Category Archives: dessert

Pumpkin Cheesecake in a Gingersnap Crust

In my family, we all love the flavor of pumpkin,  and are big fans of pie.  But pumpkin pie? Not really a favorite around here, but for many Thanksgivings growing up, pumpkin pie would be made and served along with one or two other pies as part of our family tradition. If you didn’t include pumpkin pie, it felt wrong, I guess?

Well, when all of the other pies were quickly finished and the pumpkin pie remained in the fridge barely touched, it seemed to me something needed to change.

So one year, when it was my turn to host the Thanksgiving feast at my house, I decided to make a bold move and replace the traditional pumpkin pie with a recipe that I had been developing: Pumpkin Cheesecake in a Gingersnap Crust.  At first, the idea of cheesecake after a heavy meal sounded ridiculously rich, but once everyone tried the first bite and realized how light and fluffy it was, they were hooked. We have made this cheesecake every year since, and have not looked back.

I included this dessert in a fall menu taught in my cooking classes a while back, and know many of  those people make this every year too.

I like the recipe so much, I even included it in my cookbook, Friends at the Table.

Why not share it here on my blog too?

So go ahead and drive to the store to  tackle your grocery shopping (if you haven’t already started!) and pick up the ingredients to make this cake. You can make it tomorrow and have it ready to go in the refrigerator on Thanksgiving day! No one will notice the pumpkin pie is missing from the table….I promise.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Pumpkin Cheesecake in a Gingersnap Crust

 Serves 8 to 10

1/4 cup of sweetened coconut
8 ounces of gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons of sugar
4 tablespoons of melted butter
2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese
3/4 cup of firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 (1-pound) can of pumpkin
1 1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon of maple syrup

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until golden brown. In the bowl of a food processor, place gingersnap cookies and pulse until the cookies are finely crushed. (You will need 1 3/4 cups of crumbs.) In a medium bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs, toasted coconut, sugar and melted butter. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan with a removable bottom. Press the crumb mixture about one inch up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
For the cheesecake: With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and brown sugar until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup; mix until well blended. Pour mixture into the pan.
Bake until the center barely jiggles when the cake is gently shaken, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Cover and chill until cold, at least 2 1/2 hours or up to 24 hours. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and remove the pan sides. Top each piece with whipped cream.


Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta with Strawberry Caviar, Chocolate Arancini, and Pistachio Creme Anglaise

Ciao Fiore Restaurant
Un Ristorante Alfresco Virtuale

Ciao Fiore! An enchanting outdoor virtual ristorante on the Mediterranean Coast featuring alfresco dining in an ambrosial flower garden opens its virtual doors on Thursday, May 31st.

Chef Norma from Platanos, Mangoes & Me! will prepare the first course,  Lori Lynn from Taste With The Eyes will prepare the second course, and I have the honor of preparing dessert for our  virtual Italian cucina.

I have had the pleasure of working with Norma and Lori Lynn (I couldn’t have asked for better teammates!)over the last few months on this restaurant wars challenge. We are all members of the 5 Star Makeover Cooking Group, and this month, instead of posting an individual dish, our challenge was to to create our own virtual restaurants, complete with theme, dining style, and cuisine.  Our team created Ciao Fiore!, and Italian restaurant, featuring alfresco dining and edible flowers to enhance the garden theme.

Today I will share the dessert component of our 3-course meal that will appear on the menu at Ciao Fiore! 

It didn’t take me long to think of the flavors I love: chocolate, pistachio, strawberry; I just needed to figure out how I wanted to get those flavors into an Italian dessert with edible flowers!  I decided to draw from my own experience : when I go out to dinner, I like to have a sampling of desserts to share. It’s hard for me to narrow it down to just one, so at my table, there are usually a few desserts with extra spoons so we all get to enjoy a taste and vote for our favorite. I kind of took that approach with my dessert for Ciao Fiore! and came up with this…

                                                                                                    Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta with Strawberry Caviar

Adding just a bit of lavender to the creamy panna cotta was just right; the essence was there, but not overpowering. The strawberry caviar gave me the opportunity to experiment with molecular cooking. I broke out some sodium alginate and calcium chloride and transformed my  strawberry sauce into tiny micro pearls that burst in your mouth.


