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Your Just Desserts (January 12, 2007)

"Life is too uncertain – eat dessert first," goes the saying, and why not? A few years ago we spent time with France's most acclaimed dessert chef, Yves Thuriès, in his beautiful restaurant in Cordes-sur-Ceil, Southwest France.

Along with his menu showcasing specialties from his region of the country, he also featured a seven-course meal consisting completely of sweets. Yes, two of the dishes depended heavily on foie gras... but still, the whole point was an evening of desserts.

And why not? Herewith our selection of favourite desserts!

The All American Dessert Book and Mom's Best Desserts have arrived and while most of us can only handle one dessert at a time, the looking was delicious and we couldn't stop the visions of sugarplums that danced through out heads!

So we started this column with that most American of all desserts, apple pie, and move on to cheesecake, cobblers and wonderful, sticky candy, and nice cross section of everyone's favourites! Want glorious lemon meringue pie? Trifles and puddings? Brulée and mousse? All manner of chocolate? Look no further than The All American Dessert Book and Mom's Best Desserts.

On today's menu:

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Apple Pie

Authors Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff have pulled together 100 classic treats that taste as good now as they did then... and they're all in Mom's Best Desserts along with interesting information... for instance, we didn't know that apples and apple pie were both well known in the Old World. Indeed, there are indications that apples were known to the people of the Iron Age and were cultivated in Egypt some 4,000 years ago. The pilgrims brought with them apple seeds and lost no time in getting trees established. Apple orchards were so valuable that by 1648 Governor John Endicott was able to trade 500 apple trees for 250 acres of land. By the end of the nineteenth century some 8,000 apple varieties were listed with the US Department of Agriculture. Is it any wonder that apple pie became one of America's most popular desserts? This recipe, of course, is from Mom's Best Desserts!

Eugene Field, in "Apple Pie and Cheese," had the right idea when he wrote,

"But I, when I undress me each night, upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me with apple pie and cheese!"

Serves 6 to 8

  • Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (use your favourite)
  • ¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar, or more to taste
  • 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3½ to 4 pounds tart, crisp apples, peeled, cored, sliced ¼ inch thick (8 cups)
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tsp milk
  • Cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream, to serve
  1. Prepare the pie dough according to the recipe directions and refrigerate.
  2. In a large bowl, combine ¾ cup of the sugar, the flour, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Add the apples; sprinkle with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Toss together to mix thoroughly. If the apples are too tart, add a little extra sugar.
  3. Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Preparing the pie shell:

  1. To prepare the pie shell lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the larger portion of the chilled dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Spoon the apple mixture into the pastry, mounding it higher in the center. Dot with butter. Roll out the remaining dough into a circle about 1 inch larger than the pie plate. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water. Fold the dough circle in half, lift off the work surface, place the pastry across the center of the filled pie, and unfold. Trim the edge ½ inch larger than the pie plate and tuck the overhang under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the edges with a fork, or make a fluted pattern with your fingers. Make several decorative slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any juices that overflow.
  2. Bake the pie in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and continue to bake for 30 minutes. Brush the top of the pie with the milk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp of sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the crust is golden and juices are bubbly.
  3. Cool the pie on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with slices of Cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream.

Tony's wine recommendation:
sweet Vouvray, Sauternes, Monbazillac


High-Summer Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuit Crust

The All American Dessert Book by Nancy Baggett has eight packed chapters on everything from Pies, Tarts and Cheesecakes to Cookies and Bars, to Ice Creams, Sauces and Soda Fountain Treats to Easty Gifts and Treats, with more in between these subjects. We're keeping this book to hand not only for making and baking but reference as well... and oh, those pictures!

This one caught our eye: Cobblers have been part of the American dessert repertoire for well over 150 years. Letice Bryan noted in her 1839 cookbook, The Kentucky Housewife, that they "were very excellent for family use, though 'not fashionable' for company."

Mrs. Bryan would have served this one up to guests; it's the mingling of three popular summer fruits – peaches, raspberries, and blueberries – that gives this cobbler its outstanding flavour and colour. Like many modern cobblers, it features a tender, puffy biscuit dough enlivened with buttermilk. Want to gild this lily? Get out your best vanilla ice cream. Another serving, Mrs. Bryan? Of course!

Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • Generous 1 cup sugar, or more to taste
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 cups peeled, pitted, and sliced peaches
  • 1½ cups raspberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2–4 tsp fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
  • Generous ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 6 Tbsp (¾ stick) cold unsalted butter cut into bits
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • Cold water, if needed
  • About 1 Tbsp sugar for sprinkling on dough top (optional)
  • Vanilla ice cream for serving! (Optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°F.

To make the filling: In a 2½ quart or similar nonreactive flameproof round casserole or nonreactive skillet with an ovenproof handle, thoroughly stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Stir the peaches into the sugar mixture until well blended and smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue simmering, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently stir in the raspberries and blueberries. If the mixture tastes too tart, add a little more sugar; if too sweet, add a little lemon juice. Set aside.

To make the dough: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, salt and baking soda. Add the butter. Using a pastry blender, forks or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles very coarse meal. Add the buttermilk, mixing with a fork until evenly incorporated. Knead lightly with greased hands until the dough just holds together. If it seems too wet, sprinkle over and then work in a little flour; if too dry, sprinkle over and then work in a few teaspoons of cold water.

Very lightly dust a 12-inch square of baking parchment or wax paper with flour. Turn out the dough onto the paper. Very lightly dust the dough with flour. Top with a second sheet of paper. Press down on the dough, then roll out onto a round just tightly smaller than the top of the casserole. Peel off the top sheet of paper. Centre the dough paper side up on the fruit. Peel off the remaining paper. If desired, sprinkle the dough with about 1 Tbsp sugar. Using a greased paring knife, cut large decorative slashes for steam vents in the top.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the dough comes out clean. If the dough begins to brown too rapidly, turn the heat down to 350°F during the last 30 minutes. Serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

The cobbler will keep, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours and refrigerated for up to 3 days longer. Let come to room temperature or reheat in a low oven to warm before serving.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Icewine, Demi-Sec Champagne


Very Berry Swirl Cheesecake

We love cheesecake, and this version has the rich creaminess that makes a great cheesecake great. It's the waterbath baking method that does the trick! Blackberries and red raspberries add a mellow fruit taste and swirls of pale fuchsia colour to the filling. Oh, my, another piece please!

From The All American Dessert Book.

Makes 12 to 15 servings

    Berry mixture
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1½ Tbsp unflavored gelatin (about 1½ packets)
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 1 Tbsp blackberry brandy or kirsch (optional)
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest
  • Orange juice if needed
  • Up to 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice to taste (optional)
  • About 7 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into bits
  • 1–2 tsp water, if needed
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 pounds (four 8-ounce pkg) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp very finely grated lemon zest
  • 1½ Tbsp blackberry brandy, kirsch or orange juice
  • 2½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Raspberries and blackberries for garnish (optional)

To make the berry mixture: In a heavy, nonreactive 2 quart saucepan, sir together the sugar, gelatin and cornstarch until blended. Stir in the berries, brandy (if using) and lemon zest. Let stand until the gelatin softens, 5 to 10 minutes. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until the berries soften and the mixture turns clear. Let cool for 5 minutes. Turn out into a fine sieve set over a bowl. Press down hard to force through as much juice and pulp as possible; discard the seeds. (You should have a least 1¼ cups of the berry mixture. If you have less, add orange juice to equal that amount. If you have more, save the extra to toss with the berries for garnish.) Stir in the lemon juice if desired. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat until fluid and warm before using if necessary.

To make the crust: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Generously grease a 9–9½ × 3 inch springform pan or generously coat with nonstick spray. Center the pan on a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil; make sure there are no holes the in the foil. Carefully pull the foil up around the pan to completely encase it. This prevents water from seeping into the bottom of the pan when you place it in the water bath.

In a food processor, grind the graham crackers to fine crumbs; you should have a generous 1 cup. Add the sugar and butter and process until the mixture begins to hold together, about 1 minute. If the mixture seems too dry to hold together when squeezed between your fingertips, add a teaspoon or two of water and process briefly. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly into the bottom of the pan; wipe any stray crumbs from the pan sides. Bake for 8 to 13 minutes, or until fragrant and nicely browned. Transfer to a wire rack.

