Happy 1st Birthday Little Blog!

Wow! A whole year has gone by since little Fork Tender was born!!!! What better way to celebrate a birthday than with a delicious and adorable cake? This slice is for you little blog… Happy 1st Birthday!

Big thanks to all you wonderful folks out there that read my blog and give me the drive to keep on cooking and sharing recipes. It has been a truly amazing year filled with lots of happy moments and tasty treats. I look forward to little blog’s 2nd birthday and many more after that!

Ok, now let’s talk about the cake. Luscious lemon layer cake with a meyer lemon curd filling, topped with meyer lemon buttercream frosting and gummy candies! Want a slice? Yea, I thought so. This cake was soooo good! Light, fluffy and full of flavor, the lemon peel really elevated the lemon flavor without overpowering the yellow cake or buttercream frosting. As you sunk your folk in for a big bite, the lemon curd offered a nice tang and creamy texture that complimented the cake’s butteriness perfectly!

While the cake was delicious, the topping was the real winner. Gum drops and skittles transformed this ordinary buttercream beauty into a whimsical dessert. The green “stems” of the flowers are actually just green gum drops that I smushed and stretched into long strips.

Happy Birthday Fork Tender!

Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Lemon Curd
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Lemon Frosting
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 pound confectioners’ sugar (about 3 3/4 cups), sifted
pinch kosher salt

For the cake

Heat oven to 350°F.

Butter two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter again, and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until combined (do not overmix).

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes for 8-inch pans and 22 to 25 minutes for 9-inch pans. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool completely.

Transfer one of the cooled cakes to a plate and spread with 1 cup of the lemon curd. Top with the remaining cake and refrigerate to set, 30 minutes. Spread the top and sides with the frosting. Using the palm of your hand, gently press the pistachios into the sides of the cake and top with the candied lemon slices.

For the curd

In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Add the butter. Set the bowl over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of mayonnaise, 12 to 15 minutes.

Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper directly on the surface of the lemon curd and refrigerate until completely cool, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

For the frosting

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and lemon zest on high until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add the sugar, then the salt, and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

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Olive Oil Cake with Candied Oranges & Cardamom

Who wants cake?

Well, um, I do! I’ve made a lot of cakes in my lifetime… I mean, A LOT! So naturally I jumped at the chance to candy some fruit and toss cardamom (an amazingly versatile spice) into this luscious batter. Loving the light and airy texture of any olive oil cake, this dessert seemed like a winner before I even started nibbling on the syrupy candied oranges (they are really hard to resist eating).

I am not going to over sell this cake because I feel it can really do the convincing for itself. All you need to know is that it is light, moist and totally decadent. The whipped egg whites give volume to the airy batter while the olive oil moistens the cake just so. Even the non sweet tooth folks had a hard time resisting this summery citrus treasure.

Enjoy the sunshine (with a slice of this cake in front of you)!

Candied orange and syrup
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange blossom honey
3 tablespoons green cardamom pods, crushed
1 small orange, thinly sliced

Cake
1/2 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semolina flour (pasta flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup sugar, divided
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chopped unsalted pistachios, lightly toasted (optional)

Special equipment: 9″-diameter springform pan
*Ingredient InfoSemolina flour (pasta flour) is available at better supermarkets and at Italian markets.

For candied orange and syrup: 
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom, and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, turning orange slices occasionally, until tender and syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 40 minutes. Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; remove cardamom pods and seeds. Strain syrup. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover syrup and orange slices separately; chill. Return orange slices to room temperature and rewarm syrup slightly before using.

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush pan with oil. Whisk both flours and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup oil in a large bowl for 1 minute. Beat in yolks, then flour mixture. Beat in yogurt, zest, and vanilla. Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar until firm peaks form. Fold egg whites into batter just to blend in 2 additions. Transfer to prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Pierce hot cake all over with a metal skewer. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup all over. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over. Reserve remaining syrup for serving. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack. Run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Arrange candied orange slices over. Sprinkle pistachios over (optional). Cut into wedges and serve drizzled with more syrup (it doesn’t need the extra syrup, but indulge away as you see fit).

