Posts filed under Sweets

Take a break from butter: Greek olive oil and honey cookies

When I was growing up, Christmas Eve in our house meant baking sugar cookies. We cut them into baby bunnies, lions, maple leaves, stars, and hearts. We sprinkled them with homemade colored sugar, much of which landed on the floor. My parents usually removed themselves to the living room, leaving us to destroy the kitchen. Once the first batch was out of the oven, we proudly marched into the room and presented them with a plate of warm cookies. And then we sang Christmas carols around the tree. (Uh, no, that didn’t actually happen.) But we did make the cookies, and afterwards we were sent back into the kitchen to clean up, where we each tried to stake a claim on the largest cookies—the Christmas trees and the chickens. (Chickens? Who knew? Those chickens were integral to our holiday baking.) Years later I duplicated the tradition with my son, so that by the time he could stand on a chair and reach the counter we made gingerbread boys and girls, Christmas trees, and yes, chickens from the very same cookie cutter.

This year we will probably make them again in a few days, but in the meantime, I am making these Greek honey cookies. They are a welcome detour from the usual butter cookies I make every holiday. If my hand is going to be in the cookie jar at breakfast—it was this morning—I’d like to munch on something that won’t send me into sugar and butter shock before the day has even started.  

Honey, olive oil, some whole wheat flour, and orange, along with the heady scent of orange flower water, give these a sandy texture and the irresistible allure of Mediterranean flavors.  The large crystals of fleur de sel pop out as a pleasant contrast to the honey syrup. The thickness of the dough is important, so try to gauge it using 3 stacked quarters as a guide. These just get better and better as they mellow in a cookie tin.

Greek Honey Cookies
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen small cookies


2/3 cup natural cane sugar

2/3 cup honey

2/3 cup water

1 teaspoon orange flower water, or 1 Tbs. orange liqueur such as Triple Sec

Combine the sugar with the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, and stir in the honey and orange flower water.


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/2 coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup natural cane sugar

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.

2. Whisk the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, and baking soda together in large bowl until blended.

3. Vigorously whisk the olive oil, orange juice, sugar, vanilla extract, and almond extract in a separate bowl until emulsified. Stir it into the dry ingredients until incorporated. If the dough feels crumbly, add more orange juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, to form a pliable dough.

4. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half to a thickness of 3/16-inch thick on a lightly floured countertop (hint: 3 quarters stacked on top of each other are slightly thicker than 3/16-inch.) Cut with a 2-inch round, fluted cookie cutter, and transfer 1-inch apart onto the baking sheets. Gather the scraps, roll, and cut again, until all the dough is used. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, until deep golden brown.

5. Transfer the cookies while warm to large baking dish, in batches as necessary, setting them close together in one layer. Reheat syrup if necessary. Pour the warm syrup over the cookies to cover. Soak in the syrup for 20 minutes, turning once or twice. Transfer to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie while still wet with a pinch of pistachios. Leave until dry (they will still be slightly sticky.) Store between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight tin. Best if left to mellow in the tin for a week or two.

Posted on December 21, 2012 and filed under Cookies, Sweets.

Five strategies for making edible gifts (and more)

As soon as the first flakes of snow fall (and they did last week) I start thinking about holiday giving. And by that I mean, edible holiday gifts. An Organic Conversation invited me on their radio show to talk about just that. The podcast on their site should be up sometime this week. (If you are in the car you can listen to it on Stitcher.) The whole exercise made me revisit some of my ideas, and ways I have streamlined the process over the years to make it more enjoyable.

Let’s face it, for some people an evening at home puttering around the kitchen is much more satisfying and far less stressful than traipsing through a mall with a gift list. Even if cooking or baking is a challenge, you can reacquaint yourself with your kitchen and avoid the crowds, parking stress, and gift anxiety. There are still many simple gifts you can make that don’t require an oven. So turn up the music and give yourself the gift of a night at home away from the shopping madness.

Chocolate Whiskey Truffles


1. Plan now: The gift. Before you decide what you will prepare, make a list of your recipients and look for a common thread. What would all of them like to receive? If you have a friend struggling with her weight or someone with food allergies, certain gifts may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. Narrow your recipe choices to one that everyone on your list could enjoy. If you really, really want to make chocolate truffles and they wouldn’t suit everyone on your list, decide to make a second, simple gift like chai mix or preserved lemons for those with food allergies or health concerns.

