It’s hard not to indulge during the holidays, especially when we have all endured so much this last year. You can try to be strong and simply enjoy FoodTrients-worthy desserts during the season, like all the superb citrus fruits, pears and apples available this time of year. But sometimes it’s easier to stick to a healthy way of eating if you consume a small bit of something very indulgent. That way, you don’t feel deprived.
I love to bake and find it’s a great stress reliever. The following dessert recipes from around the world make no apologies for their richness. Just make them, share them and enjoy in moderation!
Eastern Europe – Caramel Apple Upside Down Kugel
About 8 to 12 servings
If you’re Jewish, every bubbe (Yiddish for ‘grandmother’) has their own recipe for kugel, which is a baked egg noodle casserole of Eastern European origin, usually with cottage cheese and sour cream. Some prefer a savory version as a side dish and for some, it must be slightly sweet with raisins.
This kugel is unabashedly a dessert! Like an upside-down cake, all the sweet goodies (in this case, apples and brown sugar) are at the bottom of the pan, to be flipped over before serving. There are a lot of steps, but they’re well worth it. This kugel dessert is delicious hot or cold.
12 oz. wide egg noodles
6 Tbs. butter, melted
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups sour cream
½ cup plus 1Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
2 Granny Smith or other tart apples, cored and sliced
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar (to reduce sugar, use ½ cup brown sugar, there just won’t be as much sauce)
¼ cup heavy cream
1. Grease the sides of a 13 x 9 -inch baking dish with butter.
2. Boil the noodles in salted water for about 4 minutes. Strain noodles and shake until dry.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients before the apples. Mix in a blender, food processor or hand mixer till it makes a smooth custard.
4. Pour the custard over the noodles, mix well, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
5. Pour the stick of melted butter over the bottom of the baking dish then top with the cup of brown sugar, pressing it down evenly so it covers the bottom and soaks up the butter. Drizzle heavy cream over the brown sugar, then arrange the sliced apples on top of the butter, heavy cream and brown sugar.
6. Toss the noodles to make sure the custard covers them completely, then distribute evenly over the apples. Cover top of dish with buttered tin foil.
7. Bake until the custard is set, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
8. Using a platter larger than 13 x 9 inches, flip the noodle kugel onto the platter, like an upside-down cake. Alternatively, let cool, then cut slices and flip them over onto each serving plate. Spoon any caramel at the bottom of the pan over slices.
Greek Honey Cookies with Pistachios
Yields about 60 cookies
These cookies epitomize Christmas in Greece. The name melomakarona may be a mouthful to most Americans, but these spiced honey cookies are easy to make and perfectly flavored with orange, cinnamon and drenched in a sweet, citrusy syrup. Though usually garnished with crushed walnuts, I’ve used pistachios for their festive green color.
For the Cookies:
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 orange (zested)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup olive oil
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Syrup:
1 cup honey
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups water
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1 to 2-inch piece lemon rind
2 tsp. lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
Garnish: ¾ cup coarsely ground pistachios
Garnish: ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a mixing bowl, use your fingers to combine the orange zest with 3/4 cup sugar: Rub the grains to release the orange oils into the sugar.
4. Using an electric mixer, add the olive oil and vegetable oil to the orange sugar and beat until well mixed.
5. Add the orange juice and vanilla extract; mix well.
6. Slowly incorporate the flour into the mixture, cup by cup, until a dough forms that is not too loose but not quite firm either. It should be dense and wet but not sticky. Once the flour is fully incorporated, stop mixing.
7. To form the cookies, pinch a portion of dough off about the size of a walnut. Shape it in your palms into a smooth, small egg shape. Place it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Continue to shape and roll the cookies until the sheet is filled.
8. Press the tines of a large fork in a crosshatch pattern in the center of each cookie. This will flatten them slightly in the center. The cookies should resemble lightly flattened ovals when they go into the oven.
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned.
Make the Syrup
1. While the cookies are baking, prepare the syrup.
2. In a saucepan, combine the honey, 1 cup sugar, water, cinnamon stick, cloves, and lemon rind. Bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 10-15 minutes.
4. Remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and lemon rind and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside.
Finish the Cookies
1. While the cookies are still warm, carefully dip them in the syrup and allow the cookies to absorb syrup on both sides. Using a fork or small spatula, remove the cookie from the syrup and place it on a platter.
2. Press the ground pistachio lightly into the tops of the cookies (the syrup will help it adhere) and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Tropical Tangerine Tartelettes
Makes 4 tartelettes
Take advantage of the wonderful tangerines that beckon from the produce aisles these days. December is their peak season. My friend‘s mother has four 80-year-old satsuma tangerine trees that still produce like crazy. There are many other tangerine varieties and they are all sweet, easy to peel and mostly seedless. This recipe uses store-bought frozen puff pastry dough, making it really easy.
6 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. allspice
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
Powdered sugar for garnish
1. Squeeze 4 of the tangerines for the juice.
2. Place juice in a small saucepan to heat; add the cardamom and allspice; mix in the corn starch and turn on the heat.
3. Stir the mixture to make sure it does not scorch.
4. When the juice has become thick and clear, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. or according to instructions on the puff pastry package.
6. Thaw 6 sheets of puff pastry.
7. Place 4 sheets on a cookie sheet prepared with baking parchment.
8. Slice 16 thin strips from the remaining 2 pieces of puff pastry.
9. Brush a thin strip of water on each of the 4 edges of the 4 pastries on the cookie sheet and place 1 strip along each side, to create a ‘frame’; each edge of the pastries will be slightly higher.
10. Prick the bottom of the pastries with a fork so that they do not swell up.
11. Carefully peel the other 4 tangerines, and using a sharp knife gently slice through them to make 4 slices from each tangerine; remove any seeds.
12. Place a small amount of the tangerine sauce on the bottom of each pastry; top each pastry with 4 slices of tangerine.
13. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes or until the edges are puffed and lightly golden.
14. Garnish with powdered sugar before serving.
Turrón – Spanish Nougat with Sea Salt
With limited ingredients and easy to make, this Spanish Christmas confection belongs in your dessert repertoire. At five grams of protein per serving (from the eggs and almonds), it even approaches FoodTrients status.
About 12 servings
1 cup super fine sugar
1 cup ground toasted almonds
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
1 tsp. flakey sea salt
1. Thoroughly mix the sugar and almonds in a bowl. Fold in the egg yolks, one after the other.
2. Whisk the egg white into a stiff foam and fold it into the mixture.
3. Lay a sheet of foil over a baking sheet and place the mixture on it. Press the mixture into a slab about 1/2 inch thick using a rolling pin and your fingers.
4. Sprinkle the sea salt. Cover it with foil and place a wooden board or a large book weighted down with a couple of full tin cans on top.
5. Let the turron stand for 2 days, so that it dries out and hardens, then slice it into 1-inch squares.
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