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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Uncomplicated desserts for home bakers from the latest cookbooks

BY NATALIE HAUGHTON
LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
Pumpkin-walnut cake. Pumpkin-walnut cake.
CHRONICLE BOOKS Enlarge

LOS ANGELES — With entertaining and the holidays around the corner, it’s a good time to explore some of the tempting dessert options in a few of the latest sweet books.

Pastry chef Alisa Huntsman, author of Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe: Simple Southern Pies, Pudding, Cakes, and Cobblers from Nashville’s Landmark Restaurant, offers 100 recipes she designed and developed for the establishment’s dessert repertoire. Cooks will find them easy to replicate at home.

“Southern desserts have a lack of pretension and a simplicity that can be elegant but should never be mistaken for unsophisticated or dull. Southern hospitality begins and ends with dessert,” says Huntsman.

On the dessert menu are six to nine different pies daily, says Huntsman, adding that “pies are really what people come for.” Double-Coconut Cream Pie is the top seller followed by Muddy Fudge Pie.

“Desserts need to be simple, but they absolutely have to taste good,” says Huntsman, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and owned a bakery-cafe with her husband (a chef) south of Nashville.

“I think there’s a return to things being simple — not quite as complicated — these days.” But dessert flavors are more complex. “People are not putting as much energy into making it look like a show piece. They are making desserts look more homemade.”

Christie Matheson is touting 50 chic Bundt cakes made from scratch in her new book, Cake Simple: Recipes for Bundt-Style Cakes from Classic Dark Chocolate to Luscious Lemon Basil. “Bundt cakes can be exquisite desserts if you use the very best ingredients, seasonal and organic,” she notes.

With “people in the mood for simpler, a little less stylized and homey desserts,” the San Francisco resident who grew up eating Bundt cakes elevates the nostalgic dessert to new heights with easily executed modern flavor creations and updated versions of classics.

Among them are selections such as Salted Caramel, PBJ, Mocha With Espresso Hot Fudge, Can’t-Tell-It’s-Vegan Chocolate With Raspberry Sauce, Cranberry-Creme Fraiche and Mojito.

To avoid the cake sticking to the pan, use a good quality Bundt pan and brush it (using a pastry brush) well with melted unsalted butter, then dust with flour or cocoa powder, advises Matheson. “Let the cake cool in the pan for a while — generally about 20 to 30 minutes (but follow recipe) — before removing it.”

Pay attention to the recipe regarding when to glaze the cake — hot, warm or cool. “The nice thing about a Bundt cake is that adding a glaze (which isn’t always necessary) can give it extra oomph.”

It’s no surprise that Michele Stuart, the owner and pastry chef of Michele’s Pies with shops in Connecticut, has written Perfect Pies: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes from America’s Pie-Baking Champion. It’s filled with 80 recipes for fruit, cream, nut, party and other pies that have been sold in her stores.

“I grew up baking pies with my grandmother in Westport,” says the self-taught baker, who worked in the medical field and real estate prior to her foray into sweets in 2006.

Her pies have earned her 26 National Pie Championship Awards (and recipes for those are marked in the book with a blue ribbon) in the commercial division, including the Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie, her signature pie. “I recommend serving this pie warm with a drizzle of bourbon sauce or a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.”

Pies are the trendy dessert this year, adds Stuart, who hopes to ease the intimidation of making pies at home by showing how it can be accomplished with very few ingredients. “Have patience when making pies. If you opt to use a store-bought crust, use the rolled out ones from Pillsbury.”

Among her tips for home pie-makers — “when using fresh fruit, don’t overpower it with spices. For thickeners use flour, cornstarch or tapioca. I use flour for apple and berry pies and a mixture of tapioca and cornstarch for peach pies. You can keep most baked pies two to three days in the refrigerator, but freezing of fruit pies is not recommended.”

In San Francisco, the pastry case at Miette is filled with beautiful mini cakes, tarts, pastries, cookies and bars. Meg Ray, the self-taught baker and chef-owner of Miette, shares more than 100 recipes and 50 glorious color photos for her most beloved sweets — American interpretations of some classic European desserts — in the charming, scalloped pages of Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop.

RECIPES

Double-Coconut Cream Pie
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut

1 (9-inch) pie shell

2 whole eggs PLUS 3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk

2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

2/3 cup half-and-half

Sweetened Whipped Cream (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the pie shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Partially bake the shell 18 to 20 minutes, until dry but not browned. Set aside to cool

Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread coconut out on a baking sheet and toast 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once or twice and watching closely so it doesn’t burn, until golden. Transfer toasted coconut to a plate to cool. Then scatter 1 1/4 cups of it evenly over the bottom of the partially baked and cooled pie shell, reserving the remainder. Keep the oven on.

