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Sweets with the best flavors

Desserts
There are no gray areas when it comes to dessert—everyone loves it. Well, almost everyone. I have a very close friend who eschews sweets of every kind, and occasionally I find myself searching for the flaw that has caused this particular peccadillo. He’s a wonderful guy;
but for his problem with sweets I’d think him perfect. Prevailing wisdom tells us perfection is impossible. But prevailing wisdom is only just about to become aware of the desserts in this
collection, and I am certain it will change its mind. For whether it be the Walnut Coffee Tourte, the incredible Nougat Glacé, or the Almond Blancmange, or any other dessert in this collection, perfection is evident in every bite. So delve in, forget that flawed world out there, and revel in these
perfect nut desserts!

Lemon Poppy Seed Ice Cream

source:gettyimages

What’s even better than the dusky rich poppy seed flavor and the tang of lemon here is the crisp “pop!” the seeds make when you bite into them—it makes every mouthful a noisy little adventure. Because this isn’t a cooked custard ice cream, it takes minutes to put together, so keep the ingredients on hand. If the half-and-half and the lemons are chilled (store your lemons in the refrigerator; they’ll keep longer), this can be a very impromptu dessert, as the mixture will need virtually no time to chill.

Zest of 2 lemons
1½ cups (300 g) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 quart (1 liter) half-andhalf
¼ cup (35 g) poppy seeds

Note: Pulverizing the lemon zest with the sugar brings out the oils in the zest, to intensify the lemony flavor of the ice cream.

1. Place the lemon zest and sugar in a food processor. Process until the sugar and zest are thoroughly combined, and the sugar is a bit damp from the oil in the zest. Add the lemon juice and process to blend.

2. Scrape the sugar and lemon mixture into a large nonreactive bowl. Whisk in the half-and-half until combined, then whisk in the poppy seeds. To allow the flavors to meld, refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

3. Before freezing, whisk the mixture so it is combined thoroughly, then freeze it in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s instructions.

 

Kabili Fruit and Nut Squares

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This recipe comes from a woman Imet whose first name is Malika, a lovely blue-eyed blond from the Kabil region of Algeria. Fragrant with fruit and nuts, and the ubiquitous orange flower water of North African pastries, it is always a welcome dessert. Imade it one night for a dinner that I had catered by an Algerian friend, Cherifa Kalabi, and she begged for the recipe. Cherifa is from Algiers and had never tasted this Kabili confection!

1 recipe Sweet Pie Pastry (Chapter The Basics)
3 tablespoons (45 g) unsalted butter ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 ml) un ltered honey
2/3 cup (100 g) raw almonds, skinned, lightly toasted, and coarsely
chopped
2/3 cup (100 g) hazelnuts, lightly toasted, skinned, and coarsely
chopped
½ cup dates (100 g), pitted and thinly sliced lengthwise
Scant ½ teaspoon fleur de sel
2 tablespoons orange flower water

Note: These squares truly are better when made several hours in advance and left to ripen. They will also keep for several days in an airtight container. If you cannot find orange flower water locally, Ihighly recommend you order some from the Spice House,thespicehouse.com.

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

2. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about ¼ inch (.6 cm) to make a rectangle about 7 × 13 inches (18 × 33 cm). Transfer the pastry to a jelly-roll pan by rolling it tightly around the rolling pin, then unrolling it onto the pan. Bake it in the center of the oven until the pastry is golden
at the edges and nearly baked through, about 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

3. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C).

4. In a large, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, heat the butter with the honey. Add the chopped nuts and the dates and cook, stirring, just until the nuts are coated with the honey. Remove from the heat, add the fleur de sel and orange flower water, and stir until mixed. Then spread
the nuts atop the prebaked pastry, going as close to the edge as you can. Drizzle the nuts with any honey and butter left in the pan.

5. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the edges of the pastry and the nuts are deep golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool, then cut the pastry into 12 serving pieces.

 

Hazelnut Sablés—Sand Cookies

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These delicate cookies come to me from Edith Leroy, my acknowledged French sister and best early-morning swimming friend. Edith rarely lights in one place for long, unless it is in front of her easel to paint the gorgeous landscapes, figures, and light-filled still lifes that have made her a locally revered artist or in the kitchen to bake, and whatever she produces is simply delicious.
These are a play on the traditional Norman sablé, a plain vanilla butter cookie. With all of the wild hazelnut trees that grow in our part of Normandy, it’s no wonder so many of the nuts find their way into the local fare, particularly pastries. This is just one, simple example.

