Busby Bakes

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Panforte

For Christmas Eve dinner this year, I decided to end things with an easy, make-ahead dessert. Panforte is a traditional Italian sweet—it means “strong bread”—that goes beautifully with an after-dinner cheese course and your unwinder of choice, or coffee. It’s not terribly sweet, and the spices add a warm finish to a heavy meal. It makes a large cake, which keeps well. Nice to have on hand for impromptu gatherings: simply slice, add cheese and/or chocolates, and you’ve got a great little treat to serve up. This recipe was adapted from an old issue of the late, great Gourmet magazine (oh, Condé Nast, what were you thinking?).

Panforte

1 heaping T cocoa powder

2/3 c flour

1 t cinnamon

1/2 t ginger

1/8 t cloves

1/4 t salt

1 c toasted whole almonds

1 c toasted whole hazelnuts (remove the skins by rubbing the warm nuts in a kitchen towel)

1 c pitted soft prunes, chopped

1 c dried soft figs, chopped

1/2 c dried apricots, chopped

1/2 c dates, chopped

zest from an orange

3/4 c sugar

2/3 c honey

1 T orange liqueur

1 T butter

additional cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat oven to 300F. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment, using a separate strip for the sides. Butter the parchment, then dust with cocoa powder.

Combine cocoa, flour, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in nuts, fruit, and zest. Bring sugar, honey, and liqueur to boil over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 238-240F on a candy thermometer. Working quickly, pour honey mixture over nut mixture and stir until combined. Immediately spoon mixture into prepared pan. With dampened hands, press down to fully compact the mixture into the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the edges have risen slightly and the surface has a dull, matte finish.

Cool in the pan, then remove sides and peel off paper. Once completely cooled, dust top, bottom, and sides with cocoa powder.

Store, wrapped in parchment and in a zip-top plastic bag, in the refrigerator for at least 1 week and up to 1 month before serving. Cut into narrow wedges to serve.

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Birthday cakes for Libras

A couple of weeks ago, I made not one, but two cakes for the birthdays of my 2 favorite people: the Husband and my mom. In addition to sharing a birthday, they both adore lemon curd. I wanted to make something showy that could be mostly made ahead of time. A lemon meringue cake sounded gorgeous and delish. The recipe is from Tartine, one of my favorite cookbooks (which contains the secrets of a bakery I cannot wait to visit).

A week before the celebration(s) I did the hard part: lemon chiffon cake, moistened with lemon syrup, layered with lemon curd and caramel. Truly, a labor of love. At that point, both cakes were snugly wrapped and tucked into the freezer and all of the bowls and beaters were sent to our new dishwasher.

Getting ready for showtime was much easier and a lot more fun. The recipe calls for a thick, satiny meringue that gets swirled all around the cake. And then you torch it! It’s pretty sweet, so small slices are in order. Which means you can have a slice for breakfast the next day.

Lemon Meringue Cake

Cake
2¼ c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1½ c. sugar
¾ t. salt
½ c. safflower oil
6 large egg yolks, at room temp
½ c. water
¼ c. lemon juice
1½ t. grated lemon zest
10 large egg whites, at room temp
¼ t. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper cut to fit exactly; don’t grease the pan. I used two 6-inch pans so that I could make 2 cakes.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add 1¼ cups of the sugar and the salt and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add the yolk mixture to the flour; whisk until very smooth.

In another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar slowly while beating on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest of the whites until just combined.

Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once completely cool, run a thin knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake an then release and lift off the pan sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment. Wash and dry the pans.

Caramel
â…” c. heavy cream
¼ vanilla bean
1¼ c. sugar
¼ c. water
1 t. sea salt
2 T. light corn syrup
¾ t. lemon juice
4 oz. unsalted butter

Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt, corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Immediately (but slowly!) add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice and transfer to a bowl. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

Lemon Cream
½ c. + 2 T. lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
¾ c. sugar
pinch salt
8 oz. unsalted butter

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, salt. Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Whisk constantly until very thick, or 80°C (180°F) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and cool  until warm to touch (60°C or 140°F on a thermometer). Place the lemon cream in a blender or food processor and with the motor running, add the butter in small pieces. Allow to cool completely.

