Archive for Pie

No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake

no-bake cheesecake

How hot is it in New York in the summer? So hot I used a man just for his shadow. So hot you be frying bacon on the sidewalk. At least that’ what  some say. For me, it’s so hot that merely going into the kitchen is reason to shower.

So when I craved cheesecake, I whined, “I don’t wanna turn on the oven, don’t wanna!” Enter sweetened condensed milk: malty, smooth, and the antidote for baked custard. This cheesecake is sweeter than most, so the crust doesn’t need additional sugar, and it balances rhubarb (or any tart fruit). Yes, that pinkish celery thing that actually doesn’t need strawberries. It’s floral and fruity on its own, kind of like pink lemonade. How’s that for a vegetable (and a no-bake dessert)?

More No-Bake Desserts:
Plain Frozen Yogurt
Banana Pudding
Chocolate Sorbet
Grape Sorbet

No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake

Rating: 41

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 9-inch cheesecake

Serving Size: 1/8 slice

No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake

When it's so hot you can fry bacon on the sidewalk, this refreshing no-bake cheesecake promises to be a smooth and tart treat.

Rhubarb compote adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Crust adapted from Joy of Cooking_1997. Cheesecake adapted from Divas Can Cook.


For rhubarb compote:
3 cups 1/2-inch pieces of rhubarb
3 tablespoons sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
For crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For cheesecake:
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese (brands other than Philadelphia don't have the same tang), at room temperature
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


    Make rhubarb compote:
  1. Place rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice in a heavy pan. Cook over low heat until the rhubarb has softened, about 10 minutes.
  2. Cool completely and store in the fridge.
  3. Make pie crust:
  4. Stir graham cracker crumbs and butter in a bowl until evenly moistened.
  5. Pat into a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan.
  6. Freeze for 20 min.
  7. Make cheesecake filling:
  8. Meanwhile, beat cream cheese on medium speed in a large bowl. When softened, add sweetened condensed milk and mix till smooth. Beat in lemon juice and vanilla.
  9. Pour cream cheese mixture into prepared pie crust and refrigerate until firm, or at least three hours.
  10. When ready to serve, spread rhubarb compote over cheesecake.


Save leftover rhubarb for (frozen) yogurt, vanilla ice cream, or pudding.

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Greek-Yogurt Cheesecake with Pomegranate Molasses

Greek yogurt cheesecake
Please excuse picture quality. It was taken with a camera phone.

It was near midnight when a friend ushered me into his kitchen and whipped out some tasting spoons. “I have some thing to show you,” he said. So I gathered round, and my friend poured a ruby-red liquid into my spoon. I was hypnotized: this syrup had the richness of cherries and tartness of raspberries. It was pomegranate molasses.

Made from the boiled-down juice of pomegranates, this ingredient is common in Middle Eastern foods, pairing with lentils, lamb, and red pepper (in muhammara). It has applications for dessert as well, cutting through richness and sweetness. For example, it pairs beautifully with frozen yogurt and buttermilk pancakes. The good brands also don’t add sugar, which is ideal if you’re trying to limit processed foods. You can also make your own, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort.

I thought pomegranate molasses would go well with cheesecake, so I took my favorite low-fat cheesecake recipe and substituted Greek yogurt for the puréed cottage cheese. It was even easier than the original, since you didn’t have to blend the cottage cheese in a food processor. The cheesecake was silky smooth, and everyone clamored for seconds.

Greek-Yogurt Cheesecake with Pomegranate Molasses

Cheesecake base adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich; crust adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking; topping adapted from Three Cities of Spain

For graham cracker crust
1 1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs (recommended brand: Midel)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For cheesecake base
2 cups 2% Greek yogurt (recommended brand: Fage)
8 ounces reduced-fat Neufchâtel cream cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons strained lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons salt

For sour cream topping
16 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For garnish
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

Make crust:

  • Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350° F. Fit a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom of an 8-inch round springform pan and grease the sides. Line the outside of the pan with plenty of foil. Boil a kettle of water.
  • Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Using your fingertips or the flat bottom of a glass cup, press the mixture firmly over the bottom of the pan.
  • Bake until the crust’s lightly browned and firm, 10 to 15 minutes.

Make filling and bake cake:

  • Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. On low speed, add Greek yogurt and eggs, one at a time; then sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, scraping down bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into the crust.
  • Place the cheesecake pan in large baking dish set on an oven rack. Carefully pour boiling water around the pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Gently slide the oven rack in to avoid splashing water. Bake until cheesecake has puffed and risen slightly and is just beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan, about 40 to 45 minutes. Leave the oven on.

Make topping:

  • Stir together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. Drop by spoonfuls around the edge of the cake and spread gently over the center, smoothing evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove cheesecake from water bath and set on rack to cool. Run knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. When cool, cover and chill for at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Unmold and serve:

  • Remove side from the pan and transfer to a plate. Cut with a sharp thin knife, dipping in hot water and wiping dry between each cut. Drizzle pomegranate molasses on top of each slice.

