Category Archives: Desserts

#Pie Day with #UpSouthCookbook’s Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk Pie in Pie PanButtermilk Pie

I’ve been waiting for a while for just the right moment to post about this recipe. #PieDay seems like an appropriate time, donchathink?  This custard-like, fragrant concoction is a Southern staple, and I’d heard about it for years, although my mother didn’t make this kind of sweet really ever.  For all the desserts I’ve made, I’d also never tried my hand at this one until Nicole Taylor (aka Food Culturist) asked if I’d recipe test it for her Up South Cookbook last year.  Now, I’m hooked on it and can think of all sorts of events at which it would be perfect to bring to the table.

Buttermilk Pie in Tart Pan

Buttermilk Pie in tart form

The original pie in the photo that leads off this post found an audience at a shiva for a friend’s father.  The creamy, cool interior and flakey crust was admired and devoured by the assembled guests.  The photo at the top of this paragraph was a bit of a re-creation on my part.  For the annual #PieParty that is put together by a couple of fellow NYC food bloggers, I swapped out the pie plate for a tart pan and let it cook a tiny bit longer for some more color and a brûlée effect.  One of the chefs at our host location, the Institute of Culinary Education, happily consumed the few leftovers that remained, calling it one of the best baked goods he’d ever eaten.

UpSouth Cookbook

 Up South Cookbook

For my next cooking adventure with this recipe, I think I’m going to morph it even more and make tartelettes.  I have this great Nordic Ware pan that I’ve used to make mini crostate that I think will work out really well.  Nicole includes the pie crust recipe as well in her cookbook; it’s one that is super easy to pull together.  I’ll likely double that and make one batch of the filling, with its scent of cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla that casts a lovely, warming perfume as it bakes.  That way, more guests can enjoy this taste of the South and of the regional hospitality that goes along with a slice of pie.

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Use the best-quality, full-fat buttermilk in this recipe.  It is so worth the end result to spend that bit of extra time and money to track it down.  In the NYC area, you can find Five Acre Farms products or visit the Union Square Greenmarket and pick up some from Tonje’s Farm Dairy.  

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 1Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

At a friend’s annual New Year’s Day party this year, a fellow guest asked me about why it’s so difficult to replicate restaurant dishes at home.  There’s several reasons why this might be true, I replied.  Having your own prep team to make stocks and sauces and pulling together mise en place is one aspect.  Another is the access to top-notch ingredients.  Still another is that restaurant recipes are scaled for service, and when they are modified for home cooking, sometimes they just don’t work.  Case in point, are these Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti that I brought to that same party.

Original RecipeOriginal biscotti recipe

I was given this recipe when I was a culinary student at the International Culinary Center, working at L’Ecole.  The then-Pastry Chef rattled it off to me one night just before the start of our (the students’) part of service.  What I’d liked about these biscotti when I’d snacked on them one night was that they weren’t too sweet.  They also had a nice crunch to the outside and a firm texture on the inside, without that teeth-shattering consistency of some Italian-style confections.  In looking at the proportions on this card, it shows that making the recipe using these ratios would yield a lot of cookies.

Re-scaled recipeRe-scaled recipe

There’s also the issue of measurements.  The original recipe has a mixture of pounds, grams, cups, teaspoons, a real mish-mash of amounts.  Truthfully, this isn’t all that uncommon in restaurant chef recipes either, which is another reason that trying to scale them to work in a home kitchen doesn’t always produce the same results.  Still, I was hoping that my math skills and baking knowledge would enable me to wing it through this recipe, as it was my contribution to the party, along with a bottle of Ronnybrook Farm‘s fabulous, seasonal eggnog.

Wet ingredients mixed togetherWet ingredients mixed together

So, I divided the amounts by eight, basing that on the quantity of eggs and flour, as that seemed easy enough to do.  It got a little tricky when I tried to scale down the 1.5 pounds of butter, but I think I got it right.  As the only actual directions on the card said to use the creaming method, I mixed the softened butter and sugar together and then added the eggs.

Dry ingredients mixed togetherDry ingredients mixed together

Then, I mixed together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  I gradually added the flour mixture to the egg mixture.  The combination ended up being much drier than I’d expected it to be.  I’ve only ever made biscotti once, and that was a while ago, so I was still a bit skeptical that this was going to turn out all right.  I tossed in the chocolate chips (actually a chopped up chocolate bar) and the pistachios and formed the batter into two logs that were sort of biscotti-shaped.

