Archive for desserts

Billionaire’s Shortbread


I found this recipe in last month’s Food and Wine, and in a few short weeks it has become part of my regular repertoire.    Once I saw the combo of caramel, dark chocolate and salt, I knew I was a gonner.

The recipe is, quite literally, an upgrade on the British confection “Millionaire’s Shortbread”, which comprises a layer of buttery cookie crust, filled with condensed milk and topped with  milk chocolate.  By using homemade caramel and dark chocolate ganache, and adding some cornmeal to the shortbread layer this version is much richer, hence the name.

Sure, it involves more steps than the average bar cookie, and use of a candy thermometer.  Admittedly, I strenuously object to undue fuss in the kitchen.  But I promise, when you try these, you’ll agree they are worth the extra effort and steps.


I have so far made them for:  book group; a dinner party; my pediatrician’s office as a thank you for “finding” my sick daughter an appointment  on a very busy Monday; and for myself as a palliative after a very stressful week.

Give them a try–you’ll be glad you did.  Or maybe not, as they are addictive.

Banana Cream Pie


My version did not look this pretty. But it was delicious anyway.

My son requested banana cream pie this past weekend.  As one who will do almost anything to make her teenage children be nice to her, I gamely assembled the ingredients.  If you have teenagers, you will understand this immediately, and if you don’t, then suspend your judgement.  When your adorable little ones enter these tumultuous years, you’ll see what I mean.

But back to the pie.  It is a very simple preparation, and if you are inclined toward shortcuts, you can ‘cheat’ on the crust by purchasing a prepared graham cracker shell.  You can also cheat on the pudding and buy a mix, but that seriously downgrades the result; the vanilla pudding is rapturous and really makes the pie.

Let me state for the record that my pie tasted great, but the visual wasn’t all it could have been. Knowing that it was just a dessert for the family, and it was a busy Sunday which involved shuttling various members of the family to sundry activities in distant locales, I didn’t fuss with making it look pretty.  But it didn’t matter.  It was a hit. And for a brief moment, it accomplished the intended goal.  My son actually said to me:  ”Mom, thanks for making me banana cream pie.  It was good.”  Success!


Here’s what I did:

1.  Make graham cracker crust according to this recipe.  Cool completely.


2.  Make philly food lovers vanilla pudding.  Cool Completely.

3.  Slice 3 ripe bananas and sprinkle them into the pie crust.  Spoon pudding over bananas and spread to cover.  (There will probably be about 1 cup leftover; save it for breakfast!)

4.  Chill until ready to serve, and garnish with fresh whipped cream.

So, like I said, mine wasn’t pretty, but it was a hit.



Red Devil’s Food Cake

reddevilcakeThis recipe was given to me as a gift from a grateful neighbor.  I delivered homemade chicken broth to her when she was recuperating from a tonsillectomy, and this gem was included in her thank you note.  Red Devil’s Food Cake was an old faithful in her family from their days in rural Maryland. Back then, they had a neighbor named Etha King who was famed for her baking skills. Miss Etha used to bring this cake to every church picnic, backyard barbecue, birth, death, and every event in between, and my friend managed to get her hands on the recipe.

I gave it a shot for my son’s birthday, and it was a crowd pleaser!

Ms. Etha’s Red Devil’s Food Cake

1 stick butter

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

3 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream

4 tablespoons cocoa

1/2 cup boiling water

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking soda

1.  Heat oven to 350 and spray an oblong pan or 2 round pans.

2.  Cream butter, then add sugar; cream together.

3.  Beat in eggs, one at  a time.

4.  Sift flour and salt; add to mixture, then add sour cream and mix well.

5.  Dissolve cocoa in boiling water, add to batter, along with vanilla and baking soda.

6.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30-35 minutes til done.  Cool and frost as desired.


I frosted this with chocolate cream cheese icing and it was a huge hit.


How to Make Apple Cobbler


Tasked with bringing dessert to a frontier-themed book group meeting, I gravitated toward seasonal, homey comfort food.  We read “Oh, Pioneers” by Willa Cather, so traditional American seemed the route to take.

There was a mention of Apple Dumplings in the book, but that involved rolling dough for individual turnovers, and I strenuously avoid that.  Plus, making separate apple dumplings for everyone in our group of 10 seemed daunting.  But apple cobbler  accomplished the same mission with far less fuss. Cobbler gets its name from the crust’s top.  When it bakes it creates a bumpy, or cobbled texture.  Now, full disclosure, desserts of this ilk seem–to me–overly evocative of breakfast, so I have to sugar them up.  Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and/or caramel sauce does the trick.

Here’s what I did:

1.  Peel and slice 6-8 apples.

2.  Toss them in an oblong baking dish with juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon.applecobblerprep1

3.  In bowl, mix 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/3 cup Crisco, and 3 tablespoons butter cut in pieces.  Use electric mixer, pastry cutter or two knives to mix; it should look like coarse crumbs.applecobblerdough

4.  Add 1 egg and 1/3 cup buttermilk or regular milk to flour mixture.  Mix gently, and knead a few times to blend.


5.  Take small handfuls of the dough and place it on top of apples in pan, pressing slightly to cover.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over top of dough, and bake 40 mins at 375, or until crust is brown and apples are softened.


