Aachener Poschweck

Osterkranz

Joanie's beautiful Easter wreath, taken one Easter Sunday years ago when we were at her house for breakfast. The table was set with boiled eggs and tea, a sweet yeasted bread crafted into the shape of a proud rooster and plenty of sweet butter and homemade jams to spread on. The sweet sunshine filtered into her living room, casting lines of shadows against the portrait of her mother. It was such a nice morning.

This year, it's hard to work up the enthusiasm to celebrate a time of rebirth and new beginnings. Our circumscribed days are growing ever more so. We were warned these would be the hardest months and that has, so far, turned out to be true, at least for me. The days crawl by, not like last spring, when the one saving grace amidst all the fear and uncertainty was the speed with which the days were finished. This time around, the children are at each others' throats, the adults are tired and worn out, and a sentiment akin to hopelessness is settling into the cracks. But sometimes traditions are there if only to hold onto, white-knuckled, in a bid to spread some semblance of normality.

Today is Maundy Thursday, also known as Gründonnerstag in Germany. You're supposed to eat green things today, boiled potatoes with herb sauce, for example, or the Grüner Kuchen in Classic German Baking, a hearty, savory dish of yeasted dough topped with bacon, parsley and scallions.

On Easter Sunday, Germans celebrate with beautiful breakfast tables, usually starring a sweet yeasted bread of some kind, plaited into a wreath. (Joanie's animal sculptures are one of a kind.) If you want to make something special for your Easter Sunday breakfast, you could make the Rosinenzopf in Classic German Baking and either leave it as a regular loaf or roll the dough pieces slightly longer, then craft a braided wreath out of the dough instead (make a long braid, then form into a circle and weave the ends together, before brushing the whole thing with an egg wash.) If you have large bunny cookie cutters, you can skip the wreath and make individual sweet bunnies. Take the Rosinenzopf dough, but leave out the raisins, and roll out the dough to a rectangle that's about an inch thick. Use the cutter to cut out bunnies, transfer them to a prepared baking sheet, brush them with egg wash, decorate them with pearl sugar and raisins and then bake up into these golden delights.

Easter bunny

And if you're feeling like either of those ideas isn't quite "EASTER!" enough for you, let me suggest the fantastic Aachener Poschweck, a sweet loaf from Aachen that has been made for Easter since medieval times. It's a sweet enriched dough, but you don't just add raisins, you also add chopped almonds and sugar cubes. The cubes, in the heat of the oven, sort of melt into these crusty little geodes which are a delight to find in your slice, and also a delight to eat. The loaf is quite an impressive one to serve at an Easter breakfast, and should be thickly sliced and served with butter and jam or honey. (It can also be eaten as is...) The interplay of rich yeasted dough and crunchy bits of sugar is reminiscent of waffles from Liège (which is just 40 miles away from Aachen).

Aachener Poschweck

If you can find fresh yeast, this is the time to use it - it will give your Poschweck the puff power it needs and an exceptionally fluffy, flavorful crumb. (Instant yeast will be fine, your loaf will just be slightly less exuberant, let's say.)

I'll be taking a little break from blogging for the long Easter weekend. I hope you are all hanging in there in one way or another. I'll see you back here next week.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Aachener Poschweck
Makes one 11-inch/28-centimeter loaf

For the loaf:
3/4 cup (100 g) chopped, blanched almonds
1 1/2 ounces (42 g) fresh yeast, or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, lukewarm

4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled, plus more for kneading
11 tablespoons (150 g) unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (140 g) raisins
1 cup (125 g) sugar cubes

For the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons whole milk

1. Place the chopped almonds in a dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until pale golden and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

2. Crumble the yeast into a medium bowl and add the sugar. Whisk in the milk until the yeast dissolves. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and set aside for 15 minutes. If using instant yeast, skip this step and simply add the yeast to the flour and other ingredients in the next step.

3. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Cube the butter and place in the well. Add the vanilla extract to the yeast mixture and pour and scrape it all into the well. Before mixing, add the egg yolks and the salt. Using your hands, mix everything together and knead in the bowl until the dough comes together. Then scrape out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead, adding flour only if necessary, until the dough is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes more. You want the dough to remain as light and floppy as possible, so resist the urge to add additional flour, unless absolutely necessary, for example if the dough still is sticky after several minutes of kneading. The more you knead, the less sticky the dough should become. At the end of kneading, the dough should no longer be sticky. Form into a ball and set aside on the work surface to relax for a few minutes.