In a mixing bowl, whisk whole eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla together. Gradually add sugar and then coconut milk, mixing until completely blended. Whisk in cream and half-and-half, but do not beat vigorously or custard will have bubbles. Gently pour custard over coconut in pie shell and place pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet.

Bake in middle of the oven 55 to 60 minutes, until filling puffs up around the edges and the center is just firm with no shimmy. Remove from oven and let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate until chilled. Mound Sweetened Whipped Cream on top of pie, spreading it to edges in a dome shape. Garnish with remaining toasted coconut. Serve chilled at once or refrigerate up to a day.

Yield: 8 servings.

Source: Desserts From the Famous Loveless Café, by Alisa Huntsman.

Pumpkin-Walnut Cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 (14-ounce) can pure solid-pack pumpkin mixed with 1/4 cup water

1 cup small walnut pieces, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Liberally butter a 10-inch Bundt pan OR two 8-by4-inch loaf pans, and dust with flour. Tap out excess flour. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine eggs and sugar and whisk on medium speed until well combined and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, slowly drizzle in oil, and whisk until combined, then whisk on high speed 1 minute to emulsify.

Switch to paddle attachment. Add pumpkin to egg mixture and mix on medium speed just until combined. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing just until combined after each addition, approximately 5 seconds each time. Remove bowl from the mixer and scrape down sides with a rubber spatula. Fold in walnuts by hand.

Pour the batter into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 50 minutes until cake springs back when touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to wire racks and cool in pan 10 minutes. Run an offset spatula around the edges of pan, then invert on to racks and let cool about 20 minutes longer. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to serve, up to 3 days. To freeze, wrap tightly in a second layer of plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Glaze top and part way down sides with chocolate ganache, if desired, and allow to set. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 1 (10-inch) cake.

Source: Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop, by Meg Ray With Leslie Jonath,

Sweetened Whipped Cream
1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a chilled mixing bowl with chilled beaters, whip the heavy whipping cream with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar and vanilla and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Yield: 2 3/4 cups.

Source: Desserts From the Famous Loveless Café, by Alisa Huntsman.

Chocolate-Pecan-Bourbon Pie
3 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup PLUS 1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/4 cups dark corn syrup

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon bourbon

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 (9-inch) unbaked single-crust pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare filling, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together eggs, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and bourbon. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl at least 2 times while mixing. Add warm melted butter and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine pecans and chocolate chips. Sprinkle pecan/chocolate chip mixture across bottom of pie shell. Pour filling over nuts and chips, covering completely.

To bake, place pie plate on a baking sheet. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until the pie is firm. The edges of the filling will rise, but the middle will remain a little loose. Don’t worry about this as the pie will continue to bake after removal from oven. Transfer pie plate to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool and set 2 to 3 hours before serving.

If you choose, drizzle each slice with bourbon sauce to serve. Pie is best served at room temperature or warmed at 350 degrees F about 10 minutes. Pie can be stored in refrigerator up to 5 days. When wrapped tightly with plastic wrap, it can also be frozen up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 6 to 8 slices.

Source: Perfect Pies, by Michele Stuart.

Muddy Fudge Pie
1 (9-inch) pie shell

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup PLUS 1 tablespoon half-and-half

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Sweetened Whipped Cream (see recipe above)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the pie shell with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Partially bake the shell 18 to 20 minutes, until dry but not browned. Set aside to cool. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine unsweetened chocolate and ½ cup half-and-half. On the defrost or low heat setting, microwave 1 minute. Whisk lightly and then repeat until mixture is melted and smooth. Make sure mixture is warmed just enough to melt the chocolate; the hotter this chocolate cream gets, the less creamy the baked pie will be.

Place brown sugar in a separate bowl and break up any lumps. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, mixing until smooth. Whisk in corn syrup and vanilla. Gradually whisk about one-quarter of this egg mixture into chocolate and blend well. It is important to whisk in the eggs slowly and steadily. Continue adding eggs while whisking until all are combined. Pour chocolate custard into pie shell.

Bake about 45 minutes, until the filling is puffy and set around the edges but the center still shimmies. If you want a denser pie, bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, until it puffs up evenly. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate until set completely, 3 to 4 hours.

To make a chocolate sauce, place chocolate chips and remaining 1 tablespoon half-and-half in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on low heat until melted, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir until smooth.

Mound Sweetened Whipped Cream over pie, spreading to edges. Drizzle warm chocolate sauce over whipped cream in a random pattern. Serve at once or refrigerate up to a day.

Yield: 8 servings.

Source: Desserts From the Famous Loveless Café, by Alisa Huntsman.


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