2 cups (280 g) unbleached all-purpose flour Generous pinch of ne sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Vietnamese
8 tablespoons (1 stick/110 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1 large egg
1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice ¾ cup (125 g) hazelnuts, ground (¾ cup)

Note: The dough is very fragile and can easily be overworked. Rolling it out more than once risks making the cookies tough. To solve the problem, I roll out the dough and cut as many cookies from
it as I can, using one of my champagne flutes as a cookie cutter because its delicate size is perfect. I shape the scraps into a roll, as gently as I can so I don’t overwork the dough, then either refrigerate or freeze it so it becomes firm. Once the dough is firm, I cut it into ¼- inch-thick rounds and bake those.

1. Sift together the flour, the salt, and the cinnamon onto a piece of parchment or wax paper.

2. Place the butter in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until it is softened and malleable. Slowly incorporate the sugar, mixing until it is combined thoroughly with the butter and the mixture is quite light. Mix in the egg until it is combined thoroughly, then slowly add 1 cup of the flour mixture, mixing well. Then mix in the lemon juice. Add the remaining flour, mixing just until it is combined, then add the ground hazelnuts and mix just until combined. The dough will be quite
soft and thick.

3. Refrigerate the dough for 8 hours or overnight to give the ingredients a chance to meld and to harden the dough enough so that it can be rolled out.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two to three baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Roll out one-fourth of the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about ¼ inch (.6 cm) thick. Using either a champagne flute or a cookie cutter that measures about 1½ inches (4 cm) across, cut out as many rounds as you can from the dough. Place the rounds on a prepared
baking sheet, leaving about ½ inch (1.25 cm) between the cookies. Gently press together the scraps of dough and form them into a roll that measures 1½ inches (1.25 cm) in diameter. Wrap the roll of dough in plastic wrap or parchment and refrigerate it for an hour or two so it will rm up enough to be cut into thin rounds. (The dough will keep very well in the refrigerator, if well wrapped, for at least 1 week. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months at this point.) Repeat with the remaining
dough.

6. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven until they are golden— they will darken more at the edges than in the center—about 10 minutes. (For that little log of dough that remains, you can slice it into rounds and bake them as above.) Remove the cookies and let them cool to room temperature on a wire cooling rack. They will keep in an airtight container for about 3 days.

 

Spiced Walnut and Almond Cookies

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Ireceived this recipe from my friend Joanne Kneft, who refers to them as pfefferneuse. They do resemble the hard, pepper-spiced German holiday cookie, but these are softer and more appealing, and they contain no pepper!

Walnuts, almonds, and almond paste give these cookies flavor and moist texture; the addition of dried fruit, spices, and honey makes them very good keeping cookies. While they are Christmasy, they are welcome long after the festive season, perfect for dunking in a cup of strong coffee or a glass of rich white Burgundy.

1¼ pounds (4¼ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda ½ teaspoon ne sea salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1½ teaspoons freshly ground allspice
1 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
Scant 2½ cups (9 oz/260 g) walnuts, minced (about 2 cups)
Generous 1 cup (120 g) almond flour or nely ground almonds
4 tablespoons (½ stick/60 g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (100 g) vanilla sugar (Chapter Breakfast)
4 ounces (60 g) almond paste
1 large egg
1 cup (about 8 ounces/250 g) mild honey, such as wildflower or lavender

½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of ½ lemon, minced
¼ cup (60 ml) milk
4 ounces (120 g) candied orange peel, minced

Note: These cookies are infinitely better 2 weeks after they are baked, as the spices have settled and gotten acquainted, the honey has reached out to enfold everything, the flavor is mellowand gentle. If you don’t have time to bake all the cookies at once, don’t be concerned—the dough keeps well, tightly covered and refrigerated, for almost a week.

1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices onto a piece of wax paper or parchment. Using your fingers, mix in the minced walnuts and almond flour.