                                                                                         Chocolate Arancini with Pistachio Creme Anglaise

I love making the savory version of arancini, filling the little risotto balls with things like prosciutto, peas, and Parmesean cheese. They are fantastically crisp on the outside, and warm and soft on the inside. I thought a sweet rendition of this dish would work really well on my plated dessert, and it turns out I was right! I added a bit of frozen chocolate ganache to the center of each risotto ball before rolling in bread crumbs and frying. Once out of the oil, the arancini were rolled in a mixture of cocoa powder and sugar. The now warm chocolate center spilled out like lava with the first bite. They were pretty amazing.

The Pistachio Creme Anglaise gave the plate the nutty warmth it needed to bring the dessert elements together. I thought it was really nice with a spoonful of the panna cotta, and equally enjoyable when I dipped some of the chocolate arancini into it; and well, pretty darn tasty all by itself too.

If you are anything like me, you may wish to order a capppuccino to sip alongside your dessert course. The garden setting at Ciao Fiore! is tranquil, and you will want to savor all that the Mediterranean coast has to offer.

 Please be sure to stop back on Thursday, May 31st when the virtual doors of Ciao Fiore! open to reveal our complete menu. Norma from  Platanos, Mangoes & Me! will share  her first course, and Lori Lynn from Taste With The Eyes will prepare the second course. We will share the complete menu on each of our blogs on Thursday as well. Until then, Ciao!

The Recipes:

Chocolate Arancini

4 cups water

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Kosher salt

4 cups skim milk

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 vanilla beans, split and seeds scraped

2 cinnamon sticks

2 1/2 cups Arborio rice

Chocolate Ganache balls(recipe follows)

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs

8 cups vegetable oil

For ganache:

1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon heavy cream

1/4 cup and 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1-1/3 cups and 1 tablespoon Ghirardelli 60% Cacao

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the chocolate chips. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and pour into a shallow bowl.

Cool, cover, and refrigerate the mixture until firm, at least 2 hours.Using a small spoon, roll the mixture into 1/2-inch balls. Place in freezer until ready to use.

In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups water and butter to a boil; season with a pinch of salt. In a separate medium saucepan, heat the milk, 1 1/2 cups sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, cinnamon sticks over medium-low heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has absorbed into the rice, about 15 minutes. Strain the milk mixture into the rice; cook, stirring often, until the rice is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Spread the cooked rice on a large rimmed baking sheet to cool; refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Form the cool rice into 1-inch balls; insert a portion of the frozen ganache into each ball. Repeat with remaining rice and ganache balls.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water until smooth (should be the consistency of buttermilk). Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Dip each rice ball into the batter, shaking off the excess; roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat with the remaining rice balls.

In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat the oil to 350 degrees F. Use a slotted spoon to lower the rice balls into the hot oil in batches of 2 to 4 arancini (being careful not to crowd the pan). Fry the arancini, turning occasionally, until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Place arancini on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder. Roll warm arancini in  sugar mixture.

Makes 18 arancini.


Lavender & Marscapone Panna Cotta

1 tablespoon milk

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

1 1/4 cups whipping cream

1/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup marscapone cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoons fresh lavender flowers

4 (4-6 ounce) ramekins, sprayed with cooking spray

 In a small bowl, pour 1 tablespoon milk. Sprinkle gelatin over and allow it to soften (10 minutes).Meanwhile, combine cream, 1/3 cup milk, vanilla, and 1/4 cup sugar in a saucepan.Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring often.Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture and stir until melted. Let the mixture cool slightly down to a warm temperature.In a medium sized bowl, whisk together mascarpone cheese and sour cream until smooth. Slowly add the now warm cream mixture into the bowl, whisking constantly. Add lavender flowers and stir to combine. Pour mixture into prepared ramekins.
4 servings
Pistachio Creme Anglaise
1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (4 ounces)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the shelled pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Let cool completely, then rub the pistachios in a kitchen towel to remove the skins. Transfer the pistachios to a food processor and grind to a fine powder.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk with the pistachios and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
Strain the pistachio milk through a fine sieve into another medium saucepan. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the egg yolks and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes. Do not let the custard boil.
Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the almond extract and let cool, stirring often. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 2 cups
Strawberry Caviar

9 ounces strawberry juice (combine 1 1/2 cups hulled strawberries with 3/4 cup water; blend until smooth)
1 gram sodium alginate
1 teaspoon sugar
18 ounces cold water
3 grams calcium chloride

Add half of the strawberry juice into a medium bowl. Whisk in the sodium alginate until completely dissolved or use an immersion blender to make this process easier. The sodium alginate will clump up and it will take a while for it to fully disolve. When dissolved, add the remaining juice and the sugar. Whisk the mixture to incorporate. The mixture should be thick and a bit gloopy. Strain the mixture through a mesh seive into a empty bowl and allow it to rest to get rid of the air bubbles.

