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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ossobuco: The Italian Song of Winter

There are few things more comforting on a raw winter day than the preparation of a hearty braised dish: the apartment toasty from hours of slow-cooking, the air redolent with the fragrance of herbs and aromatics being released from the confines of a pot out into the atmosphere. Such savory delight can never be contained to one room, it wafts from the kitchen outward, perfuming every room in your home, reaching further still, until it permeates your pores and baptizes your soul singing the Italian song of winter.

Do I sound hyperbolic? Well, I assure you I am not exaggerating. Nothing immediately relieves our sense of deprivation as the bite of something delectable; the lion of contentment purring like a kitten, especially when we have been anticipating our first taste of that something delectable for several hours. It becomes all the more rewarding when our own hands are the creators of such gustatory satisfaction.

Ossobuco is arguably one of the best known Italian words in the world.  Osso is Italian for bone. Buco means hole. Granted, "Bonehole" doesn't immediately conjure up imagery of an appetizing nature, but once you've tried the dish, you'll have a sense-memory to draw from that will give the word delectable connotations forever afterward.  Ossobuco served with gremolata alla milanese is braised veal shank; more specifically, the middle part of the hind shank, which has lots of tender meat around the marrow bone; the fore shank doesn’t.

Ossobuco emigrated from Italy with migrants, possibly, but not necessarily, with those coming from Lombardy, its origin. The recipe, at least in the 19th century and thereafter, has become well-known and is pan-Italian, so even emigrants from the South of Italy could have brought it with them as they crossed country borders. Its low cost and unfussy preparation made it a popular dish, in and out of restaurants - an ideal dish for families. Served with risotto or polenta, ossobuco made and makes a delicious and satisfying meal.

It was originally a seasonal dish, to be cooked in winter time on charcoal or wood stoves, which in the past, also had the function of warming the household. A notable contribution to the popularity of Ossobuco was the inclusion of its recipe in famous collections published outside Italy. It was featured in France, for example, in the famous Art Culinaire Moderne by Henri-Paul Pellaprat , since its first edition in 1935; as well as in England in Elizabeth David’s book Italian Food at the beginning of the 1950s.

Food historians in Milan claim Ossobuco was born there. Its City Council, in 2007, solemnly declared the oss (or òs) buss, ossobuco in Milanese dialect, as part of the De.Co. (Denominazioni Comunali in Italian, or “community denominations”), which is an official public acknowledgement that a certain dish or product belongs to a certain territory. When one considers that Italy was not a "united" cohesive country until the late-mid 19th Century, one can understand why each region remains a bit touchy about safeguarding its own cuisine. There is no dispute that Ossobuco originated in Lombardy. No one, however, can say exactly when. The use of marrowbones and veal shanks was common in medieval cuisine but there is no evidence of the presence of ossobuco (alla milanese) as a dish, at that time.

Allegedly, during The Illuminist Revolution, lemon – in this case the rind used in the gremolata – radically replaced more expensive spices such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. The dish didn’t originally include tomatoes, which only became widely used at the end of the 18th century. Some historians believe that Ossobuco has a very recent history, since it doesn’t appear in the popular cookbooks of the 19th century, such as La Vera Cucina Lombarda (The True Lombard Cuisine, a sort of Joy of Cooking for Italian housewives) published in 1890 by an unknown author. American food writer Clifford Wright believes that Ossobuco was likely created in some osteria – the small, family-ran eateries catering to neighborhoods in Milan. In 1891, the recipe was included by Pellegrino Artusi in his La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene, the first collection of Italian national cuisine ever published, a celebration of both home cooking and well known dishes from all over Italy.

The classic recipe starts off by making a simple soffritto of chopped onion sautéed in butter or butter and oil until translucent. The ossibuchi, lightly floured, are then to be browned adequately on both sides in the same pan with the onion (or without, to avoid the risk of burning it). White wine should be then added and the cooking should continue with the heat lowered and the pan covered.

In other recipes, such as those appearing in Artusi’s La Scienza in Cucina and Marcela Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, chopped carrot and celery join the onion, to make what is known as the classic “Italian soffritto” and includes a single clove of garlic to be lightly browned in the butter and removed before adding the ossibuchi to the soffritto, which according to some recipes may use prosciutto or pancetta. Flouring the veal, which was a way to tenderize the meat in the past as well as thicken the sauce, appears only in some recipes , but not in Artusi, nor in Hazan. Traditional recipes call for dousing the browned veal with wine and then letting it evaporate. Then the ossobuchi are seasoned with pepper and salt and cooked at low heat in the covered skillet, turning them over from time to time and dousing them with broth as needed. That is the original Italian technique called arrosto morto “dead roasting” or stove-top braising, which in the past few decades has been replaced by a way of cooking very common in French cuisine, after the wine evaporates the ossibuchi are covered with broth and placed in a hot oven to braise. This technique became popularized in Marcela Hazan’s Essentials (1974).