4. Gently roll out the dough until it is about an inch thick. Place the raisins, toasted almonds, and sugar cubes on the surface of the dough. Gather the dough up and around the fillings and knead them in until well distributed throughout the dough. This will be unwieldy at first, but as you keep going, the dough will start to come together again. Form the dough into a ball and put back into the mixing bowl. Cover with the dishcloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot for 1 hour.

5. After 1 hour, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently push down the dough to knead through once, and then shape into a 9-inch-/23-centimeter-long loaf that is about 5 inches wide in the middle. Place on the baking sheet.

6. To make the egg wash: Whisk the egg yolk with the sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the milk. Brush the loaf evenly all over with the egg wash. Using a very sharp (ideally serrated) knife, slash the top of the loaf three times diagonally. Set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 15 minutes.

7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the Poschweck is a rich, deep golden-brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Place the sheet on a rack and let the loaf cool completely before serving in thick slices. The bread is best eaten the day it is made, but leftovers can be lightly toasted for a very special next-day breakfast.


Diana Henry's Roast Apple and Maple Eton Mess

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Reader! How are you? How’s the weather where you are? Here in Berlin, spring has sprung. The breezes are warm, the trees are blooming (the creamy magnolias are already on their way out, in fact, sob, but the frothy cherry blossoms are still in full glory), the markets are stuffed with fragrant strawberries and fat white asparagus. I have put away my heavy wool sweaters and warm coats and am swanning around in t-shirts and sockless feet. It is glorious.

My little white baby Bruno even has his very first sunburn on the tops of his deliciously fat feet. I am fully and miserably responsible. I plead ignorance: my skin color has me regularly mistaken for being South Asian so I have a relatively “relaxed” attitude about sunscreen when not on the beach, yet I seem to have given birth to the whitest baby in Germany, poor thing. The other day, we were at the playground in the what felt like not-even-that-hot-for-crying-out-loud sunshine, yadda yadda yadda, before I knew it, Bruno had red feet. Gah. So I am doing penance now by stocking up on baby sunscreen and already looking forward to the pitying looks that he will be getting from the mahogany-skinned Italians on the beach this summer.

As I type, I have a plastic bag filled with strawberries sitting on the chair next to me. These aren’t the best strawberries, yet, but they smell delicious and between Hugo and me, I anticipate them lasting until, oh, tomorrow morning at best. (Bruno, so far, refuses to eat any berry at all. Weirdo. Takes after his father.)

Anyway, I’m telling you this because I feel a little funny about what I’m going to do next. Which is: blog about a wintertime dessert made with roasted apples. But is so wonderful and delicious that you simply must know about it. And since I was in the depths of new-baby-hood when I first discovered it (and made it obsessively for every special meal we were invited to for a couple of months), I didn’t write about it when it was topical and in-season. Instead I’m doing so now when you could probably care less about roasted apples and will immediately close the browser window and tell me to go jump in a lake. That’s fine! I’d do the same! Forgive me!

But for the three of you who don’t feel that way (or for those of you on the other side of the world, or in Boston, where it was still SNOWING yesterday for the love of Pete), this is for you.

Now, imagine:

Whipped cream.

Greek yogurt.

Crushed meringues.

Roasted apples.

Toasted hazelnuts.



All layered together in a beautiful serving dish and spooned out in such a way that each bite contains a bit of creamy, crunchy, roasty, toasty, juicy wonderfulness. The recipe comes from Diana Henry’s reboot of Simple and is, indeed, simple. All you have to actually cook are the roasted apples (does toasting hazelnuts even count as cooking?). The rest is whipping cream and bashing up store-bought meringues and drizzling maple syrup (and, uh, toasting hazelnuts - don’t you even dare to try and skip this step as untoasted hazelnuts are the devil’s work, as everyone knows).

