A proper tart shell should be golden brown, uniformly thin, crispy, and have smooth, clean edges. When you bite into it, it should melt in your mouth as you chew. I’m practical when it comes to tart shells. To me, a tart shell must serve a purpose: it should carry as much fresh fruit as possible. During the summer in France, this means a punnet of ripe woodland strawberries—they taste so sweet, they could be candy—arranged on top of a layer of whipped vanilla ganache. I add as many as I can, so there’s not a sliver of ganache visible. A little strawberry jam piped on top deepens the tart’s flavor.
There’s something about a pastry cream that no mousse or ganache can ever replicate. It’s smooth and custardy—the perfect texture. You can eat it on its own by the spoonful almost like pudding, but it’s terrific in tarts and on cakes. It’s sturdy enough not to collapse under the weight of fresh berries, and subtle in flavor, so it highlights even the most delicate fruits.
Don’t be intimidated by the fancy name—chocolate ganache is just a mixture of chocolate and cream. A good chocolate ganache recipe is incredibly versatile. It can be infused with herbs and spices to create vibrant and flavorful fillings for truffles, or even melted into milk to make a rich cup of cocoa. When liquid, ganache can be used to glaze a cake; when set, it can be whipped and used to fill or even frost cakes.
Like cilantro and circus clowns, pumpkin pie can be quite polarizing. Some take a hard pass, whereas others can’t imagine cold-weather holidays without it. My earliest pumpkin pie memories involve trying not to stick my fingers in a store-bought Mrs. Smith’s pie on Thanksgiving Day, baked from frozen that morning and cooling on the washing machine in the tiny laundry room off the kitchen at Gramma’s house, while the rest of the Thanksgiving meal was prepared. By the time dinner was finished and the desserts rolled out, I was more interested in stealing spoonfuls from the Cool Whip tub next to the pie than I was in the pie itself. I became a late-in-life pumpkin pie convert, especially the homemade kind (no offense to Mrs. Smith), and have grown to love the simplicity and warming spices in an amber slice at the end of a celebratory meal.
This recipe has made the rounds, and never fails to impress. It’s all the satisfaction of crisp, sugary, brown-buttery chocolate chip cookies for very little time and effort. Perfect for weekday baking, gifting, compulsive snacking, and making friends and influencing people.
Cardamom gives this almond cake a wonderful, delicate perfume.
Honey enhances the earthy sweetness of carrots and makes for a dense, moist cake. Serve this flavorful cake unadorned or gild it with cream cheese frosting—or simply drizzle with honey and top with chopped nuts.
Financiers are a French petit-four cake, traditionally made with brown butter and almond flour. Adding chocolate to the mix makes for a next-level brownie that we can’t get enough of. We wanted intense chocolate flavor so we ditched the bittersweet chocolate and went up on the unsweetened.
I don’t do well with compliments.When someone praises me or my baked goods, I usually try to brush it off. This never works, of course, and I’ve slowly gotten better at just graciously saying “Thank you.” But you can imagine my embarrassment when a mutual friend introduced me to Ruth Reichl, the famous food writer and former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine—and immediately my friend told her that not only was I writing a cookbook, but that I also made the best babka she had ever tasted! Ms. Reichl peered at me through her glasses as if she were sizing me up. Thankfully, she was very gracious and, sensing my discomfort, changed the subject, and we had a lovely conversation about New Zealand instead. But if I ever have a chance to meet her again, I’ll bake her this babka.