The gremolata (‘gremolada’ or ‘cremolata’), in its basic and traditional version, is prepared out of parsley, garlic and lemon zest finely chopped together. Gremolata comes from the Milanese word “gremolà”, ‘reduce to grains’ and it was used in the past also to season scaloppine and dishes made with rabbit. It is added to ossobuco as a condiment, just prior to serving.

 The veal should braise until the meat falls off the bone and can be eaten with a fork alone.  The veal shank should be from a very young, milk-fed calf. According to the American poet Billy Collins, who wrote a poem named Osso Buco, “something you don't hear much about in poetry
 that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation” the meat should be “soft as the leg of an angel / who has lived a purely airborne existence

Tenderness and juiciness are the key to the best ossobuco. The marrow is a delicacy on its own and is traditionally dug out, in Lombardy, with a small, long-handled spoon called esattore (tax collector).  A brief sidenote about the essatore: roasted bone marrow was considered a great delicacy in the Queen Anne period (1702-1714) , when meat was rare and expensive, to accommodate the extraction of the marrow from the bone centers, silver spoons with a long narrow scoop at one end were used, the earliest on record c1690. These marrow spoons were quickly superseded by marrow scoops, which had a large scoop at one end, and small scoop at the other - suitable to differing widths of bone. Scoops were made only until the late 19th century, though, of course, you can find them in antique shops. I use a knife and then transfer the marrow from knife to fork. It does the job admirably.

Ossobuco is traditionally served surrounded by risotto alla milanese but goes beautifully with mashed potatoes or crusty bread. One thing is sure, after eating it, it should generate a feeling that Collins describes as “the lion of contentment” placing “a warm heavy paw” on the chest of those who have dined on Ossobuco.

Osso Buco By Billy Collins

I love the sound of the bone against the plate

and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence. 

And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and wallowed
down with cold, exhilarating wine. 

 I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,

a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach-- something
you don't hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.  

You know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,

small birds searching for berries in winter. 
 But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen to the drums
of woe throbbing in the distance and the sound
of my wife's laughter on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief's favorite son. 

 Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside

on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent 
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.
But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.
In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow. 
Then we will slip below 
the surface of the night into miles of water,
drifting down and down to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock, beneath the strata
of hunger and pleasure, into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know. 

 From "The Art of Drowning" by Billy Collins


A Dutch oven or braiser is essential for this. Cast iron is the best, I use Le Creuset but there are many dependable brands. It is a worthy investment, buy a good one. The ingredients are so basic and I've made it so many times, I  never use a recipe, but I promised a new friend on Facebook I'd sit down to write a proper one out for her, so here we are. I like to dice my mire poix (celery, onions, leeks, carrots, etc) into perfect little cubes, but I was feeling lazy and opted to go more rustic with the cut of the veggies. When you chop it finely, it makes an excellent sauce for pasta. I brown a bit of tomato paste with the vegetables for a deeper color, before adding wine and stock, but I didn't have any on hand, and because this was going to be a chunky braise anyway, I just added lovely canned Strianese San Marzano cherry tomatoes into the braising liquid which I had in the pantry. Fennel bulb is usually value add, too, but I didn't have any. Instead of chopping my herbs finely, I opted for a bouquet garni. Bouquet garni is a French herbal sachet. It consists of a collection of herbs, gathered and tied into a bundle or sachet in cheesecloth, or directly tied together when using fresh herbs. Bouquet garni is used to enhance the flavour of stews, broths, or stocks. I didn't bother tying the sprigs together, I let them float free. Somehow, the dish survived the translation of my improvisations. A classic dish always does. You can serve this with polenta or risotto, if you want to be more traditional. That being said, a mound of freshly mashed potatoes provide a wonderful foil for this dish, better than any other. The earthiness of potatoes, along with their toothsome texture and mild flavor make them the perfect canvas. Any leftover sauce is wonderful over buttered wide flat egg noodles like tagliatelle. 