Lemon Syrup
â…“ c. water
â…“ c. sugar
â…“ c. lemon juice

In a nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Transfer to a bowl, let cool, then chill for half an hour. Stir in the lemon juice.

Assembly

Split the cake into 4 equal layers. Line your cake pan with plastic wrap. Place the bottom layer in the cake pan. Brush with ¼ of the lemon syrup, spread ⅓ of the caramel over the cake, then ⅓ of the lemon cream. Repeat with 2 more layers, using up the remaining caramel and lemon cream. Top with the fourth cake layer and moisten with the remaining lemon syrup. Wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or freeze. If you freeze, thaw the wrapped cake on the counter for an hour.

Meringue
7 egg whites
1¾ c. sugar
pinch of salt

In a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt and whisk until the whites are hot to the touch, about 120F, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick and holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Final assembly

Unwrap the cake and place on your fanciest serving plate (go ahead, bust out the cake pedestal).

Spread the meringue all over the cake, using an offset spatula to make swirls as crazy as you desire. Using a propane torch, toast the meringue, blackening the tips if you like.

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Oatmeal cookies with booze and bacon

When a coworker—falling prey to my blatant popularity-boosting campaign—stopped by my desk for a second handful of these cookies and asked for the recipe, I said I wouldn’t share. I said I couldn’t share. I still have fantasies about restarting the Busby Bakes machine and you just can’t go around giving away the company secrets, right?

Please. These are oatmeal cookies, made gloriously unhealthy through a range of add-ins. The basic recipe comes straight from the Quaker box lid (albeit with the replacement of white sugar with more brown sugar). The big secret behind the deliciousness? Reader, I encourage you to go for the bacon.

Oatmeal Cookies

1/2# unsalted butter at room temp

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

2 eggs

1 T. vanilla

1 1/2 c. flour

3 c. rolled oats (not the “quick” kind)

1 t. baking soda

1 t. salt

Additions, as desired:

1/2 c. chopped bacon (fry it first, people)

1/2 c. chopped dried fruit. Prunes, raisins, apricots, cherries all work well. If you’re feeling boozy, soak the fruit in whiskey. Or bourbon.

1 c. toasted chopped nuts. I lean toward pecans, but walnuts work.

1/2 c. shredded coconut. Unsweetened preferred. Or toast the sweetened angelic kind.

1/4 c. finely chopped white chocolate (if you like a very sweet cookie)

Haul out the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment. Cream the butter and sugar until really smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Mix in vanilla. Sift together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to the dough, and mix until just barely combined. Mix in oats and additional ingredients. Chill dough for at least an hour; overnight yields the best flavor mingling. I like to use a little portion scoop to form the dough, but a teaspoon works, too. Bake at 325F for 8-10 minutes, on parchment lined sheets, until pale golden. Let the cookies sit for a minute before delivering to a cooling rack. Makes about 3 dozen. Store in an airtight container. Share with the worthy.

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Punishment Cookies

punitions

I think these are my absolute favorite, just as delicious as a plain old cookie can be. The recipe comes from the venerable French baker, Lionel PoilÃ¥ne, via Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets cookbook. Not too sweet, nothing fancy, just simple buttery perfection. Perfect with afternoon coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. And the name? Apparently when he was a child M. PoilÃ¥ne’s grandmother would call to him in a scolding tone, only to dispense his “punishment” in the form of this cookie. Who says grannies can’t be made of both sugar and spice?

Greenspan’s recipe calls for using a food processor. But the preface describes how M. PoilÃ¥ne made the dough:  by hand on the counter. I’ve made these both ways; both methods yield perfect results. But I prefer the hands-on approach. Something about the tactile experience of feeling the dough transform from goopy mass to velvety dough has me feeling that I’m actually making something. You know what I mean?

Punitions

5 oz unsalted butter, at room temp
generous 1/2 c sugar
1 large egg, at room temp
2 c flour
pinch of salt

Food Processor Method:

Process the butter in the food processor until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add the sugar. Process until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add the egg. Process until smooth. Scrape down the sides and add the flour and salt. PULSE until the dough looks like streusel crumbs.