It is, of course, a wintry riff on Eton mess, traditionally made with fresh strawberries in spring and a glorious dessert in its own right. (Though I never really get beyond just stuffing fresh strawberries unadorned into my craw when they're local and sweet and cheap and sold on every street corner.) Somehow, with the meringues and yogurt and apples, it manages to be a pretty light dessert, the kind you're happy to spoon up after a big meal. (I was going to write, "like Christmas" after that, but it turns out that even I, blogger of apple desserts in springtime, can't bring myself to write about the holiday that shall not be named, so you'll just have to infer it.)

And with that, dear reader, I'm off to buy some fresh rhubarb. At the rate I'm going, I'll blog about what I do with it just around Thanksgiving. Ha!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I truly love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Roast Apple and Maple Eton Mess
Adapted from Simple
Serves 6

1.5 lbs cooking apples, peeled, cored and halved
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup, divided, plus more to serve, optional
3 1/2 tablespoons hazelnuts
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
4 1/4 ounces meringues, coarsely broken up

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the apples in a roasting pan and toss with the brown sugar. Drizzle 3 tablespoons water over the apples. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the fruit is tender. Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup over the apples and let cool.

2. Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they smell toasty and delicious. Let cool and coarsely chop.

3. If necessary, lightly crush the apples with a fork - but take care not to make applesauce out of them.

4. Whip the cream until it holds its shape, then fold in the Greek yogurt and remaining maple syrup.

5. Layer the apples, cream, hazelnuts and meringue in individual glass dishes or one larger serving dish. If you like, you can drizzle additional maple syrup as you go (I never do). Finish with a layer of cream and a sprinkling of hazelnuts. Serve immediately (otherwise the meringues soften).


Suzanne Goin's Roasted Turkey Stock

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First off, an apology. Writing about Thanksgiving in February is...well...not great. But I swear I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have a very good reason and that reason is this recipe for roasted turkey stock, which is worth every single droplet of sweat, blood and tears you expend on Thanksgiving itself to make the feast. Every time I open my freezer and see the remaining turkey stock I made in November, I feel like I have money in the bank. And there's no reason to restrict the recipe below to turkey - it works just as well with a small collection of roast chicken carcasses.

The recipe comes from Suzanne Goin and is a study in the art of how to build flavor. You start out, of course, with a roasted turkey carcass (first layer). This gets returned to the oven the day after Thanksgiving to roast until it sizzles and is fragrant (second layer). Then you roast vegetables and aromatics in the turkey drippings (third layer). You add a pretty large amount of wine to the roasted vegetables and then reduce that wine until it's syrupy (layer four). At that point, it's time to add water and the seasonings and to simmer the stock until it's rich and flavorful (layer five!).

What results is a golden brown liquid that tastes absolutely amazing, both on its own or in things like risotto or other soups. But the very best thing you can do with it (besides freezing it and being delighted by it every single time you open the freezer, if you're like me) is to make turkey pho. Follow this fantastic recipe by Samin Nosrat, which adds even more flavor to your amazing stock by simmering it with charred ginger, onions and star anise - and copious amounts of fish sauce. Not to mention the fresh limes and bean sprouts and jalapeños and mint and cilantro...

Of course you don't have to wait until next Thanksgiving to try this out - the next two times (approximately, if you're using a 4-5 pound chicken) you roast a chicken, throw the carcass in the freezer. The third time, remove the frozen carcasses and add to the fresh carcass, then depart with the recipe below.

Suzanne Goin's Roasted Turkey Stock
Makes about 3 quarts/2.8 liters

1 leftover carcass from a 10- to 15-pound roasted turkey, preferably including neck, wing and leg bones
4 or 5 onions, peeled and quartered
2 large or 3 small carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 large or 5 small celery ribs, cut into chunks
2 cups white wine
2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole arbol (or another small dried red) chile
Kosher salt

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Using a sturdy knife or your hands, cut or tear turkey carcass into large pieces. Arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan and roast until brown and sizzling, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Remove from oven and transfer pieces to a stockpot. Add onions, carrots and celery to the empty roasting pan and place over medium heat. Sauté briefly, just to loosen the crusty turkey bits from bottom of pan. Return pan to oven and cook until vegetables are browned around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Remove pan from oven and place it over medium heat. Add white wine and cook, stirring, until wine is reduced to a syrup, about 3 minutes. Add wine-vegetable mixture to stockpot. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaves, black peppercorns and chile. Add 6 quarts water and place over medium-high heat just until mixture comes to a boil.