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ok, I realize the first 2 nights of Passover have come and gone… but that doesn’t mean we cannot talk about this better-than-I-could-have-ever-imagined Passover dessert! For anyone out there that has attempted to bake something delicious without flour… well, you feel my pain. Every year I attempt a new cake and although I have seen noticeably better results in recent years, I had yet to be wowed. This year I took the plunge into the world of flourless chocolate cakes and wow (finally), this dessert forever changed my opinion of what a Passover dessert SHOULD taste like.

Light, rich and moist, this cake is best described as tasting like decadent brownie batter… only better. First things first, a ton of silky chocolate gets melted and combined with a whole lot of butter. Add this wonderful velvety chocolate sauce to some whipped up egg yolks and sugar and the cake starts to take shape. Whip up even more egg whites into a fluffy meringue and gently fold into the chocolate egg yolk mixture. Coat the entire thing in a rich chocolate ganache and press chopped pecans around the sides and voilà… you got yourself a cake.

Everyone at the seder table gave it a thumbs up and my little (adorable) niece, Tali, ate every morsel of chocolate placed in front of her… with the exception of what was smeared on her face of course!

Happy Pesach!

Cake:
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced

10 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 large egg whites

Ganache:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted, coarsely chopped

Whipped cream (optional)

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Place chocolate and 1 1/4 cups butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until very thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Gently fold chocolate mixture into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in another large bowl until peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45 minutes (cake will be puffed and soufflé-like while baking). Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes (cake will fall in center). Run knife around cake sides to loosen; press edge of cake down to make level with center. Remove pan sides and cool cake completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

For ganache:
Combine chocolate and cream in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water; let stand until ganache cools slightly but is still pourable, about 5 minutes.

Place cooled cake on rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1/2 cup ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, quickly spread ganache over top and sides of cake. Freeze cake 3 minutes. Pour remaining ganache over top of cake. Working quickly but gently and grasping pan bottom and rack together, slightly tilt rack with cake from side to side, allowing ganache to flow evenly over top and down sides of cake; smooth sides with offset spatula. Press pecans onto sides of cake to adhere. Chill cake until ganache is set, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 45 minutes before serving.

Cut cake into wedges. Garnish with whipped cream.

Guinness Chocolate Pudding

Happy St. Patrick’s Day fellow Irishmen! Oh wait, I am actually not Irish at all. I mean, not even a little bit. But… I did move to the Emerald Isle after college and spent a short stint waitressing in Dublin, so I will claim some sort of Irish affinity. Today I am shamelessly wearing green, lots of green, and plan on throwing back 1 or 2 pints of the black stuff this evening with my not so Irish St. Paddy’s day drinking buddy Melissa (it’s a tradition).

While I wait for the festivities to begin, I figured I would share this tasty pudding treat with you. Guinness Chocolate Pudding! Everything about the statement sounds right to me. The chocolate pudding is rich and decadent, coating your mouth with dense cream and tons of flavor. Snag a dollop of the Guinness whip cream alongside a spoonful of pudding and savour the combination of sweet and boozey. Yum! Pour the pudding into some Guinness pint glasses and you can trick any Guinness lover into thinking it’s time for a drink!

Erin Go Bragh!

Makes 6, 8 ounce servings

8 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
One 14.9-ounce can Guinness Draught
3 cups heavy cream
7 ounces high-quality bittersweet (70 to 72% cacao) chocolate, finely chopped
Special equipment: Six 8-ounce old-fashioned glasses (I used 2, 20 ounce pint glasses)

In large nonreactive mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar.

Open can of Guinness and slowly pour into 4-cup measuring cup, pouring down side of cup to reduce foaming. Pour half of Guinness (about 7/8 cup) into heavy-bottomed 3-quart saucepan. Add 2 1/4 cups cream and whisk to combine. Set over medium heat and heat, whisking occasionally, until bubbles just begin to form at edges. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and whisk until smooth.

Slowly pour hot chocolate mixture into eggs, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. Return mixture to saucepan and set over moderately low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and coats back of spoon, about 15 minutes. (Pudding will look separated.) Pour into blender and blend on high for 1 minute. Divide pudding among glasses, leaving at least 1 inch of space at top of each. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and set.

