These are sweets that shouldn’t be forgotten. They are often the stuff of our childhood. Many have regional or international roots but if you aren’t from that part of the world, you may not know about them. Here are some for you to discover and try. Many take advantage of local ingredients but the overriding consideration is that they are very simple, homey and easy to do. Your Grandmother would be proud.
Posset (pronounced pos-it) originally was an English drink made of hot milk curdled with ale or wine and usually sweetened and spiced. Here it becomes a lovely rich dessert. I’ve made it with lime juice here, but any citrus juice would work. Also, experiment with adding spices that you like. It is a magical elixir. There is no egg or gelatin to thicken it. It’s magical!
2-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream, not ultra-pasteurized
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Pinch of dried ginger
Fresh berries for garnish
Whisk together the cream and sugar in a stainless-steel pot with high sides. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking often. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed. Keep an eye on it because mixture can overflow while simmering.
Remove the mixture from the heat and immediately whisk in the lime juice and ginger. The mixture will curdle slightly. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes. Whisk one last time until very smooth and creamy.
Divide the posset among four 5 or 6-ounce glasses or ramekins. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set and thicken the posset. Serve chilled topped with some fresh berries if desired.
This is thought to be the Bananas Foster recipe from the original source and creator of this dessert: Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. Created in 1951, the dessert was purportedly named for Richard Foster, who served with Brennan’s founder Owen Brennan on the New Orleans Crime Commission. Richard Foster was a frequent customer of Brennan’s and a very good friend of Owen.
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
1/4 cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.
BAKED APPLES WITH SHERRY CUSTARD SAUCE
The custard sauce can be made ahead and stored refrigerated for up to 3 days. For peeling the apples, I like to use the old-fashioned peeler-corer which also slices the apple in a continuously connected ribbon that gives the apple an interesting appearance for this recipe.
6 medium-size, tart-sweet baking apples, such as Golden Delicious or Honey Crisp
1/3 cup golden raisins
1 1/4 cups fruity, slightly sweet wine, such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground mace
Sherry Custard Sauce (recipe follows)
8 Amaretti Cookies crushed homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
Garnish: Amaretti or cake crumbs, mint sprigs
Peel and core apples and place in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. In a small saucepan bring the raisins and wine to a simmer and then set aside for 15 minutes to allow raisins to plump.
Drain, reserving liquid, and combine raisins with pine nuts and ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬stuff the cavity of apples. Add butter, brown sugar, reserved raisin soaking liquid, lemon zest and nutmeg to the saucepan and heat gently to melt sugar (about 2 minutes). Drizzle mixture over apples and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes or until apples are tender when pierced with a toothpick. Baste apples occasionally with juices.
To serve: Place warm apples on shallow wide-rim bowls. Spoon sherry custard sauce around and sprinkle crushed amaretti cookies over apples before serving. Finish with mint sprigs on top of apples to suggest a stem.
Sherry Custard Sauce
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups light cream or half and half
2 tablespoons dry fino sherry (or to taste)
Drops of lemon juice to taste
Whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until lightly colored. In a small saucepan heat cream to steaming but do not boil. Slowly pour hot cream into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent yolks from scrambling. Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over moderately low heat stirring constantly with a spatula until sauce thickens lightly. Off heat, strain immediately into a metal bowl and place bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water or refrigerate. Stir occasionally to speed cooling.
This is one of those desserts that seems exotic and complicated. Not so. Its roots are in French Haute cuisine. It was a very special dessert in the 1970s and beyond mostly, I think, because it was dramatically flamed tableside. You can make the crepes in advance or use store-bought versions, which are good. I’ve included a recipe for homemade crepes if you want to make your own which are easy.
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar, preferably superfine
8 crepes, homemade (see the following recipe) or store bought
1/3 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec liqueur
In a small saucepan, combine orange juice, zest, butter and sugar. Place over high heat and bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until syrupy, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Fold crepes into quarters and arrange beautifully in a nonreactive skillet or other shallow flameproof pan. Pour warm syrup on top (reserve syrup pan), and place over low heat until crepes are warm, about 5 minutes.
Warm liqueur in the pan that held orange syrup. When crepes are hot, pour liqueur on top; carefully touch a flame to the surface to light it. Avert your face. Serve immediately, spooning crepes and sauce onto each of 4 warm plates.