Hands-On Method:

Pour the flour and salt onto the counter (I usually use a sheet of parchment to cut down on the scrubbing afterward). Push it into a ring so there’s a saucer-sized well in the middle. Pour the sugar into the well. Add the egg to the sugar, and using your fingertips, work the egg into the sugar til it’s a smooth, pale yellow mass. Add the butter, squeezing it into the egg and sugar. When combined, start gently working in the flour. No kneading here, you want to work the dough as little as possible. You’re finished when all of the flour is only just worked into the dough.

Shaping, Chilling, Rolling, Baking:

Shape the dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill until firm, 3-4 hours or up to 2 days. Or wrap really well and freeze. When you’re ready to get your bake on, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch round fluted biscuit cutter. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets until pale golden, about 8 minutes. If the scraps get soft, gather them up and pop them in the freezer to chill before re-rolling and cutting. The colder the dough, the better the cookies will hold their shape.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

For variety, the cookies can be sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar before baking. Rolled a little thinner, they can be sandwiched with melted chocolate or raspberry jam after baking.

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Scones

scone

I love a hot baked something for breakfast on Sunday mornings. At our house, that usually means scones. This recipe is based on one given as a wedding shower gift by my friend C., a talented baker. A cousin of the humble biscuit, scones are a traditional Scottish quickbread that rely on baking powder for leavening. The buttermilk lends a tender component, which I prefer to the denseness found in scones made with cream.

Usually, I go the sweet route and make them with currants, dried apricots and pecans, or dried cherries and bits of dark chocolate. But lately I’ve been going savory, specifically bacon+onion+cheese. Absolutely delicious, although this eliminates the excuse to eat jam, Devonshire cream, or lemon curd with breakfast.

Buttermilk Scones

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour
1/3 c. sugar (omit if making savory scones)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
6 oz. unsalted butter, cold and cut into chunks
1 c. buttermilk
up to 1 c. of additions (dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, grated cheese, sauteed onion, crumbled bacon, chopped ham)
1 T. minced herbs (for savory scones)
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Use a pastry cutter to mix in the butter. The dough should have the texture of coarse crumbs. Gently blend in the buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Gently fold in the additional ingredients.

On a floured surface, gently roll or pat the dough to 1 1/4 inch thick. Cut with a biscuit cutter, re-roll scraps until all dough is used. Place on ungreased cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment). Brush tops of scones with egg wash. Bake for around 20 minutes, until scones are browned on top and on the bottom. Serve immediately!

You can freeze the unbaked scones and then just bake them off a few at a time. Freeze them on a cookie sheet, then store in a ziplock bag for up to a month. No need to thaw, just pop them in a preheated oven.

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Tortoni

tortoni

Brace yourselves, cookie lovers. Behold my latest obsession: tortoni, a humble yet complicated frozen dessert of Italian origin. I first read about it in the New York Times Magazine in February, in an article by my beloved Amanda Hesser. Haven’t read much by her in a while, and I keep forgetting to pick up her splendid cookbook/memoir/love story, Cooking for Mr Latte.

I first made this for an Academy Awards party and received the house party equivalent of a standing ovation. The almond cookie crumbs hold up to provide a crunchy counterbalance to the creamy, dreamy mousse. Let it warm up a little and it tastes even better. Because of its moussiness, it doesn’t truly melt…it just gets soft and velvety. Tis a pain in the ass, but completely worth it.

TORTONI
serves 8 gluttons or 12 polite friends

First, make yourself some Almond Paste:

1# 2 oz blanched almonds, lightly toasted, cooled completely
3/4 c confectioner’s sugar
pinch of salt
2 c sugar
1/2 c water
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/2 t almond extract

Grind almonds and 1 T confectioner’s sugar in food processor to a coarse powder. Add remaining confectioner’s sugar and salt and process to a fine powder. Dump into the bowl of a stand mixer.