2. Plan now: The wrapping. The packaging has to be as delicious and inviting as the food itself. Once you have decided on a gift, how are you going to package it? Will you need jars? Cellophane bags? Ribbon?  Gift tags or labels?  When you are out and about, notice how gifts are packaged in places like Williams Sonoma or department stores. Adapt those ideas to your style (Rustic? Glitzy? Minimalist?) Order supplies online now, or identify where you need to go locally to buy what you need.

3. Plan now: The shopping. Create a shopping list and pick up ingredients on your usual trip to the grocery store. On the same trip, swing by a craft store, paper store or hardware store to get wrapping supplies.

4. Schedule. Pick a day or evening when you want to make your gifts. Then pick another day to package them. The idea is to have fun, not to exhaust yourself, so spread it out. If you are making cookies, for instance, make the dough one night, bake them on another night, and wrap them on still another night

5. Give yourself the gift of friendship. If you want to blast through a cookie project in a day, consider inviting a friend or two over and do a cookie bake-off together (each person can bring some dough). While the cookies cool, pour a glass of wine and sit down to a simple spaghetti dinner. Then back to wrapping. Girls’ night in, anyone? It’s a wonderful way to share some coveted time with close friends.


Cake and cookie boxes  

Williams Sonoma

Meri meri

,The Paper Source

(also cool ribbon and trim)

The Container Store

Jars, cookie boxes and bags, ribbon, cellophane bags,

Sur La Table

Clear cellophane bags, candy foil, pastry boxes, and more

Martha Stewart

Of course Martha has a great selection of STUFF

West Elm Market

Paper (disposable bundt pans, Weck canning jars

Other places to look:

Hardware stores: canning jars, brown paper, key tags, labels, natural and cotton string

Staples or office supply stores: labels, markers, key tags (round white paper with aluminum rims)

Five and ten stores, Target: cookie tins, gift tags

Ikea: if you want to brave this mega store, you will find some unusual Scandinavian decorations and wraps, like pretty paper cones, that you can use for your presentation

Second hand, “antique” stores: Sometimes you will find pretty mugs, plates, jars or glasses to hold cookies or cakes or….


1. Chai Mix

(give with a box of tea)

2. Preserved lemons

3. Pancake mix: Fill a jar with the dry ingredients of your favorite “from scratch” pancake mix. Write directions on a tag attached with a ribbon.

4. Muffin mix: Fill a jar with the dry ingredients of your favorite “from scratch” pancake mix. Write directions on a tag attached with a ribbon. For example:

5. Spiced cocoa: In a pretty jar, Layer your favorite unsweetened cocoa powder with sugar, bury a vanilla bean and/or some cinnamon sticks in the mix, or add some chili powder or more ground cinnamon if you like. Write directions on a tag attached with a ribbon.

6. Cookie mix: Another welcome time saver! Layer ingredients in a jar. For example, oatmeal chocolate cookies: Layer the chocolate chips, oats, sugar, and thoroughly mixed dry ingredients in a jar. Write directions on a tag attached with a ribbon.

7. Chocolate fruit and nut bars

8.Herb salt

9. Flavored sugars: Vanilla sugar: Bury a split vanilla bean in a 2-cup jar of sugar. Leave to infuse for 1-2 weeks. Give to the baker on your list with a few spare vanilla beans.  Lavender sugar. In a food processor, pulse 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers until mixed. Store in a jar for 1 to 2 weeks. Sift through a fine-meshed strainer.

10. Homemade nutella

Coming soon: Greek honey cookies!

Posted on December 5, 2012 and filed under Food gifts, Sweets.

Waste not, want not: a late harvest cake (apples, pears and grapes)

I wanted a plum cake. A plum and almond cake to be exact. But alas, plums are no more. At least, not until next year. What I love about plums in a cake is how juicy and tart and gleefully pink they become when they are baked. Their incarnation as fresh specimens never really measures up to the soft, puckery deliciousness of baked plums. But as the song goes, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

So I turned to apples. I needed to bake a birthday cake for a friend, but it was to be for a breakfast celebration, and gobs of frosting did not call out to me. Anyway, I have veered away from sweet desserts. Maybe it is because of all those past years eating pecan pie or crème caramel for breakfast as an early morning pastry chef, but my hankering for sweets has dwindled over time.

