I use golden brown sugar here, because it’s what I usually have, but if you have dark brown sugar, go ahead and try it. And then let me know how it is. Also, I know this seems like a lot of sugar, but trust me.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 ½-inch pie plate and dust it lightly with granulated sugar. Shake out any excess.
Peel and core the pear, and slice it thinly. (I cut mine into 12 to 14 slices.) Arrange them on the bottom of the prepared pan.
In the jar of a blender, combine the milk through flour. Blend on high speed for 1 minute (stopping once, if needed, to scrape down any flour that may stick to the sides of the jar). Pour the batter over the pears.
Bake until the custard is puffed and golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. The custard will deflate a little as it cools.
Serve at room temperature or – my preference – chilled.
Yield: 6 servings
My host mother used regular orange carrots, but I like to use purple and yellow ones, too, when I can find them. They keep their color when cooked, so they make the dish especially handsome. Whatever carrots you use, make sure that they taste sweet in their raw state: a dull, bitter carrot cannot be fixed. I don’t bother to peel my carrots, but I do wash them well.
Also, for this recipe, I like to slice my onions from stem end to root end, like this, so that they keep their shape and integrity as they cook. When you slice onions the other way – across their equators, you could say – they tend to fall apart during cooking.
Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add a good amount of olive oil, enough to film the bottom of the pan. Add the onions – they should sizzle – stir to coat with oil. Salt lightly. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened but not browned. Add the garlic, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the carrots, thyme, and a couple of generous pinches of salt, and stir to mix. If the carrots look dry, add a little more oil to lightly coat them; this dish needs more oil than you might think. Cover the pan and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender and the onions are very soft. (I never seem to pay attention to how long this takes, but I would guess that it takes somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes.) Remove the pan from the heat, and discard the thyme sprigs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the carrots. Stir gently to incorporate: the vinegar should subtly brighten the flavor of the carrots without being discernable itself. Add more vinegar, if needed, and salt to taste.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
The original recipe calls for brandy, not whiskey, but I never seem to have brandy around. We’re whiskey people. You can use whichever you want.
About the chocolate: the good people at Cook’s Illustrated use Ghirardelli bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate for this recipe, and I do too. You could use a fancier brand, if you want, but whatever you use, it should contain about 60% cacao. Chocolates with a higher cacao percentage have less sugar and a starchier consistency, and they won’t work well in this recipe.
Also, about serving size: chocolate mousse is, by definition, serious stuff. I am pretty much a total pig about dessert, but I recommend that you offer this in small servings. The recipe makes six to eight servings, and I lean in favor of eight. Especially since I like to serve it with a whack of whipped cream on top.
Combine the chocolate, cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and whiskey in a medium heatproof bowl. Place over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of gently simmering water, and stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.
In another medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, 1 ½ teaspoons sugar, and salt. Whisk until the mixture lightens to a pale yellow color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, and whisk until combined. Set aside for about 5 minutes, until just warmer than room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until frothy. Add the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons sugar, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted. Detach the whisk and bowl from the mixer, and whisk the last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape up any unbeaten whites from the bottom of the bowl. Using the whisk, stir about ¼ of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, to lighten it. Then, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites until only a few white streaks remain.
In the now-empty mixer bowl, whip the heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken. Increase the speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the mousse until no white streaks remain. Spoon into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes – I like to use teacups – or, if you’re feeling casual, mound it up in a single serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
For best texture, let the mousse sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with very lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
This type of cake is an old classic in France, the sort of humble treat that a grandmother would make. Traditionally, the ingredients are measured in a yogurt jar, a small glass cylinder that holds about 125 ml. Because most American yogurts don’t come in such smart packaging, you’ll want to know that 1 jar equals about 1/2 cup.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.
Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan to cool completely.
When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.
Variations: This type of yogurt-based cake is a terrific base for many improvisations. For a basic yogurt cake, leave out the lemon zest and do not use the lemon juice glaze. For an almond version, try replacing 1 jar of flour with 1 jar of finely ground almonds. You can also play with adding various fruits (if frozen, do NOT thaw before adding) or nuts, if you like. When I add fruit, I generally pour half the cake batter into the prepared pan, top it with a layer of fruit, and then pour in the other half of the batter, sometimes adding more fruit on the very top.
Yield: 8 servings, or thereabouts