  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig marjoram
  • 1  bay leaf
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 lbs veal shanks (cut into short lengths)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 TBSP of paprika
  • All purpose flour, for dredging veal
  • 1/2 cup olive oil 
  • 1 small onion, diced into 1/2-inch cubes 
  • 1 small carrot, diced into 1/2-inch cubes 
  • 1 stalk celery, diced into 1/2 inch cubes 
  • 1 large leek, white part only, cut into coins
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz. can of San Marzano Cherry Tomatoes 
  • 1 cup dry white wine 
  • 3 cups veal or chicken stock 
  • 1 small handful of fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (optional)


  1. Place rack in center of oven & preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Pat veal shanks dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture.
  3. Veal shanks will brown better when they are dry. 
  4. Season each shank with paprika, salt and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Dredge the shanks in flour, shaking off excess. 
  6. In a large Dutch oven pot or braiser, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat
  7. When the oil is shimmering (about 1 minute) add veal shanks to the hot pan
  8. And brown all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 
  9. Remove browned shanks and reserve. 
  10. In the same pot, add the onion, carrot, leek, and celery.
  11. Season with salt at this point to help draw out the moisture from the vegetables.
  12. Saute until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
  13. Add garlic and saute until it loses its raw look.
  14. Add the tomato paste and mix well. 
  15. Return browned shanks to the pan and add the white wine
  16. Reduce liquid by half, about 5 minutes. 
  17. Add the bouquet garni (the sprigs of herbs & clove), the canned tomatoes and 2 cups of the stock,
  18. making sure the shanks are covered 3/4 of the way up and bring to a boil.
  19. Reduce heat to low, cover pan tightly and place in oven.
  20. Lower heat in oven to 325 degrees
  21. Simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. 
  22. While it's braising, check every 30 minutes, turning shanks and adding more stock as necessary. The level of cooking liquid should always be about 3/4 the way up the shank. 
  23. Carefully remove the cooked shanks from the pot and place in serving dish.
  24. Remove and discard bouquet garni from the pot.
  25. Ladle sauce from the pot over the shanks.
  26. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest. (optional)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Dessert Crowns X-Mas Dinner: Apple-Chestnut Cheesecake Tart & Pear Crostada & Pumpkin Cheesecake Gingersnap Macadamia Nut Crusted Madness... OH MY!

“The dessert crowns the dinner. To create a fine dessert, one has to combine the skills of a confectioner, a decorator, a painter, an architect, an ice-cream manufacturer, a sculptor, and a florist. The splendour of such creations appeals above all to the eye - the real gourmand admires them without touching them! The magnificence of the dessert should not allow one to forget the cheese. Cheese complements a good dinner and supplements a bad one.”
~Eugene Briffault (1799-1854)

Apple-Chestnut Cheesecake Tart, just prior to being baked. The fragrances wafting out of the oven through the apartment would make even the most ascetic heavenly angel salivate like Pavlov's dogs. 

Some wisenheimer was once said to have sagely advised, "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." Well, truth be told, I prefer to drink my dessert. (Not a wise thing to do on an empty stomach, trust me. Sorry, Ernestine Ulmer.) As a rule, I'm not a dessert eater but tis the season to be indulging... it's yet again what those songs, jangling incessantly in malls all across the country since mid-November, remind us is the most wonderful time of the year, and I've got visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Almost. It's a bit early still for me to be thinking and feeling Christmasy, but I'm trying to put the bloom on my mistletoe and get all my gingerbread men in a row to regale you, dear reader, with the joys of Noel.