4. Immediately reduce heat to low, skim any foam floating on top and simmer, skimming as needed, for 3 hours. Add 1 teaspoon salt and taste. If stock tastes watery, keep simmering until stock is flavorful. Taste for salt again and add more if needed.

5. Strain stock through a sieve into a large container or containers. Discard solids. Let stock cool slightly, then refrigerate. Skim off any fat from the top of the stock. Use within 4 days or freeze.


Yotam Ottolenghi's Raspberry Meringue Roulade

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I realize this is verrrry last-minute, but perhaps there are a few among you who have not yet decided on your Christmas dessert or who are still planning your New Year's Eve dinner or just plain want to have your socks knocked off by a dessert. Yes? Yes?

Getting right down to brass tacks, because none of us have any time at all right now (amirite?): Yotam Ottolenghi's meringue roulade from his latest book Plenty More. Imagine: a base of vanilla-flavored meringue - with cornstarch and vinegar mixed into so that it stays marshmallowy and rollable after baking instead of crisp and crackling - spread with whipped cream and fruit, then rolled up and topped with more whipped cream and fruit plus powdered sugar to make it look all festive and wintry and perfect.

BOOM.

To put it bluntly: It's so good that it literally rendered an entire table of people at our Christmas Eve dinner last night entirely speechless.

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The original version has you flavor the whipped cream with rose water and top the roulade with chopped pistachios in addition to raspberries, but I don't like rose water, so I left it out and then left out the pistachios too and it was still divine. (The whipped cream is mixed with mascarpone for some extra flavor and ballast.) You could do any number of combinations - I keep thinking that pomegranate seeds would be fantastic in it.

The roulade is just the right thing after a heavy holiday meal - all sweetness and light with little pops of fruit here and there and the cooling smoothness of cold cream. (Though the next time I make it, I will reduce the sugar just a touch. The recipe below reflects that change.)

Have a wonderful, delicious and peaceful holiday season, darling readers. I am, as ever, so grateful to have you all in my life.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Raspberry Meringue Roulade
Adapted from Plenty MoreServes 8-10

4 egg whites
1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3.5 ounces/100 grams mascarpone
1 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 3/4 cups/400 ml whipping cream
5 ounces/150 grams fresh raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer until they begin to firm up. Add the granulated sugar to the whisking whites in spoonfuls or tip into the bowl in a slow stream. Continue whisking until you achieve a firm, glossy meringue. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold in the vanilla extract, vinegar and cornstarch. Spread the mixture evenly onto the parchment paper, making a 13x9.5-inch/33x24-cm rectangle.

3. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until a crust forms and the meringue is cooked through (it will still feel soft to the touch). Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan.

4. Unmold the cooled meringue on a fresh piece of parchment paper. Carefully peel off the first piece of parchment.

5. Place the mascarpone in a large mixing bowl along with the confectioners' sugar. Whisk to combine, then add the whipping cream. Whisk just until the cream starts to hold its shape. Don't overmix - you want a relatively loose whipped cream. Spread most of the mascarpone cream on top of the meringue, reserving a few tablespoons. Leave a small border around the edge of the meringue. Scatter most of the raspberries all over the cream

6. Use the paper to assist you in rolling up the meringue along its long edge, until you get a perfect log shape. Carefully transfer the log on to a serving dish. Use the remaining cream to create a rough wavy strip along the top of the log. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

7. When ready to serve, dust the log with confectioners' sugar and dot with the remaining raspberries.


Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake

On Friday afternoon, Hugo and I were hanging out at home when talk turned, as it so often has lately, to cake. "CAAAAYKE, mama, ja?" So I said something responsible and mom-like, like, "well, it's dinnertime soon, so there's no cake today. But tomorrow is Saturday! So we can make a cake tomorrow." To which Hugo responded, "Ja! But no baby cake, mama. BIG CAAAAYKE."

(NEVER GROW UP, HUGO, PLEASE AND I PROMISE I WILL MAKE YOU BIG CAAAAAYKES FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.)

