November 19, 2014 | Favorites
Favorite Holiday Desserts from My Cookbook Writer Friends

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table
Photo Copyright by Alan Richardson

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake By Dorie Greenspan

Makes 8 servings

        My friend Marie-Hélène Brunet-Lhoste is a woman who knows her way around food. She’s a top editor of the Louis Vuitton City Guides (and one of the restaurant critics for the Paris edition), so she eats at scores of restaurants every year, and she’s a terrific hostess, so she cooks at home often and with great generosity. There’s no question that she’s a great home cook, but for me, she’s the most frustrating kind of cook: she never follows a recipe... never takes a note about what she does, and while she’s always happy to share her cooking tips, she can never give you a real recipe -- she just doesn’t know it.

         And so it was with this apple cake, which is more apple than cake, rather plain but very appealing in its simplicity (the chunks of apple make a bumpy, golden top) and so satisfying that we all went back for seconds.

         Since there were only a few major ingredients, I thought I could figure out the recipe -- and I did! I’ve added baking powder to the mix and a drizzle of vanilla, which you can skip if you want. What you don’t want to skip is the pleasure of having diverse apples. It’s really nice to mix up the fruit, so that you have some apples that are crisp, some soft, some sweet, and some tart.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. Marie-Hélène served her cake with cinnamon ice cream and it was a terrific combination.

However long you keep the cake, it’s best not to cover it -- it’s too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

         From Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) copyright Dorie Greenspan 2010, available to purchase at

Apples to the 3rd Power by Rozanne Gold
Serves 4

         I call this “apples to the third power” because fresh apples, apple butter, and apple cider are used. The best apples for this dish are Cameo or Winesap. Serve slightly warm with a drizzle of lightly-sweetened crème fraiche or heavy cream – and add a shot of brandy to the simmering juices at the end, if you wish.

4 large apples, 9 to 10 ounces each
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
½ cup apple butter
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup apple cider

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Core apples; remove a very thin slice from the top. Stir together sugar and cardamom. Sprinkle ½ to 1 teaspoon cardamom sugar in cavities. Fill to the top with apple butter and smooth it with a knife. Sprinkle with more cardamom sugar. Top with a slice of butter and remaining cardamom sugar. Put in baking dish. Pour apple juice in pan. Bake 50 minutes. Remove apples with slotted spoon. Place pan on stovetop, boil pan juices 1 minute. Pour around apples. Serves 4

        From Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold (Rodale) Copyright Rozanne Gold 2010, available to purchase at Amazon.


Apple Crisp by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Serves 6

         What I love about this recipe is that there is no thickener in the filling to dull the flavor of the apples. This is because the juices are concentrated and there is no bottom crust to get soggy, so the apples can be more juicy.

1-1/2 pounds baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick (4 1/2 to 5 cups of slices/20 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 packed tablespoons /1 ounce light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar/1 ounce
3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons, packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/16 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup/2.5 ounces bleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons/2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

EQUIPMENT A 9-inch pie pan

Preheat the oven to 400 °F at least 20 minutes before baking time. Set an oven rack on the second level from the bottom.

MAKE THE FILLING. In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and toss to mix. Allow the mixture to sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

MAKE THE TOPPING. In a food processor pulse together the sugars, nuts, salt, and cinnamon until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Add the flour, butter, and vanilla and pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly, about 20 times. Empty it into a small bowl and with your fingertips, lightly pinch together the mixture to form little clumps.

Transfer the apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture will exude about 1/4 cup of liquid. In a small saucepan (preferably nonstick), reduce this liquid, together with the butter, over medium-high heat, to 2 tablespoons. (Or spray a 4-cup heatproof measure with nonstick vegetable spray, add the liquid and butter, and reduce it in the microwave, about 4 minutes on high.) Pour the hot liquid over the apples, tossing them gently.

Transfer the apples to the baking dish. Pour in all the remaining juice. Cover the dish with foil and make a 1-inch slash in the middle. Bake the apples for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the surface evenly with the topping. Continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown, the fruit juices are bubbling thickly around the edges, and the apples feel tender but not mushy when a cake tester or small sharp knife is inserted. Cool on a rack. Serve the crumb pie warm or at room temperature.

STORE Room temperature, up to 2 days; refrigerated, up to 3 days.

         Adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible (Scribner) copyright Rose Levy Beranbaum 1998, available to purchase on Amazon.


Citrus Fruit Soup with Dates and Mint by Joan Nathan
6 to 8 servings

         When I interviewed Gilles Choukroun, one of the darlings of a new generation of French chefs who are injecting playfulness into French food, he had just opened the Mini Palais, a beautiful restaurant in Paris’s newly renovated Grand Palais exhibition hall, across from Les Invalides. In addition to his nascent restaurant empire, Gilles is also the father of Generation C, which stands for “Cuisines et Culture,” a group of chefs who teach cooking to the disadvantaged in Paris.

         Gilles, whose father is a Jew from Algeria, experiments with the spices and flavors of North Africa to accent his French food. One of his signature desserts is this refreshing citrus- fruit soup. It makes the perfect ending to a North African meal, especially with cookies on the side.

4 tangerines
1 grapefruit
4 blood or other oranges
1 cup orange juice
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
6 dried dates or figs, roughly chopped
1 pint lemon or tangerine sorbet
6 tablespoons orange- blossom water
6 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
6 mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
¼ cup shelled and peeled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
¼ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

Cut off the tops and bottoms of the tangerines, grapefruit, and oranges with a sharp knife. Slice off the peel and the white pith, and cut in between the white membranes to extract individual segments. Put in a large bowl with the orange juice and enough sugar to make it slightly sweet. Add the dates or figs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. You can do this a day in advance. Just before serving, ladle some of the citrus juice into a glass dessert bowl or individual snifters. Add a small scoop of the sorbet, some of the citrus slices, and a few pieces of fig or date. Splash some orange- blossom water and olive oil on top. Then sprinkle with cumin and mint leaves, and scatter a few pistachios and almonds
on top.

