I only know this originally Hungarian cake in its Viennese form. In Vienna, it is made from two thin layers of chocolate cake with a whipped chocolate cream filling and a shiny chocolate glaze—definitely a dessert for an important party. The good news is that it can be made entirely in advance. Do wait to cut it shortly before serving, however, or the cake layers will dry out.
Famed as a small resort right outside the city of Vienna, Bad Ischl was a favorite gathering place on members of the imperial court from Vienna during the nineteenth century. Of course, for Viennese aristocrats vacation meant strolling around and enjoying sweets. This was one of their favorites: walnut butter cookies, sandwiched with raspberry preserves, streaked with chocolate icing, and topped with whole blanched almonds.
This popular Austrian cake (prepared in Alsace as well as Germany) probably migrated to France with Stanislaw Leszczynski, the exiled king of Poland who set up court in Nancy, capital of the Lorraine. The king was a legendary baker and he is credited variously with having introduced the baba and the savarin to France. Perhaps his interest in bread was passed on to his daughter Maria, who married Louis XV and became queen of France.
Coffee Rum Éclairs
Although chocolate éclairs are the traditional popular favorite, I have always been partial to éclairs filled with coffee-flavored cream and covered with coffee icing. Remember, with these you can plan ahead. You can bake the éclair pastry and freeze it on one day, make the filling the next, then reheat, cool, fill, and ice them on the third day. Such a division of labor makes preparing a pastry with many steps easy.
Apple and Calvados Bavarian Cake
Calvados, or aged French apple brandy, is produced in Normandy, one of the world’s great centers of apple cultivation. Sweet, tart, and bitter apples are first pressed and fermented into hard (alcoholic) cider, then the cider is distilled into Calvados that’s aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years, often much longer for premium brands. Two-year-old Calvados is fine for making desserts, as is American applejack, which is made in a similar manner. This cake is for a special fall or winter occasion; it’s not only delicious, but beautiful as well. Crowned with a ring of apple wedges poached in white wine and glazed with apricot jam, it’s so impressive that everyone will ask you for the recipe.
Almond Lace Cookies
Fragile and delicate in the extreme, these cookies are a labor of love to make because you need to bake them one pan at a time on the middle rack of the oven. If you have a double oven, start to bake another pan a couple of minutes before the first pan is ready to come out. These spread best on a bare buttered pan; brush the pans with very soft but not melted butter. If you don’t mind cookies that are a little thicker, you may use silicon mats to bake them.
Apple Maple Tart Tatin
This tasty twist on the classic French recipe adds some maple syrup to the caramel mixture used to flavor the apples. The recipe is from David Lebovitz’ new book, l’appart, about the ups and downs of buying and renovating his Paris apartment. It’s a fun read and there are a dozen or so great new recipes. This appears here with his permission.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).