Mock cherry pie

Really a cranberry pie

People like berry pies, but berries are not in season at Thanksgiving when you have time to make pies and a lot of people coming over. Fortunately, this is the time of year when cranberries are available, and cranberries make a delicious berry pie. Serve this at Thanksgiving alongside the pumpkin pie, and people will be raving about it.

How to make mock cherry pie:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small saucepan over medium heat, put 3 cups of cranberries, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water. Cook until the cranberries pop and turn into cranberry sauce. Add one tablespoon of flour and stir, then turn off the heat and let the cranberry sauce cool.

Meanwhile, make a pie crust. In a medium-size mixing bowl, melt half a stick of butter in the microwave (or use 1/2 cup of coconut fat for a vegan version). Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix. Take 2/3 of this dough and put it in a pie pan. Spread the crust out with your fingers so that it covers the bottom and sides of the pie pan.

Or (if you have the time), cut the same butter into pats and mix them with the flour. Smush them with your fingers until they are small balls. Add a tablespoon of white vinegar. That will make a better pie crust.

Now add a teaspoon of vanilla to your cranberry filling, mix, and pour it into your pie crust. Crumble the rest of the crust over the top of the pie. Add 4 pats of butter on top if you want the crust nicely browned, or brush with a little olive oil. Bake for 40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Serve plain or with whipped cream.

Vegetarian or vegan

Mock cherry pie is vegetarian, but it’s not vegan. If you want it vegan, use coconut fat in the crust instead of butter.

Ice cream from scratch

Homemade Ice Cream

I never used to make ice cream because I thought you needed an ice cream maker, but that turns out to be completely unnecessary. You can make delicious ice cream just in a pan in your regular freezer, and not take up cupboard space with a machine. This recipe makes very rich, creamy ice cream; if you like it lighter, use milk or yogurt instead of cream.

How to make ice cream:

In a medium-size saucepan, over medium heat, heat a pint (two cups) of heavy whipping cream. As the cream heats, add 1/3 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Break an egg into a bowl and whisk it with a fork. When small bubbles form and the cream is hot but not boiling (don’t let it boil), turn off the heat and add a little of the cream to the egg while stirring, to warm up the egg. Then slowly add the warm egg to the main pot of cream. The reason for this complicated tempering process is to keep the egg from scrambling when you add it to the cream.

Pour the custard into a pie pan and let it cool on the counter. Meanwhile, prepare the flavoring as follows:

  • Vanilla: add two teaspoons of vanilla to the cooled custard.
  • Chocolate: melt half a package of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup of water in the microwave and add to the custard. Also add one teaspoon of vanilla.
  • Mint chocolate chip: chop a cup of mint very fine, either by hand or in the food processor, and add it to the hot custard. After the custard has been in the freezer for a while (see below), add half a package of chocolate chips.

Freezing the ice cream

Put the ice cream in the pie pan in a level place in the freezer. Every half-hour or so, give it a good stir, being sure to get the freezing bits around the edges mixed in. Continue for about two hours, or until the ice cream is sufficiently frozen. If you forget and the ice cream freezes solid, just leave it out to get soft for a while and then begin stirring every half hour again from there.

Vegetarian or vegan?

Vegetarian, but not vegan. For a vegan dessert, make raspberry granita.

And will this ice cream keep?

Yes, it will keep pretty well for a week or so. If it gets too hard, let it soften on the counter and then remix it.


Why make hamentaschen?

Hamentaschen are traditional cookies for Purim, which usually falls in late February or early March. Purim’s a celebration of Jewish religious freedom, and generally of freedom for all people everywhere, so it’s nice to have cookies when you’re celebrating! The name probably comes from the German/Yiddish mohntashen, meaning poppy-seed purses, and was transformed to hamentaschen because the evil vizier Haman is the villain of the Purim story of Esther.

Still got some energy after making hamentaschen? We always make rugelach for Purim too.

How to make hamentaschen:

First, figure out what you’re going to use for a filling. At my house, the kids like to use Nutella, which is not traditional but does taste good. Adults prefer strawberry jam, or strawberry-rhubarb jam, if there is still any left in February from the year before. Any kind of thick jam will work. A poppy seed filling is more traditional, but nobody here likes it so I don’t make it.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, melt a stick of butter in the microwave. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and mix, then add two eggs and mix again. Add 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, and a pinch of salt, and mix once more, until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes. It should be a very soft dough.