Dough prepared for ovenDough ready for the oven

The only other instructions on the card were the baking temperatures and times.  I baked one of these loaves intact the entire time.  The other one, I cut into pieces after the first baking.  In the past, I’d remembered in making biscotti and mandelbrot that before the second time in the oven, the loaves had been sliced into cookies.

Baking two waysBaking biscotti two ways

Turns out that, in this case, I didn’t really need to do that step at all.  The dough was very soft when I’d cut into it.  Waiting until after all the baking cycles were done proved to make it easier to handle the loaves and to make more evenly-sized cookies.  I let the biscotti cool on the baking sheet on the stove top, letting the carry-over cooking dry them out just enough to give them that crunchy factor.  I made these the evening before the party, and they held up very well.

BIscotti out of the ovenBiscotti cooling

They were very well-received at the party, both in taste and texture.  The host agreed with me that they could have been just a hair sweeter and that maybe the cocoa powder that I used wasn’t exactly right.  I’d thought about going the Dutch-processed route, but stuck with a more general variety.  The fun thing about playing around with recipes is that there’s always the next time to try to make it better.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Prep Time: about 1 hour

Portion Size: about 2 dozen biscotti


3 ounces Unsalted Butter, softened

1 c. White Sugar

2 Large Eggs

2 c. AP Flour

1/2 c. Cocoa Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 c. Pistachios, shelled

1/2 c. Chocolate Chips (or chopped chocolate bar)


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whip butter and sugar together until smooth and light in color.  Add the eggs and beat into the sugar mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir to mix together.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and incorporate completely.  The dough will be quite dense.  Add in the chocolate and pistachios and fold them into the batter as best you can.

On a parchment-lined baking tray, form the batter into two biscotti-shaped logs.  Bake them for 15 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the biscotti for 12 minutes.  Rotate the baking tray and bake them for another 12 minutes.

Remove the baking tray from the oven.  Cut the biscotti logs into 1-inch (2.5 cm) slices and let them cool on the baking tray for 10-15 minutes.  Eat them within a couple of days, if they last that long.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 2Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Buon appetito!

Dessert-apoolza at Baked Tribeca

Cookbook displayCookbook Display

On Thursday night, I dropped by Baked‘s new-ish Tribeca location for Dessert-apoolza, a cookbook signing and tasting event that raised moneys for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and Getting Out and Staying Out.  The former organization, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is one with which I have a personal connection, and, well, having dessert for dinner is just one of those perks of being a grown-up (the other is having dessert for breakfast), so this was right up my alley.  If you’re looking for some cookbook ideas for this holiday season, check out these ones that were at the sweets-fest last week:

Ample Hills ice creamsAmple Hills Creamery – Egg Nog and Drunken Thanksgiving Ice Cream

Samples of two seasonal flavors of this local ice cream company were available for tasting.  The Egg Nog was a creamy, frozen version of its namesake holiday party beverage.  The Drunken Thanksgiving combined pumpkin, gingersnaps, and bourbon.  This can take the place of pie at my holiday feast any year.

Baked - Tri-color Bars Wintermint CakeBaked – The Tri-Color Bar Wintermint Cake

The hosts for the evening put out this seasonal, festive mini-cakes for everyone to try.  They have several cookbooks as well as a range of baking mixes.  Really, though, stopping by one of their shops to pick out treats to take home (or to eat on site) is the way to go.

Baked Ideas displayBaked Ideas – Cookies

I’m a big, big fan of cookies, as I’ve mentioned in the past, so it was no surprise that I wanted to hang out at this table for a while.  Patti Paige had several different kinds of cookies, including gluten-free ones, available for the guests to try.  She even had decorating supplies for us to create our own designs.  My cookie frosting M.O., however, hasn’t changed since childhood and is just to slather on a glob of icing and to pop it in my mouth, which wasn’t exactly what I think she had in mind.

Butter & Scotch - S'mores PieButter & Scotch – S’mores Pie

Samples of the fabulous S’mores Pie and Bourbon-Ginger-Pecan pie from Butter & Scotch were available at this tasting, so I tried to limit my self to just one sample of each, along with copies of Allison Kave’s terrific book First Prize Pies.  Aside from Ample Hills’ ice cream, I’d take any of these pies on my holiday dinner table, as well.  Keep in touch with these ladies, as they’re opening up a brick & mortar shop in Crown Heights any week (day?) now.

Dorie Greenspan signing cookbooksDorie Greenspan signing cards

No discussion of the year’s best cookbooks, or must-have baking books in general, would be complete without mentioning ones by Dorie Greenspan.  I had a chance to talk to one of the women who worked on testing the recipes for her most recent volume, and she glowed as she raved about how delicious all of them were, including the Palets des Dames and Limoncello Cupcakes we could taste during the event.