Although, honestly, I don't even buy a tree until the 20th of December or so. The frantic search for a perfectly fresh Noble Fir amidst a nearly empty lot containing vagabond trees that even Charlie Brown would look askance at has become an annual tradition for me. Once my young, blonde, bonhomous, well-muscled South African delivery man drives me and my tree home,  and we squeeze it into our apartment's narrow doorway, I  wait until Christmas Eve to decorate it while the esposo and I have Vince Guaraldi, George Winston and Paul Winter playing in the background. Then after the tree lighting ceremony where O Tannenbaum is sung, we cozy up and watch our favorite Christmas videos with champagne, foie gras pate, a cheese plate with olives, honeycomb & spiced nuts, ahi poke, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, a wee bit of caviar. Charlie Brown, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Scrooge - the 1950s version with Alastair Sim all keep us company on Christmas Eve. It's intimate, it's quiet, and pine scented... Gosh, I love the scent of pine... Christmas Day dinner these days in Casa Gomez is usually an orange-scented garlicky pork roast, truffly smashed potatoes, choucroute... pretty simple, straightforward stuff. A nod to my husband's Germanic heritage. I will make something sweet for breakfast but that varies year to year. Tradition dictates these matters, and I become its willing slave. There is certain comfort in the rituals of these celebrations of culture whether one is religious or not. Atheist though I may be, I become a devout worshipper of Christ during the winter solstice, my limbic brain is parochial school green plaid skirt clad this time of year as I search for the holy brioche. Me... pounding the pavement, scaling mountains of concrete, descending into the hell of bread lines, but persevering... striving... and surviving the madness and mayhem of holiday grocery shopping with pain de mie and hawkwing mushrooms for all...
Growing up in my little East Harlem public housing apartment, we always had a fresh bowl of nuts in the house, a broken nutcracker, pernil asado, arroz con gandules, and pasteles - a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas food, very much like a Mexican tamale except the masa is made from grated green bananas (occasionally and unintentionally flecked with the skin and blood of those like yours truly assembled and assigned to grate the damned things). Pastele's interior yields a savory stewed pork, wrapped in plantain leaves and paper and tied with string for a festive, Christmas-gift look. My stoic abuelita is said to have made the best, sadly I wouldn't know. I refused to taste them - I suppose the loss of my knuckle skin might have contributed to my distaste for them. As an adult, I learned to adore them on the rare occasion someone's mother or grandmother offered me some and now ironically can't find them anywhere in San Francisco. I try to take the philosophical view about this. It's a form of poetic justice. For 15 years I rejected untasted what the bookmakers in the neighborhood wagered were the finest pasteles in East Harlem. A veritable paragon of pastel-hood were lovingly wrought by my abuelita's hands. I'd make my own but my abuelita's recipes died with her. I don't have the heart to try to recreate her magic. I don't deserve pasteles. I'll eat tamales instead.

Pasteles Filling Before Being Wrapped & Boiled 
Desserts at 421 East 102nd Street Apt. 1-A, NY NY 10029 included an assortment of cookies, puddings and pastries. Store-bought Entenmann's pumpkin and coconut custard pies graced our table (as an interesting aside, William Entenmann was an immigrant from Stuttgart, Germany who arrived on the Brooklyn shoreline in the late 1880, opened a small bakery there and quickly gained notoriety serving prestigious customers... everyone from the Vanderbilts to Frank Sinatra; in the early 50's, William died but his  family created an empire of goodies that still sell well until this day. His is the quintessential American success story). Then there were the more traditional Boricua homemade sweets whipped up by my grandmother, such as: 

Tembleque - a Puerto Rican blancmange made by cooking coconut milk, milk, salt, cornstarch, cinnamon, sugar, cloves, vanilla, and nutmeg or extra flavoring such as rum, orange blossom water and cream of coconut, garnished with mint, cinnamon, almonds, fruit, flavored syrup or chocolate shavings. So silky smooth.  

Arroz con Coco - another humble dessert of rice, coconut milk and spices traditionally made in Puerto Rican households throughout the Christmas season. 

Arroz con Leche - less exotic, more like American rice pudding with raisins, cinnamon and milk; batches of it are made, poured into plates, sprinkled with cinnamon and then shared with neighbors as well as our family. It was too much of a glutinous mess for my delicate palate, though everyone in my family scarfed it up, leaving more tembleque for me.


There was also Budin de Pan (a dense brick-like Puerto Rican Bread Pudding), Dutch butter cookies, Italian Stella D'oro brand amaretti as well as their assortment of cookies with star and flower-shaped pretty pink frosting and a rainbow of sprinkles known as Lady Stella; Guava paste; Turron de Navidad - a traditional Spanish candy consisting of only three ingredients: almonds, honey and egg white, and Dulce de Leche which I could never get enough of... it was a crumbly delicate thing that instantly melted as it felt the heat of your tongue... more like Mexican cajeta, a chalky caramel fudge, than the caramel sauce most non-Puerto Ricans associate with it... Quesitos de Guayaba (sweetened cream cheese and guava Pastries bought from the bakery on 103rd street and Lexington right next to the #6 IRT Subway Station). Of course, even we had the obligatory and ubiquitous Christmas fruitcake of dubious European descent. Every civilized household must.  We had the same tin of fruitcake that we took out annually like all the other Christmas decorations for the first 15 years of my life. We never once considered eating it. Nobody ever opened it! I bet bats or snakes would have flown out if they did. I can't vouch for what happened to it after I left home at that tender age. It may be hidden in the bowels of the old coat closet still waiting for some intrepid explorer to open its tin and immerse himself into a darker knowing.
Beverages flowed and included Egg Nog (which I hated), Coquito (Puerto Rican Egg nog with coconut which I loved), Maví, a tree bark-based beverage grown and widely consumed throughout the Caribbean, it's a certain species in the Colubrina genus including Colubrina elliptica (also called behuco indio) and Colubrina arborescens, a small tree native to the northern Caribbean and south Florida. Mavi is laced with spices, colored with achiote (aniseed). We'd buy it from neighbors who made batches of it with the mavi tree bark, fresh ginger, whole cinnamon, water, sugar & dark brown sugar. More acidic and mouth-puckering than ginger or root beer, it is an acquired taste, but was as indispensable a part of the holiday tradition as the Christmas tree. Malta (which is a sort of yeasty non-alcoholic dark beer which I quaffed instead of soda for years, the brand we used was La Malta Dukesa which had a catchy jingle that I still sing on occasion) was also available for kiddie consumption.


