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Apr 30, 2008 10:40 PM

May/June 2008 Dessert COTM: PURE DESSERT - All Recipes

Here's the place to discuss recipes, etc. regarding Alice Medrich's book Pure Dessert.

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  1. Not too long ago I made the Sesame Seed Cake p. 82. I made it with black sesame seeds and it was very attractive. The women I served it to liked it alot, but my husband spat it out and wouldn't try another bite! Funny, actually. It does have a pronounced sesame oil flavor (well, duh - 2 1/2 tsp of toasted sesame oil will do that) that seems a bit too much on first blush, but definitely grows on you. Since I wasn't making this for my husband anyway, I dubbed this cake a success and would make it again.

    The Pecan Penuche Shortbread p. 184 was also good, but not that different tasting than other pecan shortbread cookies. We did like them, though.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mirage

      I also made the sesame cake recently. Unlike mirage, I used regular white sesame seeds and it still tasted great. The first bite of the cake though, was quite disconcerting. The sesame oil flavor is really strong and a shock to the system. I also think the cake tastes better as it ages. As the days went on, I liked the cake more and more. The sesame seeds themselves gave the cake a pleasant texture. Because the sesame oil was strong, the cake smelled delicious. It's nice having a savory alternative.

      1. re: beetlebug

        This is my favorite cake in the book (sesame). The slight shock (pleasant) of the toasted sesame oil makes it special. It's really great served with lemon frozen yoghurt with lots of pith. I used Meyer lemons. Actually, I can't say it's my favorite...I have several. Another is the almond cake.

      2. re: mirage

        I made the sesame cake this weekend, converted to gluten-free of course using a mixture of tapioca, sweet rice, superfine white rice, millet and cornstarch. I LOVE this cake, much more than I thought I would, and my guests liked it too. I didn't think it took any time to grow on me. i served with Greek yogurt sweetened with wildflower honey and oranges. I would probably choose a brighter honey next time. I did overbake it so it was dry, but the flavor was wonderful and something I will make again. I did toast my own black sesames and didn't find that difficult.

      3. Olive oil and sherry pound cake--superb. The recipe calls for two loafs. I always make two and freeze one. It freezes really well.
        The recipe is also forgiving I have made with lemons instead of oranges and even that orange oil when I didn't have either orange or lemons. Also subbed sweet white wine for sherry. Everytime, came out delicious.

        4 Replies
        1. re: abud

          This is a lovely cake. I made it as one bundt cake v. two smaller cakes. The texture was just lovely and light. Sifting the flour three times was definitely worth it.

          I'm glad to read that it freezes well. Next time, I'll try making it as two loaves.

          1. re: abud

            I made two batches of the Olive Oil and Sherry Pound Cake for holiday gifts (one recipe made four mini loaf pans; I used the brown-and-gold paper ones and gave them in the pans). I concur with abud and beetlebug: this is a wonderful cake, with a tight, dense crumb that is still somewhat light in texture and a really nice flavor. I used a fruity Italian extra virgin olive oil and the oloroso (medium) sherry Medrich calls for, and sherry flavor comes through, but subtly and in a very pleasant way. I couldn't really taste the orange zest in the cake, though I am sure it is an enhancer. I did reduce the sugar to 1 1/2 cups from 2, and liked the subtly sweet effect, which allows the olive oil and sherry flavors to shine. I look forward to taking my remaining mini loaf from the freezer in a few weeks - after the holiday sweets madness has ebbed.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Must try this. I love this book, one of the best by far of the past few years (and that includes some Malgiieris and even the Greenspan book, all of which I love too). Reminds me...I have some chestnut flour and some marrons glac├ęs that had dried out but revived in dark rum...chestnut poundcake up soon on the baking roster!

              1. re: buttertart

                Everything I've tried so far has been a winner that I will repeat. Can't wait to try more.

          2. First a disclaimer. I will be modifying most recipes because I have Celiac disease and so I need to make them gluten free. That being said, it has turned out well for the most part, but I will always note...

            Seseme coins - gluten free

            These cookies use tahini, and I used a mixture of Joyva (darker) and the very white tahini from the middle eastern store. So they had a roasty flavor. Like the reports of the sesame cake - the initial taste was "hmmm" but they grew on me, big time. I LOVED them. I couldn't keep my hands off them, so I tried freezing them. But they were great right out of the freezer. The recipe made a lot, and I made them into little triangles for a mingardes for Easter. The have a roasty, slightly bitter, salty sweet taste to them. I used a brown rice, sorghum, cornstarch and tapioca starch mixture to sub for those that care.

            Bittersweet Chocolate Tart - gluten free

            I made this citrus scented tart for a party of 40 or so folks and it went over very well. The dough is very quick to put together, using a cookie like base. The first one shrunk and bit - the second one, I added more flour and it worked better. It is difficult to tell whether the need for more flour is because of the substitution of gluten free flours, but I suspect that is the case. Regardless, both were beautiful in a round tart pan. I used 74% chocolate, and added more sugar as noted to the first one, and less to the second. I usually like dark dark chocolate, but I think with less sugar the dark chocolate overpowers the citrus undertones too much. Served with regular unsweetened whipped cream. Very good reception by all and translated very well to gluten free (the guests had no idea they were eating gluten free, although my husband who always complains said the crust was still a bit sandy). Used a mix of sorghum, almond meal, tapioca, brown rice flour and potato starch. Would use some sweet rice flour next time as well.

            Lemon bars - gluten-free

            I love lemon bars and haven't had one for 3 years (the joys of having to bake them yourself). These were great and easy to put together. I used the almond meal, sorghum flour base and it worked very well. Crispy, buttery bottom, tart lemony top. I don't know that they are the best lemon bars out there, but they were good. I used Meyer lemons and decreased the sugar accordingly.