For homemade crepes (makes 8 to 12)
You can make the crepes in advance. Place between sheets of baking parchment or waxed paper. Wrap well in plastic and refrigerate if making ahead. Can be made 3 days ahead.
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter
2 teaspoons orange-flavored liqueur such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec
Vegetable oil or spray for a non-stick pan
In a blender combine flour, salt, egg, milk, butter and liqueur to make a smooth batter. Scrape down sides if needed. The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Add more milk if necessary to thin.
Lightly oil an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet. Place over medium-high heat until well heated. Pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the pan. Turn pan to coat bottom as evenly as you can. When pancake has a bubbly surface, after about 30 seconds, carefully flip it with a spatula and let it brown again for 20 to 30 seconds. Transfer finished crepe to a large plate. The first crepe is generally a “tester” and may tear. You’ll just have to eat it if so!
Repeat until batter is gone, reoiling pan every other crepe. Layer finished crepes between baking parchment or waxed paper sheets. Allow to cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
JULIA CHILD’S BERRY FLAN
Serves 6 to 8
This simple recipe is a tribute to Julia and her commitment to seasonal foods long before the “Farm to Table” movement began. Truth be known this movement has existed for millennia. It’s not just a recent California discovery. I think this recipe is best served warm. Make with whatever berries are best in the market. In France, a “flan” is not the egg custard that many of us are familiar with but this thick pancake. It’s also known as a “clafouti” there.
Butter for pan
1 and 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 pint (2 generous cups) fresh berries such as blackberries or blueberries, rinsed and well
Powdered sugar for garnish
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a medium-size, 6-cup flameproof baking dish at least 1 1/2 inches deep.
Combine the milk, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour in a blender. Blend at top speed until smooth and frothy, about 1 minute.
Pour a 1/4-inch layer of batter into the baking dish. Turn on a stove burner to low and set the dish on top for a minute or two, until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat.
Spread berries over the batter and sprinkle on the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar. Pour on the rest of the batter and smooth with the back of a spoon. Place in the center of the oven and bake about 50 minutes, until top is puffed and browned, and a tester plunged into its center comes out clean.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving. Julia notes that Clafoutis don’t have to be served hot but should still be warm. It will sink slightly as it cools.
Baked Alaska has a complicated history that goes back a few centuries. Variations appeared in European pastry making under different names. The name Baked Alaska seems to have first appeared in print in the Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook. This is an easier recipe than the more traditional ones. It takes advantage of store-bought angel food cake rounds. The meringue acts as insulation that helps keep the ice cream frozen while you brown the meringue.
For the cake base:
2 cups sliced strawberries
6 store-bought individual angel food cake rounds
1-quart vanilla bean ice cream
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar, preferably superfine
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place sliced strawberries into the center of the 6 cake rounds. Using a large ice cream scoop, place a scoop of ice cream on top of the berries. Put these in the freezer so that ice cream hardens.
To make the meringue: Place the 4 egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or into a large mixing bowl if you are using a hand mixer. Add the cream of tartar. Whisk until the whites are foamy and just beginning to stiffen. Continue to whisk with the mixer on high as you slowly add the sugar a tablespoon at a time. Continue to whisk until whites are thick and easily form stiff peaks, 6 minutes or so.
Add vanilla and mix for a minute more to combine. Place the meringue into a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Quickly pipe the outside of the frozen cakes and ice cream that have been in the freezer.
Place the cakes back into the freezer and freeze for at least an hour to allow the meringue to freeze. Using a food torch, brown the meringue by holding the flame near the meringue and moving quickly back and forth, until golden brown all over.
If you don’t own a torch, you can place the Baked Alaska in the oven, under a hot broiler for just a few minutes until golden. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t melt. Place in the freezer until ready to serve
LEMON CHESS PIE
Serves 6 to 8
“Chess” pie originated in the South as a “poor folks” substitute for the more aristocratic “Cheese” cake or pie. It uses those basic ingredients that every Southern household had: Eggs, butter and cornmeal. In some recipes cracker crumbs took the place of the cornmeal. I’ve “gussied” (sounds like my grandmother) up the recipe a bit with the addition of lemon and golden raisins.