6.  Serve warm with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or caramel sauce.


Coconut Ginger Blondies


Our book group met last night and I was asked to bring dessert.   Being foodie bookworms, we usually try to match the menu with the book in some way.  This time it was easy; we had read Heat and Dust, which takes place in India, so the food and venue were an obvious choice.  Member Farah, reknown Indian cook and hostess was drafted, willingly, as is her custom, to handle the appetizers and main, and I was tasked with dessert.


I know a billion people can’t be wrong, but I can’t agree with the Subcontinent on dessert.  I find the textures and flavors don’t meet my western palate when it comes to sweets.     But I was determined to come up with something that complemented Farah’s traditional Indian menu while tickling the tastebuds of the group.    I started to think about Indian flavors, and arrived at ginger.  I considered the ginger blondies that we had featured some years back, but I wanted even more of an Indian flavor in the dessert.  These coconut ginger blondies fit the bill; they integrated Indian ingredients and flavors  (coconut, ginger, cashews) while sticking firmly to a western preparation, sweetness level, and texture.  Here’s what I did:

Coconut Ginger Blondies

Grease a square 8×8 inch pan and heat oven to 350.

1 stick butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 Tbsp dark rum (optional)

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp powdered ginger

3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

1/2 cup chopped cashews (optional)

1.  Mix first 6 ingredients in medium bowl.  Add flour, baking powder, salt and powdered ginger in a heap on top of this mixture.  Give them a few brief strokes to integrate the dry ingredients before blending with the wet mixture.   (alternatively, mix the dries in  a smaller bowl, then add to main mixture—but I hate to dirty another thing!)

2.  Add coconut, candied ginger and cashews.  Blend thoroughly.

3.  Bake 25 minutes until edges are beginning to brown and center is completely set.  Cool and cut into squares.

Note:  my husband gave these raves with one comment:  he thought the cashews were overkill and made the bars a tad too rich.  Everyone else thought they were splendid.


Peach Trifle

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Coming to the end of Peach Season, I’m determined to enjoy these glorious orbs in every form.  Some recent highlights:

  • Tossed them in salad with Arugula and goat cheese,
  • Chopped them into salsas,
  • Caramelized them and dumped them on pound cake,
  • Baked them into tarts, muffins, scones,
  • Chopped and topped them with whipped cream.

But one of the most dramatic uses so far was this glorious Peach Trifle, which I brought to a party last week. It was a hit.

If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, I discovered a quick and easy way to deal with the peaches that doesn’t involve peeling, scalding, or chopping–see below.  It greatly reduces the time and effort this operation requires, but it is messy.



Here’s the recipe, which generously served 12 with leftovers.

3 packages lady fingers (the sponge cake type, not the crunchy ones)
8-9 ripe peaches (save one for garnish)
double batch of chilled Philly Food Lovers Vanilla Pudding,

1 pint heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Cuantro or Gran Marnier

1. Line the bottom of a large, glass bowl with lady fingers. Splash them with Cuantro (about 1 tablespoon).

2. Cut each peach in half and remove pit. Grab cut peach halves and squeeze them into the bowl. (If this is too hands on, feel free to peel and chop peaches the traditional way.) When there is a generous layer of peach mush on the lady fingers, spread with a layer of vanilla pudding.

3. Repeat this process, layering lady fingers, a sprinkle of Cuantro, squished peaches, and vanilla pudding until the bowl is nearly full. Then whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla and spread it over the top.

4. Slice the last peach into thin, even wedges and arrange decoratively over the cream. You can also top with fresh berries or sliced almonds for additional garnish if desired.

5. Chill at least 1 hour before serving.

S’mores Without the Campfire


My daughter was craving sweets the other day while studying for her final exams.  Somehow, s’mores crept into her head between algebra formulas and French verbs, and she and her brother decided to cook up a simple version of s’mores.  Pretty resourceful, I have to admit, and the result was quite tasty.  Here’s what they did:

1.  Heat oven to 350.

2.  On a parchment-lined, rimmed cookie sheet, lay a few graham crackers.

3.  Generously sprinkle them with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips.



4.  Bake 10 minutes until chocolate begins to melt and marshmallow begin to brown.

5.  Remove from oven, cool slightly, and enjoy.

These are a fabulous treat for summer.  Not only do s’mores evoke real or imagined recollections of summer camp, but this version only requires a brief stint in the oven, so won’t overheat your kitchen during the dog days.

Not sure about the results of the French exam yet, but these s’mores were tres bien!




Apple Pecan Pie

Apple Pecan pie

Apple Pecan pie

We never really ate pecans in the U.K, (European cooking tends to focus on walnuts or pine nuts instead), I’m drawn to pecans now I live in the U.S.  Walnuts are bitter and leave an after taste, whereas pecans give you as much crunch but are far sweeter.