Meanwhile, pour remaining Guinness into small saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to moderately low and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 20 minutes. Pour syrup into small bowl and let cool.

Beat remaining cream until soft peaks form. Add Guinness syrup and beat until combined. Divide cream among 6 glasses of pudding and serve.

Chocolate Pecan Caramel Cookies

Most people wake up (when slightly hungover) on a Saturday morning and move from the bed to the couch. That is exactly how this particular Saturday began. It was pouring rain in San Francisco which prompted us to stay in our pj’s and just laze away the day. It started off lazy as all hell. Me tucked away under a blanket on the sofa watching Judd play some fun video game that conjured up childhood memories of Super Mario Bros. After about an hour of TV gazing, the kitchen began to call to me. It clearly wanted me to make some cookies. And since the pantry and fridge were fully stocked, I felt I had to obey.

With the task at hand, I pulled on my apron and set to work. Chocolate pecan caramel cookies needed to be baked and man oh man… did I bake a TON of these cookies. The recipes tells you it yields 5 to 6 dozen, but not until you have 75 cookies piled high on a plate do you begin to understand… holy crap!… I just made 75 cookies. Luckily, they are absolutely delicious and worth every laborious step. Making the dough is very simple. It’s almost brownie like and very dense since the only liquid that goes into the batter is 2 eggs. After the cookies are formed into balls and chilled, the real cookie making begins. Each cookie is rolled like a pinwheel in the minced pecans until the edges are nicely coated. Into the oven for a quick bake and then back out for a few more additions. After making a small indent with your thumb or spoon in the warm cookie, it’s time to pour a thick caramel sauce into each divot. Nom!

I decided to make my own caramel and it was definitely the big winner when it came to overall taste. The chocolate cookie was crunchy on the outside and chewy in the center. Pops of crunchy nuts added a delicious salty flavor that was only intensified when you reached the gooey caramel dollop. If you are looking for a tasty treat to add to your recipe book… this is that treat. So, next time you need to come up with 6 dozen cookies, give this recipe a try!

Makes 5-6 dozen

1 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup finely minced pecans, about 3 to 4 ounces
1/2 to 3/4 cup thick caramel sauce (store bought or home made)

Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until light and fluffy. Continue to beat while slowly adding the sugar, occasionally stopping to scrape the bowl, until mixture is lighter colored and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well and scraping after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed ingredients. Remove bowl from mixer and use a large spatula to scrape the bottom, making sure everything is well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Chilling is crucial.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Scoop out a tablespoon of dough about the size of a small walnut. Roll between your palms into a ball, then flatten slightly to about 1-inch diameter. Roll the edges in the minced pecans, as if you are rolling a wheel.

Place about a dozen cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, spaced well apart. If needed, lightly press to level the tops. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Keep the remaining dough chilled. (You can pre-roll the balls of dough before chilling which I recommend.)

When cookies are done, remove from the oven, carefully make a shallow indentation in the middle of each one while still warm. Use two spoons to place about 1/2 teaspoon of caramel into the indentation. The caramel will spread a little while the cookies are still warm, but will set up as the cookies cool.

Do-ahead note: Freeze balls of the dough while they are on a rimmed baking sheet; when fully frozen, place in a container or Ziploc. Defrost enough so you can flatten them a little. Then continue with recipe.

Peanut Butter Jelly Thumbprint Cookies

Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly, Peanut Butter Jelly!… (ok, I’m done having a nerdy Family Guy moment).

A few weeks ago I spent some time baking and cooking with my parents. My mom found this recipe and thought we should give it a go. If you like peanut butter (ahem… who doesn’t?) and the thought of nibbling delicious jam coated cookies makes your mouth water… then you should pull on that apron and bake away!

Fun to make and tasty to devour, these cookies are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. Depending on the type of jam or jelly you use, the flavor of the cookie can go from super sweet to mellow and fruity. We used chunky peanut butter to give the cookies a little bit of crunch, but creamy also does the trick. We figured, why stop at one flavor of jam when we could fancy up the recipe a bit with two. Apricot jam is the best jam on the planet… (fact!), but raspberry is always a crowd pleaser. Dress these cookies up however you desire and chomp away!