Low-fat variation:

  • Bake in an 8-inch springform pan. Omit the sour cream topping and substitute the crust with 3-4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs. After unmolding, press the crumbs around the side of the cake.

Related links:
L.A. Times‘ pomegranate molasses taste test
NY Times: How to cook with pomegranate molasses

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Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

Paula Deen Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Photo: Tina Vega/Flickr

Gooey butter cake is exactly what it sounds like: sticky, chewy, creamy—and a heart attack on a plate. But once you try it, you’ll ignore your judgment and want to eat it all. According to legend, the cake originated around the 1930s, when a baker in St. Louis added the wrong proportions of ingredients to a coffee cake (although there are differing stories). The result was a toffee-esque goo that was held by a dense, cakey crust.

My favorite version’s from Paula Deen—she of Krispy Kreme bread pudding fame. Her pumpkin gooey butter cake’s a combination of pumpkin pie and cheesecake, with no fussy crust to roll out. The problem with most butter cake recipes though, is they call for boxed cake mix. Or if they’re from scratch, you have to wait for a yeast dough to rise.

I adapted a from-scratch cake recipe for the crust and slightly reduced the sugar and fat (it’s still a gut bomb, but I did what I could).

St. Louis Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake (from scratch)
Crust inspired by Food & Wine; filling inspired by Paula Deen

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 stick butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package Neufchâtel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly grease a 13″x9″ glass baking pan.
  • To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and dry milk (if using) in a bowl. Add the egg and butter and mix until just combined with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom and one inch up the sides of the pan.
  • To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over the crust and bake 1 hour. Don’t overbake, as the center should be a little gooey.

View more Thanksgiving and fall dessert ideas.

*Note: the picture above is of Paula Deen’s original recipe. I lost my pic of the cake, but it looks similar.

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Strawberry Ricotta Cheesecake


One of my pet peeves is reading recipes without pictures. How do I know if I want to make something if I have no idea how it’ll turn out? So why is there a generic picture of strawberries in this post, instead of the said dessert?

When I bake, I usually bring the dessert to a party, where it’s hacked to a pulp. A whole dessert, like an uncut pie, is boring, so I usually don’t photograph it either. As a result, I don’t blog about lots of things I make, because I don’t have pictures.

To solve this problem, I think bakers should be allowed to present desserts with pieces cut out. Just for photographic purposes of course. Besides, it’s hard to wait that extra day between baking a dessert and actually eating it at the party.  Once, a co-worker presented a crumb cake with a giant hole in it. I thought it was a great idea, except she said she wanted to make sure it wasn’t poisonous.

So you’re not sold on this idea, but you should be sold on this dessert (and its cookbook). As a chocolate fan, I usually think fruit desserts are boring. But every dessert from Rustic Fruit Desserts is one of the best things I’ve ever made. This “tart” originally had a short dough crust, but I used graham crackers because they’re easier to work with, especially during hot weather. I really like Midel, which is made of 100% whole wheat flour and has no refined sugars. It’s healthier than the traditional brands and much more flavorful.

Strawberry-Ricotta Cheesecake

Serves 8-12
Filling adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber; graham cracker crust adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking

Graham cracker crumb crust:

1 1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs (recommended brand: Midel)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan or springform pan.
  2. Mix together the ingredients with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Using your fingertips or the flat bottom of a glass cup, press the mixture firmly over the bottom and up the sides of a pie pan or 1/2 inch up the springform pan.
  3. Bake until the crust’s lightly browned and firm, 10 to 15 minutes.

Strawberry-ricotta filling:

1 cup (8 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
1/3 cup (6 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 dry pints (6 cups) strawberries, hulled, and halved if large
1/2 cup strawberry jam

  1. Using a handheld mixer with beaters or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, salt, and nutmeg on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Stir in the vanilla.
  2. Pour the filling into the prebaked crust and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the edges have puffed up but the middle’s still jiggly. (As the tart cools, the center will firm up.) Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Just before serving, put the strawberries in a bowl. Warm the strawberry jam in a small sauce pan over low heat, then strain the jam over the strawberries and toss to coat. Arrange the berries on top of the tart and serve immediately. Alternatively, you could omit the jam and serve the berries alongside the tart.

Storage: The tart can be made a day in advance, in which case you should refrigerate it and top with the strawberries just before serving. Covered with plastic wrap, any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

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Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart (aka the “Samoa”)

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

I was just trying to purge my pantry and for the life of me, couldn’t get anyone to eat my Chez Paniesse tart (a famous dessert that looks deceptively plain). I was met with skepticism: “You used old cream to make a tart? And it has a stick of butter too? Gee, thanks.” Some people didn’t bother trying it. Others eyed it suspiciously and insisted on only taking a nubbin. But once they tasted it, they couldn’t stop raving:

“Man, so delish. Not sure what I was thinking about taking a smaller piece. I inhaled it.”

