Argentine Christmas Eve Empanadas (Empanadas de Vigilia)

These spinach empanadas make a delicious alternative to the typical meat-laden ones and are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve, a day of abstinence from meat in Catholic countries. Traditionally, these are deep-fried, but I decided to bake them—it’s easier, and they turn out much less rich.

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Pita Bread

I was fascinated the first time I made pita and actually saw it puff into a balloon in the oven during its short baking time. Pita is fun to make for a small, casual party. If your kitchen is large enough, let the guests help bake the bread while you attend to other things.

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Cranberry Pecan Pie

Warning: this pie has a tart and tangy filling that might not be sweet enough for some people. That said, I love the tangy quality of this filling and wouldn’t want it to be any other way. By the way, since the filling is cooked before the pie is baked, you can taste it and add a little more sugar if you want. My late friend Joseph Viggiani shared this recipe years ago; I have no idea where he might have found it.

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Deli Rye Bread aka Jewish Rye Bread

This is the rye bread that you’ll get when you order a sandwich at a kosher deli—it’s flavorful, slightly chewy, and a perfect complement to corned beef, pastrami, and other deli specialties, such as chopped liver. Rye flour accounts for only about 20% of the total flour in the dough, but in a higher concentration the bread would lose its characteristic texture. The dough is flavored with ground caraway and may also have whole caraway seeds added either to the dough or to the outside of the loaf. I wouldn’t do both. Thanks to my friend Tim Healea of little t american baker in Portland, Oregon, and Maggie Glezer, author of A Blessing of Bread (Artisan, 2004), for sharing their recipes.

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Supernatural Crumb Buns

The dryness that afflicts most crumb buns comes from using too lean a dough as the foundation and/or from baking it too long at too low a temperature. With this in mind, I decided to make them using a method more like the one for focaccia and not separate the dough into individual buns before baking. After successfully jumping that first hurdle, I incorporated an idea from a German coffeecake called Butterkuchen or butter cake: I poked some shallow indentations in the unrisen dough and dotted in a little more butter for the dough to absorb while proofing and then baking under the crumbs. I think these really deserve their name—try the recipe and let me know if you agree.

Breton Apple Pie

A gateau Breton is a wonderful French cake, very much like a very dense pound cake, and is a specialty of Brittany. This non-traditional version of it adds a layer of a cooked apple filling between layers of the dough. The crust is easy to prepare—you just press it into the pan. For the top crust you’ll need a couple of cake cardboards or tart pan bottoms the same diameter as the pan. My dear friend Stephanie Weaver gave me this recipe close to 30 years ago and I have made it countless times, always to rave reviews. Because the baked dough has a cake-like rather than a crisp texture, it freezes beautifully—I keep a couple in the freezer around the holidays.

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Sugared Brioche Rolls

This is a popular use for brioche dough as a breakfast roll in France. The rolls are sprinkled with pearl sugar, large opaque sugar granules, right before baking.

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Banana Rum Coconut Layer Cake

Bananas make great cakes (and muffins, quick breads, tarts, and pie fillings). One thing about bananas, though, they have to be ripe. Never us a banana for baking if it is not at least dotted with brown spots, or even darker, or your cake won’t have any banana flavor. And always mash bananas with a fork or potato masher—don’t throw them in the food processor—mashed bananas impart a more vivid flavor to any batter or filling. I like whipped cream with this cake, but chocolate is also a natural with it, as would be fluffy egg white icing.

Mango Lassi Tart

This light and delicate tart filling is based on the popular Indian drink that’s not unlike a mango smoothie. In India, mango lassi is sometimes perfumed with a few pinches of ground cardamom. If you’d like to try that combination, just sprinkle a little on the tart right before serving or pass some ground cardamom in a tiny bowl for the guests to add on their own if desired.

Pear and Almond Dumplings

Most fruit dumplings are constructed by wrapping a piece of fruit in a square of dough. This one is a little different—the fruit and a dab of almond filling are sandwiched between two layers of puff pastry, and the dough never shrinks, falls away, or does anything but rise to flaky perfection around the fruit.

Tarte Tatin

I first encountered Tarte Tatin in early 1974, when I lived briefly with the Pinelli family at their small hotel in Monte Carlo. Raymonde Pinelli loved apples in all forms and had beautiful 19th-century earthenware Calvados jugs in the shape of apples, which I have to confess I coveted. Raymonde’s method of preparing Tarte Tatin involved repeatedly turning wedges of her favorite apples, les Golden, in a buttery caramel in a flimsy aluminum tart pan set atop a flame tamer on her big commercial range.

Tramezzini - Italian Snack Sandwiches

First made at the Caffè Mulassano in Turin in 1925, tramezzini were and still are an Italianized version of British tea sandwiches. Made on white Pullman bread called pan carré, or square bread, in a very Turin combination of Italian and French, they were named by Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio. Because the word sandwich was difficult to pronounce in Italian, d’Annunzio invented the word tramezzino (the singular) which has overtones of both “between” (tra in Italian) and “half” (mezzo).

