Monday, April 25, 2011


I love a good legend. And I love a good cookie. Well, today must be my lucky day because Amaretti di Saronno are both. The tale takes place three hundred years ago in the town of Saronno in the far, far north of Italy. One day the Cardinal of Milan made a surprise visit to the little town. As everyone else scrambled with ways to welcome him, two young lovers got out of bed and whipped up a batch of cookies made from sugar, egg whites, and apricot kernels. They served the cookies in pairs of two, to represent their love. The gift was a hit, probably because Amaretti di Saronno are airy and crispy and slightly bittersweet. The cardinal was so impressed that he blessed them and they lived, yes, say it with me, Happily Ever After!

If you haven’t had a chance to try these cookies, imagine a small, extra crispy almond macaron. What sets these apart from other almond flavored cookies are the apricot kernels in the batter, which give the cookies a distinct bittersweet flavor. It’s this flavor that makes the cookies interesting in an addictive “what is that flavor” sort of way. They’re so delicious, in fact, that they’re used in all kinds of Italian recipes. Mario Batali made one dish particularly chic in the US: pumpkin ravioli with amaretti cookies grated over the top.

So buy the cookies for their delicious any time of day snackability, keep them to use in recipes, and when they’re all gone appreciate their collectable, pretty red tin.

Chocolate-Amaretti Torte

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

When it comes to desserts, people usually fall into one of two camps. The first camp includes people who like delicate, beautiful, and rich desserts. These people are often French. The second camp is for those people who like big, homely, not always even that flavorful desserts. The kind of people who like to take a big cakey cookie straight to their face while they mutter nom nom nom and have a stupid smile on their face. I am absolutely no holds barred definitely in the latter camp.

But sometimes you want to impress people. Sometimes you want to fool people into thinking you have a delicate, refined palate. Sometimes you’re cooking for fourteen people and you need a relatively easy dessert that looks like it took a long time to prepare and tastes like something they could never, ever make at home. In other words, sometimes you have to be sneaky.

So a few weeks ago I found myself in this very situation. I was cooking for a group of people, many of whom I didn’t know, all of whom I really would like to impress. I was serving this dish of big rustic braised pork with grilled polenta for dinner, so I thought that dessert should be classy. I had also stupidly decided to serve two types of bruschetta, meaning plating was a logistical nightmare. It was the type of situation where I really didn’t want to have to worry about a last minute dessert debacle.

This recipe from Dorie Greenspan was perfect. Thanks to our friend the Cuisinart, it’s easy to prepare. A shiny chocolate glaze that sets in the refrigerator makes it look decidedly chic. And there is something about a cold chocolate glaze that makes people think "restaurant" or "store bought" but never "homemade." Best of all, it’s rich as hell so people probably won’t ask for seconds.


For Cake:
6 Large double Amaretti di Saronno or 18 mini amarettini
3/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For Glaze:
4 ounces best dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch spring form pan.

In a Cuisinart, grind almonds and cookies until they are a fine ground. Pour out of processor and set aside. Add butter, sugar and eggs to processor. Pulse for two minutes. Add almonds and cookies and pulse for 30 seconds. Add chocolate and pulse until just combined.

Pour batter into springform pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until cake is starting to dry on top and a tester comes out with a few crumbles but mostly clean. Don't overbake.

While cake cools, make glaze.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat cream, sugar and water until sugar has dissolved. Mix in chocolate, stirring constantly until chocolate has dissolved. Take off heat.

Pour glaze over cake and spread so that it evenly coats the top and the sides. Refrigerate cake for at least 40 minutes to set the glaze. Cut into thin wedges for serving.

*photo of cookies by

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ingredient: MARMALADE

Marmalade is a most decidedly British food. Which is a little strange when you realize that oranges don’t grow in Britain. So how did this chunky orange jam join scones and treacle as one of the quintessential English foods? The answer is a combination of Spaniards, scurvy, and seafaring.

The word marmalade comes from the Portuguese word marmelo which means quince. Ancient Greeks and Romans made marmalade by preserving quinces in honey. They found that when the fruit was cooked, it began to set up and gain a gelatin-like consistency. What they didn’t know is that this is the effect of fruit pectin, which makes jams and jellies so delightfully coherent yet wobbly. (In my opinion, all the best jams still rely solely on the fruit’s pectin and not artificial stabilizers.) As language and tastes evolved, any citrus fruit which was boiled with sugar and water became known as “marmelata.”

When did the British get in on the game? Probably as soon as they started making long sea voyages: marmalade was a good way for sailors to get vitamin C and prevent scurvy. Spain was already producing a popular marmalade made from their Seville oranges, which have a high level of fruit pectin. But who wants the truth? Legend has it that Henry the VIII received a box of “marmaladoo” (a hilarious spelling of their pronunciation of marmalado, and hopefully what we all call marmalade from now on) from a Mr. Hull of Exeter. Because it came in a box, the marmalade Henry VIII received was probably more like a quince paste, and let’s hope he ate it spread on some delicious Manchego cheese.