“It’s divine.”

“Jess, you can clean out your cubboard any time you want.”

Imagine extra-rich dulce de leche, crunchy almonds, and a crumbly crust. You might be a chocolate person. You might be a nut-free person. Doesn’t matter. You’ll still like this dessert.

The recipe’s solid, so I decided to turn it into a homemade Samoa (my favorite Girl Scout cookie). All I had to do was add coconut, chocolate, and cacao nibs for crunch. It’s much easier than rolling out individual cookies, cutting the dough, dipping the baked cookie, and drizzling it with chocolate (although Chow’s version looks promising).

This tart has a lot of steps, but the dough is very forgiving. As I was shaping it, I worried that the heat from my hands would turn it into mush. And it came out fine! For tips, I recommend David Lebovitz’s photo tutorial (it’s for the original tart, but my recipe’s close enough). And do yourself a favor: spread it out over two days (one for making the dough, another for baking).

coconut-chocolate-caramel tart

Coconut, Chocolate, and Caramel Tart

Inspired by Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
16 servings

Special equipment:
9- or 10-inch tart pan
parchment paper
heatproof spatula

For the dough:
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 oz, 115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
1 tablespoon ice water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl.
  2. Add the butter and mix with your fingers, a fork, or pastry blender until the butter’s in very small pieces, the size of rice.
  3. Add the water and vnailla and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.
  4. Press into a flat disk, wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.
  5. When ready to put the pastry in the pan, grease the bottom of the pan and line it with a circle of parchment paper. Let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using the bottom of your hand. Try to get the dough flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you want to make sure the sides don’t collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the dough back up the sides.
  6. Put the tart crust in the freezer and chill thoroughly.
  7. When ready to bake the crust, preheat the oven to 375° F.
  8. Bake the crust for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough (or use a water-flour paste).

For the tart filling:
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, preferably lightly toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. To bake, place the tart pan on top of a baking sheet (in case the filling leaks).
  2. Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy pot (use one that’s at least 4 qts) until it begins to boil.
  3. Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the coconut and vanilla.
  4. Scrape the filling into the crust. If there’s too much filling, save it; if the tart leaks, you can re-fill the crust.
  5. Make sure everything’s evenly distributed and there’s no clumps of coconut. Put the tart into the oven.
  6. After ten minutes, check the tart.
  7. Take a heatproof silicone spatula, hold it diagonally, and tap the entire surface of the tart to break up the top layer. Do not break the pastry underneath; you just want to break up surface crust that’s forming. This step is very important to cook the filling evenly and prevent it from looking wrinkled.
  8. Continue to cook, checking the tart every 5-8 minutes, and break up any dry crust that may be forming, easing off as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart finish cooking on its own.
  9. Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is light brown (like the color of caramel sauce) and there are no large, gooey pockets of white filling, about 30 minutes.

For topping:
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

  1. Immediately cover the tart with cacao nibs (you want it to stick to the still-hot caramel).
  2. Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack and sprinkle chocolate on top. The entire surface should be covered. Don’t be shy. Add more chocolate if you have to. (There should be at least twice as much chocolate/nibs than pictured above.)
  3. Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don’t come off when you remove the ring.
  4. When completely cool, remove the ring by resting the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it the tart to remove the bottom of the pan. Cut into slivers (best done with a serrated knife).

Make-ahead: The dough can be made in advance, and chilled (up to 4 days) or frozen longer. The dough can be frozen once it’s pressed in the tart pan. Wrap in plastic if you don’t plan to bake it within 48 hours. Once baked, store the tart at room temperature. Wrap in plastic wrap if keeping for more than one day. It’s best eaten on the first day but will keep for up to 4 days.

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World Nutella Day: Pierre Herme’s Nutella Tart

World Nutella Day

I once ate a chocolate chip cookie that fell in the dirt. I wash ziplock bags and reuse them. I like taking the second-to-last item on a dish so someone else will feel guilty about taking the last one.

Up until I visited my first food blog three years ago, “I like to eat Nutella straight off my finger” would have joined the list of culinary confessions above. I was so crazy about that chocolate-hazelnut spread that I Googled it, which brought me to Il Forno’s post about Nutella’s 40th birthday. After reading about Nutella’s history in detail, I no longer felt like a nut. I may eaten a jar of Nutella in one week, but one girl finished it by the spoonful over three days.

Another case in point: Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Shelley from At Home in Rome solemnly declare today “World Nutella Day” – a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

I made a Nutella tart from Pierre Herme, known worldwide as the Picasso of Pastry. When I went to Paris last November, I bought a 6 Euro slice of cake and a 2 Euro macaroon from his store. Boy, were they worth it. All the textures and flavors were perfectly balanced. That man is a culinary engineer.