Heat sugar, water, corn syrup in a saucepan over low heat, stir to combine. Once sugar has dissolved, increase heat and bring to a boil. Cook to 325F (between thread and soft ball).

Pour the syrup over the ground almond mixture and mix with the paddle attachment at low speed until combined. Cool to room temperature and mix in the almond extract. If the dough is too stiff or won’t bind, add a little boiling water.

Knead the dough until soft and elastic. Dust the counter with a little confectioner’s sugar if necessary. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Then, make the Macaroons:

[sidebar: these are more like Italian amaretti cookies than traditional American coconut macaroons or the heavenly French macaron]
2 egg whites
7 oz almond paste
3/4 c sugar
pinch salt
1/4 c confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Beat lightly with a fork.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almond paste, 3/4 cup of sugar and the salt. Pulse until combined. Scrape into the egg whites. Add the confectioners’ sugar and fold together. Let the batter sit for an hour or more.

3. Using two spoons, drop the batter onto parchment-lined well-insulated baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. (The drops should be about 2 teaspoonsful.) Bake until uniformly golden, about 18 minutes. Peel cookies from the parchment as soon as you can handle them without burning your fingers.

Finally, make the mousse that forms the business part of the tortoni:

12 macaroons
3/4 c sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 t vanilla
2 c heavy cream.

1.Preheat the oven to 250F. Break the macaroons into pieces and toast them on a baking sheet until golden, dry and crumbly. Let cool. Grind to fine crumbs in a food processor. You need about 1 cup. (Go ahead and toast/grind all the macaroons you’ve made. Store the extra crumbs in the freezer. You’ll want to make this again, trust me.)

2. Combine the sugar and 3/4 cup water in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until the syrup reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer.

3. Meanwhile, in a mixer, whip the egg whites until they form firm peaks. By hand, whip the yolks until fluffy. In the mixer bowl, fold together the whites and yolks.

4. When the sugar is ready, turn on the mixer to medium speed and, with it running, slowly pour in the syrup in a fine thread. Reduce the speed to low and whip until the mixture cools to room temperature. Mix in the vanilla.

5. Whip the cream and fold it into the egg mixture.

6. Line the base of a springform pan with parchment. Spoon a third of the crumbs into the base. Cover with half of the mousse. Sprinkle with another third of the crumbs. Cover with remaining mousse. Top with the remaining crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.

7. About 15 minutes before serving, remove from freezer. Unwrap and unmold immediately. Let it sit just a bit before cutting into wedges.

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Chocolate Tart

chocolatetart

With rare exception, I don’t make fancy desserts. I’m not a decorator by any stretch and I always judge a dessert by its taste, not its presentation. But there are times when looks matter, and sometimes a homey cake is too, well, humble. Whenever I’m looking for an elegant dessert, I make this simple chocolate tart. The filling is chocolate ganache, which takes 15 minutes to make (this includes scrubbing out the food processor bowl). The crust is pâte sablée.

Together you have the winning combination of velvet and crunch. Not too sweet. Very rich. I don’t usually serve this with anything but coffee, but if you must, go for slightly sweetened whipped cream and a couple of raspberries. Small slivers will do, so a 9-inch tart can serve 12 with a bit left over for breakfast. Come on, you’ve done it, too.

Chocolate Tart

You will need a fully baked, cooled tart crust. I always use pâte sablée.

Chocolate ganache is simply equal parts of cream and chocolate melted together, with a knob of butter added at the end. The trick to perfectly smooth ganache is not to overdo the stirring, as you want the least amount of air incorporated into the mix. I’ve found the food processor does double-duty here, both chopping the chocolate and blending in the hot cream.

chocolate ganache in the food processor:

Drop 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (the best quality you can afford) into the food processor and run until all pieces are finely chopped. Stop the machine. Pour in 1 c. heavy cream, boiling (I usually nuke it to the boiling point). Let sit for 1 minute. Process until satiny smooth. Add 2 oz. softened unsalted butter. Pulse until butter is incorporated.

Pour into tart crust, chill for 1 hour. Serve at room temperature!