A competing legand comes from a man named James Keiller from Dundee, Scotland who claimed to have invented marmalade in 1797, despite the multiple accounts of marmalade’s existence for centuries prior. (My only guess can be that he was in Scotland, where news doesn’t travel fast.) To his credit, Dundee still makes very good marmalade from bitter Seville oranges, and frankly I don’t mind eating the food of the deluded so long as it’s good. Kenny Shopsin, case in point.

No matter how we got marmalade or who popularized it, I’m thankful, because I absolutely love the stuff. Hurrah for Marmaladoo!

Marmalade Bread

I was turned onto marmalade by this guy:

Meet Paddington Bear. Paddington Bear loved England, Getting into Trouble, and Marmalade. As a child, I liked two of those things.*

Really it should come as no surprise that I love, love, love marmalade. It’s jam with large chunks of fruit! I hate to name drop, but if you’re a marmalade novice, try Tiptree Tawny (thick cut) Marmalade. It’s my favorite traditional marmalade: slightly bitter with big pieces of peel and nothing in it but sugar and oranges. Less traditionally, Sarabeth’s makes a blood orange marmalade which tastes fresh and sweet-tart. It's divine on a toasted baguette.

Speaking of bread, I came to make this particular loaf because my next column for Serious Entertaining will be a menu for a Royal Wedding-watching party. Do you know what time we have to get up to watch the royal wedding here? 4 am. Yikes. So obviously I need to make a breakfast menu. The first two dishes I plan to make are my breakfast interpretations of the two wedding cakes: Fruitcake muffins for Kate, and whole wheat scones with chocolate glaze as a nod to Mcvities biscuits for Will.

But last night I began to wonder, what would my last offering be? What was another of my favorite British products?

Marmalade sprung to mind. I searched around for a recipe for marmalade bread but came up with precious few results. This recipe from Something the Dog Said was about the only recipe that came up on the internet, and luckily it also had the best photos backing it up. So I decided to give it a try despite its strange ingredient list. Whole wheat flour, salt and a whole lot of baking powder make the base. There is some milk but no eggs or butter or sugar.

On top of that, the recipe called for some homemade orange-honey-almost-marmalade mixture that takes an hour to make but I thought hell, if you’re going to call it marmalade bread, why not use real marmalade? And so I did, along with some honey to maintain that honey-wheat combination.

The result is a dense loaf with exactly that hearty, toasted honey-wheat flavor I hoped for. The marmalade perfumes the bread and despite my reservations about how much went into the loaf, it's actually incredibly subtle, with just the faintest hint of orange. The best bites are the ones in which you get a piece of orange peel and the marmalade flavor bursts through. (See exhibit A)

I've decided I like this bread cut into a thick slice and eaten plain with a cup of Earl Gray tea. But I also like it smeared with marmalade. Because if there is one rule on which I never waiver it's YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH JAM.


2 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold whole milk
1 cup thick cut marmalade, microwaved for 30 seconds to loosen it.
1 tablespoon honey


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, making sure to knock out any extra flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, marmalade, and honey.

Beat milk mixture into flour mixture until thick, about three minutes. The dough will be very, very thick. Use a spatula to help get it into the loaf pan and smooth out the top.

Bake for 55 minutes or until loaf is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Exhibit A: the flecks of orange

*I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I was never really into trouble.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ingredient: CREAM CHEESE

As crazy as it may sound, Philadelphia was once the culinary epicenter of America. Well, we are talking about the late 19th century, a time when people went bananas over zippers. But yes, it’s true, Philadelphia’s reputation for great food led a soon-to-be-very-famous New York State based cream cheese maker to name his brand Philadelphia. That brand became so famous, in fact, that in Spanish one word for "cream cheese" is "queso Filadelfia."

When you really think about it, cream cheese is a funny thing. It’s meant to be eaten fresh, like Mascarpone, not aged, like Brie. The addition of modern stabilizers gives it a questionably long shelf life. It’s sold in a block or a tub, next to the sour cream and Ready Whip, not the feta or the cheddar. You can find cream cheese in almost any supermarket, meaning it's extremely popular, yet almost everyone who’s buying it is planning on eating it in just one scenario (because how many people are making their own cheesecake?) So if you’re ever reaching for cream cheese at the same time as another shopper, feel free to give them a knowing nod that says, “Mmm…bagels.”