Nutella tart

The recipe was first posted on Il Forno’s site. It’s a mouth-shattering crust with a layer of Nutella, bittersweet chocolate cream, and toasted hazelnuts. A couple notes:

  • Use unsalted butter, or the salt will overpower the chocolate. If you only have regular butter, you can be a smart aleck and call it “salted chocolate hazelnut tart” (not that it’s my thing).
  • Drizzle the butter into the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. The mixture will want to split because it’s so greasy. I actually think silken tofu would make a fine substitute, but that’s another post.
  • You only need half the amount of hazelnuts called for: a half cup.
  • If you don’t have a tart pan, form the dough in a 9-inch springform pan, making the sides 1-inch tall.
  • People have complained that Herme’s tart dough is difficult to work with, so here’s a recipe from Into to Fine Baking at The New School’s Culinary Arts program.

Lynn’s Tart Dough – Pate Brisee aux Oeufs (French Pastry Dough with Eggs)

by Lynn Kutner

This dough is a dream to work with: it hardly sticks and can withstand heavy rolling. The secret ingredient, an egg, enriches the dough.

Take the extra effort to blind bake the dough so it keeps its shape. Brushing the crust with egg wash and sugar will make it stay crispy.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk (save the white to glaze the crust)
2 tablespoons ice water (a few more drops if necessary)

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. With your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture feels mealy (small bits of butter are still visible). Aerate the dough with your hands as you work.

In a measuring cup, add the egg yolk. Add water ALMOST to the 1/4 cup mark. (1/4 cup is the maximum total of egg and water)

Make a well in the flour-butter mixture and pour the liquid in the center. With a rubber spatula, flip the flour from the outside in. If the dough is too dry, break it up in the center and add a few more teaspoons of water.

Flatten the dough into a circle about 1/2″ to 3/4″-thick. Wrap in plastic and chill two hours to overnight.

If you chilled the dough overnight or froze it, let it sit at room temperature until it is pliable but not soft. If the dough cracks when you work it, let it heat up a little longer.

Lightly dust a rolling pin and work surface with flour. Roll the dough 1/8″-thick. Work from the center and roll in one direction, stopping just short of the edge. Turn the dough 90 degrees and continue till finished. Gently ease the dough into a tart mold and trim the edges. Cover with the surface plastic wrap or wax paper and freeze while you preheat the oven to 400 F.

When the oven is ready, prick the dough with a fork all over. Cover the dough with foil and weigh it down with raw dried beans, rice or metal pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly colored.

Remove the foil. In a small bowl, combine the leftover egg white and a couple teaspoons of water. Brush the egg wash on the crust and sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of sugar. Return the crust to the oven and bake for until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes.

Related links:
Nutella cake
Su Good Sweets’ homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread recipe
All other Nutella posts

Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

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Pieville is in Westville

chocolate-marshmallow pie from Westville

For retro desserts in New York, head West, past the impossible-sounding intersection of 10 and 4 St., to Westville. Nestled in the crooked streets is a small, humble restaurant that features pastry chef Ivy Tack’s creations.

New York magazine named Ivy’s pear-cranberry pie as one of the 8 Best Thanksgiving Pies, and her blueberry pie was a Best of New York Weekly Pick. Her crusts are magical: they’re as multi-layered as puff-pastry without a hint of sogginess or greasiness. Each flick of the fork flakes off crumbs that you want to finish with your fingers. Best of all, they’re made with all butter, not shortening or lard.

Look at the artistry in the crust!

Westville pie crust

Her chocolate cream pie with marshmallow frosting is probably the best pie I’ve had in my life. Yes, even better than pies from the New York institution, The Little Pie Company (while their products are decent, they use lard, and their crusts hunky, not crispy).

The filling has a melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that can only be achieved with the cocoa butter in chocolate. The lightly sweetened topping strikes a balance between oozy and stiff. It’s the perfect pie for the chocoholic and kid in everyone.

Other goodies include the Lil Devin (oatmeal cranberry cookie sandwiched with cream cheese frosting), homemade Oreo, Chocolate Magic Cake (double-layer chocolate cake with ganache filling), and Chocolate Fudge and Hazelnut Brittle Cake. For homestyle desserts, forget Magnolia Bakery and its offshoots: Buttercup Bake Shop, Billy’s Bakery and Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Ivy makes desserts that you wish your mom could make.

While you’re at Westville, don’t forget to try the brunch. Baked French toast with strawberries, toasted bread to soak up runny sunny-side-up eggs, and sausage are all part of the hearty fare. Service is slow but friendly.

You can also buy Ivy’s desserts at Jack’s Coffeeshop and direct from Ivy Uppercrust Pastry. Pies run $25-30, considerably more than the supermarket variety, but you get what you pay for.

In all fairness, I should disclose that Ivy is a friend of a friend. The association brought me to Westville, but the quality will bring me back. The only time I’ve met Ivy was in competition, during the annual Battery Park City apple pie contest. Guess who won?

