Just Desserts

From simple to decadent, these desserts will be sure to impress all through the holidays

Eugenia Uhl Photograph

Individual Creole Cream Cheese Soufflés with Orange-Chocolate Sauce

This dessert is a show-stopper, but it’s not all that complicated. If you can beat egg whites and if you take a little care in preparing the ramekins before filling them, the soufflés will turn out perfectly every time.

For the Orange-Chocolate Sauce
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup of triple sec, Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur.
3/4 stick of unsalted butter (3 ounces)


1. Heat the chocolate and the liqueur in a double boiler, and stir occasionally until mixed. Add the butter in pieces, stirring, until it is all incorporated and the sauce has a sheen. Hold the sauce while the  soufflés bake.

For the Soufflés
12 ounces Creole cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Scant pinch salt
3 egg whites beaten to stiff peaks
Butter and sugar to line ramekins


1. Preheat your oven to 450.

2. Drain the Creole cream cheese in a fine-mesh sieve for at least an hour. Push the cheese through the sieve into a large bowl, and then mix in the sugar, flour, egg yolks, orange zest and salt until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in the egg whites with a rubber spatula. Butter the ramekins, and then add sugar, and roll the ramekin around to coat the insides and rim. Carefully pour the batter into the ramekins about halfway up the side, making sure that you don’t get the batter on the rims. Doing so will make the soufflés rise unevenly. (If you do get batter on the rim despite your best efforts, you can just wipe it off.)

3. Put the ramekins into the preheated oven, and then drop the heat to 375, and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the soufflés are puffed and golden. To serve, place one ramekin onto a serving dish that will hold it securely. Puncture the top of the soufflé with a small spoon of the chocolate sauce. A little goes a long way here, and you want to taste the cheese and the orange zest in the soufflé as well as the chocolate. Serves 8.

Hot Coffee with Rum and Brown Sugar

This drink, made with strong coffee, uses dark rum and brown sugar as a perfect after-dinner drink. It would pair well with the soufflés in particular. If you can find raw brown sugar, you’ll get a bit more of the classic molasses flavor that combines well with the rum, but if not, regular dark brown sugar will do. The final addition of whipped cream and a little freshly grated nutmeg mellows out the coffee.

For each serving
4-5 ounces of strong, dark coffee
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, preferably raw such as turbinado or Demerara
1-2 ounces dark rum
Heavy cream, whipped
Freshly grated nutmeg


1. Stir the sugar into the hot coffee, then add the rum, and stir to combine. Top with a dollop of whipped cream, and dust with a little nutmeg. If you like, you can garnish with a cinnamon stick.

 

Pears Poached in Red Wine with Honeyed Goat Cheese and Spiced Walnuts

This recipe takes some time to come together, but none of the individual steps is complicated, and the result is both beautiful and delicious.

3 barely ripe pears –
   Bosc, d’Anjou, etc.
Juice of 1 lemon
Ice water
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
4 tablespoons sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 cloves
2 cardamom pods (optional)
8 ounces of fresh goat cheese
2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
3-4 tablespoons honey
1 cup of walnut pieces
4 tablespoons brown or raw sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom


1. Peel the pears, and cut them in half, leaving the stem attached to one half if possible. Remove the cores, and place the pears into a bowl of ice water and lemon juice.

2. Combine the wine, water, sugar and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Add the pears, and poach until they are just tender.

Check one of the pears after about 5 minutes by inserting a very thin knife into the thickest part. Remove the saucepan from the heat once the pears are done, and let them cool in the poaching liquid.

3. Whisk the goat cheese, honey and 2 tablespoons of the cream in a bowl, adding more cream if necessary, until it resembles a mousse in texture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

4. Preheat your oven to 350. Roast the walnut pieces until fragrant, about 45 minutes. In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, preferably nonstick, heat the sugar and water on medium heat, stirring regularly. When the sugar is mostly melted, add the butter and cardamom, and stir to combine. Add the nuts, and stir to coat them completely; pour them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let the nuts cool, and then place them into an airtight container until ready to serve.

5. To serve the dish, thinly slice the pear from the bottom almost to the tip, leaving about 1 inch uncut. Fan the pear out onto a small plate. Scoop approximately 1/6th of the cheese mixture onto the plate alongside the pear, and garnish with the spiced nuts. Serves 6.

 

Double-Chocolate-Walnut Cookies

These cookies are of the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside variety.

1 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped roughly
3/4 cup walnut pieces


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a bowl.

4. In a stand mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add the egg, and scraping down the sides of the bowl, continue to mix. Add the vanilla extract, and remove from the mixer. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chunks with a wooden spoon, and then drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto the cookie sheet. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes or until the exterior is a bit firm. The cookies will harden as they cool.

5. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies cool. Makes around 14-16 large cookies.

 

Grape Clafouti

Clafouti is typically made with cherries, but apricots, pears or apples are also used.
Using seedless grapes makes an already fairly simple dish even easier.

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups red seedless grapes
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon butter, cut into four
   or five pieces
About 1/4 cup powdered sugar,
   for dusting.



1. Preheat your oven to 450.

2. Butter and lightly flour a fairly deep round 9-inch pie dish or 10-inch cast-iron skillet.

3. Wash and dry the grapes, and then put them into the dish. The grapes should mostly fill the dish in one layer; if not, add a few more.

4. Sift the flour, and combine it with the salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk. Beat the eggs, and add them slowly, continuing to whisk. Add the sugar, vanilla and the rest of the milk. The batter will be thin. Pour the batter over the grapes; top with the pieces of butter; and bake the dish for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it is puffed and brown along the edges and the center is mostly set. There will be some residual cooking after you remove it.

5. Let the clafouti cool, and then serve with a dusting of powdered sugar over the top. Serves 6 to 8.

 

Apple Pie with Almond Crust

The almonds in the crust of this otherwise traditional pie give the crust an interesting texture, and if you use the optional orgeat syrup, it has a slightly more pronounced almond flavor.

For the crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter
1/2 cup ground almonds
6-8 tablespoons cold water


1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, mix the flour and butter until incorporated. Add the almonds; process for a few seconds; and then, with the processor running, slowly drizzle in enough water for the dough to form a cohesive ball. Add a little more flour if your dough is too wet. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap in plastic, and set aside.

For the filling
6-8 apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon orgeat syrup (optional)


1. As you slice the apples, put them into a large bowl with the lemon juice. Mix them to allow the lemon juice to coat the slices as you go. Add a tablespoon of sugar and the optional orgeat syrup, and taste to see if it’s sweet enough. If not, add a little more sugar.

2. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

3. Roll one-half of the dough into a circle, and place it into a 9-inch round pie dish. Put the filling into the crust, and then roll out the other half of the dough.

Place it on top of the pie, crimping the edges with your fingers, and slice a few holes in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

4. Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes or until the crust is slightly browned. Serves 6 to 8.
 

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