Luckily for us, we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party the next day and I'd volunteered to make the birthday cake anyway. Ever since receiving Jane Hornby's cookbook, I'd been itching to make her malted chocolate birthday cake. Finally, I had the chance.

The cake itself was nice and simple to put together; actually, it just the thing to do with a child whose skillset just about encompasses whisking. And the cake baked up perfectly, moist and fragrant. As Hornby promises, it's not too rich but still pleasingly chocolatey. The malt flavor is very subtle, giving the cake and the icing only the faintest toasty flavor. If you didn't know what to taste for, you might not even taste it. But for malt-lovers among us, it's a lovely hint of a thing to taste and gives the whole cake a slight lift out of the dark depths of chocolatiness.

Jane Hornby What to Bake and How to Bake It

But the real reason this cake was a total home run and up on this blog now for posterity is the icing. The gorgeous, silky, dark and lovely icing that I literally licked off every single part of the whisk and then the spatula and then the bowl. (For your information, I do not normally lick anything related to baking, ever. I don't know why, I just don't. It sort of grosses me out. BUT NOT THIS TIME OH NO SIRREE BOB.)

First of all, what I loved about it is that it's not a buttercream. Too buttery, too rich, too slick and oily in my mouth, buttercream is just not my thing. (I recently discovered the beauty of Swiss buttercream, when I wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Germany about fancy cakes, but unless I'm making the kind of cake that's supposed to look better than it tastes, I steer clear of buttercream.) This icing is more of a butter-enriched ganache, but lightened with milk, so it's spreadable and swishable and doesn't land in your belly like a 10-pound bag of bricks.

Plus, it's cinch to make - you make a milk, malt and cocoa paste, then beat in soft butter and confectioners' sugar before beating in melted chocolate. The icing is silky-smooth and a little runny as long as it's still hot, but as it cools, it gets firmer and swoopier. It's lovely.

Also, delicious.

I can see it swirled onto cupcakes and smoothed onto vanilla cake, even possibly used as a sandwich cookie filler. You can play a little with the proportions (less sugar, vanilla or peppermint flavoring instead of malt, more cocoa solids in your chocolate or less) or leave it just as is. I used less sugar than the original and a higher percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate and got a slightly grown-up icing that all the adults at the party swooned over. (Hugo ate his piece happily enough, but was totally distracted by the discovery of blue M&M's on his piece. He ate them with much the same expression on his face as a roomful of scientists witnessing the Mars landing.) At first I thought that the yield of the icing was too much for the panful of cake, but I piled it all on anyway, and I'm glad I did.

***

In other news, I'm so honored to be giving an hourlong talk at the Apple Store in Berlin this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. I'm going to be talking about how I started my blog and what it was like when I was blogging anonymously at the beginning, how I found my voice and then an audience, how the blog grew over the years, and how I've stayed inspired. There will also be an audience Q&A. Click here to register (filter for "events" and you'll see mine). Hope to see you there!

Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from What to Bake and How to Bake It
Makes one 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33cm) cake
Note: The recipe below reflects a few changes I made to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the cake and the icing slightly and I upped the percentage of cocoa solids for the chocolate in the icing a little bit too. If I were making this for a children's birthday party, I'd use the original amounts of sugar (300 grams in the cake and 250 grams in the icing) as well as a milkier chocolate (50% instead of 60%). You will notice I did not include the conversions to imperial; I just don't have the time at the moment. My apologies. A kitchen scale will set you back between $10 and $30, or else the internet can help you out with the conversions.

For the cake
140 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
350 grams all-purpose flour
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
275 grams light brown sugar
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspon vanilla extract

For the icing
200 grams dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa
120 ml milk
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
140 grams soft butter
200 grams confectioners' sugar
A handful of M&Ms, optional

1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350 F). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Melt the butter in a pan and set aside to cool slightly.

2. Mix the flour, cocoa, malted milk powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the sugar and break up any lumps with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, oil and vanilla into the melted butter and pour this mixture into the well.

3. Using the whisk, mix the wet and dry ingredients together slowly. Once combined, give the batter a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake has risen, is firm and slightly shrunken from the sides. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

5. For the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring each time. Leave to cool a little.

6. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or the microwave until steaming hot. Sift the cocoa and malted milk powder into a large bowl, then slowly stir in the hot milk to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

7. Now add the butter to the paste, sift in the confectioners' sugar, and beat together with an electric mixer until very creamy. Follow with the melted, cool chocolate, and beat to make a silky, soft icing.

