Wow! Hello! First thing’s first, thank you to all who have stuck with me through the radio silence—and to all who are new to Chesnok, a big warm welcome! I know I fell off the blogging bandwagon there for a while, so for that, I apologize. After my last post in March, a lot of change followed (hello big move to Seattle!), and we all know how time slips through our fingers when we have a lot on our plates.
I promise you all a more thorough recap of the past 8 months in my next post, but for this one, I want to delve right in: a round up of my desserts that have either been published here on the blog, elsewhere online, or in print. If you’re familiar with Chesnok, you’ll notice a few familiars like my Ideal Torte and Cranberry Lattice Tart. A few are from published pieces in the Washington Post and Culture Magazine. The last dessert, a stunning Russian Napoleon Cake, was from my first ever published piece that I wrote for Our Local Commons (Beyond the Flavor back then!) in 2013. Talk about throwback.
Consider this list my edible gift to you (as well as a glimpse into how I’ve kept myself busy over the past year). I hope it inspires some of you to rev up your ovens if they aren’t already or to try something new this holiday season. Either way, Happy Holidays my wonderful readers! May it be as delicious and heart-warming as ever.
It doesn’t get more ideal than Ideal (prounounced ee-dee-al) Torte: layers of chewy honey cake filled with dulce de leche cream and topped with toasted walnuts and shards of dark chocolate. I’ve brought it to enough gatherings and paid and non-paid events that I daresay it’s amassed a cult following over the years. Also, for those lucky folks who nabbed a spot in my Intro to Georgian Cuisine class at the Book Larder, I’ll be serving this up for dessert. Can’t WAIT!
Cranberry Lattice Tart
Flaky rich pastry encases a tart filling of cranberries and apricots spiked with brandy and orange zest. I put together this stunner last year on the one-year anniversary of my car accident and it’s been a family favorite ever since. My friend Kate baked this recently and this is what she had to say: “Delicious. We did a comparison between your crust and Ina Garten’s with Crisco and yours was BEYOND better. So flaky. The filling was a hit…cranberry was tart, but not bitter, and the dried apricots were just the right texture. We only had one slice left at the end!”. A crust that knocks out Ina’s? I’ll take it.
Preserved Lemon Crème Fraiche Ice Cream
Sometimes you want something cooling and refreshing after a heavy meal: that’s where this sweet-and salty-ice cream with preserved lemon and crème fraiche comes in. A drizzle of light-bodied, fruity olive oil and a pinch of flaky sea salt at the end play off the sweetness of the cream, while balancing the savory cured lemon. Bonus that it’s a totally make-ahead dessert.
Endlessly Adaptable Cookie Bars
I call these “I can’t believe there’s no butter” bars because you’d never guess that they’re vegan! They can be adapted to suit whatever mix-in you have on hand and a switch of flours can easily make them whole-grain or gluten-free. My favorite variation happens to be the one with warm spices, buttery pecans, and nutty spelt—your whole kitchen will be perfumed as they bake.
Brown Butter Apple and Pear Pie
This recipe not only includes my go-to pie dough recipe, but also one of my favorite ways to add depth and flavor to savory and sweet treats alike: brown butter. This feature was a neat one because I was included with the likes of Mason Hereford of Turkey and the Wolf and Top Chef Tanya Holland! #GoHoos
Blueberry Hazelnut Ricotta Cake
This cake, inspired by a similar one in Honey & Co.’s Golden, ran alongside my big debut in The Washington Post (read the article to find out why). I love the way ricotta imparts tenderness, how ground and chopped hazelnuts add depth and texture, and the combination of bright zest of lemon with juicy blueberries. I recently baked it again, substituting cornmeal for the ground hazelnuts and frozen blackberries I picked this summer for blueberries (I also omitted the chopped hazelnuts), to much success. I think in-season cranberries would equally be delicious.
An Endlessly Adaptable Galette
Oh, another endlessly adaptable recipe! I love galettes—they’re less fussy than pies, can be easily made sweet or savory, and are always impressive. The article offers my favorite galette crust (studded with cornmeal and tender from the addition of sour cream) and both a sweet and savory version to get you going—the honeyed fig is no longer in season but try it instead with apples or pears.
And of course, the best for last! This recipe was published back in 2013 for Charlottesville Commons—my mom begrudged me for revealing the recipe back then, as she does now that I resurrected it. It is is similar to the French mille-feuille pastry of the same name, but Russians have totally taken it and made it their own. Today, it’s up there with medovik as one of our classic desserts. Many insist on letting the assembled cake sit in the fridge overnight for the layers to soften, but that just kills the point of puff pastry and ruins the textural contrast for me. Bring on the impossibly flaky, crisp layers - the rich custard cream! But let’s be real, refrigerated leftovers are pretty darn tasty too.
Charlottesville COMMONS, 2013
You can make your own dough for the pastry layers, but you can also just make your life easier and use good-quality store-bought. It also makes assembly a cinch once you’ve made the filling, which can be prepared three days in advance. Serve immediately once assembled, although refrigerated leftovers are just as delicious.
1 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ tablespoon vanilla extract (or if you’re feeling Soviet, ⅛ teaspoon vanillin)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 package (2 sheets) all-butter puff pastry, defrosted but still cold
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Pastry Cream: In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, preferably with the back of a wooden spoon, combine sugar with egg yolks until eggs are well incorporated and mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add the starch and flour and mix thoroughly until you can no longer see any lumps.
In another small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer on medium heat. Whisk a small amount of hot milk into the yolk mixture. Whisking constantly, gradually add the remaining milk.
Gently cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon. After a minute or two, it will begin to thicken. Continue to stir and watch for bubbling. Once you see bubbles, stir for three additional minutes until sauce has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and place into an ice bath. Coat the top of the custard with a pat of butter to prevent a film from forming. Let cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for another 5 to 6 minutes. Add cooled custard, one heaping tablespoon at a time. Add vanilla extract and salt and beat for another 5 minutes. Set aside or refrigerate until ready for assembly.
Assembly: Preheat oven to 350º F. On a very lightly floured surface, unfold one puff pastry sheet and roll it out roughly into a 13-inch by 17-inch rectangle. Carefully transfer dough onto a baking sheet of the same size. Roll out second sheet of dough and transfer it to another baking sheet. Bake both sheets for 15 minutes or until tops are puffed up and golden. Allow to cool.
Trim the edges of the puff pastry layers to give them a clean, even cut. Crumble these trimmings into a bowl and set aside. Place one layer on a long rectangular serving platter. Spread a generous amount of the pastry cream over the top. Repeat with the next layer of cake and cream. Scatter the crumbs over the top and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately, or within the next hour.
Cover photo courtesy of Andrea Hubbell for Our Local Commons.