Ovenly displayOvenly display

Two of my favorite kinds of cookies – Salted Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter – were on the table by the Ovenly folks on Thursday.  I always enjoy seeing their baked goods around town, as I know that they’ll be something special.  Fortunately, these were packed up for me to take away to save to eat later.

Buon appetito!

Homemade Black Licorice from Food52

Ingredient setupRecipe Ingredients

This post is for all the black licorice lovers out there.  To be clear, I am not one of them.  This is dedicated to my one of my brothers and one of my sister-in-laws who absolutely love the stuff (these two are not married to each other but to other of my siblings).  In our house at Easter, there was always the sorting of the jelly beans with swaps of black for red or orange ones.  It was my first experience ever with barter and a kind of currency exchange.  The rates weren’t all that great.

Licorice packed upThe resulting candy

When I saw this recipe on Food52, I thought, “Meh, why not?”  I enjoy making sweets, so this could be another interesting recipe to add to my portfolio.  Besides, it could make a unique holiday gift.  Turns out, this was super simple to make, just as easy as a caramel sauce or Almond Toffee, and the method is rather similar to cooking each of these: boiling hot sugar and butter and other stuff brought to just the right temperature.  Just make sure to have a candy thermometer on hand to test the temperature.

Spoon w dyeSpoon with dye

I found black food gel at New York Cake & Baking Supplies, which also has a lots of different colors of sprinkles and food colorings for baking.  By some miraculous twist of fate, I did not get black dye all over my kitchen.  Instead, the only casualty of this culinary experience was the wooden spoon I’d used to mix everything together.  With time, I hope that that will wear off.  Here’s how the recipe came together:

Butter melting into panEverything in the pan

Melted togetherAll melted together

Bubbling moreAll bubbling

Mixed in flourFlour mixed into sauce

Mixing in black gelAdding in black food gel

In loaf panCooling in loaf pan

Out of loaf panReady to cut into pieces and eat

Licorice packagedLicorice packed up and ready to go

I brought in samples for the pastry team at work and gifted some to a licorice-loving friend for his birthday.  They all really seemed to enjoy it.  Everyone said they would have amped up the anise flavor to at least double the recipe amount and would have added a touch more salt as well.  Be aware, too, that moisture does have an impact on the results, so if you are in a humid area, you’ll want to store this in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

Buon appetito!

Cookies for Kids Cancer #50States4Kids

Baking CookiesBaking cookies as a study break in college

Happy September!  Aside from being a back-to-school month (well, for those who didn’t start school in August, anyway), it is also a sort of turn-over-a-new-leaf month and a let’s-start-afresh month with various projects.  It’s also a wonderful month, now that we’re heading into cooler weather, to whip up a batch of homemade cookies.  Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is encouraging everyone to do just that to call awareness to and raise funds to fight childhood cancers.

Peanut Butter CrisscrossesPeanut-Butter Crisscrosses – a childhood favorite of mine

I’ve made (and eaten) cookies for most of my life, with my mother leading the charge as an avid baker.  I think one of my earliest cooking memories is of coming home from school and seeing my mom cutting out cookies with one of my younger siblings.  It was probably not until I was about 10 or so years old that I even ate my first store-bought cookie.  When she was still able, we re-created that same memory with a couple of my nieces, even using the same rolling pin that I had used as a child, one that belonged to my mother’s mother, and possibly even to her grandmother.  Cookies are really a family favorite, as my brother mentions in C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me…,” his story about secretly consuming Girl Scout cookies as a child.

White Chocolate-Cranberry-Macadamia Nut cookiesWhite Chocolate-Cranberry-Macademia Nut Cookies from Cookies For Kids’ Cancer cookie swap

Cookies have a more personal connection for me, however, in this case.  As I mentioned a few years ago, when I took part in a cookie swap and fund raiser for this organization, this is a cause that is very close to home for me.  One of my little nephews was diagnosed with a form of leukemia when he was just a little over three years old.  For the past three-plus years, he’s been waging a rocky battle against the disease.  He’s had allergic reactions to the medications and to some of the chemotherapy, even spending his most recent birthday in the hospital due to one.  I jump every time my sister calls me, hoping that it is not news I am dreading to hear.  At this point, he’s in his last stages of treatment, and, then, we get to hang on for a few years, keeping our fingers crossed that he says in remission.  We will be holding our breath that he beats this disease for good.