Makes 36 cookies

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 jars of jam (flavor of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat together the butter and creamy or chunky peanut butter until fluffy. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the brown sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt and sift into the peanut butter mixture. Mix until uniform and smooth.

Pull pieces of dough and roll between your hands to form 1-inch balls.

Place cookie balls on a greased cookie sheet two inches apart. Make an indentation on each ball with your thumb or spoon, fill the indentation with approximately 1/4 teaspoon jam (I alternated jam flavors).

Bake for 12 –15 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Cool on wire rack. Fill with additional jam as needed to coat cookie indent.

Chocolate Cinnamon Rugelach

Last weekend I headed to Los Angeles to visit my folks and help my mom throw a baby shower for the newest addition to our group of family friends, baby Eli. Being Jewish and knowing most of these women since I was born (or at least really little), I thought to myself, what dessert will please this crowd of noshers… aha… rugelach!

Now, I’ve never made rugelach. In fact, I’ve never even seen someone else make rugelach, so this undertaking was definitely out of my comfort zone. Jews are typically picky when it comes to these chocolately danish-like delights, so the pressure was on to not mess these up.

Having enjoyed many a rugelach in my day, I was surprised to discover that I had never considered how the moist flakey dough was formed. Cream cheese and butter would certainly not have been my guess. It makes perfect sense however… cream cheese gives the dough a natural sweetness and adds moisture without turning these cookies into little balls of butter. The shaved chocolate filling is the perfect compliment to the doughy exterior. Adding cinnamon enhances the chocolate taste and gives these rolled cookies an added zing of flavor.

By the looks of the wiped clean plate… I’m guessing these were a hit! So, now that I have mastered rugelach perhaps I should tackle home made gefilte fish… um, or not.

Some Jewish traditions are better left a mystery.

Makes 32 cookies

Dough
7 ounces (200 grams) butter, room temperature
8 ounces (250 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

Chocolate Filling
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated bitter-sweet chocolate
butter, melted

Topping
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar

Using an electric mixer, combine butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla, mix until combined. Add flour and mix lightly. Wrap dough is plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, mix the first four filling ingredients together (cocoa, cinnamon, sugar, grated chocolate). Divide the dough into four balls. On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll one ball out into an 1/8 inch thick circle. Spread some melted butter on the center of the circle. Sprinkle the dough with chocolate mixture.

Cut the pastry into pie-shaped wedges. Start at the wide edge of the wedge and roll the dough up toward the point. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place each pastry, seam side down, on the paper.

Brush each pastry with egg. Sprinkle with sugar (I used granulated, but turbinado might be nice for added texture). Repeat steps with remaining 3 balls of dough.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

*Tips:

1. Using too much filling leads to messy looking rugelach.
2. A pizza cutter makes it easier to cut the dough into pie-shaped wedges.
3. If you don’t want to use parchment paper, you can spray the cookie sheets with non-stick spray.
4. After rolling the dough up and placing on the parchment paper, you can stick them in your freezer. When you need fresh rugelach, take them right from the freezer into the oven and add a few minutes to the baking time.

Pecan Crumble Winter Fruit Pie

It all started with a pie pan.

Several months ago I spotted an adorable yellow pie pan that I knew I needed. Do I make pies? No, never. Did I convince myself that this yellow pie pan would change that? …. absolutely. So, after staring at my new pie pan patiently waiting to be used in the corner, I finally took the plunge into unknown baking territory and man, was the payoff worth it.

Winter doesn’t necessarily scream fruit pie season, but trust me, these ripe fruits blend together into mouth watering yumminess! The apples and pears give the pie a sturdy base and loads of natural sugar while the figs add a melt in your mouth textural component. I would be lying if I said that the cranberries weren’t my favorite nibble of all. The burst of tartness balanced wonderfully with the sweetness of the crumble topping. If you have more than a cup of cranberries on hand… toss them in this cake.

