Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

An elegant do-ahead dessert, perfect for a party:
Light and Luscious Semifreddo with Orange and Almonds

Are you still unsure of what to make for a party dessert this season? Try making this light and luscious semifreddo, topped with a compote of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. Semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, and in this preparation, it’s flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is light and luscious, melting on the tongue in an airy poof. For a little extra sweetness (it’s the holidays, after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

The beauty of this recipe is that each component may be prepared at least a day in advance, so all that you need to do is assemble it when you are ready to serve, which is a perfect gift to the cook when entertaining.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Fig Compote

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
16 dried figs, stems removed, halved if large
3/4 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Combine all of the compote ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the figs are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid; discard the cinnamon stick. (Figs may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve:
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and a little juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve

Cranberry Orange Trifle for the Holidays

A Festive (and Do-Ahead) Dessert for the Holiday Table:

Do-Ahead Cranberry Trifle Dessert

This billowy cranberry trifle will carry you through the holiday season. It’s a great do-ahead dessert with impressive results: orange-infused pound cake blanketed with layers of cranberry compote, whipped mascarpone cream, and candied walnuts. Each bite is light and airy with the pop of sweet-tart cranberries, and the satisfying crunch of cinnamon-dusted nuts, so be sure to get a little bit of everything in every spoonful.

Don’t let the length of this recipe deter you. It’s composed of several separate short recipes for each component that can (and should) be prepared well in advance of assembling. And the entire trifle can also be assembled in advance of serving, which leaves you plenty of time to wrestle with that turkey.

Cranberry-Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts

Assembly Time: 20 minutes
Makes one large trifle, serves 8 to 10; or 8 individual trifles

1 loaf Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake (recipe follows)
Cranberry Compote (recipe follows)
Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)
Orange Mascarpone Cream (recipe follows)
Finely grated orange zest, for garnish

1. Cut the pound cake into 3/4-inch cubes. Set aside a few whole cranberries from the compote for garnish.
2. Pour a thin layer of cranberry compote into the bottom of the trifle dish or individual serving glasses. Arrange a snug layer of pound cake over the compote. Top with a layer of cream. Sprinkle a few of the nuts over the cream.
3. Repeat the layering process, finishing with a layer of cream and nuts. Garnish with the reserved cranberries and finely grated orange zest.
4. Serve or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.
Optional: Lightly brush each layer of pound cake with Cointreau or Gran Marnier for an adult version of this dessert.

Orange Buttermilk Pound Cake
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Makes 1 loaf

Cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk

Syrup: 
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla.
4. Add half of the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining flour, mixing to combine after each addition.
5. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes clean, about 55 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Combine the juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, and then remove from the heat.
Remove the cake from the oven and transfer to a rack. Pierce the top of the cake all over with a skewer and brush with some of the syrup. Cool 10 minutes and then invert the cake onto a rack. Brush the sides of the cake with the remaining syrup and cool the cake completely.
Note: The pound cake may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until use.

Cranberry Compote
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 1 3/4 cups

12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the cranberries pop and release their juices, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Note: The compote may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use.

Candied Walnuts
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment. Spread the walnuts on a separate baking tray and bake 10 minutes.
2. Heat the sugar over medium heat in a small saucepan. As soon as it begins to dissolve, stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar liquefies and is amber in color.
3. Immediately add the walnuts, salt, and cinnamon and stir to coat. Remove from the heat and spread the walnuts on the parchment-lined baking tray. Cool completely, and then break into coarse pieces.
Note: The nuts may be prepared up to 1 week in advance. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Mascarpone Cream:
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Makes about 3 cups

8 ounces mascarpone cream, chilled
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup sifted powder sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus extra for garnish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Add the mascarpone to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a wire attachment and mix on medium-low speed to soften.
2. With the machine running, slowly add the whipped cream and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.
3. Add the sugar, liqueur (if using), the orange zest, and vanilla, and beat until stiff peaks form.
Note: The cream may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance of assembling the trifle. Cover and refrigerate.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

A light and fresh vanilla cake that’s all about summer berries:

When it comes to baking I keep it simple, preferring goodies that are fresh and light. This especially applies to cake. It was my daughter’s birthday recently, and her favorite cake is a Danish lagkage (layer cake) which is the  traditional birthday cake served at celebrations. It’s a simple and easy cake to make and eat, with thin layers of vanilla sponge, gobs of whipped cream, and fresh berries. It’s flexible, kid-friendly, and pretty to look at. No piping or fiddly decorations needed. The only bling is a pile of fresh berries smeared into the cream and piled on top, and, if you’re so inclined, pretty snipped sprigs and edible flowers from the garden.

I have messed around with different vanilla cake recipes over the years, and this is the one I currently favor. This sponge cake recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated. Make sure that all of the sponge cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.

