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Presents for Hungry Times : Christmas on Ice

<i> Malgieri is a cookbook author</i>

Every year before the holidays begin, I promise myself I’ll get ready in advance. Most of the time I take my own advice and bake a few things for the freezer to avoid the unpleasant task of wrapping gifts with one hand and baking with the other at 4 o’clock on Christmas morning.

There are so many wonderful desserts and pastries that stand up well to freezing that it would be a shame not to have a few ready for last-minute holiday entertaining or just to keep the season more sane in general. This year, try one of the following easy recipes for the holidays and bake the dessert for the freezer before the holiday rush begins. All of them freeze (and defrost) impeccably well and will make the holidays a little easier and a lot sweeter.

You make this cake, based on the French gateau financier, by folding hazelnuts, sugar, flour and a large quantity of melted butter into egg whites that have been beaten with sugar. Of course, the egg whites fall and liquefy as the butter is folded in, but the cake rises well nonetheless. Substitute almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios or a combination for the hazelnuts, if desired.

HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE

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1 cup whole, unblanched hazelnuts

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

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2 tablespoons dark rum

2 teaspoons vanilla

8 large egg whites

Dash salt

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1/4 cup sliced or chopped hazelnuts

Powdered sugar

Butter 10-inch cake pan, 2 inches deep. Line bottom with parchment or wax paper cut to fit.

Place 1 cup whole hazelnuts and 3/4 cup granulated sugar in food processor and pulse until mixture is finely ground. Pour into mixing bowl. Stir in flour.

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Melt butter and continue to cook 1 or 2 minutes until butter browns lightly. Add rum and vanilla. Cool slightly.

Using electric hand mixer set at medium speed or heavy-duty mixer with whip attachment, whip egg whites along with salt until very soft peaks form. Whip in remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar in very slow stream. Continue beating until egg whites hold soft peaks.

Fold hazelnut and butter mixtures alternately into egg whites, 1/3 at time, beginning with hazelnut and ending with butter.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan. Smooth top and sprinkle with sliced hazelnuts. Bake at 350 degrees about 50 minutes until well-risen and golden. Center of cake should feel firm when pressed with palm of hand.

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Cool cake briefly on rack before unmolding. Replace hazelnuts that fall off surface. Dust cake very lightly with powdered sugar. Makes about 8 servings.

Note : To freeze, chill cake. Wash pan and line with plastic wrap. Ease cake into pan, right side up. Double wrap with plastic wrap. Label and freeze.

Like the classic gateau breton--which uses a cross between a pound cake and a pastry dough--this dessert lightens a rich dough with a cooked apple filling. Try substituting pears or a compote of slightly underripe peaches or apricots for the apples.

BRETON APPLE PIE

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1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

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4 large egg yolks

2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Apple Filling

Egg wash of 1 egg beaten with dash salt

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Butter 10- or 9-inch springform pan. Line bottom with parchment or wax paper cut to fit. Cream butter until light. Slowly add sugar, beating until mixture lightens. Beat in rum and vanilla. Add egg yolks, 1 at time, beating until mixture is very smooth and light. Beat in flour until absorbed, without overmixing.

Place 1/2 dough in pan and press with fingertips evenly over bottom of pan and out 1 inch up sides. Spread Apple Filling over dough.

Flour remaining dough and press into 10- or 9-inch disk on cardboard or tart pan bottom. Slide dough over filling and press into place, making sure sides are straight and even. Brush top with egg wash. Trace lattice pattern on top with fork tines.

Bake at 350 degrees 40 to 45 minutes, until deep golden and slightly risen. Cool briefly in pan, then unmold onto rack to cool. Makes about 8 servings.

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Apple Filling

2 pounds Golden Delicious apples

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons butter

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2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons dark rum

Peel, core and slice apples into large saucepan. Add sugar, butter, lemon juice and rum. Cook, covered, until apples exude juices. Remove cover. Reduce heat and cook until juices evaporate. Cool before using.

Note : To freeze, chill cake. Wash pan and line with plastic wrap. Ease cake into pan, right side up. Double wrap with plastic wrap. Label and freeze.

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This lighter, spicier version of a pecan pie has all of the flavor, but a little less of the richness than the original.

PECAN SPICE TART

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

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Dash salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

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1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

2 cups pecan halves

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Filling

Mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in bowl. Rub butter into mixture finely, being careful that mixture remains cool and powdery. Beat egg with fork and stir into mixture. Continue stirring with fork until dough holds together. Press dough together well. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Unwrap dough and form into (5-inch) disk. Roll on floured surface into 12- to 13-inch disk, moving dough often to prevent sticking. Fold dough in half and ease into 11- to 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Unfold dough and line pan, pressing well into bottom and sides. Trim away excess at rim of pan. Chill dough about 1 hour.

Scatter pecan halves over chilled dough. Skim foam from surface of Filling and pour over pecans. Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes or until Filling is firm and crust is baked through. Cool completely on rack, then unmold. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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Note : To freeze, chill tart. Wash tart pan and line with plastic wrap. Ease tart into pan, right side up. Double-wrap with plastic wrap. Label and freeze.

Filling

3/4 cup light corn syrup

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

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1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 large eggs

Dash salt

Dash ground cinnamon

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Dash ground nutmeg

Dash cloves

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon dark rum

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Combine corn syrup and brown sugar in saucepan. Stir well. Place over low heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to boil. Remove from heat. Add butter.

Combine eggs with salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and rum in separate bowl. Whisk well. Whisk syrup-butter mixture into egg mixture, being careful not to overmix. Cool about 5 minutes.


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