Despite its status on the outskirts of real Cheesedom, I love cream cheese. And why not? Recipes for cream cheese can be found from 17th century France. While my dog will only eat the fat-free version, I love all kinds: full fat, plain cream cheese, vegetable cream cheese, cream cheese with salmon. I’m not ashamed to say that you can occasionally find me eating scallion cream cheese even in the absence of bread. Why? Because cream cheese is salty and tangy, moist and creamy. It also fits into the category of “things that can be spread on bread” which means I just love it.

And in case you were wondering, cream cheese is the main ingredient in Crab Rangoon, that awesomely old school Chinese-American appetizer in which cream cheese, imitation crab and scallions are deep fried in wonton wrappers.

Shone’s Carrot Cake

Shone is my aunt, though we’re not actually related by blood. I spent half my childhood with her and her daughter Robin, usually on the way to visit some old house or destination garden on the East Coast. Over the years I learned quite a bit-- not by choice but because I’d be stuck with the adults when my older sister and Robin ran off and I was forced to listen to the advantages of growing Azaleas or the archetypal architecture of Coastal Connecticut.

Something I enjoyed more was spending New Years Day at her house. I went every year until I got old enough to enjoy New Years Eve (at which point New Years Day becomes a dead zone and the new year ostensibly doesn’t start until January 2nd.)

On New Years Day, Shone always served this carrot cake, which I love for its dense, spicy crumb and visible shreds of carrot. She grew up in Hawaii¸ which might explain the secret ingredient in this cake: pineapple. You won't actually taste the pineapple, but you will appreciate the extra moistness. The cream cheese frosting is delicious; tangy but sweet. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to make: put all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz until smooth.


For Cake:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 sticks (1.5 c) unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
½ cup canned crushed pineapple
1 cup raisins

For Cream Cheese Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13 inch cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, brown sugar, and white sugar. Add the butter and beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Gently stir the remaining ingredients.

Pour batter into baking pan (it will be rather thick) and bake for 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Let cool

For frosting:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Spread frosting over cake.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

ingredient: PRUNES

It’s unfortunate when good things get co-opted by bad people. Bicycles and hipsters. Beer pong and frat boys. The Hamptons and the people who vacation there.

So it was with prunes and old people, or, even worse: prunes and the constipated. Just because dried plums contain a high level of dietary fiber, they’ve been cast as a laughable snack, as something that no one under seventy actually eats. But I’m here to say that your face doesn’t have to look like a prune for you to enjoy prunes. So young’uns, read on.

Prunes are simply dried plums. (And no one makes fun of plums, do they? So why make fun of prunes? Do we shun dried apricots? Not in the least.) Good prunes are soft, juicy, and chewy; not hard, stale, or difficult to swallow. They have a deep purple color and a sweet, raisin-plum taste. The only difference between prunes and table-plums are that the type of plums that are made into prunes are “freestone cultivars” meaning it’s easy to get the pit out of the fruit before drying.

So how did prunes get their reputation in the first place? Why exactly are they so good for your digestive tract? First, they contain a lot of dietary fiber, and we all know what that does. But to be more specific, when you release food from your body quickly, you take bile acid with you. As a result, your body produces new bile acid, and making bile acid uses up cholesterol, thus lowering your overall cholesterol count. Prunes also contain a high level of insoluble fiber. Friendly gut bacteria (the stuff in yogurt) love insoluble fiber. They scarf it down then release butyric acid, which is the main fuel for the cells of the large intestine. Friendly bacteria also kill disease causing bacteria.

You should be clued into prune’s other healthy properties by their deep purple, almost black color. Things of that hue typically contain extremely high levels of antioxidants. Prunes contain more antioxidants ounce per ounce than blueberries.

But you know, the main thing is that prunes taste good. They're good plain, but they can also add sweetness and depth to tagines, pastries, cakes, and even stuffing for roast chicken or pork.


Europeans don’t seem to have the same issues with prunes as we do. If you’ve ever eaten breakfast at a European hotel, you’ve probably encountered them as you made your way down the long, beautiful spread of food. If you're like me, you've noticed how a bowl of big fat prunes in their juice always seems to sit between the yogurt and the muesli. I go a little wild at these breakfast spreads (it’s all my favorite foods on one table!) including spooning quite a few sweet, juicy prunes into my bowl of tart yogurt.

Last week I saw a recipe for blueberry crumb cake in Dorie Greenspan’s impressive cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours. I was faced with a bit of a dilemma because I wanted crumb cake but I hate baking with frozen blueberries. I know- tons of people do it all the time and it seems like they should work just fine. But. But they just don’t taste the same as fresh, ripe blueberries and so I had to work with a substitute. The problem is that other obvious swaps such as peaches or nectarines are also sadly months away from being ripe. So I turned to prunes. The result was delicious.