To make the filling: Reset the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl using a mixer on medium speed, beat the sugar and cream cheese for 3 to 4 minutes, or until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beater several times. Add the eggs one at a time, then the flour, lemon zest, brandy and vanilla. Continue beating scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beater several times, until very well blended and smooth.

Measure out a generous 1¾ cups of the filling into a medium bowl and stir in ¾ cup of the berry mixture until incorporated. Stir the remaining ½ cup berry mixture until incorporated. Stir the remaining ½ cup berry mixture into the remaining filling until smoothly incorporated. Turn out half of the paler filling into the springform pan. Spoon about half of the brighter filling onto the pale filling in about 6 pools. Put the remaining pale filling on top of the bright filling. Spoon the remaining bright filling over the top in about 6 pools. Holding a table knife vertically, swirl down through the pools to form decorative marbling throughout. Rap the pan on the counter several times to release any air bubbles.

Place the pan in a roasting pan (or broiler pan). Transfer to the oven and add ¾ inch hot water to the roasting pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours longer, or until the cheesecake is firm at the edges and barely jiggles and springs back in the center when tapped.

Transfer the cheese cake to a wire rack. (For safety's sake, let the roasting pan cool in the oven before removing it.) Let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully run a parking knife around the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan sides – this helps prevent it from cracking. Let the cheesecake cool completely at least 1½ hours. Cover and refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.

At serving time, carefully remove the pan sides. Serve the cheesecake directly from the pan bottom. The cheesecake slices best with a large, sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between cuts. If desired, garnish each serving with plain fresh berries or if you have any extra berry mixture, thin it with hot water until fluid and toss it with the berries first.

The cheesecake will keep, covered airtight, in the refrigerator for up to four days.

We add... fat chance of it lasting that long...

Tony's wine recommendation:
Beaumes-de-Venise, Marsala, 10-Year-Old Tawny Port


New Mexico Chocolate Dipped Caramels

Do you want the most decadent recipe in the candy world? Of course you do! We start with what has to be one of the finest caramel recipes going, then wrap them in silky chocolate. Yes, they are divine. The All American Dessert Book got us the story behind this caramel recipe... read on!

Roswell, New Mexico, is much more famous for its UFO sightings than its superb caramels, but it shouldn't be. For years, the women in the Altar Guild of Roswell's St. Andrews Episcopal Church were well known for their annual Christmas caramels fundraiser. They were originally created by a confectioner named Felix who worked for a popular sweet shop in the town in the 1920s, and are known as "fours" probably because the recipe calls for equal amounts of four of the ingredients. The secret recipe has just now become available, and while they're traditionally dipped in chocolate and pecans, they're also good plain.

Makes 2 pounds plain, or 2½ pounds nut caramels

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 16 Tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, combined with 1 Tbsp hot water
  • 2½ cups chopped pecans (optional)

Line a 9 × 13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil, allowing the foil to overhang two sides. Grease the foil or evenly coat with nonstick spray. Set the baking dish on a wire rack.

In a heavy, nonreactive 6 quart pot, thoroughly stir together the sugars, corn syrup, butter and salt. Stir in the cream until the sugars dissolve. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. If any sugar remains on the pot sides, wipe it away with a pastry brush dipped in warm water or a damp paper towel.

Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly. Clip a candy thermometer to the pot side, with the tip immersed but not touching the bottom. Continue boiling briskly, occasionally gently stirring and scraping the pot bottom, until the mixture thickens and darkens somewhat, 8 to 9 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly and continue boiling, gently stirring and scraping the pot bottom to prevent scorching, until the caramel reaches 246° to 247° F. Watch carefully, as the temperature may rise rapidly near the end of cooking. Immediately remove from the heat. Working carefully to avoid splattering, gently stir in the vanilla mixture and the pecans, if using, just until evenly distributed. Carefully pour the caramel into the baking dish; do not scrape out the pot.