Divide the dough in half, and roll out one half. Keep the other half covered with a dishtowel so it doesn’t dry out too much. Roll the dough out 1/4 inch thick, and then use the top of a water glass or jar to cut circles out of it.

Put a dab of the filling in the center of each circle, and fold the circle up three times so that you have a triangular base and three little flaps. Pinch the flaps together at the edges, leaving a hole in the middle to see the filling so you’ll know if this is a Nutella one or a strawberry-rhubarb one.

Butter a baking sheet and put the cookies on it as they are done. When you have finished cutting the circles, bunch up the rest of the dough and roll it out again so you can cut some more circles. Break an egg into a bowl and use a pastry brush to brush egg over the top of the cookies (this makes them shinier and browner). Bake 10-15 minutes or until the cookies are browned; remove and let cool.

Vegetarian or vegan

Just naturally vegetarian! Enjoy! If you want vegan hamentaschen, use coconut fat instead of butter, and an egg substitute for the eggs.

Can I keep this for later?

Sure. These hamentaschen will be good for a couple of weeks if you keep them on the counter in an airtight cookie tin.

Apple pie

Apple pie’s harder than it seems

I’ve always had trouble with apple pie; I’m not willing to use cornstarch as a regular ingredient because I don’t understand how to make cornstarch. My apple pies tend to come out saggy like this one in the picture, and runny. You can solve both those problems with this version that uses grated apples (thanks Gretta!).

Is apple pie good for you?

Well, it’s not as good for you as just eating an apple, or applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on it, but it’s a lot better for you than chocolate cake or creme caramel 🙂 You can make it healthier by using olive oil in the crust instead of butter.

How to make apple pie:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. First make the crust: in a medium-sized mixing bowl, melt 2/3 cup of butter in the microwave, then add 2 cups of flour and stir. Turn out into a pie pan and take out about a third of the crust and save it for later. Smush the rest of the crust around with your fingers until it covers the bottom and sides of the pan.

Or, for a better but more time-consuming crust, slice the cold butter into pats, add to the flour, and break it up into little bits with your fingers. Add a tablespoon or two of white vinegar.

Now, the filling. Cut up four large apples and remove the cores and seeds. Grate the apple chunks in a food processor (this may take several sessions). Dump the grated apple into the same mixing bowl the crust was in (no need to wash it), and add 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and one teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Put the filling into the pie shell.

Crush 1/2 cup of hazelnuts in the food processor, since you have it out, and dump them into that same mixing bowl. Add the rest of the pie crust and mix, then sprinkle the mixture by handfuls on to the top of the pie. Add four pats of butter to the top if you want a more browned top, or leave them off. You can sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top if you like, or just sugar. Bake for just under an hour, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust starts to brown.

Vegetarian or vegan

Apple pie is vegetarian, and it’s *almost* vegan. You can make it vegan by using 2/3 cup of coconut fat in the crust instead of the butter. The crust will be a little sandier; it will crumble more and hold together less well, but it tastes fine. Also, leave off the pats of butter on top of the pie.

Creme caramel

Creme Caramel

Together with chocolate mousse, creme caramel is the standard dessert in cheaper restaurants in France: it seems fancy because it’s hard to make, but the ingredients are cheap – milk, sugar, eggs – and it can be made ahead and brought out during the dinner rush without reheating or anything. These same qualities make creme caramel an excellent choice for impressing your dinner guests – no last-minute prep, and nothing expensive. You do have to practice a little, though.

How to make Creme Caramel:

Set out eight small ramekins or espresso cups or teacups in a roasting pan. Preheat the oven to 300 F.

In a medium-size frying pan, over medium heat, mix 2/3 cup of sugar with one or two tablespoons of water. Mix briefly with a wooden spoon, then do not mix but gently swirl the pan from time to time, until the sugar turns an amber color, the color of hazelnuts. This will take quite a while and you may think it will never happen but be patient and it will.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat 3 cups of whole milk with 2/3 cups of sugar to a boil. While the milk is heating, break four eggs into a mixing bowl.

When the milk boils, take it off the heat and add one teaspoon of vanilla. Slowly pour the milk into the eggs, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Go especially slowly at the beginning so you don’t accidentally cook the eggs.

When the sugar in the frying pan caramelizes (turns brown), pour a little bit of caramel into each ramekin, just enough to cover the bottom. If there’s any left over, add a little more. Then gently pour the milk mixture on top of the caramel. Fill the ramekins nearly to the top. Put the roasting pan in the oven, and use a measuring cup to pour water into the roasting pan so that the water comes about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pudding seems solid all the way through. Let the puddings cool on the counter, then refrigerate them for an hour.