There truly was abundance at this time of year in my home. Three generations of us were there together and all the adults pooled their meager paychecks, welfare checks and pensions to make it a wonderful celebration. I had no inkling we were "poor". We were well-nourished by my grandmother which is another way of saying we were well-loved. Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken, but the people who give you food give you their heart, because love is a delicious dish served warm. She put her entire being into cooking our meals and treats. I suppose that was another reason I never felt loved by my own mother, it wasn't so much her physical and emotional abuse, I think it's that she never once cooked for us.
Of course, our little apartment was crammed with people and the chaos level was high, invariably fights would break out. I remember one Christmas when my grandfather had cashed his pension check and hidden his cache in the angel tree topper but forgot! He accused all and sundry of stealing it, it was like Jericho in there, he brought all the walls down, but I straightened him out before the police arrived - that was my job as a child... the lunatic whisperer. I was actually proud that I could help. I never considered it anything but normal. 
Christmas brings the hibernating child out in so many of us. Holiday traditions abound worldwide as revelers celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwaanza or Festivus. When I polled my friends this year to glean further insight into the hows and whats of Christmas desserts, they spoke with anticipatory gustatory relish about sweet treats as varied as Calabrese Christmas Cake (an Italian delicacy that may go back before Christian times, originally made to celebrate a Roman snake goddess with her coils constricted and laced in butter, raisins & cinnamon)... to the lovely delicately powdered, fruit-studded German stollen and its distant cousin Italian Panettone (part cake, part bread); to sturdy sweetmeat nutted and sugar spiked minced pies, so favored from that great island nation of Britain... to Divinity: the nougaty & sublimely named powdery white confection of the American South; to Buche de Noel, the French derived dense ganache-covered Christmas cake rolled with whipped cream, decorated with confectioners' sugar to resemble snow on a Yule log. There is no end to the innovation of the pastry-minded. I, however, intend to offer the homecook three simple variations of a theme - all of them easily adaptable and interchangeable with substituted ingredients, though I have chosen to showcase seasonal fruits: a pumpkin cheesecake with macadamia nut gingersnap crust, a pear and almond crostada, and an apple-chestnut cheesecake tart. Think of them as my Three Magi bearing the gift of Christmas dessert.

A Primer On Pie Crusts ( Pâte Brisée)  

Gingersnap Macadamia Nut Crust

Store-bought pre-made pie doughs and prepared crusts can be substituted for my homemade pie dough, if you need to save time, but it is so easy to make crusts at home it should be your first option. You can also make the dough for the crusts months ahead of time and freeze them. They store perfectly well there as long as you have them wrapped in plastic and slip them in a Ziploc bag and press as much air as you can out of the bags before zipping them. The crust for the crostada and the tart are essentially the same, they are just formed differently. I use a 12' fluted tart pan for the apple-chestnut cheesecake tart, and nothing but a cookie sheet for the crostada. The gingersnap-macadamia nut crust is a snap to make: cookies & nuts pulverized in the food processor with a little additional sugar and melted butter, then the dough is pressed into the bottom of a buttered springform cake pan.

The trick with pie dough made with flour is that it requires time to chill after preparing, ideally for two hours.  You may ask,

"Why do I have to chill my pie dough before I roll it out. After I chill it, it’s too hard to work with?”