Let cool until thoroughly set, at least 1½ hours. To aid in cutting the caramels, refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firmed up slightly. (Do not refrigerate longer, or the caramel will become too hard.) Carefully peel off the foil. Wipe any excess oil from the slab using a paper towel. Place the slab on a cutting board. Using a lightly greased, large, sharp knife, trim away uneven edges, if desired. Score and cut the slab into eighths lengthwise and twelfths crosswise (or as desired). Wrap each caramel in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting the ends to keep the paper from unrolling.

The caramels will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Let come almost to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate Dipped Caramels

Hand-dipping caramels in chocolate is a confectionary skill that requires attention to details, but the reward is an extraordinary treat. The actual dipping is not really tricky; the challenge is melting and cooling the chocolate properly so that it will set up smooth and firm.

When dipping candies in chocolate, be sure to work on a cool day or in an air-conditioned kitchen, or the chocolate may not set up properly.

Makes about 3¼ pounds chocolate dipped caramels

  • New Mexico Caramels, cut neatly into 1-inch squares (or as desired)
  • 2 pounds plus 5–8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semi-sweet chocolate (divided)
  • 2 Tbsp corn oil or other flavourless vegetable oil

Line two 10 × 15-inch or similar rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Lay the caramels, slightly separated, on the baking sheets. Refrigerate until slightly cool and firm, about 30 minutes. Line several small trays or baking sheets with aluminum foil.

Break up or chop 2 pounds of the chocolate into 1-inch chunks. Leave the remaining amount in blocks or large chunks.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave the chopped chocolate and oil on high power for 1½ minutes. Stop and stir. Continue microwaving on medium power, stopping and stirring every 30 seconds, until most of the chocolate is melted. (Alternatively, heat the chopped chocolate and oil in a heavy medium saucepan over lowest heat. Stir and watch carefully until most of the pieces are melted. Immediately remove from the heat. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl.) Continue stirring until the chocolate completey melts, several minutes longer.

Stir in 5 ounces of the chocolate blocks until melted and the mixture is almost cool to the touch; this may take some time. Touch the spoon to right above your upper lip; the melted mixture should feel almost cool. (Or insert a thermometer into the deepest part of the bowl. Wait 30 seconds. The temperature should be 89°F or cooler.) If the added pieces have completely melted and the mixture is still too warm, stir in the remaining 3 ounces chocolate blocks and continue to stir. When the chocolate has cooled enough, push any unmelted hunks to the side.

Set the bowl in a flat pan with 1 inch of hot water. Be careful not to splash water into the chocolate. Stir the chocolate every 2 minutes to keep it blended and to redistribute the warmth. Change the water if it cools during the dipping process. (Alternatively, place the bowl on a heating pad set to low heat.)

Work with about a dozen chilled caramels at a time, removing each batch from the refrigerator about 5 minutes before dipping them. Using a large dinner fork, place a caramel on to the tines and lower it into the chocolate. After dipping, tap the fork against the edge of the bowl several times, then scrape it against the edge to remove as much excess chocolate from the caramel as possible. Occasionally wipe off the fork with paper towels, as chocolate builds up on it, and stir the chocolate to keep it well blended.

Set the dipped caramels slightly separated on the baking sheets. (If necessary, push each caramel off the fork with the tines of another fork.) If desired, immediately draw the fork lightly back and forth in the chocolate as you dip subsequent caramels. When a baking sheet is full, transfer it to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up the chocolate completely.

When the caramels are chilled, gently lift them off the foil using a table knife. Don't use your fingers, as this will leave fingerprints. If desired, use a paring knife to trim off uneven edges on the bottoms of the caramels. Place in individual fluted paper bonbon cups, if desired.

The caramels will keep, stored airtight (in a flat container with wax paper underneath and between the layers) and refrigerated, for up to 3 weeks. Let warm up to room temperature before serving.


We wish to thank:

Thomas Allen and Sons, Toronto, Canada, and Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA, for permission to publish recipes and material from Mom's Best Desserts: 100 Classic Treats that Taste as Good Now as They Did Then by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff. © 2002 by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff. Photograph by Giles Prett/Storey Publishing.


Thomas Allen and Sons, Toronto, Canada, and Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, for The All-American Dessert Book by Nancy Baggett.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

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