Dough for a 9-inch tart or pie shell (recipe follows)
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla or 1-1/2 tablespoons dark rum
3 tablespoons golden raisins, plumped in warm water and drained (optional)
Garnish: Whipped lightly sweetened heavy cream and fresh berries if desired
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. With a fork, prick the prepared pie shell all over and then line with heavy foil gently pressing evenly into shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake for 5 minutes then carefully remove foil and bake for 4 – 5 minutes more or until shell is set and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
Beat eggs until blended. Add sugar, cornmeal, lemon juice and zest and beat until well combined. Stir in butter, vanilla and raisins and pour into pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until filling is set and lightly browned. Pie will puff up then sink as it cools. Serve warm or at room temperature (not chilled) with lightly whipped, unsweetened cream and berries.
Tart Dough (Makes two 9″ tart shells)
5 oz. (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch bits and well chilled or frozen
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 whole egg, lightly beaten
2 – 4 tablespoons ice water or as needed
Place the butter, flour, sugar, salt zest and egg in a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Add water a tablespoon or two at a time and pulse until dough holds together when pressed in your hand. If not, add more water sparingly. Gather and gently press dough together into two cakes, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour before using. Roll out one of the dough cakes on a lightly floured surface and line a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Prick crust well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before baking. Remaining dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Note: If you’ve got an extra tart pan go ahead and roll out the dough, add it to the pan and then wrap well in foil and freeze. Next time you want to make this or any other tart the shell is all done, and you can quickly fill it and have dessert in short order. No need to defrost the shell before baking – – just bake the lined shell a couple of extra minutes.
Serves 6 – 8
Although there is a great debate on what makes a “Slump”, the definition seems to be that slumps or grunts are simmered on top of the stove rather than baked in the oven. They are topped with dumplings that steam and expand on top of the fruit. The name supposedly comes from the sound the fruit makes as it simmers. Any stone fruit or berry can be used here.
For the nectarines:
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
3 pounds or so fresh nectarines, pitted and sliced
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
For the dumpling dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Whipped cream, vanilla bean ice cream, crème fraiche or sweetened yogurt
Mix the wine and cornstarch together to dissolve the starch. Add the wine mixture along with the sugar, nectarines and zest to a heavy, deep casserole and bring to a simmer over moderate heat.
While nectarines are cooking, make the dumpling dough by stirring together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter. Add enough of the buttermilk to form a soft dough. For reference, it should be wetter than biscuit dough.
Using a soupspoon, place heaping spoonfuls of the dumpling dough on top of the fruit. Make sure you have at least one per person. Sprinkle the dumplings with the cinnamon sugar. Tightly cover with a lid or a sheet of foil and cook the mixture over medium-low heat so that the fruit just barely simmers. Keep covered until the dumplings are puffed and set and the surface is firm when touched with a fingertip. This will take about 10 minutes or so.
To serve: Spoon the warm grunt into serving bowls and spoon on topping of your choice.
LEMON ZABAGLIONE WITH BERRIES
Zabaglione (Italian) or Sabayon (French) is a simple but delicious dessert that can be made at the very last minute that is best while it’s still warm. It’s like a soufflé without the dish. Serve it with fresh fruits either just spooned on the side or for a more dramatic presentation arranging the fresh fruits in a shallow bowl, spooning the zabaglione on top and quickly browning it with a propane torch or under a hot broiler.
1-pint fresh berries of your choice
2 large whole eggs
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
Zest and juice (at least 1/3 cup) of 2 medium lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sweet Riesling, Marsala, Muscat, Sauternes or other sweet dessert wine
Garnish: Mint Sprigs and a crisp little cookie, if desired
Rinse and slice berries attractively in 6 shallow bowls or soup plates.
For the zabaglione, in the top of a double boiler combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk until the mixture is light and thick. Place over simmering water and whisk vigorously until the mixture has tripled in volume and is thick and light in color. Total cooking and whisking time will be about 4 minutes. Be careful not to scramble the eggs! Remove from heat, spoon around the berries and serve immediately garnished with mint and a cookie.
All photos by John Burgess of Santa Rosa Press Democrat
John Ash © 2022