You can eat creme caramel out of the ramekins, if you’re feeling cowardly, but it’s prettier to unmold them and have the caramel shining on top. Run a knife around the edge, put a dessert plate on top of the ramekin, hold the plate and the ramekin firmly together, and flip it over quickly. Take off the ramekin, and you’ve got a pretty creme caramel.

Vegetarian or Vegan?

Creme Caramel is vegetarian, but it’s not vegan. For a vegan spring dessert, try celery granita, or strawberries in sugar.

Will creme caramel keep?

Yes, for a day or two in the refrigerator, but then you’d better eat it up.

Chocolate bark

A great Christmas present…

Chocolate bark looks very luxurious when you put it in a fancy box or bag with curled ribbons, but it’s cheap and very easy to make, and only takes a few minutes of work (plus a couple of hours to cool). And, like chocolate mousse, it doesn’t even use the stove.

How to make chocolate bark:

In a medium-size mixing bowl, mix 10-12 ounces (one package) of dark chocolate chips (or milk chocolate if you like that better) with a couple of teaspoons of butter and microwave for 2 minutes until the chocolate is pretty melted. Take it out and stir until all the chocolate is melted.

Meanwhile, if you want hazelnuts in your chocolate bark, take a large handful of hazelnuts and smash them into bits in a mortar (or inside a paper bag, using a rolling pin or a can of soup). All the nuts should be at least broken in half; you want a variety of different sizes.

Add a large pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla to the chocolate. Mix about 2/3 of the nuts into the chocolate, or, if you don’t like nuts, you could add coconut or raisins instead. Cover a cookie sheet with a sheet of parchment paper, and use a spatula to spread the chocolate-nut mixture on the parchment paper until it covers about 2/3 of the cookie sheet. Don’t make it too thin around the edges; you want it about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick everywhere.

Sprinkle the rest of the nuts on top, and press them down a little with the spatula. Set the tray someplace pretty cool – the refrigerator is fine, but an unheated porch or basement is fine too – and leave it for a couple of hours. Then peel the parchment paper off (you can reuse it for the next batch), break up the chocolate bark into pieces, and put them in a tupperware in the fridge or in a cool place for storage.

Vegetarian or vegan

Just naturally vegetarian! Enjoy! The butter makes it not vegan, but you could substitute coconut fat.

Can I keep this for later?

Sure. Chocolate bark will last for at least several weeks, if you can keep from eating it.

Chocolate strawberries

A funny fundraiser story

I once went to a fancy fundraiser at a very fancy house up in the hills on the expensive West Side of Portland, and the whole thing was being catered in a very beautiful way, with little tables and lots of little stations each with its own type of food. But nobody was circulating, nobody was talking, nobody was eating at any of the lovely stations except one – the one that had a warm chocolate fondue and a pile of fresh strawberries on long skewers. That station had a long line, and as soon as people got to the front of the line and dipped their strawberry, they just went right back to the end of the line to get another one, dripping warm chocolate and strawberry juice all over their fancy suits and dresses.

These are not the warm chocolate fondue that was so exceptional at that party, but they’re delicious chocolate strawberries, and you can eat as many as you want without standing on line.

How to make chocolate strawberries:

In a small bowl, melt half a package of dark chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave. This will take about two minutes, but remove the chocolate and stir every 30 seconds to keep it from burning, and take it out before it’s all the way melted to let it melt itself the rest of the way.

Put a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Holding clean strawberries by the stems, dip them in the chocolate and then lay them on the waxed paper. Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate is hardened, about an hour.

Vegetarian or Vegan?

Vegetarian, but you can make chocolate strawberries vegan by using vegan chocolate and using coconut fat instead of butter.

Will chocolate strawberries keep?

They’ll still be fine the next day, if you want to make them a day ahead for a party, but after that not so much. Eat them up fresh.

Chocolate mousse

Every day for two weeks…

I’ve tried many chocolate mousse recipes over the years, and they’re good, but most of them are unreliable. Sometimes you get a great chocolate mousse, and sometimes it’s all runny and won’t set up. How can you make an unreliable dessert when there’s people coming to dinner?

So I decided to practice and experiment. I made different versions of chocolate mousse at least once a day – some days twice! – for two weeks. (Nobody at my house complained.) Some of the chocolate mousses were runny. Some were too stiff, like icing. Some weren’t chocolaty enough. This one is just right. Not only is it just right, it’s also super easy to make – it doesn’t even use the stove!