Berries-and-Cream Vanilla Layer Cake

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves: 8 to 10

Cake:
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened

Whipped Cream:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh raspberries

1 cup good quality raspberry preserves
Assorted berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, currants, for garnish

Make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter two (8 or 9-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest in a medium bowl to combine.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Briefly mix on low speed to blend.
4. Add 1/3 of the butter and mix on slow speed to blend and then increase the speed to medium and mix for about 10 seconds.
5. Add half of the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds to blend. Add the remaining butter and mix for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be wet and granular.
Add half of the egg mixture and mix to just combine without over-mixing. Add the remaining egg mixture and mix until smooth without over-mixing.
6. Divide the batter between the pans. Transfer to the oven and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes and cool completely. When cool, use a serrated knife to slice the cakes in half horizontally (optional).

Make the cream:
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk are apparent. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm peaks form. Place the 1 cup raspberries in a medium bowl and mash with a fork. Add half of the whipped cream and gently fold in to combine.

Assemble:
Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of the raspberry preserves over the cake, and then smear a layer of raspberry-whipped cream (not too thick) over the preserves. Repeat with remaining layers. Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining whipped cream. (You can leave the sides “naked” if desired.) Garnish with more fresh berries and sprigs. Refrigerate until serving, up to 2 hours.

Frozen Meringue Cream with Summer Berry Compote

Berries and Cream 2.0

Summer Berry Compote and Frozen Whipped Cream

Who doesn’t like berries and whipped cream for a simple summer dessert? Sweet, freshly picked summer berries and cream are the height of ease and good flavor, and a combination I rely on throughout the summer season. Sometimes, though, if I want to up the presentation a notch, I make this frozen dessert. The good news is that this version is also easy to make, and it should be prepared at least 8 hours in advance of serving, so it’s a great do-ahead dessert when entertaining.

To make it, I fold crumbled store-bought meringues into the whipped cream and freeze the cream in a loaf pan. The meringues add a nice light crunch and a jolt of sugar to the cream. Once frozen, the “loaf” can be sliced and served with fresh berries spooned on top. It’s fresh, light, and luscious, and always a crowd pleaser.

To make the frozen cream, first lightly oil the loaf pan, and then line it with plastic wrap. This allows for easy removal from the pan once frozen. The whipped cream is delicate, so should only be frozen for 8 to 24 hours. Once the loaf is removed from the pan and sliced, eat it immediately, because the cream will quickly begin to soften. Also, in the past I’ve added berries to the loaf, but I find that they remain frozen while the cream softens, which is not ideal for eating, so I spoon fresh berries, or, in this case, a compote over the top. 

Iced Meringues and Cream with Berry Compote

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes, plus freezing time and cooling time
Serves 8.

Iced Meringue Cream:
3 ounces meringues, divided
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Compote:
3/4 pound fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Lightly oil a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Line with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides. Crumble 1/3 of the meringues, leaving large chunks intact, and spread over the bottom of the pan.

2. Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until traces of the whisk appear. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form.

3. Crumble the remaining meringues and gently fold into the cream. Pour into the pan and spread the cream evenly on top. Cover with the plastic overhang, and then cover the pan entirely with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.

4. Prepare the compote: Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves and the berries break down and release their juices, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

5. To serve, remove the frozen meringue cream from the freezer. Unwrap the plastic and invert the cream onto a serving platter. Remove any remaining plastic. Cut into serving slices and serve with the compote spooned over each slice.

Rhubarb Berry Fruit Crisp

What Grows Together Goes Together – in a Fruit Crisp

Rhubarb Berry Fruit Crisp Gluten Free

There’s no better way to enjoy ripe fruit than in a good old-fashioned crisp. In the summer, stone fruit and berries reign supreme, while in the fall, apples and pears take over. This crisp is inspired by late spring’s fresh rhubarb and boysenberries. I spied the berries at our local farmers market this weekend. Boysenberries peak in a relatively short window from late spring to early summer here in California. They resemble a floppy cone-shaped blackberry, and taste like a tart cross between a blackberry and raspberry. Next to the berries was a wicker basket filled with dainty upright new rhubarb stalks awash in green and pink. The colorful message was clear: Come and get us.

The topping for this dessert is gluten-free. It’s crisp, nutty, and sweet, faintly spiced with cinnamon. Whether you are gluten-free or not, it’s delicious. If you don’t have access to boysenberries, feel free to substitute blackberries or raspberries.

Rhubarb Boysenberry Crisp

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: about 1 hour, plus cooling time
Serves 6

Topping:
3/4 cup almond meal
3/4 cup rolled oats (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled

Filling:
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 cups boysenberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine all of the topping ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop the walnuts. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Place the rhubarb and half of the boysenberries in a bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over and gently mix to combine. Whisk the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl. Pour over the fruit, add the zest, and gently stir to coat. Spread the fruit in an 8 x 8-inch (or similar size) baking dish, or, alternatively, divide the fruit between individual gratin dishes. Arrange the remaining boysenberries over the top of the fruit, and then evenly spread the topping over the fruit.