 Yes, like many things we kitchen warriors do, it seems unreasonable.  I understand waiting an hour for pie dough to chill feels like you fell into a wormhole, especially since you have to wait 10 minutes after the chilling process to make it pliable enough to roll out again! Well, believe it or not, there is reason to chill the dough, and the reasons are important for maintaining that flaky crust we all look forward to eating. It all has to do with gluten and moisture. By chilling the dough before rolling it out, we allow the present gluten strands time to settle down and relax. This actually makes your pastry dough easier to roll out and cuts down on any shrinking during the baking process. Chilling also lets the available moisture find its way back into all parts of the dough. Something that is hard to achieve while you are mixing the dough together. Chilling the dough also helps the fats in the dough re-solidify, which prevents the gluten from sticking together in one big clump. Rather (if you use the right mixture of fats) you’ll get flat sheets of fat (that make layers and thus flakes) and little balls of fat (that make melt sooner and coat the grains of flour, tender).

Remember, the harder you mix dough the more likely you are to make gluten, which is tough and elastic. That’s great for chewy bread, but bad for tender/flaky pie crust. Making pâte brisée in a food processor sounds easy, doesn't it? Albeit untraditional, you can achieve great results by letting the machine do some of the work. However, it may work too well, so be careful. Using a food processor helps keep the ingredients cooler since you are not subjecting it to the warmth of your hands,  and makes the steps of cutting the butter into the flour and mixing in the water go faster — two major factors when producing a flaky pie crust. But because it does come together so quickly, it can be easy to mix too much and overwork the dough. Pulse the dough and turn out onto your work surface just as the water is incorporated to avoid overworking.

The more the dough is mixed, rolled, and handled, the more the gluten develops. An overworked dough makes it difficult to work with and makes the finished pie crust tough. The crust may also shrink during baking which you can partly prevent by pressing aluminum foil or parchment paper over the crust, then using pie weights, dried beans or poking little vents in the crust with a fork to weight it down and then blind baking it. Blind baking a crust is pre-baking it before adding a filling. Very important when you are using wet ingredients as filling. Another way to keep the crust from shrinking is in the actual mixing process: try not to over-blend the butter when cutting it into the flour. And then, during mixing, only add in enough water as needed to bring the dough together, and only mix until the flour is moistened. It should roll into a ball in the food processor as soon as it is perfectly mixed. Overworked dough typically needs more water to bind everything together, emphasizing the problem even more. Is your dough getting sticky? Toss it into the fridge for a bit instead of adding more flour to overcompensate.

The tart shell, rolled out and chilling in the fridge with pie weights; when it's chilled it is then blind-baked with the pie weights to keep the dough from shrinking. 

 Overall, letting the dough rest in the fridge for at least one hour before rolling it out is a win-win situation with a purpose. Give your dough the time it needs. There's plenty to be done during that time in or out of the kitchen.

Now the doughs I am making here are shortbread crusts which are a bit sturdier and more forgiving. The additional sugar and butter makes them taste like butter cookies, they are the perfect crust for fruit tarts and cheesecakes because they can withstand the moisture of the fillings. For the apple-chestnut cheesecake tart I also added a TBS of sour cream in with the water. As an aside,  the history of shortbread goes back to at least the 12th century and originally started life as ‘biscuit bread’; biscuits that were made from left-over bread dough that was sometimes sweetened and dried out in the oven to form a hard, dry rusk. This practise took place over the whole of the British Isles, not just Scotland. Over time the leavening was lost and exchanged for butter, making it an expensive fancy treat that was only bought for celebrations such as Christmas and Hogsmanay (Scottish New Year). There are similar ‘breads’ outside of Scotland such as Shrewsbury cakes and Goosnagh cakes. The large amount of butter is what makes shortbread short: the term short, when applied to biscuits and pastry, means crumbly, like shortcrust pastry should be. It is the reason why the fat added to biscuits and pastries is called shortening. Today, shortbread is made from flour, butter and sugar, though other flavourings are added. Caraway was particularly popular; Mary Queen of Scots was particularly fond of them. Other extra ingredients included almonds and citrus fruits like this 18th century recipe from Mrs Frazer:

 Take a peck of flour…beat and sift a pound of sugar; take orange-peel, citron, and blanched almonds, of each half a pound, cut in pretty long thin pieces: mix these well in the flour; then make a hole in the middle of the flour, put in three table-spoons of good yeast; then work it up, but not too much…roll out; prickle them on top, pinch them neat round the edges, and strew sugar, carraways, peel, and citron, on the top. Fire it…in a moderate oven.