2. In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, blend the butter, vanilla sugar, and almond paste, mixing until thoroughly combined. Add the egg, mixing well, then add the honey, vanilla extract, and
lemon zest and mix until combined. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in the candied orange peel until it is thoroughly incorporated into the dough. The dough will be quite stiff. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Roll 1 tablespoon of the dough into a ball. Place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) between balls so the dough has room to spread.

5. Bake the cookies in the center of the oven until they are puffed and golden and don’t spring back when you touch them, about 17 minutes.

6. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks. When they are completely cool, store them in airtight containers for at least 1 week before eating. Because of the honey in the cookies, which acts as a preservative, and the low fat content, these cookies keep for months in an airtight container. They won’t stay around that long, of course…

 

Lemon Madeleines with Pistachios

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Fresh lemon zest and pistachio nuts permeate these elegant little cakes, which make not only for good memories but also for lovely moments of immediate pleasure! I like to serve these either with coffee or as a dessert, warm from the oven.

Butter and flour for the madeleine tins
1¾ cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
Pinch of ne sea salt
Zest of 2 lemons, minced
3 tablespoons pistachio nuts, salted and minced
4 large eggs
1 cup (200 g) vanilla sugar (Chapter Breakfast)
6 ounces (1½ sticks/180 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature.

Note: One of the tricks to a successful madeleine is to have the pans and the batter cold and the oven quite hot. This way the little cakes will rise in the center, creating the characteristic bump that has become a hallmark of a good madeleine. If you don’t have enough madeleine pans to bake all the batter, simply turn out the hot baked madeleines, wipe the pans clean, rebutter them, and use the remaining batter. The batter will keep well in the refrigerator for at least 3 days, so you can easily bake these and serve them warm, on demand.

1. Butter and generously flour three madeleine pans (each of which makes 12 madeleines). Refrigerate the prepared pans.

2. Sift the flour and salt onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Add the lemon zest and pistachios and, using your fingers, mix them into the flour mixture.

3. Place the eggs and the vanilla sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until very thick and pale yellow. Fold in the flour, then the melted butter so all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

4. Spoon a generous tablespoon of batter into each mold so it is nearly full. Refrigerate the filled madeleine pans and the remaining batter for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, chill the batter overnight, tightly covered.

5. Heat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

6. Bake the madeleines just until they are puffed and your finger leaves a slight indentation in the top when touched lightly, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn them out immediately from the molds. The madeleines are best when eaten slightly warm or at room temperature the same day they are made.

 

Lena’s Nut Cookies

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My dear friend Lena Sodergren, a tall, gorgeous Swedish woman whom I’ve known for many years and who is my favorite friend in Louviers, has inherited a love for baking, baked goods, nuts, and a
host of other delicious foods from her Swedish culture.

These simple butter cookies are a good example and the first recipe she shared with me when she heard Iwas working on this book. These little gems— and they are little—melt in your mouth and fill it with the most luscious, rich, balanced toasty flavor. Don’t be tempted to make the cookies bigger—they are intended to be a one-bite affair, because they are so tender.

 

13 tablespoons (180 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature ½ cup (100 g) vanilla sugar (Chapter Breakfast)
2¼ cups (300 g) all-purpose flour ¼ teaspoon ne sea salt

1/3 cup (50 g) almonds, lightly toasted and nely ground or chopped

1/3 cup (50 g) hazelnuts, lightly toasted, skinned, and nely ground or chopped

Note: Lena suggests grating the nuts rather than chopping them, which results in a coarsely ground nut that gives off a more intense flavor than a chopped nut. I agree with her, and I grind the nuts for this recipe in a Mouli grater, the kind with a barrel that fits into a handle and is generally used for grating Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you don’t have one, just finely chop them by hand.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer t with a paddle, cream the butter with the vanilla sugar until the mixture is soft and pale yellow.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and nuts, using your fingers to mix them all together. Stir the nut mixture into the creamed butter and sugar and mix just until the dough adheres—it will be quite crumbly.

4. Using a teaspoon of dough, gently form small balls—they won’t be perfectly round, but this isn’t important—and place them 1½ inches (4 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. Using the tines of a fork, gently press on the balls to flatten them.

5. Bake in the center of the oven until the cookies are golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool. These little cookies will keep for 1 week in an airtight container.