Flaky crust to crunchy crumble, every bite is well balanced (and could only get better if you added vanilla bean ice cream to the mix). Since I never bake pies, I also NEVER bake pie crust. This was an interesting undertaking since baking crust is so much about understanding the texture of the dough as it is being mixed, chilled and rolled out. After a little bit of swearing (sometimes baking turns me into a sailor), I managed to wrestle the rolled dough into the pie pan and voilà… it actually looked good. The rest was… well, a piece of cake! Add the fruit mixture, top with sugary, oatmeal, pecan crumble and bake. The smell is a good indicator of how delicious this pie will actually be.

Share with friends… it feels nice.

Makes 8-10 servings
Baking Time: 60 to 75 minutes

Pie Pastry
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pecan Crumb Topping
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) raw pecans, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Fruit Filling
1 cup (6 ounces) dried figs
2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 cup (4-6 ounces) cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

To make the pie pastry, put the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, stir to combine, then put the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Add the butter to the flour mixture and toss to evenly coat. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, a food processor, an electric mixer, or your hands, just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Stir the water and lemon juice together, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured work surface and press it into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10 pie pan with the rolled-out dough. Patch any holes and trim off any dough that hangs over the edges of the pan. Chill for an additional 30 minutes while you prepare the crumb topping and the fruit filling.

To make the pecan crumb topping, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then work it in with your hands until the texture of crumbs. Put the topping in the refrigerator while you make the fruit filling.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the fruit filling, remove the stem from each fig, then boil the figs in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes (boil figs in fresh squeezed orange juice for added flavor). Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Slice each fig into 4 to 5 pieces, put them in a large bowl, and add the apples, pears, and cranberries. Separately, rub the sugar and cornstarch together, then add to the fruit and gently toss until evenly coated.

Transfer the filling to the pie shell and top with the pecan crumb. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the crumb is golden, the fruit juices are bubbling thickly around the edges, and the fruit is tender when pierced with a wooden skewer. If the crumb is getting too dark, cover it with foil.

Storage: Covered with a tea towel, the pie will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Now that our pie has been happily consumed… I would like so more please!

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Thanksgiving might be over, but this cheesecake is still vivid in my memory!

At some point over the past 10 years, I found this recipe and it forever changed my approach to Thanksgiving traditions. While in graduate school, my ritual was to fly home to my parents house late in the evening on Wednesday and start baking this cake around 11pm. I was so determined to serve up this dessert on the Thanksgiving table… even if it meant staying up until 2 in the morning.

All these years later, I have somehow managed to find time to make this cake during day light hours, but it remains my Thanksgiving tradition nonetheless.

In all starts with the crust… syrupy and crunchy from the brown sugar, graham crackers and pecans as they meld together in gooey harmony. Not only does the crust give this cake its base, but it is also steals the show. Yum! Next comes the sumptuous pumpkin spice mixture that gets whipped into a creamy cheese batter. The addition of 3 large eggs adds fluff that is seldom seen in other cheesecakes. The bourbon punches up the flavors without being boozy (although, boozy isn’t always a bad thing, is it?) Just as the kitchen begins to smell wonderfully of nutmeg and ginger, it’s time for the completion of the cake to begin… with the topping. Not only does the sour cream topping give the cake a beautiful 3 tiered effect, but it also adds a sourness that will delight your taste buds as it balances this decadent dessert.

So, with Thanksgiving in our wake, this year for Christmas or New Years add a new cake to the traditional holiday spread. If Christmas is not your thing, I am sure you have an extra can of pumpkin that is just begging to be whipped into a delightful creation for no reason whatsoever. Make this cheesecake… it will impress your friends. I promise!

For crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust:
Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:
Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping:
Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

When I was fifteen I picked up my parents Bon Appétit magazine and took a stab at this recipe. I was pleased with how delicious and moist these pumpkin loaves turned out and almost fifteen years later, this recipe still is what kicks off the holidays and defines Thanksgiving for me. Nothing tops the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves mingling with pumpkin in the oven. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. Let the countdown to Turkey day begin! Gobble, Gobble, Gobble!

Serve with vanilla bean ice cream or simply sliced up with a cup of coffee or tea.

Makes 2 loaves

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Note: These loaves can be eaten the day you bake them or you can wrap them in foil and freeze up to one month.