3. Bake in the oven until the topping is golden brown, the rhubarb is soft, and the juices are bubbling, about 45 minutes. If the topping browns before the filling is fully cooked, then loosely cover with foil to prevent burning. Remove and cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Orange Spiced Pound Cake with Strawberries and Cream

Add a Little Spice to Your … Pound Cake?

Orange and Coriander Infused Pound Cake Recipe

Who doesn’t like a buttery rich pound cake? Simple and pleasingly plain – it’s comfort food for adults and kids alike. While always a winner as-is, a pound cake’s simplicity is also an inviting canvas, amenable to garnishes (whipped cream anyone?) and fruity additions, such as citrus and berries. A brush of syrup on the just-baked cake, takes it to yet another level, infusing each crumbly bite with the tang of flavor (lemon? orange?) and saturating the entire loaf with a luscious stickiness.

With all of these choices for inspiration, I went all out and piled on the extras in this fragrant pound cake recipe, with orange zest and ground coriander infusing the batter, and a pile of syrupy strawberries and fluffy cream adorning the plate. The coriander might sound unusual, but it’s a dark horse worth considering when it comes to desserts. Often associated with savory food and Asian cuisines, ground coriander is mildly floral and nutty, and brings a subtle perfume and flavor to sweets. It’s also exceptionally compatible with citrus, such as orange.

For this recipe, I relied on a favorite tried-and-true pound cake method by Rose Levy Beranbaum, in which she uses lemon syrup to brush her cake. For this recipe, I used an orange and coriander syrup to moisten the cake and coat fresh strawberries, which are spooned over the cake before serving.

Coriander Spiced Pound Cake with Strawberries

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Makes one 8 by 4-inch loaf – approximately 8 servings

Syrup:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped

Pound Cake:
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Garnishes:
1 pound strawberries, hulled, halved (or quartered if large)
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated orange zest

Prepare the syrup:
Combine the sugar, water, and ground coriander seeds in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool completely before straining. Once cool, strain the syrup into a bowl and set aside 2 tablespoons syrup for the strawberries.

Prepare the pound cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8 by 4-inch loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Butter the paper and lightly dust the pan with flour.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk, zest, and vanilla in a small bowl.
3. Briefly mix the flour, sugar, coriander, baking powder, and salt in a bowl of an electric mixer to blend. Add the butter and half of the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute to aerate. Add the remaining egg mixture in 2 batches, beating 20 seconds after each addition.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a bamboo skewere inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes.
5. Transfer to a rack, pierce the top of the cake with the skewer, and brush the top of the cake with some of the syrup. Cool for 10 minutes, and then turn the cake out onto the rack. Pierce the sides and bottom of the cake with the skewer and brush with more of the syrup. Cool completely. (The flavors will develop as the cake cools.)
5. Before serving prepare the garnishes. Toss the strawberries and the 2 tablespoons syrup in a bowl. Beat the cream, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
6. To serve, cut the pound cake into 3/4-inch slices. Spoon some of the strawberries over the cake. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with orange zest.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

My coconut conversion:

Chocolate Dipped Macaroons - Gluten Free!

The bane of my childhood candy experience was a Mounds Bar. I just didn’t get it. I would bite into the promising chocolate nugget, which would immediately give way to a chewy, shredded, nutty interior, that in, my opinion, had no rightful place in a chocolate bar. It was clearly the texture that I did not like. I was mystified by my friends, who bought super-sized packages of Almond Joys to scarf down when we went to the movies. Every Halloween, when my brothers and I would pile our loot in the middle of the kitchen table, gloating and eyeing trade-ups, my chocolate covered coconut bars were the first to offer up with no regrets. Sadly, my brothers were not so keen on coconut either, so the negotiating could get ugly.

As a parent, it baffled me that my children loved coconut. But as chief cookie baker, I stepped up to the plate and used coconut more and more freely in bars, cakes, and cookies. And, you know what? I, too, developed a fondness for this tropical “nut,” appreciating its flaky fresh and nutty interruption like a cool breeze in a sea of sugar. I guess you could say I grew up.

I eat coconut now, unforced, and prefer it paired with dark chocolate. Sometimes I make macaroons, a jumble of coconut bound together with egg white and condensed milk. Yes, the milk is icky-sweet, but it seems to yield the best juicy-soft interior, which is what prevents dryness and distinguishes a great macaroon. I’ve followed a recipe from Ina Garten from time to time, but switch out some of the sweetened coconut with unsweetened, which I find reduces some of the cloyness, and add a whiff of almond extract. Oh, and I always give them a generous dunk in dark chocolate, which has a magnificent grounding effect on, well, everything.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Makes about 24

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
7 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
7 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark (70%) chocolate

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the milk, coconut, vanilla, and almond extract in a large bowl and stir to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the coconut.
4. Drop heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of coconut, about 1 1/2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake on the two center shelves in the oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to ensure even baking. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
5. While the cookies are cooking, melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water over low heat, stirring until smooth. Dip one half of each macaroon in the melted chocolate and transfer to a board or platter lined with parchment. Refrigerate until set. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days.