Below is an approximate recipe for her chocolate and marshmallow pie. I’ve combined my favorite pie crust recipe (as discussed in the tarte tatin post), seven-minute frosting, and a ganache filling from a knowledgable chocoholic.

For a shortcut, substitute frozen puff pastry dough and bake according to the package instructions. Dock the dough with a fork: you want lots of layers but not the mile-high puff.

Chocolate Cream Pie With Marshmallow Frosting

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the crust:
Adapted from a Sunset magazine cookbook

You will only need half a batch for a single-crust pie.

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg, well beaten
1 Tbsp vinegar
4 Tbsp ice cold water

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add butter and cut into flour. You may use a pastry blender, two knives or your hands. Keep smooshing the butter till the biggest pieces are pea-sized and the smallest pieces resemble bread crumbs.

Combine egg and vinegar in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture. Add water 1 Tbsp at a time, just until the crust just begins to come together. Smoosh the dough together so it forms a solid mass. You should still see large striations of butter.

Divide dough in half and press each half into a round flat disk, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, preferably for several hours and for up to two days before rolling. This step lets the dough relax so it won’t get tough. The dough can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 6 months; thaw completely before rolling.

If you refrigerate the dough for more than a couple hours, let it warm up on the counter for about 15 minutes so it’s pliable. You want the dough to be cold, so the butter doesn’t melt. But if it’s too cold, it will be stiff and crack when you roll it.

Roll the dough on a floured surface (a wax-paper lined counter works well). Lean into a floured rolling pin and roll from the center out, stopping just short of the edge. Keep rotating the dough 90 degrees to ensure that it’s not sticking and to shape it evenly. If the dough cracks or tears, push it back together. If the shape is uneven, cut off a portruding piece and patch it on the short side with cold water. If the dough becomes too soft and starts sticking, slide it on top of a rimless cookie sheet and refrigerate until it firms up. It is not unusual for all these things to happen. The crust should be about 1/8-inch thick and one inch wider than the pie pan on all sides.

Ease the crust all the way to the bottom of the pan. Trim off the excess and flute the edges.

Prick the crust with a fork and blind bake (cover the shaped crust with foil and weigh it down with dried beans, rice or metal pie weights) in a preheated 425F oven for 12 minutes. Remove the foil, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for a few minutes more, until the crust is golden brown.

For the filling:
Adapted from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich

1 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsp sugar
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly whisked

In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half and sugar to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth.

Just before the crust is done, whisk the egg into the chocolate mixture.

When the crust is ready, remove from the oven. Turn off the oven. Pour the hot chocolate filling mixture into the crust. Return the pie to the turned-off oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or just until the filling begins to set around the edges but most of the center is still liquid when the pan is wiggled. Set the pan on a rack to let the filling continue to set.

For the marshmallow (aka seven-minute) frosting:
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 2 cups

2 1/2 tbsp water
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Have the egg whites at room temperature, 68-70 F. Whisk everything except the vanilla together in a large stainless-steel bowl. Whipe excess sugar off the side of the bowl, as it will be difficult to dissolve later.

Set the bowl in a wide, deep skillet filled with about 1 inch of simmering water. Make sure the water level is at least as high as the depth of the egg whites in the bowl.

Beat the whites on low speed until the mixture reaches 140F on an instant-read thermometer. Do not stop beating while the bowl is in the skillet, or the egg whites will be overcooked. If you cannot hold the thermometer stem in the egg whites while continuing to beat, remove the bowl from the skillet just to read the thermometer, then return the bowl to the skillet. Beat on high speed for exactly 5 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and add the vanilla.

Beat on high speed for 2-3 more minutes to cool.

Spread the frosting on the cooled pie. It is best eaten on the day it is made.

210 W. 10th St
New York, NY 10014-6411
(212) 741-7971

Jack’s Coffeeshop
138 W. 10 St. (between Greenwich Ave. and Waverly Pl.)
New York, NY 10014-3103
(212) 929-0821

Ivy Uppercrust Pastry

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The Amateur Gourmet’s 2nd birthday party at The City Bakery

Rebecca, her boyfriend and Adam
The Amateur Gourmet, right, entertains his guests

The Amateur Gourmet, arguably the most humorous food blogger, celebrated his site’s second anniversary this Saturday at The City Bakery.

Ever since reading Adam Roberts’ “Condoleezza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction” entry, I fell in love with his writing. Since then, he’s been featured in the Sacramento Bee, Boston Globe and even has a book due out spring 2007.

I sweated up a storm while talking with Adam, but not because he’s intimidating in person. Actually, he was a gracious host, making sure to say “hi” to everyone, remember their names, and sharing a delicious tart that he now claims I stole.

No no, everyone’s pores opened up wide because The City Bakery was like a sauna. Their ovens must be on all day, constantly churning out fresh desserts.

