “Are you crying because you think it’s beautiful?” I asked her.  “No,” she replied, “I’m crying because you gave me the best gift of all: the gift of time.”

Gingerbread House

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Cranberry Apple Pie

When I was recently given a photography assignment to photograph layers, I thought about the many places that layers appear in our lives.  There are layers in the atmosphere and in the soil.  Our skin has layers, and we dress in layers.  There are often layers of meaning in conversations, novels, and art.  In the food world, there are layers of onions, layers of fat, and layers in a lasagna.  But my favorite layers are the layers of Mutsu apples in a homemade cranberry apple pie

Cranberry Apple Pie

 

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Peach Clafoutis

When I was in culinary school  twenty years ago, already — I had a French pastry instructor named Michel.  Chef Michel loved clafoutis, so on the days I was assigned to make the desserts for the school restaurant, I always made sure to include a clafoutis of one kind or another.  I was never surprised when the clafoutis ended up in Chef Michel’s office rather than in the restaurant.  And I’m pretty sure I have clafoutis to thank for getting an A in his class.

Peach Clafoutis

Blueberry Pie

Although there are few places I’d rather be than my kitchen, I’m not what you’d call a happy baker.  I hate all that measuring and weighing and exacting over every little ingredient.  I much prefer to throw whatever I find in the fridge into a cast iron skillet, add a few herbs and spices, and enjoy the unpredictable results.  However, when local blueberry season rolls around, I find myself slaving over blueberry pie three or four times a summer.  On rare occasions, there will be a piece left for a lucky friend or neighbor, but — for the rest of you  I offer this photo.  Look quickly because I’m about to devour the last slice.

Blueberry Pie

Strawberry Almond Cake

It is often said that cooking is art, but baking is science.  The reasoning behind the statement is that there’s a wide margin of error in cooking, thus leaving plenty of room for creativity without ruining a dish.  Baking, however, requires precise measuring, weighing, and timing in order to yield a result worth bragging about.  That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a bit of room for improvisation in the world of baking.  This strawberry almond cake is a good example of just that.  The recipe required milk, for which I substituted tangier buttermilk, and walnuts, for which I substituted almonds.  Then, because I had some beautiful fresh strawberries from the farmers market, I sliced those in half and placed them with the almonds in the bottom of the pan before adding the batter.  The result was so delicious that I may go bake another as soon as I’m done writing this post.

Strawberry Almond Cake

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

“Why don’t you ever make anything with lavender?” Kay asked me recently.  Taking that as the challenge it was no doubt meant to be, I bought some culinary lavender flowers at the farmers market and started dreaming up ways in which to use them.  I finally decided to embellish a recipe that I still have from my old bakery-owning days and made these lavender lemon shortbread cookies.  They’re beautiful, delicate, and delicious, and they’ll be making a regular appearance at Chez Ks . . . at least until Kay issues her next challenge.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

Bourbon Brownies

Every Friday night when I was a child, my grandparents came to visit.  My Gramps would settle into a chair, readying himself to read me countless books, with a can of beer and a shot of bourbon.  He would allow me “as many sniffs as you want of beer but only one sip.”  The bourbon was relegated to “sniffs only” territory.  To this day, I still love the smell of bourbon.

Bourbon Brownies