As with all dried fruit, I reconstituted the prunes a bit in boiling water first. This helps them get extra juicy. Luckily Sunsweet now sells pretty juicy prunes anyway, as does St. Dalfour. The good starting texture + a little time in a water bath meant that the end result was just as soft and wonderful as fresh fruit. The cake in general was moist and lightly spiced. The crumb topping is amazing, and I upped the walnut ante (as Dorie says not to) because let's be honest: the topping is the best part. Yay for a new wintertime staple!


For the Topping:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the Cake:

2 cups prunes, each prune cut in half
1 cup boiling water
2 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8x8-inch pan.

Make topping:

In a food processor, add all ingredients for topping (except nuts) and pulse just until the mixture comes together to form clumps and is a bit sticky. Stir in the nuts. Put in refrigerator until ready to use.

Make cake:

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, the baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Dust prunes with 2 tablespoons flour (to keep them from falling to the bottom)

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Add one egg, beat for one minute. Add other egg, beat for one minute. Add vanilla. Beat until incorporated. Add the buttermilk and flour mixture in alternating additions, beating until just incorporated. Stir in the prunes.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth across the top. Crumble topping across the top, letting it be uneven crumbs.

Bake for 55 minutes or until crumbs are golden and a cake tester comes out clean.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ingredient: KEY LIMES

In 1492, Columbus brought mayhem to Hispaniola. He also brought key limes. When Spanish settlers continued north, they carried their limes and frankly bad attitudes to Florida. As time passed, the fruit flourished so well in the very southern islands of Florida that they received a new moniker: Key Limes.

Key limes are smaller and have a thinner skin than “regular” Persian limes. They're harvested young to preserve their unique tart flavor. It’s this tart, bright taste that makes key limes perfect for cooking, perhaps most famously in Key Lime Pie.

Growing up in the North East I had few encounters with Key Lime Pie. Mostly I’d see it in the glass pie case at old school style diners, where it was an appropriately 80’s shade of neon green and sported some kind of whipped cream trim. I never partook. (I can't help it: I hate whipped cream.) So it wasn't until recently that I realized that real Key Lime Pie is not green but yellow, that it's often topped with meringue not whipped cream, or, most importantly, that Key Lime Pie has a marvelously sweet tart flavor and a cool, creamy filling. Even eaten outside of a diner, Key Lime Pie still feels like a sort of retro dessert. But it's also an adult dessert. The acidity of key limes is pleasurable to the mature palate, and come to think of it, it'd go especially well in a daiquiri.

Key Lime Bars

Hello. My name is Carrie and I’m addicted to cookbooks. If you see my name on gmail at 2 am, you can bet I’m trolling Amazon or Barnes and Noble, clicking through titles, reading reviews, and probably breaking down and purchasing one or two little known gems. I’ll admit that sometimes when the package arrives in the mail, I'll tear open the brown cardboard and as I stare at my purchase I'm unable to remember what induced me to buy Mmmm…Casseroles or The Pretzel Cookbook: A New Twist on Everyone's Favorite Snack. Obviously there was some reason I had to have Don't Fill Up on the Antipasto: Tony Danza's Father-Son Cookbook. Right?

It was on one such recent cookbook bender that I purchased The Florida Keys Cookbook: Recipes and Foodways of Paradise. This time it wasn’t just my late night, tropical dreams or a burst of sun-starved madness. I've become interested in regional American cuisine and thanks to this book I’ve actually learned a lot of interesting things about the history of the Florida Keys. As a stop-over between the Southern States and South America, the food in the Keys is a hybrid of Southern, Cuban, and Caribbean food. Many of the recipes look delicious (Key Lime Cheesecake, Mango Bread) though others (Island Beef Stroganoff, Conch Ice Cream) less so.

I’m currently enjoying my last few days of a much needed, highly enjoyable trip to sunny California, where the tropical flavors of the Florida Keys were brought to mind. Without my new cookbook on hand, I had to search the internet for a recipe. In the end I decided to wait on Key Lime Pie and make Key Lime Bars instead. They were just what I hoped (especially after visiting three stores to find key limes.) The filling is smooth and sweet-tart. It has a crunchy meringue topping and a rich, buttery cookie crust with just a hint of salt. Despite the crust, these bars were light and almost refreshing. And let me warn you now, that's a dangerous flavor profile to have in a dessert.

adapted from Down Home with the Neely's: A Southern Family Cookbook

Makes aprox 15 bars


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus two tablespoons fresh key lime juice
2 teaspoons key lime zest, grated

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Make the crust:

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and the flour and beat until well combined, about one minute. Dough will be slightly sticky. Dip your hands in flour then press dough evenly across bottom of baking pan. Bake until just turning golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let crust cool to room temperature.

Make The Topping:

In a large bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until well combined, about two minutes. Beat in flour until evenly incorporated, then lime juice and zest. Pour topping over cooled crust.

Bake until the key lime mixture is set, about 25 minutes. The filling will continue to harden as it cools.

Let bars cool completely before cutting into squares.