            Lemon tart - gluten free

            Also love lemon tarts and lemon curd. NOTE: MY COPY HAS AN ERROR. I had to make 4 times the filling to fill the tart. Luckily I had a ton of Meyer lemons, so I could easily make more. I also put a layer of dark chocolate on the crust for fun. I did do the second baking, which is optional, and it set up wonderfully. Again - very lemony and not too sweet, but sweet enough. The crust is easy to put together, and barely fills up the pan. Mine shrank a lot - probably because of the gluten free conversion or bad oven temperature control. So we only had crust half way up the side. Still tasted great and was only minimally visually impaired.

            Buckwheat shortcakes with strawberries - gluten free

            I had intended to make these for my Mother's Day dessert and bought some anson mills buckwheat flour to do so. But I had a hankering for dessert and thought - these seem fairly healthy, so I made them a couple of nights ago. Used a sorghum, brown rice, tapioca mix wtih some Bob's Red Mill all-purpose mix I needed to use up. I also used whole milk instead of cream which lightened up the recipe quite a bit. With all the subbing I had to add a lot more flour, but tried to keep the ratio between buckwheat and regular flour the same. Still made 9 more drop biscuits than cut shortbread. Yummmy...I was worried, but they were good. The Anson Mills buckwheat flour is really great stuff. Strong buckwheat flavor that my kids won't eat, but wholesome enough for me to eat for breakfast. I had had them with rhubarb strawberry compote I had kicking around in the freezer - great combo, just strawberries and 0% greek yogurt, and bananas added. Also good with peach jam. And working it out - they are fairly good for you for a dessert when made with the whole milk, but I am sure would be great with cream.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jsaimd

              How did you know about the error in your copy for the lemon tart? When I made it (modified the crust significantly to make it Passover appropriate) the filling ended up being like a glaze. I made a second recipe of the filling, and it was still very minimal. People liked it, but it seemed more like it was iced with lemon filling than a true tart. I wonder if I have the same error...

              1. re: milklady

                I surmised it was an error because it should fill the tart pan. I made one recipe and it wasn't enough, so I just quickly tripled the curd part and filled it.

              2. re: jsaimd

                Oranges in caramel sauce with orange flower water

                One I forgot, Made this one for a middle eastern themed party. Not a lot of people tried it, but I really liked it. It is a variation listed below the main recipe. I am not sure if the caramel was worth the effort or not, but I liked the end result. Very refreshing.

              3. I mentioned this in an earlier thread, but I'll post here as well. My results with this cookbook have not been good. The Walnut Sponge Cake was a disaster. First off, she has you grind untoasted walnuts in a food processor by themselves. Most recipes have you grind nuts with flour or sugar so that the nuts don't turn into a paste. Well, what do you know, mine did. I shouldn't have followed the recipe to the letter here. The walnuts weren't exactly a paste, but they were damp and heavy. This might have been the reason why the cake completely flattened in the middle upon baking and cooling. Besides that, though, the taste just wasn't very compelling, so I wouldn't try this one again unless someone raves about it.

                I also made the Buckwheat Nibby Cookies. For the record, I LOVE Medrich's pecan nibby cookies -- sometimes I make them with hickory nuts and they turn out even more wonderful. This recipe, in contrast, was a disappointment. The cookies were tough, looked awful and had an odd flavor (yeah, I know, buckwheat -- but I do like the flavor of buckwheat in other things). I might have shot myself in the foot when I halved the recipe, though. Sometimes I find butter cookies have a tendency to turn out tough when you're mixing a smaller amount of butter & flour together.

                3 Replies
                1. re: emily

                  The buckwheat shortcakes are much less strong cold, but the sweet buckwheat flavor of them warm will throw people off. That is one issue I am having with this book. There are so many recipes I want to try but don't have enough adventurous friends and family to appreciate them...

                  1. re: emily

                    emily: I had the collapsing problem with the chocolate and nut sponge cake as well. It was, however, completely delicious and moist. It looked very sad indeed, looked sort of like a deflated donut (the kind you sit on). Served with whipped cream, however, it was really good. Maybe you should try this recipe as it's similar to the Walnut Sponge but has a great flavor. I brought it to my son's house for a dinner party dessert (along with several other cakes from this book) and it was pretty much ignored until my daughter-in-law took a taste and raved. Then everybody gave it a try.

                    If I'd made it for a fancier dinner party, I'd have had to hide it away and make something else.

                    1. re: emily

                      I just made the buckwheat nibby cookies a few days ago and I doubt I would make them again. They didn't turn out tough at all, very tender actually, but I agree that they don't look very appetizing and the flavor combo just didn't end up working for me. (I like buckwheat in other things as well, so I was hoping for the best...)

                    2. Lemon Bars

                      I made the Meyer Lemon version and decreased the sugar accordingly. I think I cooked them a minute too long, as there was very little give in the topping. But, they were delicious. They sliced neatly. The crust was buttery. The family I gave them to adored them.

                      Torta Ciccolata / Chocolate Almond Torte

                      I made this for Passover. It was really delicious. It sunk a bit in the middle, but that didn't matter. I loved the method -- pretty much making a sweet meringue, and folding in chopped almonds and chopped unsweetened chocolate into it. There is no butter or flour in the recipe, which is great for Passover or if you're gluten free or dairy free. I ended up glazing it with thinned melted chocolate, just so it would look a little fancier. This was a big hit among adults. My children were a bit overwhelmed by the unsweetened chocolate, though it's suspended in the sweet batter. I will definitely make this again.

                      I already wrote a bit about the Lemon Tart, which turned out okay, when I doubled the topping. Maybe I needed to quadruple it. I'm sure it would be better with the shortbread type crust she wrote (I used a matzo meal based crust).