Cakes, Pies, Cookies and Pastry

Sunshine Cookies – A Sweet for All Seasons


decorated Figolli

Sunshine cookies, my new name for Figolli, with semi-traditional Figolli decoration. (It’s semi-traditional because there should be a foil-wrapped chocolate egg somewhere on each cookie. I compromised with (one) golden Jordan almond.


Why sunshine? Because they’re full of citrus zest – lemon, orange and lime – and they have a rich almond filling spiked with orange flower water. These are all things that say “Mediterranean” to me, plus Figolli are from Malta.

And why ignore their perfectly good name to create another one? Because “Figolli” is totally married to Easter and I think the cookies are way too good to make only once a year.

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Pistachio Piezadas, My New Favorite Cookie – Unless That’s Black Walnut Honey Drops

cookies pistachio, lime cornmeal, honey black walnut

Left to right: Pistachio Piezadas, Lime Cornmeal Biscotti, Black Walnut Honey Drops.

Around here, it’s not too late to be trottin’ out the recipes. Holiday cookie season isn’t officially over until 12th Night and I still have plenty to go.

The assortment is always a mixture of old favorites and new thrills and ideally there would be about half of each. But now that this has gone on for years and years (and years), I feel like a long-running hit restaurant: there isn’t much room for anything new because the menu is already crowded with dishes that cannot be removed or the customers will rebel.

This year, I’ve again made most of our classics – everybody’s classics, like gingerbread persons and butter cookies,  and our personal classics, like chocolate rum balls (recipes for those and more here).  Also some equally must-have Universal Suit Yourself Fruit and Nut Bars.

Also, thank goodness, three new ones, all of them cookies that should come in useful whenever cookies are needed, regardless of the season:  Pistachio Piezadas, Lime Cornmeal Biscotti and Black Walnut Honey Drops.

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Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie – a Recipe from a Friend

maple pecan pumpkin pie

Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie – what is there to say but read on?

As I was saying only a moment ago, here comes Thanksgiving. Time for the Turkey Roundup. Time also for the pumpkin pie – but the Squash Roundup, while rich in recipes (see end of post) does not contain this necessary part of the finale.

Enter my dear friend Sandy Oliver, food writer, culinary historian and vegetable grower supreme, who just happens to have a great recipe for pumpkin pie in her new book, Maine Home Cooking, published, fittingly, by Downeast Books

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Corn and Coconut Cupcakes

Four short years ago, in the course of extolling Black Mexican Corn, I strongly urged home gardeners to buy their modern sweet corn from local farmers, so they could devote their all their corn growing space to heirlooms.

Now I’m feeling that a retraction may be necessary: it’s getting more and more difficult to find farmers who sell the modern corn that’s a vegetable instead of dessert. All this chichi corn ice cream and such no longer seems like an affectation but instead an act of desperation – what else is there to do with this stuff?

corn and coconut cupcakes, with chocolate and coconut

Corn and Coconut Cupcakes, with and without Aztec Ganache.

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Triple Ginger Gingerbread – and the paths down which it led

Actually, Triple Ginger was the first stop on a path that started with a yen for old fashioned hot water gingerbread: soft, spicy, homely, simple to make –  the original brownie, if  by “brownie” you mean a rich dark snack cake to eat out of hand. (The chocolate kind is a cake-come-lately compared to gingerbread.)

I don’t make gingerbread very often, and thus felt in need of a reminder recipe. But instead of consulting any of several dozen cookbooks or, of course, the net, I made the mistake of trolling about in my own published works, where I stumbled on

Triple Ginger Gingerbread, whole

Triple Ginger Gingerbread*

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One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and Ultimate Chocolate Toffee Crunch– Easy and Even Easier

Myself, I’m trying a blood orange version of the recent Shaker Lemon and Cherry Pie for Valentines Day, but this being a chocolate drenched holiday, I feel it incumbent to point you toward a couple of never-fail favorites.

Old Faithful, The Little Black Dress of Chocolate Cakes

one-bowl chocolate cake, with filling and frosting

This is the Almond Joy Variation of the chocolate cake. It's also just fine just plain with whipped cream, or with chocolate ice cream and fudge sauce if your dearly loved one is anything like mine.

Heath Bar Cookies, aka Chocolate Toffee Crunch

heath bar cookies/ chocolate toffee crunch

Heath Bar Cookies. All four major food groups: sugar, salt, fat and crunch. With chocolate on top. Most distressing part is how simple and quick it is to make rather a lot of it.

Indecision Pie (Shaker Lemon and Cherry)

Shaker lemon pie with cherries

The lemon is underneath the cherries

This floated into the kitchen because Jan 23 was National Pie Day*, an event that got a surprising amount of  PR, given that every day is pie day in most people’s estimations. It’s probably because good pie is still – compared to say, macarons  – in woefully short supply.

Ok. Deciding to bake a pie was easy. Deciding what kind of pie to bake was not, fresh local fruit also being in short supply in the Northeast just now. We’ve gone through all the frozen berries already; we’re eating too much winter squash to make pumpkin appealing, and while apple might seem obvious, it’s not if you breakfast on baked apples with yogurt pretty much every mortal day of the winter.

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Here Cookie, Here Cookie, Cookie Cookie Cookie

Or, to put it another way: Stop her before she bakes again.

home made christmas cookies

The decorated dark ones are gingerbread; pale stars are sugar cookies. Little round coconut covered jobs are rum balls; crescents are vanilla crescents (known as Moth cookies in our family). Round ones in the back are two kinds of jumbles and the dark rounds in the middle are Mexican chocolate chocolate chip.

I expect to discuss the Christmas Ham in the very near future, and may also pony up a picture of The Tree.

But first, even without cues from the weather, little miss knee jerk has responded to the usual stimulae in the usual fashion. Five or six pounds of butter, along with a similar weight of nuts but vastly less sugar  –  one of the reasons home made cookies taste so much better than store bought –  have already been put to use and I can tell there’s more to come.

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Bourbon (or Rum or Brandy) Balls – A Nifty Cookie That Needs a New Name

bourbon balls with chocolate and coconut

Holiday chocolate cookie-candies, everything easy except what to call them.

These classic holiday goodies are almost perfect: Only one (processor) bowl to wash; no cooking; deeply chocolate flavored without calling for obscene amounts of expensive high-end chocolate. Very simple to form and they keep for a long time. Just one small problem: their name.

You can’t really call them Hooch-soaked Crumbs with Chocolate and Nuts, but Bourbon, Rum or Brandy Balls doesn’t exactly do the job either. Maybe they should be called Poor Man’s Truffles. Please consider this an invitation, all suggestions cheerfully considered.

What we need is something that says Small, Rich, Alcoholic* and Chocolate, without getting any more specific. After deliciousness, lack of specificity is the distinguishing merit of let’s temporarily call them SRAC’s; they’re the pasta casserole of cookies. You can make them out of almost any dry sweet you happen to have around.

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Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart

plum-topped ricotta tart

Almost Al’s Ricotta Tart (with puree from our own Kaga plums and a few Johnny Jump-ups because why not?)

Summer and winter – and spring and fall; this is a treat that knows no season – my friend Alex Tuller’s ricotta tart has been a go-to dessert ever since I had the first piece, back in 2006.

It’s easy, delicious, handsome, ideal for making ahead…and on top of that it’s infinitely variable, which is why I call it “Almost” Al’s tart. Good as it is in the original I usually wind up playing around with it.

ricotta plum tart, sliced

The plum puree is so intense only a very thin layer is needed. If using freshly cooked peaches, for instance, you might want it a little thicker

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