Millionaires Shortbread squareMillionaire’s Shortbread – another cookie swap contribution

There’s several brands who are supporting this project, too, helping to spread the word about Childhood Cancer Awareness MonthCookies for Kids’ Cancer is hoping that everyone can join forces to cost cookie swaps or to send cookies to family and friends as a way of raising money for and showing support for increased funding for research and remedies for the cancers that take the lives of children each year.  Some of these treatments have definitely helped my nephew in his battle, but we all know that there’s still a ways to go.  If you can, I encourage you to help out in any way you can with this initiative during the month of September.  Here’s a few more links (aside from those in the photos above) to some of the cookie recipes on this website to give you a few ideas for what to make.

Almond Butter SticksAlmond Butter Sticks – a family favorite

Chocolate Chocolate Chip CookiesChocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chunks – for your chocoholic friends

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with White Chocolate & PeppermintChocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peppermint and White Chocolate Drizzle – o.k., these are kinda fancy, but I did make them for last year’s holiday cookie swap

Chocolate-chip cookies with Sea SaltChocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt – one of my friend’s favorite of all the cookies that I make
ShortbreadClassic English Shortbread – perfect for teatime or anytime (especially, if you can find some late-season strawberries)
Magic Cookie BarsMagic Cookie Bars (aka Seven Layer Bars) – a favorite of one of my ex-bosses and perfect for potlucks and picnics

Parmesan Shorbread RoundsParmesan Shortbread Rounds – Who says that all cookies have to be sweet?  These are perfect for your next cocktail or dinner party.

Buon appetito!

Mini Apricota Crostata (Crostatini)

Crostate on plateCrostate on Plate

Even though I’ve cooked most of my life and have made many different dishes for varied meals and occasions, putting food together for a party for a friend to mark a special event in his or her life is still a special treat.  I always want everything to turn out perfect, even more perfectly than when I make things for work.  Today was one of those days.  Because the friend for whom this party was happening is someone I know from my time living in Italy, these Mini Apricot Crostate (Crostatini in Italian) seemed like the perfect thing to bring to it.

Apricot JamApricot Jam

They are a modified version of this larger Apricot Crostata with Almonds merged with this Mixed Berry Crostata.  The dough comes from the latter recipe, as does the technique for building the lattice top.  The apricot jam filling is taken from the former recipe.  Because these are really just tiny bites, I didn’t sprinkle the slivered almonds on top of them.  Instead, I ground up the almonds in the food processor and incorporated them into the dough to give it that lift.

Cutting out dough circlesCutting out dough circles

To get the shape of these crostatini, I borrowed a few techniques from working the Pastry Station during my culinary school days.  This dough, in particular, is more sugar and butter-based, which makes it fragile and even a bit temperamental to work with, especially with it being as humid as it has been these past few days.  One way around this is to roll the dough out between layers of parchment paper to about 2-3 cm in width, and then place it in the freezer for a few minutes (around 5-10).  Once it is chilled, it is easier to punch out circles for the base of the tart and then, working quickly, to place those circles into the baking pan.

Dough base in panDough base in pan

This mini tart pan is by Nordic Ware.  I had it for many years before I figured how to make it work for making bite-sized desserts, which I need to do for catering gigs.  By taking the step of rolling out the dough and cutting the circles while the dough is chilled, you’ll have more consistently-sized crostatini.  For this project, I used a 2-inch round cutter.

Bases filled with jamBases filled with jam

The uncooked bases are filled with the Apricot Jam.  It just takes about a tablespoon of it to fill the whole crostatino.  One trick is that the jam should not be too liquidy, which will just soak the base and make it more difficult for the base to cook through.

Dough in LatticeA piece of the lattice

Working with the dough to make the lattice top is also a bit tricky and labor-intensive.  It is helpful if the dough is bit chilled and if there’s minimal humidity in the air.  The lattice pieces are rolled out into long, thin strips and then layered on top of the jam to make the top to the crostatini.

Close up of prepped crostataPrepped crostatino

If the lattice breaks, you can try to stick the pieces back together or just leave them for a more rustic look.  This step is a bit fiddly, but as you can see from the first photo, the results are quite pretty and really do honor the spirit of a full-sized crostata.

Cooked crostataBaked crostatini

This level of detail was also admired by the my friend and the other guests at the party.  When plated up, they really did mimic the look and feel (and taste) of the larger-sized version.  This was an experiment to see if I actually could replicate this Italian snack-time treat.  I’m very happy with the results and looking forward to another opportunity to make these.

Buon appetito!