Sweet Treats

This is the best time of year for those of us who have a sweet tooth. From Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s Day, tables are overflowing with an unimaginable variety of cakes, pies, cookies, puddings and candies. When we transition to a new year, there is only a slight pause, and then king cakes show up and are everywhere until the arrival of Lent.

Winter isn’t my favorite time of year, but I do love sweets and desserts of every type, and they certainly do take the edge off the cold, short days. This month, in anticipation of the season, we have four dessert recipes that can be made with a minimum of effort.

Some cooks are intimidated by the idea of making crepes, but crepes are just thin pancakes, and everybody makes pancakes. The recipe for Almond Crepes with Lemon and Almond Cream combines the flavors of two favorite ingredients into a light and refreshing dessert. Adding almond flour to the crepe batter produces a very light and flavorful crepe. And replacing wheat flour with almond flour in the pastry cream intensifies the almond flavor. Fortunately, almond flour is now widely available in supermarkets and health food stores, sometimes labeled “almond meal.”

Persimmon pudding is a quick preparation that makes use of a seasonal fruit. Not everyone will appreciate the texture of this simple dish, as not everyone takes to persimmons. I don’t really know how to describe the texture, but it is somewhat gelatinous and reminds me of some Viet-namese pastries I have sampled. It’s something very different from usual American desserts, and I am quite fond of it when served with unsweetened whipped cream.

In the last 20 or so years, tiramisu has become extremely popular. Essentially a very different version of the English trifle, its name means “pick-me-up,” owing, no doubt, to the coffee-and-brandy-soaked ladyfingers that are alternated with layers of mascarpone cream sprinkled with chocolate. From my experience, it is one of those desserts that chefs like to personalize. I have eaten many dishes of tiramisu in restaurants, and no two have ever been the same, though mascarpone, a rich and creamy Italian cream cheese, is always present.

Sweet potatoes make an appearance on Louisiana tables in a number of guises – baked, boiled, fried, candied, combined with pork and ham, made into pies and puddings. This month’s recipe for Sweet Potato Turnovers is one of the easiest and quickest imaginable. It is simply a sweet potato filling wrapped in phyllo dough and briefly baked.

The coffee in this recipe should be very strong, either espresso or brewed from dark roast coffee. If ladyfingers aren’t available, substitute sponge cake or angel food cake.

2 large eggs, separated
¼ cup sugar
8 ounces mascarpone
½ cup cold, strongly-brewed coffee
2 tablespoons brandy
About 20 ladyfingers or
    the equivalent of sliced cake
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate,
    coarsely grated

In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Beat mascarpone into egg yolks until smooth. Fold in egg whites. Combine coffee and brandy in another container.
In a serving dish, place a layer of ladyfingers on the bottom. Brush with enough of the coffee/brandy mixture to soak cake. Add half of mascarpone mixture and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Repeat, ending with a layer of mascarpone. Sprinkle top with remainder of the grated chocolate.
Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Makes about 8 servings.

Persimmon Pudding
Do not use a plain aluminum pan because it will cause the batter to blacken. Use glass, enamel, or metal with a non-stick coating.

1 cup persimmon pulp
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed
    lemon juice
¼ pound unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
Unsweetened whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch non-reactive baking pan or dish.
Combine persimmon pulp and lemon juice in blender and blend on high until thickened.
In a bowl, combine flour with baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt, and stir to combine.
Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat butter until creamy, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until mixture is  smooth. Alternately add persimmon and dry ingredients, mixing after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl, as needed. Do not over beat. Turn batter into prepared baking dish, smooth the top, and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Cool in the pan. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.

Makes 9 servings.

Sweet Potato Turnovers
These little turnovers are a cinch when you use phyllo dough.

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
20 sheets phyllo dough
½ cup melted butter

Peel and cube sweet potatoes. Cover with water in a small pot and boil until a knife easily pierces them, about 10 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold water. Cool before proceeding. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet.
Transfer potatoes to a mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to mash them. Measure 1½ cups of mashed sweet potatoes. Set aside remainder. Return sweet potatoes to bowl, add egg, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest. Mix until smooth.
Brush a sheet of phyllo dough with butter and place 2 tablespoons of sweet potato filling about 2 inches from one short end of the dough. Fold the short end over the filling, then fold the long sides over the filling. Roll the dough and filling toward the other short until you have a cylinder. Place the turnover on the buttered baking sheet. Repeat with remainder of the phyllo and the filling. Brush tops of the turnovers with butter and bake in preheated oven until browned and crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove turnovers to a rack to cool.

Makes 20 turnovers.

Almond Crepes With Lemon And Almond Cream
The crepes and the filling are made in advance and then quickly assembled before serving.

For lemon and almond cream:
1 cup milk
¾ cup almond flour
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed
    lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine milk, almond flour, and lemon zest in a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and salt and whisk until smooth. Slowly add milk mixture to egg yolks, while whisking, until combined. Return mixture to pan and cook over medium heat, while stirring, until thickened. Press through a fine mesh strainer. Add lemon juice and butter and stir until butter is melted and incorporated. Cool, stirring occasionally, then cover and refrigerate until cold.

For crepes:
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond flour
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted butter,
    plus additional for greasing pan

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Let batter sit for 30 minutes or longer before proceeding.
Heat a nonstick 8-inch pan over medium heat. Lightly grease pan with melted butter. Pour a generous 2 tablespoons batter into the pan while rotating pan to spread a thin coat of batter over surface. Cook until crepe is set and browned on the bottom, then use a heatproof rubber spatula to turn crepe. Cook until browned, then turn out onto a plate. Repeat with remaining batter. You should have 8 crepes.

To serve:
Powdered sugar

Spoon 2 generous tablespoons lemon cream onto a crepe and roll up. Repeat with remaining crepes, placing 2 crepes on each dessert plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 4 servings.





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