Claire Saffitz wants to turn everyone into a dessert person. “When I hear people say, “I don’t like sweets,’ it makes me a bit suspicious,” writes the pastry chef and former Bon Appétit contributing editor in her new cookbook, Dessert Person, out today. “While I, too, reject cloying desserts, I suggest that those who say they don’t like sweets just haven’t found the right one.” Maybe you simply prefer tart fruit to chocolate or buttery pastry to creamy custard.
Saffitz also dismisses the notion that baking isn’t as creative as cooking, or that it’s too time-consuming. In fact, her book is organized around a recipe matrix: “It plots difficulty level against total time, which is a quick and easy way to scan and pick a recipe that’s the right scope,” she explains. Marcona almond cookies come together in under an hour. Saffitz’s fruitcake, on the other hand, takes more than two months (once baked, it’s “fed” weekly with a couple of tablespoons of brandy to preserve it and hermetically sealed in layers of jam, marzipan, and royal icing).
In between are tons of recipes to try this fall, filled with seasonal ingredients from apples to kumquats. So instead of your traditional pumpkin pie this year, expand your Thanksgiving dessert universe with these next-level dishes, in order of how far in advance you’re working.
If You Have an Hour, Try Malted “Forever” Brownies
Butter for the pan
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa powder
5 oz semisweet chocolate (preferably 64 to 68% cacao), coarsely chopped
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup neutral oil, such as vegetable or grape-seed
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp malted milk powder (optional)
1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
6 oz milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with 2 sheets of foil, crossing one over the other and pressing the foil into the corners and up the sides. Lightly butter the foil and set aside.
Bloom the cocoa: In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the cocoa powder and ¼ cup boiling water until smooth (this will bring out the flavor of the cocoa).
Melt the chocolate, butter, and oil: Add the semisweet chocolate, butter, and oil to the bowl with the cocoa mixture and set it over a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of simmering (not boiling) water (make sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t touching the water). Warm the mixture gently, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool until lukewarm.
Add the sugars and egg: Whisk the granulated and brown sugars into the chocolate mixture. It will look grainy and you might see some of the fat start to separate from the rest of the mixture, which is normal. Add the whole egg, egg yolks, and vanilla and whisk vigorously until the mixture comes back together and looks very thick, smooth, and glossy.
Add the dry ingredients: Add the flour, malted milk powder (if using), and salt and whisk slowly until everything is combined, then whisk more vigorously until the batter is very thick, a full 45 seconds.
Fold in the chocolate and bake: Add the milk chocolate to the batter and fold with a flexible spatula to distribute. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading in an even layer all the way to the corners.
Bake the brownies until the surface is shiny and puffed and the center is dry to the touch but still soft when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.
Cool, chill, and cut: Allow the brownies to cool in the pan until they are no longer hot, about 1 hour, then refrigerate until the bottom of the pan feels cold, about 1 hour longer (this results in a chewier texture). Use the ends of the foil to lift the brownies out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Slice the brownies into 16 squares.
If You Have Two Hours, Try Ricotta Cake With Kumquat Marmalade
For the cake:
Butter for the pan
2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
4 large eggs, separated
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp plus a pinch of Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the marmalade:
8 oz kumquats, halved crosswise and seeded, sliced again crosswise if large
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ cup sugar
Seeds scraped from ½ vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the bottom (not the sides) of a 9-inch springform pan and line it with a round of parchment paper. Butter just the parchment paper and set the pan aside.
Whip the ricotta and cream: In a food processor, combine the ricotta and heavy cream and process until the mixture is very thick, whipped, and completely silky smooth, about 1 minute.
Add the remaining wet ingredients: Add the 5 egg yolks, the lemon zest, vanilla, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and 1 cup of the sugar to the ricotta mixture. Pulse the food processor, scraping down the bowl once, until all of the ingredients are well combined and the mixture is smooth and fluid.
Add the flour: Add the flour and pulse just to combine. Transfer the ricotta mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
Whip the egg whites: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the egg whites and the pinch of salt on medium-low just to break them up. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the whites form soft peaks. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat on high until the whites are shiny, quadrupled in volume, and hold a firm peak off the end of the beater, about 2 minutes.
Fold in the egg whites: Scrape the egg whites into the bowl with the ricotta mixture and use a large flexible spatula to gently fold the mixture until no streaks remain.
Fill the pan and bake: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the edges are deeply browned and the center is risen, cracked, and golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (it will still wobble quite a bit when done). Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. The cake will fall and crater immediately, which is normal. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.
Make the marmalade: While the cake is cooling, in a small saucepan, combine the kumquats, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla seeds, and 2 tablespoons water and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring often and skimming off any white foam that accumulates on the surface, until the liquid has thickened to the consistency of maple syrup and the kumquats are softened and mostly translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside and let the marmalade cool completely.