I had a mystery jar of finely chopped almonds with sugar and cinnamon in my cupboard. I had pears that were perfectly ripe and wouldn’t last another day. I had grapes. I had too many apples. That sounded like a cake to me. This was definitely a by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair. I threw it together and crossed my fingers. Success. Then I baked it again for you, just for you. This time I measured everything so you can make it too.

In the end, it is not too sweet. Have it for breakfast even if it’s not your birthday. Or eat it in the afternoon for tea. With whipped cream, it will even suffice for the end of dinner with friends. Who gets to eat homemade cake these days, anyway? It will keep for a day, snugly wrapped in foil. I suggest re-warming it in the oven (300 degrees) for about ten minutes. Oh, and for next time, I have this recipe ready when plums come back to visit. In the meantime, waste not, want not.

Late harvest almond and apple cake

Makes 1 nine-inch cake

1 large apple, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large or 2 small pears, thickly sliced (no need to peel)

1 cup grapes

1 cup all purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whole, unblanched almonds

3/4 cup organic cane or granulated sugar, divided

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 stick (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F, and arrange a rack in the middle position. Line a 9-inch cake pan with a removable rim with parchment. (No need butter the sides of the pan.) Prepare the fruit.

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

3. Combine the almonds, 1/4 cup of the cane sugar, and the cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until finely ground.

4. Stir 1/2 cup of the ground almonds into the flour. Reserve the rest for the top of the cake.

5. Beat the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar together in a mixing bowl (with beaters or in a stand mixer on medium speed) for 3 minutes, or until fluffy. On medium speed, beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

6. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Beat for a few seconds on medium speed until the batter is smooth. Spread evenly in the prepared pan with the back of a spoon. The batter will be thick.

7. Arrange the apples and pears alternately in a circular pattern over the top of the cake. Distribute the grapes over the top. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of the cinnamon almond mixture. (If you have some leftover, save it for sprinkling on your morning toast.)

8. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center of the cake emerges with clean and the top is golden. Let the cake cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the edge of the pan. Release the sides and cool for another 10 minutes or so if you want to serve the cake right away. It will keep for at least one more day covered with foil. 

Cooking Lesson: How to make a parchment circle

1. Cut a piece of parchment that will fit over the bottom of the pan (it will probably be a rectangle.)

2. Fold the lower right hand corner up to meet the top edge of the rectangle. Cut along the edge to make a square.

3. Fold the triangle a few times to make a cone shape.

4. Hold the cone over the pan with the point centered in the middle.

5. Cut strait across the cone and open it up. Voila!

Posted on October 28, 2012 and filed under Breakfast, Cakes, Fall recipes, Sweets, Winter food, How To.

Gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream

I don’t like letting go of summer. The light closes in too early, and I’m pre-mourning the cold, raw days ahead. Somebody please slap me.

There are way too many things we can do nothing about, and the longer I live, the longer the list. The weather is one of them. I’m a spring and summer girl—maybe because I was born in June, just as the promise of light and warm days ahead peaks. Or maybe it’s because I’m a morning person. I love the feeling of the day stretching out ahead, not yet squandered. That’s what early summer feels like to me. So I grumble a little more than I should when the air turns chilly, and I leave you fall and winter people to revel in the change of season.

Letting go is hard, and it’s a daily process that doesn’t quit. You’ve got to take out the trash every single day, and I’m not talking about the kitchen garbage. But there are consolations: taking what today brings and leaving yesterday behind has its rewards. And if you struggle to appreciate them, there are consolations to help you get over the hump. 


Like cake.

Any cake would do, but this one sweetens the deal with its dark, warm spices and sugary brown apples on top. It should be served warm, preferably with bourbon whipped cream, an idea I borrowed from Molly O’Neill. Molly made her cake with grated fresh ginger, apple butter, and warm apples on top. The recipe here is an old favorite of mine. I’ll be serving it with Molly’s bourbon cream, while I wait for her to share her recipe. And no, I am not going to sit around and wait for spring. That would be a particularly futile kind of torture. I’m vowing to inhale each day as it comes. Wish me luck.