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I’m rather partial to Trader Joe’s spiced pecans (with a hint of chili).  They’re not overwhelming, but have a great bite to them.

Having found some pre-made gluten-free pasty cases (which came in packs of two thus necessitating a baking session involving back to back pie-making), I made a savory pie (quiche) and this apple pecan pie with spiced walnuts.

Now I’m sure everyone has their own favorite apple pie recipe, so there’s not much point sharing mine with you now, but do try adding these spiced nuts as your topping.  The end result was superb. (Problem was I couldn’t stop snacking on the nuts while prepping the rest of the recipe…)


Spicy Pecan Topping

1 heaped cup of spicy pecans

4tbsps of salted butter

1 heaped tsp of brown sugar

(You may want to adjust these quantities depending on how wet/dry your apples are)


1. Melt butter on low heat in pan and add sugar

2. Stir and keep stirring – do not allow sugar to burn

3. Once sugar granules have disappeared add the spicy pecans and ensure that they are all well covered with the sugar concoction

4. Pour over the top of your apples and bake pie as per your normal recipe.

Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.

Apples and Pecans make for a great dessert

Apples and Pecans make for a great dessert

How to Make Chocolate Truffles, So Simple!



Chocolate Truffles are rather perfect.  They are a stunning dessert, a fabulous gift, and a wonderful pick-me-up if you are having a trying day.  Last week, they were all 3 for me.

My kitchen flooded thanks to a faulty dishwasher and the ensuing cleanup and demolition have been rather traumatic.  As bad luck would have it, this disruption occurred during the birthday week of 2 dear friends, and I was tasked with bringing dessert to the celebration.    Imagine my dismay when my kitchen disaster prevented me from making the coconut layer birthday cake I had planned!  I considered purchasing a cake, which is a perfectly respectable thing to do, but then I happened on this recipe.

We didn’t put a candle in these divine nuggets, but they were festive and special in their own way.

Here’s how to make them:

Simple Chocolate Truffles

Makes about 3 dozen

1 lb best quality bittersweet chocolate (Either use bittersweet Ghirardelli chips or finely chop equivalent)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1.  Place chocolate in heatproof bowl.

2.  In small saucepan, bring cream to boil and then pour over chocolate.

3.  Allow to sit 10 minutes, and stir til chocolate is melted.  If it is not completely melted, you can either put in microwave on 30% power at 30 second intervals, or place bowl over pan of simmering water and stir til smooth.

4.  Line square (8×8″) pan with parchment or wax paper and pour truffle mixture in.



5.  Refrigerate 30-60 minutes until chocolate is firm.  Remove from fridge, unmold, peel off parchment and cut truffles into small squares.


6.  Place cocoa powder on shallow dish and dip truffles in cocoa on all sides to coat.  Enjoy immediately, or store in refrigerator.  These are best served at or near room temperature to experience fully the velvety texture of these delicacies.


NOTE:  If you prefer the traditional round truffles, then by all means, roll and shape them accordingly.  I started on that path, but found it to be an unnecessary and time consuming effort.  Hence, I stuck with the squares.

Flourless Chocolate Cake


If you are one of those people who view Milk Chocolate as an abomination, then this recipe is for you.  The hardcore chocoholics among us who eschew our substance of choice if it dips below 60% cocoa will find this an acceptable dessert.  As one who fits this description, I find that most chocolate desserts are simply not chocolatey enough; the chocolate is diluted by other ingredients and its divine flavor and texture are lost amongst flour, cream, butter and whatever else might be added.  Not so here.  And the recipe is quite simple–ok the water bath is a bit of a drag, but trust me on this one, it’s worth it!


Flourless Chocolate Cake

1 lb Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Chips (or other high quality chocolate–60% cocoa or higher)

2 sticks unsalted butter

8 eggs at room temperature

3 Tbsp kahlua, gran marnier, frangelico, or the cordial of your choice (optional)

Special equipment:  parchment paper, springform pan, roasting pan large enough for springform pan to sit in.

Heat oven to 350.  Coat a 10″ springform pan with non-stick spray, line pan with parchment, and spray parchment.   Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to come to top rim..  Place the large roasting pan in the oven and  fill with 1/2 inch of water.

Place chocolate and butter in microwave safe bowl.  Melt on 50% power 3 minutes.  Stir til completely smooth, and set aside to cool, about 5 minutes.  In separate bowl, whisk eggs, then blend with chocolate mixture.  Add cordial, if using, and blend thoroughly.   Pour into prepared pan.


then carefully place pan in oven inside waterbath.  Be sure foil is higher than water level or cake will be soaked!


Bake 30 minutes until top of cake is firm; remove cake and cool completely.  Unmold cake and remove parchment.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  This is great solo, or can be dressed up with fresh whipped cream, berries, a dusting of cocoa or powdered sugar.