Pear Crostada

Out of the three, the pear crostada is the quickest and easiest to make. The crostada is a looser construction than its tart sister, she is something of a hippy: it's  basically just rolled out into a rough 12 inch circle, the center of which is then filled with ground almonds & fruit with a large enough border around it to allow you to fold the dough around it. I cut the butter into small dice and then put it in the freezer to keep it as cold as possible.  Don’t worry about rolling, folding and pleating the crust perfectly—its free-form nature is one of its many charms. Serve with softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 

Essentially, I sliced three Bartlett pears, put them in a bowl, added a squeeze of lemon, a handful of brown sugar, a generous dusting of cinnamon, a pinch of ginger & some freshly ground almonds (I used the coffee grinder to grind them to meal, but not paste). 1-1/4 cup of flour, a stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (10 tablespoons), I also added 2 TBS of sugar and a 1/4 cup of almond meal to the pate brisee dough because I like my pastry dough a little sweet... that adds humectants to the dough which means I used less than a 1/4 cup of iced water, I actually made the dough in the food processor and cooled it in the freezer for 15 minutes after rolling it into a ball and flattening it into a disc...



  • 1  cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 cup of freshly ground unsalted almonds
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter (10 TBS total), chilled and cut in small pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream 
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons ice water 


  • 4 firm-ripe Bosc or Bartlett pears (about 1 1/2 pounds) halved, cored and quartered, each quarter cut in 3 slices 
  • 1/2 cup freshly ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons flour or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon of milk or cream


For the pastry: 

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl

Cut butter in until the dry dough resembles cornmeal.
Quickly pulse in sour cream and up 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water—adding 1 Tablespoon at a time, just enough so mixture barely begins to hold together, and rolls into a ball
Remove from food processor
Pat into a disc, cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 2 hours.

When chilled, pull out of the fridge, let dough rest at room temperature 5 -10 minutes.

Roll dough out on a sheet of parchment paper to a 12-inch circle, and roughly trim (it needn’t be perfect).

Slide parchment onto a baking sheet and chill 30 minutes in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400F.

For the filling: 

Toss pears with lemon juice in a medium bowl. Combine sugar with flour, almonds, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a small bowl. Sprinkle over pears; toss gently. Add vanilla; toss again. Arrange pear filling in center of pastry to within 1 1/2 inches of the edges. Working quickly, fold and pleat edges of dough up and over pears. Dot pears with butter, brush top of pastry with milk, and sprinkle remaining 1½ teaspoons sugar over top of pastry and pears. Bake 40 minutes, or until pastry is golden and pears are tender. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing.

Pumpkin Cheesecake w/
Gingersnap Macadamia Nut Crust

I HIGHLY recommend having pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap-macadamia nut crust for breakfast. It is life-altering. Subbing out a cup of sour cream for a cup of cream cheese was HUGE value add... it made it so silky and gave it a tiny bit of bite... so was using molasses in the batter, more depth of flavor than plain granulated sugar, though naturally I was forced to use plain sugar, too. This cheesecake originally called for 4 packages of cream cheese...I used 3-1/2 plus 1 cup sour cream. The recipe also initially called for a graham cracker crust, but that is sooooo boring. I used gingersnap cookies and macadamia nuts instead. I also added ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg to the crumbs after pulverizing them in my food processor. This recipe calls for patience. The assembly of it is a snap, but that two hour time period of resting in the oven after baking with the temperature off is essential to keeping the surface from cracking. I also added a pan of boiling hot water on a lower rack in the oven to keep the oven humid which also prevents the pumpkin custard from cracking while it cooks. Make it the night before you want to serve it. Then you won't feel rushed.


  • 1 1/4 cups ginger snap cookies 
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) bar cream cheese, very soft
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree 
  • 1/3 cup of molasses
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature 


 Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with 1 rack in center. 1 rack in the bottom.

Assemble a 9-inch nonstick springform pan, with the raised side of the bottom part facing up. 

Make the crust

In a food processor, pulse ginger snaps, sugar, and macadamia nuts until crumbly
Add melted butter until moistened; remove from food processor, press firmly into bottom of the buttered pan. Bake until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes. 

Make the filling: 

With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, sour cream and sugar on low speed until smooth;

Add pumpkin puree, molasses, pie spice, vanilla, and salt; mix just until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Mix in flour (do not overmix).

Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour filling into springform, and gently smooth top. Heat water in a tea kettle, pour into a roasting pan. Transfer both pans to oven; placing the water pan in the lowest rack and the cake pan on the center rack; reduce oven heat to 300 degrees. Bake 45 minutes without opening the oven. Turn off oven; to prevent the top from cracking, let cheesecake stay in oven 2 hours more (without opening). Remove from oven; cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. Unmold before serving.

Apple-Chestnut Cheesecake Tart

Okay, so... I still had apples, half a jar of chestnuts, half a package of cream cheese, Greek yogurt, an egg, and a little creme fraiche leftover from Thanksgiving. I was feeling creative and thrifty and opted to wing an apple-chestnut cheesecake tart with the available ingredients. Tis very much of the season.  This is the most labor intensive of the three desserts, but only because the three part filling must be prepared separately before adding them together. It's a fairly straightforward assembly. The actual technique required is elementary and the lush cheesecake custard perfumed by the aromatic and rich chestnut cream is sublime, add the tart sweetness and texture of the apples and you have the best there is to enjoy of winter's mellow fruitfulness... You can make this all apple, or all pear. I just used what I had, but I absolutely loved the combination.  



  • 1-1/4  cup all-purpose flour 
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter (10 TBS total), chilled and cut in small pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream 
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons ice water 
  • 1 fluted 12 inch tart pan 


Ingredients for the Chestnut Cream:

  • 7 ounces jar roasted, peeled chestnuts 
  • 3/4  cup half and half or heavy cream 
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt 
  • 1 vanilla bean, split or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a couple of generous splashes of Sweet Marsala

Ingredients for the Cheesecake Batter:

Note: Everything must be brought to room temperature before mixing
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup of creme fraiche
  • 1 cup of Greek Yogurt
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg 

Ingredients for Fruit Topping

  • 3 Gala apples, peeled, cored & sliced 1/4 inch thick 
  • 1 Bosc pear,  peeled, cored & sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 TBS fresh lemon juice ( I used a Meyer lemon, much sweeter)
  • 2 TBS granulated sugar
  • 1 TBS cinnamon
  • 1 TBS cornstarch

    Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 1 TBS unsalted butter 
  • 1 teaspoon water



Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor bowl
Cut butter in until the dry dough resembles cornmeal.
Quickly pulse in sour cream and up 3 to 4 tablespoons ice water—adding 1 Tablespoon at a time, just enough so mixture barely begins to hold together, and rolls into a ball
Remove from food processor
Pat into a disc, cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 2 hours.

When chilled, pull out of the fridge, let dough rest at room temperature 5 -10 minutes.
Roll dough out on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap to a 14-inch circle

Place crust parchment/plastic wrap side up into tart pan, firmly pressing dough into the fluted edges and bottom, and chill 30 minutes in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400F. Be sure to have a rack in the center. 

When dough is chilled, place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper enough to cover entire surface and sides of pan over dough, cover surface with  pie weights or dried beans and blind bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil & pie weights. Set aside.


Combine apples, pear, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

Simmering chestnuts in half and half, sugar, vanilla, marsala, a pinch of sea salt, and cinnamon until they are soft (about 20 minutes), then puree them into a chestnut cream; set aside and let cool...

Meanwhile, make cream cheese batter by processing cream cheese, creme fraiche, and Greek yogurt with sugar until mixture is silky smooth and shimmering, then blend in egg until just combined and add cooled chestnut puree to batter until well mixed.


  1. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
  2. Place tart tin on a baking sheet, fill with chestnut cream cheese cake batter.
  3. Smooth batter.
  4. Starting from the outside edge, gently lay the apple-pear slices one at a time slightly overlapping the edges, working your way into concentric circles, until you have completely covered the top of the tart. 
  5. Place pan in the center rack of the oven.
  6. Bake undisturbed for 45 minutes.
  7. While tart is baking making the glaze by combining butter, sugar & water in a small heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Using a heat-proof pastry brush, combine ingredients, bring to a boil, stirring gently but constantly, until butter & sugar become viscous, but not brown.  
  8. After 45 minutes, remove tart from oven to glaze fruit with sugar mixture; using pastry basting brush. Cover surface thoroughly.
  9. When completely glazed, return tart to oven for an additional 15 minutes or until knife inserted into center of tart comes out clean & fruit is golden. 
  10. When tart is done, turn off oven, allow tart to cool undisturbed in oven for an hour or so. Then remove from oven. Chill tart for a minimum of four hours before serving.  

Merry Christmas!

The authoress as a sweet little cherub in the St. Lucy's School Christmas Pageant