You can turn the oven on now.

Upside-down gingerbread with apples

Make 1 9-inch square cake


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

4 tablespoons brown sugar

2 Granny Smith apples or other firm cooking apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1. Heat the oven to 350° degrees. Butter a 9-inch square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sprinkle 2 tablespoons brown sugar over the bottom.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat,. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and stir until the mixture bubbles. Add the apples to the pan, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, or until the apples are lightly caramelized but still hold their shape. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Arrange the apple slices in one layer in the bottom of the pan, with the darkest side down.


1 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup molasses

1/4 cup coffee, at room temperature

1. Whisk the flour, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a bowl until blended.

2. Beat the butter and brown sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed,  until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the molasses and coffee and mix to blend.

Add the flour mixture, and continue to beat on low speed, until the batter is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often with a rubber spatula.

4. Distribute large spoonfuls of batter over the apples. Use the back of the spoon to spread the batter evenly in the pan, taking care not to disturb the apples. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let rest for 2 minutes.

5. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Invert a plate on top of the cake. Use oven mitts to grasp both the plate and the pan with two hands. Flip the cake over and allow it to drop onto the plate. Peel off the parchment paper.

6. When cooled slightly, cut the cake into squares and serve with Bourbon whipped cream if you like.


Be careful not to overwhip the cream. The best way to do this is to beat it just until soft, floppy peaks form, then finish beating by hand with a wire whisk. The cream should be soft, not too thick or stiff.

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste

1 tablespoon Bourbon, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Beat the cream and sugar together until soft peaks form (do not whip all the way.) Add the bourbon and vanilla, and whisk briefly by hand with a wire whisk until blended.

Posted on October 6, 2012 and filed under Cakes, Fall recipes, Sweets, Winter food.

Hot fudge sauce for when it’s too damn hot: Grunings hot fudge recipe

I come from a long line of sweet-toothed women. My twin great aunts walked up and down the length of Manhattan in matching coats and high heels, window-shopping, visiting the Metropolitan Museum, or just plain shopping. Where did they get their energy and stamina? Every journey ended at Schrafft’s on Fifth Avenue for a hot fudge sundae.

Speaking of sundaes, Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s, a regular tradition until I was about eight when we moved too far away to make the drive, culminated in more of the same. As soon as the clearing up started, Uncle Eddie was dispatched to Grunings Ice Cream Parlor for coffee ice cream and hot fudge sauce. In addition to aunts, uncles and cousins, my grandmother’s younger sisters were faithfully at the table. I couldn’t tell them apart, and anyway, we always referred to them as Twinnies. They had names—Bea and Vi—short for Beatrice and Viola; but to us, and I think even at times to themselves, they were a single entity: The Twins. Their love of sweets, along with their high heels and shiny red nail polish were woven into the fabric of family legend. Twinnies laughed and winked at me conspiratorially as I dug into the sundae that punctuated every Sunday meal. They greeted the pleasure of hot fudge that hardened over cold ice cream and then stuck to your teeth with fresh enthusiasm every single week.

Time, as is its wont, eventually extinguished the Sunday lunches. Even Grunings, a family-owned northern New Jersey ice cream haunt that held strong for some eighty odd years, bit the dust some time in the late 1980s. Luckily, I found at least four dog-eared cards in my mother’s old recipe box (they really, really, really liked it). All were attributed to various family members with more or less the same recipe (Grunings) in different quantities. I picked one and revised it slightly—oh how the younger generations just can’t leave well enough alone. But I didn’t mess with it too much. I swapped out the evaporated milk for heavy cream and bumped up the chocolate by an ounce.  I don’t think you’ll mind. So, if you have about ten minutes to spare and want to make something easy for a modern Sunday lunch cooked outside on the grill, this hot fudge is the ticket to assuage a raging sweet tooth when it’s just too damn hot to turn on the oven.

Grandmother’s (Grunings) hot fudge sauce

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/4 cups (8 ounces) light brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter

1 pinch salt

3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Stir cream, brown sugar, butter and salt over medium heat in a small saucepan until the cream comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to low and stir in the chocolate. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce is “glossy.” You’ll know exactly what that means when you get there. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve hot. The sauce can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave.

Posted on July 5, 2012 and filed under Sweets.