City Bakery chocolate chip cookie

I finally tried their chocolate chip cookie, which was revered by New York magazine, NY Daily News, Words to Eat By, and The Wednesday Chef. The cookie was still warm, with swirls of chocolate melting on my fingers and lips. There was a high crispy to chewy ratio; a thick brown crust and pale interior that suggested a high proportion of white to brown sugar (or maybe no brown sugar at all). The giant brown blob on the bottom left suggests that chocolate discs, in addition to chips, were used.

The City Bakery makes a great case for a crispy cookie. Usually, crispy means biscuity, like the Original Chips Ahoy cookies. Crispy at The City Bakery means buttery and crunchy. There was also an extra flavor to these cookies. Words to Eat By called it toffee-esque, but I think it tasted of almond paste.

It was a fun eating experience, but I honestly prefer my own. Chocolate chip cookies are typically described as cakey, chewy and crispy, but there’s a fourth characteristic: soft. Soft and chewy are often used interchangeably, as they tend to occur together. However, the City Bakery’s cookie did not have a hint of softness. The chewy middle required a bit of a workout. My favorite chocolate chip cookies are soft, where one bite can sink your teeth all the way down to the bottom.

City Bakery autumn tart

Adam’s autumn tart was the best tart I’ve ever tasted. Tart cranberries and caramel-covered almonds came together harmoniously in a crispy crust. Too often, tarts have thick, soggy crusts (from soaking up fruit juices over several days). Everything is fresh at The City Bakery, so there’s no need to compensate with brick-like crusts. The tart would have been even better if it was combined with Johnny Iuzzini’s pate sable recipe. Yes, you can make City Bakery tarts using their book, The Book of Tarts!

City Bakery chocolate tart

The chocolate tart was another winner, with its silky, dark chocolate custard. The crust was a little too much like shortbread than a chocolaty crust. Once again, I’d sub Iuzzini’s tart dough but add a little more sugar and some cocoa powder.

City Bakery French toast with hot chocolate

You want a meal? How about a thick slice of French toast with the syrup built in? The burnt edges were crispy, chewy and caramelized. The inside was very eggy, like a dense sponge. The whole thing was sweet, buttery and delicious.

The City Bakery is pricey: $12/lb salad bar, $6-tarts, $2-cookies, $3-French toast and $3.50-hot chocolate, but it’s worth a treat once in a while.

group shot

Oh yeah, on to the people, the reason why I sampled these desserts in the first place! About 20 showed up, including but not limited to Molly (Orangette) Gerald (Foodite), Stacey (Just Braise), Rebecca (who hosted the last NY food bloggers potluck), Anne (of Houghton Mifflin), The Anonymous Lawyer, Lisa (the infamous vegetarian who has posted while Adam was away) and Adam’s real-life friends. If I didn’t mention you, please say hi and remind me!

more guests

Ricky (I think) and Lisa

Adam wows some more of his guests

There was a pop quiz when Lisa asked me why American macaroons were made out of coconut and mine (which I brought along) were made of almonds. Off the top of my head, I explained that traditional French Italian macaroons were made with ground almonds and egg whites. When they came to the U.S., Jewish people substituted coconut and sweetened condensed milk. In short, macaroons are chewy cookies made with nut meat, lots of sugar and some type of binder. I felt unqualified to answer the question, as my macaroons have French ingredients, but they are domed and crackly like American macaroons. It’s something that I haven’t bothered fixing, because they taste so good anyway. Phew, everyone believed me, so I passed the test!

Now that I’ve talked to Adam in person, I know his dirty little secrets, like how he grossly exaggerates his blog. 🙂 He’s made Lisa out to be a mean, picky eater, but she was nice on Saturday! In Adam’s recap, he claims that I hogged his tart, but I had two pieces that were the size of my thumbnail. This was after he passed his tart around to everyone, and he still had half of it left when the party was over. Honest!

Buy the Book of Tarts: Form, Function, and Flavor at the City Bakery

The City Bakery
3 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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Four Star Meets Lone Star: Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini featuring Texas Grapefruit

Johnny Iuzzini's signature dessert tasting
Photo courtesy StarChefs

Every day, four-star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini dazzles diners at New York’s Jean-Georges with his signature dessert tastings. Contrasting textures and temperatures come together in a central theme, be it chocolate, berries or even beets. This Saturday, he did it for free at the French Culinary Insitute. The demo and tasting was sponsored by (an online publication of the French Culinary Institute) and TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, Inc. Can you guess what the theme was?

Johnny Iuzzini shows off the red-fleshed grapefruit

For three hours, about 80 guests watched Iuzzini prepare five grapefruit desserts and ate the fruits of his labor (pun intended). As a bonus, each person brought home a grapefruit giftbox, a zester (made for dang right handers!) and Iuzzini’s recipes, which I’ve provided through the links below.