Serve: Use a small offset spatula or paring knife to cut around the sides of the pan to release the cake and remove the metal ring. Spread the cooled marmalade over the top of the ricotta cake (or serve alongside).
If You Have Three-Plus Hours, Try Foolproof Tarte Tatin
7 medium or 8 small Pink Lady or any sweet-tart, firm baking apples
²⁄3 cup maple syrup
¹⁄3 cup brandy, preferably apple brandy
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
½ tsp plus a pinch of Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ recipe Rough Puff Pastry or 1 sheet thawed frozen store-bought puff pastry
All-purpose flour, for rolling out
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Preheat the oven: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roast the apples: Shave off a layer of flesh from the stem and bottom ends of the apples so they stand upright. Peel the apples, then cut them in half through the stem. Use a melon baller or round teaspoon measure to scoop out the cores and seeds, then slice out any remaining areas of core or stem. Stand the apple halves upright in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet (it will be a tight fit). Pour the maple syrup, brandy, and 1 teaspoon of the vinegar over the apples and add a pinch of salt. Cover the skillet with foil and crimp around the edges to create a steam-tight seal.
Transfer to the oven and roast the apples just until a cake tester or toothpick slides easily through the flesh, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes, depending on firmness. They should be cooked just beyond al dente, but not so much that they break apart and turn into mush. (If you’re unsure, err on the side of slightly less cooked, but even slightly overcooked apples will still make a great tart.) The apples will turn brown during roasting, which is fine because they’re going to caramelize in the tart.
Chill the apples: Leaving the juices in the skillet, carefully transfer the hot apples to a large plate and refrigerate uncovered until cold, at least 20 minutes and up to overnight (if chilling longer than 20 minutes, cover the apples). Don’t clean the skillet—you’ll use it in the next step.
Cook down the apple juices to make the glaze: Place the skillet with the apple juices over medium-low heat and bring the juices to a vigorous simmer. Cook, swirling the skillet often, until the liquid is thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes. Transfer the syrup to a heatproof cup or container (you should have between ⅓ and ½ cup) and set aside for glazing. Rinse and dry the skillet.
Make the caramel: Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the sugar across the bottom of the skillet in an even layer. Cook undisturbed over medium heat until most of the granules are melted into a clear liquid, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle another layer of sugar on top of the first and cook, stirring around the sides of the skillet with a heatproof spatula to move the melted sugar toward the center, until mostly melted, another minute or so. Repeat a few more times until you’ve used the entire 1 cup sugar and all of it is mostly melted (there may be a solid clump here and there), 6 to 8 minutes. Continue to cook the sugar, stirring occasionally, until it turns a deep amber color, moves very fluidly, and releases wisps of smoke, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and slowly stir in the butter one piece at a time, taking care because the caramel will sputter, until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the salt and remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar and set the skillet aside to cool until the caramel is hardened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Arrange the apples in the skillet: Place the chilled apples rounded-side down in the skillet, overlapping them as needed to minimize gaps. Depending on the size of your apples, you might have an extra half left over, but try to fit them very tightly as they’ll shrink some during baking. Refrigerate the skillet while you roll out the pastry.
Preheat the oven: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll out and cut the pastry: Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and let it soften at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface. Use a rolling pin to beat the dough all across the surface to make it more pliable. Dust over top and underneath the dough with more flour, then roll out, dusting with more flour as needed, to a 12-inch round. If using thawed frozen puff pastry, gently roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to smooth any creases and widen so it’s about 12 inches across in all directions. Set an 11-inch dinner plate (or an 11-inch parchment round) on top of the dough and cut around it with a sharp knife or a wheel cutter to create an 11-inch pastry round. Prick it all over with a fork.
Cover the apples with the pastry and chill: Drape the pastry over the apples and use a large spoon to tuck the edges of the pastry down between the apples and the sides of the skillet. Refrigerate the skillet for 10 to 15 minutes to firm up the pastry.
Bake the tart: Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake the tart for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the pastry is puffed, golden brown all over, and the caramel is bubbling around the sides, another 35 to 45 minutes. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and set it aside to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
Invert the tart: Working over a sink to catch any flowing juices, carefully invert the skillet onto a wire cooling rack. Remove the skillet and scrape off any apples that may have stuck, pressing them back into place on the tart.
Glaze the tart and serve: While the tart is still warm, use a pastry brush to dab the reserved reduced juices over the apples to give them a high gloss (don’t feel the need to use all the glaze). If the glaze is very thick, warm it briefly until it’s more fluid. Slide the tart off the rack onto a plate, slice, and serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
Reprinted from Dessert Person. Copyright © 2020 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Alex Lau. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House.
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