Every December, the French food magazines publish their glitziest issues of the year — with pages filled with recipes and glossy photos of DIY foie gras (really); centuries-old leckerli cookies, made of almonds, citrus peels and spices, often cut out in the shapes of stars; and lots and lots of chocolate. Chocolate cakes, with and without flour; dense chocolate pots de crème, chocolate mousses and meringues; and tart shells filled with a rich, bittersweet ganache.
But in France, indulgence doesn’t equal overeating. You’ll not see articles on how to count calories over the holidays; there are times for les regimes, and this is not one of them. These are the holidays. Let’s celebrate. Let’s toast. And let’s most definitely have dessert!
It’s a good lesson and one that I’ve always embraced. In Denton, about as far away from France as you can get, thanks to my mom, I grew up eating homemade desserts every night of the week. Even now, I always feel a little strange when I don’t have something sweet — even a piece of fruit — after my dinner.
It doesn’t have to be a big production. It’s just a nice way of ending a meal. In my world, it’s a natural link between Texas and Paris.
To celebrate the holidays, I’ve come up with four new dessert recipes that are both French-inspired and easy to make. Only the meringues take longer than an hour from start to finish, but after you mix the four ingredients together, the oven does the rest of the work.
The hazelnut-orange cake is as lovely for breakfast as for an afternoon snack (I’ve had it both ways), and the buckwheat spice cake with lemon glaze is reminiscent of gingerbread, but not as heavy. I went for a lighter treatment of the spices on purpose, because I figure we’ve had enough of the overpowering ginger-cinnamon everything by now.
The pumpkin mousse with a walnut-caramel crunch couldn’t be simpler — no baking required.
Leaving all of us to focus on what the holidays are really about. Pop the cork, peoples!
Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.
Pumpkin mousse with walnut-caramel crunch
For the mousse:
- 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Pinch of ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch of cardamom
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1. Warm pumpkin purée, whipping cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. When it boils, turn off the heat, let it cool slightly, then add vanilla and spices. When the pumpkin mixture cools, whisk in egg yolks. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.
2. In a clean mixer bowl with the whisk attachment, add egg whites and a pinch of salt and mix until stiff peaks form (and you can turn the bowl upside-down without anything falling out). Fold one-fourth of the egg whites into the pumpkin mixture, making sure it’s all incorporated. Fold in half of what’s left in the bowl, then the last half. Set aside.
3. Make the walnut-caramel crunch: Heat sugar and water on high in a saucepan, stirring once to incorporate. Let it boil without stirring until the sugar begins to darken around the edges. Give the pot a gentle swirl to combine. Let cook until the caramel becomes amber and begins to smoke, then add walnuts, stir and immediately transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the walnuts down with the back of a wooden spoon. They’ll cool quickly. Break them up by lightly tapping them with a rolling pin.
4. Spoon pumpkin mousse into 6 (4 ounces or slightly larger) ramekins or coffee cups, filling them halfway. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon walnuts on top, and add more mousse. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. Right before serving, sprinkle another tablespoon of the walnuts on top.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 361 calories, 24 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 239 milligrams cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.
Buckwheat spice cake with lemon glaze
Makes 1 cake, 12 servings
- 1 stick (4 ounces) butter, room temperature
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup cane syrup
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- About 1/4 cup whipping cream or half-and-half
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 10-inch-by-4-inch loaf pan with parchment.
2. Cream butter until it’s light in texture and color. Add brown sugar and cane syrup and mix for 1 minute. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each one, about 1 to 2 minutes each.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together both flours, sea salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to the butter mixture and mix only until combined. Pour dough into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack.
4. Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, lemon zest and juice, and as much cream as needed to make a smooth glaze. Drizzle it over the cake.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 188 calories, 9 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 183 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.
Makes about 2 dozen
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 70 percent)
- 4 egg whites from extra-large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
2. Break chocolate in pieces and melt in a double-boiler over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
3. Put egg whites in a clean mixer bowl with the whisk attachment and beat until soft peaks form. Add vinegar and sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Keep whisking until meringue is thick with glossy peaks.
4. Pour cooled, melted chocolate over the meringue. With a large spoon, scoop into the meringue, pulling out some chocolate as you do this, and put on the parchment-lined baking sheets, making swirls as you go. Repeat with remaining meringue. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off the oven, crack open the door and let cookies cool overnight.
Nutritional analysis per meringue: 89 calories, 5 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, no cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 53 percent of calories from fat.
Makes 1 (9 1/2-inch round) cake, 12 servings
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, room temperature
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup hazelnut flour (see note)
- Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line the bottom of a 9 1/2 -inch round pan with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter using a mixer until it’s light in color and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Rub orange zest into sugar to release its oils. Add to butter and mix 1 more minute. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 2 minutes each. Add vanilla.
4. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and add to the bowl all at once. Mix gently, being careful not to overmix. Add hazelnut flour. Pour mixture into pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving if you’d like — the cake doesn’t really need it because it’s sweet enough, but the powdered sugar makes it extra pretty.
Note: To make hazelnut flour, grind blanched hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until powdery.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 311 calories, 17 grams fat, 34 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 94 milligrams cholesterol, 254 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.