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Pain De Mie - French Sandwich Bread

Mie is French for the interior or crumb of a loaf of bread and this sandwich bread, or Pullman loaf, as it’s called in English, has a fine white crumb perfect for delicate sandwiches and toast. To bake this, you’ll need a special Pullman loaf pan that’s straight sided and has a cover so that the dough bakes to a perfectly symmetrical shape. If you’d like to try the bread before purchasing the special pan, it may be baked in a standard loaf pan. This is adapted from Professor Calvel’s formula in his book, Le Goût du Pain (The Flavor of Bread/Editions Jerome Villette, 1990).

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Blueberry and Apple Pie

Tart apples marry well with sweet, spicy blueberries, even though their seasons are fairly opposite. In early summer when blueberries come into season there are always imported apples available, and when apples come into season it’s okay to use frozen blueberries. I find that dicing the apples quite small makes them cook through easily, and their tartness gives a better boost to the blueberry flavor than adding lemon juice or zest.

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Cialedda - Bread and Tomato Salad from Apulia

Any tomato salad depends on one thing: perfectly ripe, height of summer tomatoes. Cherry or grape tomatoes might be fine in a tossed salad during the winter, but just don’t have either the strength of flavor or the moisture for a salad like this. Like the famous Tuscan bread salad, panzanella, the bread here is moistened with a little water first. Letting the salad stand for an hour or so both develops the flavor and further moistens the bread, so it’s perfect to prepare in advance to serve to guests.

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Turkish Pistachio Pastry (Katmer)

My friend Cenk Sönmeszoy first told me about katmer— a square pastry that contains several layers of dough as well as clotted Turkish cream, sugar, and finely chopped pistachios —and sent me links to videos of some very skilled bakers who throw the dough around like a bedsheet to make it larger and thinner. The method here is simplified but gives excellent results. Make a batch of katmer to celebrate Eid al-Adha, which falls on September 1 this year.

Pa Amb Tomàquet - Catalan Grilled Bread Rubbed with Tomato

Food is central in Catalan life. Tapas bars and casual cafés serve pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) already assembled, but some restaurants merely deliver the components to the table: a piece of chewy bread grilled over a wood fire, a perfectly ripe tomato, fine salt, and local extra-virgin olive oil. Such a simple combination depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients—they have to be perfect. The instructions here are adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Paula Wolfert’s World of Food, with her permission. This is the perfect appetizer for a casual late summer meal. Eat with a knife and fork!

Strawberry Raspberry Mille-Feuilles

In France it’s popular during the summer to make tarts and other pastries like mille-feuille aux fruits rouges or “with red fruits,” meaning basically whatever berries are in season. We can’t obtain the tiny, intensely flavored wild strawberries or fraises des bois as easily as the French, but small, perfectly sweet, height-of-the-season berries work very well in this dessert. It’s fun and tasty to combine several types of berries, and if you have access to red currants, sprinkle in a few—not too many, or the fruit mix might be too tart.

Summer Vegetable Pie

This pie came about when my friend Nancy Nicholas shared some of the produce from her Long Island garden with me. I had a couple of several kinds of vegetables, and not having enough to make a full dish from just one type, I combined them. You can add and subtract at will as long as you keep to the same weight of vegetables so you’ll have the right amount of filling for the pie. This pie is excellent on its own, but it’s also a handy side dish for simple grilled meats or fish.

Plum and Raspberry Crisp

You could use almost any combination of summer fruits in this, but sweet-tart ripe plums are perfect with tart raspberries. Choose red or green plums; prune plums come in to season later in the summer and work beautifully too. Peaches or apricots would stand in well for the plums, and earlier in the season, you could sneak in some rhubarb instead of the raspberries. Baking the topping for a few minutes while the fruit begins to cook makes it much more crisp.

Summery Tomato Tarts

Perfectly ripe tomatoes, cheese, and herbs are a great combination, so much so that I think I’ve done at least three recipes featuring them before. This time around, though, I decided that the combo needed revamping, because I wanted to be able to serve the tart completely cooled as well as fresh from the oven. That ruled out cheeses I’ve used in the past, like Gruyère, Cantal, or mozzarella, all of which get rubbery on cooling. Fresh cow’s or goat’s milk cheese is perfect—but because I don’t like how goat cheese dries out when exposed to the oven’s heat, I hid it under the tomatoes.

Strawberry and Raspberry Tart with Mint

While I hate the indiscriminate use of mint leaves as a decoration for desserts in general, the flavor of mint in moderation is wonderful with berries. Right before serving this tart, I like to scatter tiny mint leaves on it, then lightly dust it with confectioners’ sugar. If you only have large mint leaves, then stack them and cut them into fine ribbons

Mexican Cheese Tartlets (Tartas de Requesón)

In Mexico these tarts are both sold and consumed with panes dulces, Mexican sweetened breads that are eaten for breakfast and later in the day for merenda, the late afternoon meal. The cheese used in Mexico is requeson, which is very similar to Italian ricotta, as it is made from whey rather than milk. But it’s usually clotted at a higher temperature, making the curds harder than ricotta, and has a higher salt content. Part-skim-milk ricotta is a perfect substitute.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Crumble Tart

I’ve often confessed in the past to being addicted to crumb topping. Recently I even found a new way to enjoy it—atop a tart that has a prebaked crust and a creamy filling. This does necessitate the extra step of baking the crumb topping separately, but you can do that while baking the tart crust. The crisp crumb topping with a hint of chopped almonds is a perfect contrast to this tart’s light cream cheese filling and juicy strawberries