         From Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan (Knopf). Copyright Joan Nathan, 2010, available to purchase on Amazon.


Ella’s Lemon Glazed Tea Cakes, Tallahassee, Florida by Molly O’Neill
Makes 24 bars

         Sixteen-year-old Ella Carlyle describes herself as “an aspiring chef.” “My grandmother, who is from Arkansas, makes these at Christmastime,” she says. “They are so much better than brownies, so much more Florida, because of the orange and lemon flavors. My grandmother makes them in a pan like brownies and cuts them into bars, but the crust is crumbly so I have been experimenting with making them in nonstick, round, petite four tins with removable bottoms. The baking time is slightly less, you just have to watch them closely and you need to cool them halfway in the tin, then remove them and cool them completely on a wire rack before glazing them. It takes more time, but they look cuter and the crust and filling get a little more caramelized.”

10 tablespoons (1 1⁄4 sticks) lightly salted butter,
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, well beaten
1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1⁄2 cups packed light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3⁄4 cup chopped pecans
1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Place an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8½ x 12-inch rimmed baking sheet or two 12-cup nonstick minimuffin or petite four tins with removable bottoms.
2. In a bowl, combine 8 tablespoons of the butter with 1 cup of the flour until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Press the dough evenly into the pan. Bake for 15 minutes if using the baking pan, 10 to 12 if using the small cake tins. Remove from oven. Lower the temperature to 300°F.
3. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons flour, the eggs, salt, vanilla, brown sugar, coconut, and pecans. Spread filling over the crust. Bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes for the baking pan, 15 to 17 for the tins. Remove from the oven and cool in the baking pan or in the molds.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar and the orange and lemon juices. If using the baking pan, spread the glaze over the cookies, allow to set and then cut into squares. If using the molds, remove each when cool enough to handle and cool them completely on wire racks before glazing.

         From One Big Table by Molly O’Neill (Simon & Schuster) Copyright Molly O’Neill 2010, available to purchase at Amazon.


Almost Flourless Caramel-Lacquered Chocolate-Peanut Torte by Suvir Saran
Serves 8

         Peanuts are very country, very old-fashioned, and very American—and I love them—especially with chocolate. This cake is a cross between a brownie and chocolate cake. It’s dense, moist, and wonderfully decadent. It’s an “almost” flourless chocolate cake because I include a slice of several-day-old bread in the batter. This addition can easily be eliminated for those with gluten sensitivities or if making this cake for Passover when only flourless dishes can grace the table. You can vary this cake by using almonds or walnuts in place of the peanuts if you like, but we like peanuts and that certain bit of country charm they seem to bring to the table, even though the cake looks as chic as can be.

11 tablespoons/165 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 slice/45 g 2- to 3-day-old bread (or 1 fresh slice toasted in a warm oven until dry but not browned)
1 cup/150 g roasted and salted peanuts
2 1/2 tablespoons/16 g dark-roasted peanut flour (page 00 for resources)
1/2 cup/125 g packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
2/3 cup/130 g plus 3 tablespoons/36 g sugar
4 ounces/57 g 70- to 80-percent cacao chocolate, grated

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch/23-cm springform pan with 1 tablespoon/15 g butter. Place the pan on top of a sheet of parchment paper and trace a circle around the pan, cut it out, and place the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan to grease the underside. Flip the parchment circle over and press it into place. Set aside.

Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until it is medium-coarse crumbs. Add the peanuts and peanut flour and pulse until the texture is like rough sand (don’t over process the mixture or it will become peanut butter).

Use a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large bowl (if using a hand mixer) and cream the remaining 10 tablespoons/150 g of butter until it is fluffy and pale. Add the brown sugar and cream until pale, then add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla bean paste (or extract), reduce the speed to low, and add the peanut mixture.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with 3 tablespoons/36 g of the sugar until the whites form stiff peaks. Fold the whipped whites into the batter in three additions, adding the grated chocolate along with the last addition, folding until just a few streaks of white remain. Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake until the sides pull away from the edges of the pan and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire cooling rack for 5 minutes before releasing the latch and lifting the side of the pan away from the bottom. Cool completely before inverting the cake onto a large flat plate, cutting board, or baking sheet lifting off the pan bottom, and peeling away the parchment circle. Reinvert the cake onto a cake plate or platter.

Place the remaining 2/3 cup/130 g of sugar and 2/3 cup/160 ml of cold water into a small saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, and then let the sugar simmer, swirling the pan occasionally, until the liquid becomes an amber-color caramel. Remove from the heat immediately and, using an offset spatula, pour and spread the caramel syrup over the top of the cake. Cool the cake and then slice and serve at room temperature.

        Chocolate-Peanut Torte adapted from Masala Farm (Chronicle Books) to be published in Fall 2011. Click here to purchase American Masala for purchase on Amazon.

My Celebration of Fruit from Vicki Polon
Serves 8 or 10

         When you haven't got a minute to spare, this dessert will make you look like a genius. My friend Vicki says she clipped it from a Mark Bittman column.

2 pounds mixed dried fruit (pitted prunes, apricots, peaches, pears, cranberries, cherries, white raisins -- your call)
l tablespoon of rose or orange blossom water (optional)

Put all the dried fruit in a bowl and cover with tepid water. Let sit for at least 24 hours covered, then move to the refrigerator for 24 hours more. Stir in optional rose or orange blossom water .

Serve with crème fraîche or yogurt sweetened with not too much brown sugar.

Copyright Gael Greene 2010.

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