Although the desserts were specially created for this event, the building blocks are mainstays at Jean-Georges. The instructions are sparse and assume you have a working knowledge of pastries. If you get past the French terms like chinois and quenelle, you can re-create four-star desserts at home. Where applicable, I’ve included Iuzzini’s tips. I felt like I was at culinary school, greedily jotting down the master’s secrets. Also, the quanities are by weight. One cup of flour can weigh between four and six ounces, a 50% difference! The beloved cup and teaspoon aren’t so accurate after all. Pastry Scoop lists conversions for liquids, flour and sugar to help you out.


Iuzzini’s first dessert was a warm honey tart, accompanied with grapefruit-shiso granite (ice) and charred oranges. The tart crust was technically a pate sable, which is French for “sandy pastry.” The term sounds like a coarse, mealy dough, but it’s not! Pate sable is like a crisp cookie that disintegrates in your mouth. If you only try one tart dough, make it this one. The custard was exceptionally smooth and hid a layer of tart grapefruit sections for contrasting flavors. Continuing with the theme of contrast, the grapefruit granita was cold and chunky. I thought the soul of this dish was the custard and the crust. For home application, I’d skip the citrus sections and the granita. Besides, I couldn’t even tell what that Asian herb, shiso, tasted like.


Next up was honey ginger ice cream, accompanied with grapefruit mirroir (like a runny Jell-O), brioche (a rich bread with lots of butter and eggs) croutons, and a drizzle of Thai basil oil. The point here was to contrast sweet, smooth cream with tart, textured jelly. The mirroir’s texture reminded me of (dare I say it?) brains. Sorry, all that time working at Court TV is infusing me with morbid humor. Iuzzini intended the crunchy croutons to add another dimension of texture, while the basil-infused oil was supposed to contribute a fresh flavor. I thought the dessert could have been fine without these two. At home, you can just layer premium vanilla ice cream with tart jam or citrus curd to get a similar experience.

Coming up in part two: almond cake with frozen grapefruit and oranges, grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille (layered pastry), and chocolate crepes filled with grapefruit curd.

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023-7703
(212) 299-3900

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L.A. Dessert Crawl

The Adamson House in Malibu in the dead of winter

Los Angeles may be paradise when it comes to the weather, but is it a haven for dessert lovers? In a large city with a slew of celebrities to please, there’s bound to be at least one place that does dessert well. However, L.A.’s size is also its downfall: at 465 square miles (L.A. County is more than 4,000 square miles), you’ll spend much of the day driving and parking when exploring the area. When tackling L.A., stick to one of the various neighborhoods at a time and plan accordingly.

On the Westside of L.A. is Amandine Patisserie, a French-style bakery that serves croissants, tarts and sandwiches. I tried their pumpkin “pie” during Christmas, and it was delicious! The large pie is about one foot wide, but it’s very easy to eat two slices. The filling is stringy enough so you know it has fresh pumpkin but not so stringy that it gets stuck in your teeth. It’s completely covered with stiffly whipped cream and a generous dusting of cinnamon. I normally don’t like whipped cream because it often wheaps or tastes like whipped nothing. However, this whipped cream is as close to room-temperature ice cream as you can get. The pie already has a la mode built in! For even more decadence, the pie would also be delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Adding to the untraditional nature of the pie is its cookie-like crust. There are no crimped edges. Instead, the crust is formed in a deep cake pan. I prefer flakey pie crusts, but in this case the sum (fresh pumpkin filling, whipped cream, cookie crust) is greater than its parts.

A minor complaint that I have is that the filling tasted like it had too much cream. Fat carries flavor, but it can also coat the tongue and deaden flavors. That’s why gelato, made with milk instead of cream, is more flavorful than ice cream. Using less cream or lightening up on egg yolks would make the pumpkin flavor brighter. But now I’m nitpicking; most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

Diddy Riese Cookies logo

If you catch a movie at the Mann Village or Bruin theaters (where most L.A. premieres are) in Westwood, be sure to stop by Diddy Riese Cookies for a $1 ice cream sandwich. Yes, for the same amount of money it costs to call 1-800-COLLECT, you can get a scoop of Dreyer’s (known as Edy’s on the East Coast) sandwiched between two soft-baked cookies. You can mix and match between the usual drop cookies, like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle and sugar. Ssh, they are made with a mixture of butter and margarine. Tsk, tsk. I will fight to the end for butter-only baked goods.

Chain restaurants are infamous for serving cloned, commercial food. In New York, for example, the Au Bon Pain bakery cafes sound like they serve gourmet French fare, but in reality they’re a pain to dine at. I’ve witnessed a clerk mistake a jalapeno cheese bagel for a danish, and my co-workers have seen them use the same broom the brush the food shelves and floor.

Corner Bakery dessert

On the flip side, the Corner Bakery in the L.A. area and various other states serves delicious, dependable food. They have brownies, cookies, bread and even muffin tops in the Calabassas Commons location! As Seinfeld can attest, the best part of muffins are the tops, with their extra crust and crumb coating. How does a chocolate muffin with fresh bananas sound? Delicious, right?