Add the 18 ounces of water into a large bowl and stir in the calcium chloride until dissolved.

Pour the strawberry mixture into a plastic needle nose bottle or a food grade syringe.

Drop the mixture, one little droplet at a time, into the calcium chloride bath. Spheres should form immediately and rest at the bottom of the bowl.

Make as many spheres as you want and then let them sit for a minute in the bath. Meanwhile, add about a cup of clean water into another medium bowl. Scoop out the spheres and put them in the new bowl of water to “rinse” them off for a minute.

Strain spheres into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use — but they’ll only keep for about a day.


Individual Black Forest Cake Trifles

I’m a bit late on this announcement….

A copy of my book, Friends at the Table goes to…

Anna! Congratulations! Hope you enjoy the recipes with your friends at the table.


Tis the season for indulging, and if you still haven’t had your fill of cookies, candies, and other confections that are before us this time of year, I have something you may just want to make for dessert on Christmas day. A grand finale to an elegant dinner, complete with a cherry on top.

I love black forest cake, and serving it individually, makes it that much more festive. You may also make these little treats several hours in advance, kept waiting in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve them.

Give them a try, you will be happy you did.


Cheers, everyone! Hope your holidays are filled with laughter and Joy.

I am looking forward to Jeff’s Beef Jerky & Christmas Morning Blueberry Pancakes 😉


Individual Black Forest Trifles

For the cake:

2 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

5 oz. (1 cup plus 2 Tbs.) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. table salt

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter; softened at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup strong brewed coffee


For the cherries and kirsch syrup:

1/2 of (1) 16-oz. can pitted sweet cherries in heavy or extra heavy syrup

4 tablespoons kirsch (cherry brandy)

Granulated sugar to taste


For assembling the trifle:

1 1/2  cups cold heavy cream

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tablespoon  kirsch

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate shavings (from a 3- to 4-oz. block of chocolate)

Additional cherries for garnish


Make the cake:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×2-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and butter the parchment. Fill a medium skillet with about 1/2 inch water and heat until just below a simmer. Put both the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and put the bowl in the barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from the water bath and let cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In an electric mixer (use the paddle attachment), beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2  to 4 minutes. Mix in the slightly cooled melted chocolate on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl, add the vanilla, and beat on medium speed for another 1 minute. On low speed, mix in the sour cream just until it’s incorporated. Add the flour mixture (in three additions), alternating with the coffee (in two additions); scrape the bowl as needed. The batter will be very thick, like chocolate mousse or frosting.

Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top feels firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. The cake may sink a bit in the center, but that’s fine. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes in the baking pan on a wire rack. Using a small, sharp knife, loosen the sides of the cake from the pan, invert the cake onto the rack, and discard the paper liner. Let cool completely.

Prepare the cherries and kirsch syrup:

Drain the cherries in a colander set over a large bowl (to catch the syrup) for 30 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the syrup. Transfer the cherries to a small bowl, drizzle with 1/2 tablespoon of the kirsch, and set aside. Taste the syrup; it should be slightly tart and not too sweet. If necessary, stir in 1 to 2 tsp. sugar. Put the syrup in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced by about half, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 1/2  tablespoons kirsch. Set aside to cool.

Assemble the trifles:

Put the cream, sugar, and kirsch in the large bowl of an electric mixer and whip on high speed until it holds firm peaks.

With a long, serrated knife, cut the cooled cake vertically (all the way across the cake) into 1/2-inch slices. Then cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

Line the bottom of a 6-ounce glass dessert bowl or wine glass with about 2-3  of the cake slices to create an even layer. Brush this layer of cake lightly with some of the kirsch syrup, top with a dollop of whipped cream, and randomly nestle a few  of the remaining cherries into the cream. Sprinkle with a teaspoon  of the chocolate shavings.

Repeat with two more layers. Scatter the remaining chocolate shavings over the whipped cream layer and garnish with a cherry.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve chilled.

Make Ahead Tips

The cake can be baked and the kirsch syrup prepared up to one day ahead. Wrap the cake in plastic and keep it at room temperature. Cover the syrup and keep refrigerated. Once assembled, the trifles can be refrigerated for up to 6 hours.

8 servings