You’ve heard of one-pot meals, but have you heard of one-cake desserts? That’s not a thing, but it should be. Here’s the idea: instead of an elaborate cake that you have to frost or decorate or slice in half, a one-cake dessert is one where a batter goes into a cake pan, the pan goes into the oven, and whatever comes out an hour later is what you serve for dessert (sprinkled, perhaps, with powdered sugar). In my years of dinner party-throwing, I’ve been a big champion of one-cake desserts: Al Di La’s pear and chocolate cake, for example. Or my favorite dinner party dessert of all time: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Now a new cake comes along to join the pantheon; this raspberry ricotta cake from last month’s Bon Appetit.
On New Year’s Eve, I cooked for some friends and realized that dessert needed to be on the lighter end of things, because who wants to go out to New Year’s parties feeling all weighed down with chocolate and butter, etc. etc.? That’s how I came up with Pavlova, something that I’d only really made once before (actually twice) but never served to guests because it always seemed so delicate and ephemeral and kind of risky. But a risky dessert on New Year’s Eve is a good way to kick off the new year: taking chances, living on the edge, whipping egg whites. So I got to work.
Taking liberties with a recipe is one thing, taking liberties with a recipe name is another. When Dorie Greenspan first published the recipe for Pierre Hermé’s famous double chocolate cookies, they were called “Korova Cookies” for the restaurant where they were served in Paris. Then, one day, Dorie’s neighbor told her that the cookies were good enough to bring about world peace, so she renamed them World Peace Cookies and that went a bit viral. For some strange reason, though, these cookies never made an appearance in my kitchen. Maybe it’s because, in my small-mindedness, I thought: “How good could chocolate chocolate cookies be?” Then, last week, I made them and they were so good, so instantly adored, I knew I had to give them an even more appropriate name; the kind of name that could make a viral cookie go even more viral. And so Shirtless Ryan Gosling Cookies were born.
Memorize this fact about apple pie making, and you’ll be set for life: it’s not about the recipe, it’s about your state of mind.
That nugget comes from Craig’s dad, the master of apple pie (see here), who’s said to me, in the past: “I think you’re overthinking it.” And in the past I had overthought it over and over again. But the truth is once you understand the WHY of everything, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s what helped me produce the best apple pie I’ve ever made, the one you see above.
When we were in Berlin this past July, at a restaurant called Renger-Patzsch, our dinner ended with the perfect punctuation mark of a dessert: a chocolate tart with apricots and vanilla ice cream. It was memorable for its combination of elegance and simplicity; a tart isn’t easy to do, but this one, somehow, seemed effortless. I made a mental note that if I were ever going to cook a meal with European flair, I’d end it in a similar way. My moment came on Saturday, after I served that pork shoulder braised in Guinness to some friends.
Finding out someone’s favorite color doesn’t do much for me. “Oh teal? How interesting,” I say as I fall asleep standing up, collapsing into a heap and waiting for someone to kick me awake. But finding out someone’s favorite flavors is a different story. For my friend Michael’s birthday dinner, this past weekend, I texted his husband John to find out what kind of desserts he likes and John texted back: “He loves banana cream pie and pretty much anything peanut butter.” Banana and peanut butter: what a fascinating window into Michael’s soul! As I contemplated my own favorite dessert flavors (definitely anything almond; mostly because I grew up eating rainbow cookies which are made with almond paste), I started flipping through Karen DeMasco’s Craft of Baking–which was partially responsible for the crisp I just posted–and I stumbled upon the perfect Michael dessert recipe: Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream.
Wow, that’s a mouthful, but you have to admit it sounds good. I got the idea from the New York Times Cooking newsletter; Kim Severson was guest writing it for the day and she mentioned a trick she learned from our mutual friend Bill Addison who learned it from Nancy Silverton (how’s that for a game of telephone?). The trick is this: when making a cobbler or a crisp, brown some butter, scrape in the seeds from a vanilla bean and then stir the whole mixture in with the fruit. As far as ideas go, this is right up there with E = mc2. (How do you get the 2 up there? Where’s Einstein when you need him?)
It’s time to face facts: summer’s almost over. At least summer in the sense of kids not being in school (most of them have already gone back) and summer blockbusters (I didn’t want to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” but someone told me there’s a talking tree in it so now I do) and summer clothing adorning the mannequins at your local mall (now it’s all stuff for fall). Still, if you live in L.A., summer’s not going anywhere. There’s very little weather-wise here that distinguishes June from July from August from September from October and so forth. Sure, it gets a little chillier as the months go by, but summer never abruptly ends the way it does in other places. Which is why this cobbler is something most of you need to make right away before you’re facing a pile of fallen leaves and why I get to make it for a few months longer than you. Be very jealous.