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Frangipane

When used as a filling for tarts, frangipane puffs up a little during baking and turns golden brown. This is also the happy discovery inside an almond croissant, for which I would walk over crushed glass if it meant I could have one right now. Here’s a recipe to fill a 9-inch tart. For the record, it’s pronounced “FRAN juh pain.” When you’re talking about the flowering shrub, you get to say “fran juh PAN ee.”

Frangipane

1 c. sliced almonds (blanched or not)

1/2 c. sugar

generous 3 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature

pinch of salt

1/2 t. Brandy

1/8 t. almond extract

1 large egg

– Blend 1/8 c. sugar and the almonds in the food processor until the almonds are finely ground.

– Using a stand mixer with the paddle, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining sugar and beat. Add the almond mixture and beat. Add salt, Brandy, extract and beat. Add the egg and beat until fluffy.

– Stores for a week in the fridge, or freeze (you’ll need to re-beat it before using).

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The crust for sweet tarts: pâte sablée

This isn’t the all-American flaky pie crust. Strictly translated, pâte sablée means “sandy paste.” When baked, pâte sablée gives you a crumbly, sandy, shortbread-cookie-like crust that works beautifully for tarts. Sweet and rich, it is the perfect foil to a dark chocolate ganache filling or a simple mix of berries.

Pâte Sablée

scant 5 oz. unsalted butter, cold

1/2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 egg yolk, beaten, at room temperature (separating the egg when it’s cold is easier)

– Cut the butter into small chunks and put it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

– In the food processor, combine sugar, flour, salt. Remove the lid and add the butter chunks. Pulse until the dough looks like streusel: big bits, little bits, not uniform. Pulse in the egg yolk. Just a few more pulses until the dough starts clumping together…and stop! Overworking will yield a tough crust. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, gently gather in any stray floury bits, and wrap up, pressing the dough into a disc shape.

– Chill for up to 5 days. Well-wrapped, you can also store the dough in the freezer.

– When ready to bake, press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Be gentle. The trick is to shape the dough to the pan while maintaining the delicious crumbliness. Pop the pan and crust in the freezer for a good 20 minutes (or more) before baking.

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Apple tart

frenchappletart

This is one of my favorite desserts to bring. You know, like to someone’s house. As in, “what can I bring?”

I’ve been making this tart since it was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit in 1997. Whether for Thanksgiving, birthdays for non-cake eaters, fancy dinner parties, individual tartlets for a picnic…it always looks and tastes delicious. Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe from the original and now just use my standard pâte sablée for the crust and a basic frangipane for the filling.

Make a double batch of both the crust and the filling and store (separately) in the freezer. You’ll have a quick, elegant dessert to throw together at the last minute. The frangipane works well with pears, apricots, or plums, too. And don’t skip the part where you brush on the apricot jam: this is the fun part of fussy. You’ll end up with a gorgeous dessert. Go ahead, put it on a pedestal.

French Apple Tart

1 recipe for Pâte Sablée, chilled

1 recipe for Frangipane, at room temperature

2-3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced

1 T. sugar

1 T. Calvados or appropriately-flavored liqueur such as Grand Marnier, Drambuie, Amaretto, or Licor 43

1/4 cup apricot jam

– Toss the apple slices with the sugar and booze, allow to sit for about 30 minutes.

РPreheat oven to 325F. Press p̢te sabl̩e dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Be sure to create a thick edge all the way around the sides. Chill the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking.

– Spread the frangipane into the chilled crust. Drain the apples and arrange in a concentric circle, overlapping slightly. Bake for around 50 minutes, until the apples are tender, the crust is slightly browned, and the frangipane has puffed and turned slightly golden. If the apples start to brown during baking, cover loosely with foil.

– Remove tart to a cooling rack. Warm up the apricot jam in a little saucepan or the microwave. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Gently brush the apples and crust with the apricot syrup.

– Serve when cooled. It’s best on the day you’ve made it, but the tart will keep for a day: cover and refrigerate, but be sure to serve at room temperature. If you feel like gilding the lily, serve with a little vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream….just cut the slices a little smaller.

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