What about the milk?

If it has milk in it, it’s chocolate pudding, not chocolate mousse. This is chocolate mousse – eggs, sugar, butter, and chocolate. You should note that the eggs are not cooked. If you’re worried about salmonella, don’t make this recipe. Even if you’re not worried, this is not a recipe for babies, pregnant women, or anyone whose immune system is weakened. Just in case.

Is this really healthy?

No, it’s not. It’s mostly butter and sugar. This is what the health people call a “sometimes” treat. Just eat one, and not too often! Not, as we did, every day for two weeks!

How to make chocolate mousse:

In a medium-size mixing bowl, mix 1/4 cup of sugar with a couple of spoonfuls of water and microwave for 1 minute to make a sugar syrup. Add a bag of dark chocolate chips (10 oz.) and 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (1/2 stick). Microwave for two more minutes, take it out and stir until all the chocolate is melted.

Meanwhile, separate three eggs. Add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and the three egg yolks to the chocolate and stick the bowl in the refrigerator.

Beat the three egg whites to stiff peaks, adding 1/8 cup of sugar to help them get as stiff as possible. Take the chocolate out of the refrigerator and gently stir in the beaten egg whites. Ladle the mousse into individual ramekins or teacups, and refrigerate for two hours. It should make about five servings.

Vegetarian or vegan

Just naturally vegetarian! Enjoy! Or try this vegan chocolate mousse.

Can I keep this for later?

Sure. This chocolate mousse can be made up to a day or two ahead, or kept for a day or two after you make it. But after a couple of days it may begin to separate and get runny.

Chocolate chip cookies

With some shortcuts to make it easier

I’ve cut some corners here over the usual recipes, and it doesn’t hurt the cookies at all! I think these are about the best chocolate chip cookies you’ll find anywhere.

How to make chocolate chip cookies:

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put two sticks of butter in a large mixing bowl and microwave for two minutes or until mostly melted. Add 3/4 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup white sugar and mix. Add one teaspoon each of vanilla, salt, and baking powder, and two eggs, and mix again. Add 2 1/4 cups of flour and mix, then add a bag of chocolate chips (12 ounces) and mix one last time. You can add crushed hazelnuts or walnuts if you like.

Drop the batter onto ungreased cookie sheets, three cookies across. The batter should be in gobs a little smaller than a golf ball. I usually use a spoon and then push the batter off with my fingers.

Bake about 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and let cool on the baking sheets, or let them cool a minute and then use a spatula to move the cookies to a plate.

Vegetarian or Vegan?

Chocolate chip cookies are vegetarian, but they’re not vegan. For a vegan spring dessert, try celery granita, or strawberries in sugar.

Will chocolate chip cookies keep?

Yes, for a day or two on the counter, but I hope by then you’ll have eaten them all.

Chocolate streusel

A fancier chocolate cake

This is a more complicated chocolate cake, although considerably simplified from the New York Times recipe I started from. It has a lot of ingredients, but nothing complicated about putting them together, and it cooks pretty fast.

What about the frosting?

This really, really doesn’t need frosting, especially if you eat it warm. We did have it with whipped cream and that was good but so rich.

How to make chocolate streusel cake:

First make the bottom and top streusel. In a medium-size mixing bowl, melt half a stick of butter and a quarter cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave for one minute, or another minute if needed. Take it out and stir until all the chocolate is melted.

Meanwhile, grease an 8×8 pan and line it with parchment paper. Add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of flour and mix. It will be a sort of thick paste. Add a quarter cup of chocolate chips and mix. Spread half of this paste in the bottom of the baking pan (doesn’t have to be too even), and turn the other half out onto a clean board to wait for later.

Now make the batter for the main cake. In the same bowl, melt a stick of butter and the rest of the package of chocolate chips. Stir to melt and add 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt, an egg, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, 1/2 cup thick yogurt and 1/2 cup of milk. Mix. Add 1 1/3 cups of flour and mix: you should get a pretty average batter; if it seems too thin add a little more flour. Pour that on top of the streusel and cover with the rest of the streusel that you set aside.

Bake at 350 for about half an hour or until not wobbly. Or bake for a shorter time if you want it molten in the middle. Lift the cake out of the pan by the edges of the parchment paper to cool. It will be rough and uneven on top, that’s fine.

Vegetarian or vegan

Just naturally vegetarian! Enjoy! Or try this vegan chocolate mousse.

Can I keep this for later?

Sure. This chocolate cake will be fine for a week or so in the fridge.