Corner Bakery breakfast

For breakfast, I opted for the healthier Swiss oatmeal. Rolled oats are naturally sweetened with fresh apples, banana chunks, dried currants, dried cranberries and bound together with yogurt. The whole thing is accompanied by a “sweet crisp.” The crisp, made from toasted raisin pecan bread and sprinkled with coarse sugar, is like bread in biscotti form. It’s excellent when dipped in the oatmeal or eaten plain as a sweet chip. Corner Bakery sells packaged crisps to go, as well.

Corner Bakery sweet crisps

Corner Bakery also has savory fare, such as sandwiches, panini and salad. The Uptown Turkey sandwich comes with hickory smoked turkey breast, avocado and bacon on whole grain bread. It’s expertly layered so the cool tomato goes up against the creamy mayo and hot, toasted bread. The sandwiches also come with homemade potato chips and a crisp pickle. They’re not artisan sandwiches like the ones at ‘Wichcraft in New York, but at $6.29 for a large plate, they’re a much better value.

I may pretend that I’m a sophisticated New Yorker, but I grew up closer to the San Fernando Valley. Like totally, I’m a valley girl. Love’s Cool pointed me to the homey Bea’s Bakery, known for its Jewish specialties such as babka and chocolate chip challah (which is only available on Fridays, according to Nic at The Baking Sheet).

Bea's Bakery sign

The space is bustling with customers, but the nice ladies behind the counter move everyone quickly. Their goods are reasonably priced: $1-cupcakes and $4 per pound of chocolate chip, apple, cinnamon, cinnamon raisin or apple babkas. With other products such as Yum Yum Cake, it’s hard to choose what to get. Because of Love’s Cool’s recommendation, I chose the chocolate chip babka and added the pumperknickel raisin bread on an impulse buy.

whole babka

The babka is slathered with wine-y chocolate icing (imagine what doughnut glaze would be like if it never hardened). Inside are beautiful swirls of tangy chocolate chips and brown sugar streusel. The bread portion is colored yellow from eggs and reminded me of an Entenmann’s danish. I thought the bread was on the dry side, but when toasted, the chocolate chips get melty and compensate.

The pumperknickel bread has plump raisins and a soft interior. My favorite part is the crust. It borders on overdone, but it’s all the more better to make it chewy. The bread can be eaten plain out of hand, but I think the crust develops more bite when toasted. The crumb could be more elastic and have more of a fermented flavor.

Pastries by Edie, also in the Valley, has elaborately decorated cakes. Gleaming behind the display cases are two sizes of mini-pastries. The smallest size is just enough for one person to sample, while the larger variety is big enough for two to share. At $1.50 each, the minis are a great value for all the handiwork involved.

Pastries by Edie mini cakes
Photo courtesy Pastries by Edie

Pastries by Edie chocolate raspberry cake

The chocolate raspberry cake has layers of sponge cake, chocolate mousse and raspberry filling topped with a clean-tasting raspberry glaze. The decorations include gold-frosted chocolate, both on top and on the sides of the cake. While Pastries by Edie doesn’t skimp on the presentation, the pastry has a muted flavor. I would argue that if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know what you were eating. Raspberry and chocolate are a classic combination because of the fruit’s tanginess; there is no contrast between the raspberry and chocolate here. The chocolate garnishes have a nice texture though. It’s not too hard because of the coldness, nor is it greasy (bakers often add fat to refrigerated chocolate to combat the hardness). The flavor, however, is generic. It looks (err tastes) like someone skimped on the ingredients here.

Pastries by Edie also has homemade gelato. A sign in the shop informs customers that gelato has less overrun (whipped air) than ice cream and is made with milk so the flavors are brighter. The description promises authentic gelato, but the end product regretably resembles ice cream. The chocolate hazelnut gelato has a very strong hazelnut flavor, and the kiwi gelato is nice and tangy. It’s has too much dairy flavor to be called gelato though.

The biggest disappointment of the bakery, however, is its customer service. The woman who helped my mom and I gave us short answers when we inquired about the cake flavors and chided us when we asked if the cake had to be refrigerated. It’s a shame: the customer service could have redeemed the bakery for me.

Malibu beach

That’s the L.A. dessert wrap-up for now. On future visits, I’d like to go to La Brea Bakery (must try their granola and chocolate cherry bread!), Mani’s Bakery (known for their fruit-sweetened pastries), Susina Bakery, Clementine, and L’Artiste Patisserie.

Westside L.A.
Amandine Patisserie 12225 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-1105 (310) 979-3211
Diddy Riese Cookies 926 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024-2802 (310) 208-0448

San Fernando Valley
Bea’s Bakery 18450 Clark St, Tarzana, CA 91356-3504 (818) 344-0100
Pastries by Edie 21608 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, CA 91303 (818) 716-7033

Various locations
Corner Bakery

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