8. Decorate the cake with the M&Ms, if using. The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a cool place, well wrapped or, if frosted, loosely covered on its board.


Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip

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Thank you, darlings, for all your lovely comments and well wishes. It did me good to crawl off and act like a wounded animal for a bit. I took lots of hot baths, baked a bunch of delicious, comforting things and read all the back issues of the New Yorker I had lying around the house. It was very restorative and I'm happy to say that besides a sore chin and a few remaining issues with my jaw, I'm feeling back to normal.

As for the delicious baked things, I will tell you about all of them, I promise, but first things first: This hot crab dip, which comes from the pages of Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook, was the Number One Most Delicious Thing I made over the holidays (we had it for our Christmas Eve appetizer) and while I realize it may be snooze-y for you to read the words "Christmas" and "holidays" in February, please trust me. You need to have this in your repertoire.

Hot crab dip was one of those things I'd vaguely heard about but had never actually seen in the flesh. I always assumed it had been very trendy and hip mid-century, but had gone the way of the three-martini lunch as the decades passed. When I was trying to think of what to serve to our guests on Christmas Eve (we always do a pretty simple fish-based meal that evening), I pulled down the Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook for inspiration. While much of the book's recipes are for much fussier (and more elegant) things than I'd ever have the energy to recreate, there are so many fantastic ideas for entertaining a crowd packed within its pages. Case in point, this hot crab dip.

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It's a silly-easy recipe and can be made in advance of serving, both big pluses for cooking for a crowd. You can make it with frozen crab meat as well as fresh, which is a boon to those of us who live in countries where fresh crabmeat is unheard of. (Berliners, I bought mine here.) And most importantly, of course, it is drop-dead delicious.

This is not diet food or temple food or whatever you're going to call it. It's rich with butter and cream and cheese, but a little goes a long way and it is guaranteed to please the people you're feeding. I'd go so far as to say that as long as the days are short and the weather biting, you owe it to your friends to make them hot crab dip. Not to overstate things, but it's the kind of food that make you feel all is right with the world as you eat it. The rich savoriness will warm your bones and the conviviality of scooping and dipping bits of toasted bread into it while clustered around a table together will warm your soul. Just the thing to keep us going through this next gray month.

(The Amazon links are affiliate.)

Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook
Serves 8 as an hors d'oeuvres

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 cup half-and-half
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Toast points, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard until well combined. Pour half-and-half into saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time. When the cream cheese is fully incorporated, whisk in the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time. Stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce; stir to combine. Stir in crabmeat and half of the parsley.

2. Transfer mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with bread pieces. Dot top of bread pieces with remaining tablespoons butter; sprinkle with paprika. Bake until bread pieces are golden and dip is hot, 18 to 22 minutes. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve with toast points.


David Tanis's Ambrosia

David Tanis's Ambrosia

Happy New Year! I hope you all had restorative, calming breaks. Max was home for 16 blissful days and we enjoyed every single one. Even Hugo played along and stopped waking up at 5:00 am, for which we are both endlessly grateful. We may even buy him a pony in gratitude? A tiny motorcyle? His very own African elephant baby?

I know it is hopelessly unhip to admit to eating healthfully in January, but I can't help it. In the grand German tradition, we started eating piles of Christmas cookies all the way back on the first Advent and by the time New Year's rolled around, after the roasts and the jelly doughnuts and the Stollen and panettone and everything else, it would have been a freaking miracle if our pants weren't tight. Ahem. My pants. Also, I now have that sort of unpleasant sensation of being completely sugared out. Of being sated down to the tips of my toes. Best remedied by eating lightly and cleanly and by getting out and moving.

But I was invited to a lunch party yesterday and was tasked with bringing dessert. What was I going to do? I couldn't bring myself to even make a pan of brownies. (The last pan I made, David's dulce de leche brownies, was just after New Year's and while they were perfect, I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a few bites. Like I said, sugared out! To the tips of my toes!)

Instead, inspired by something I read online from Amanda Hesser about a reinvention of that old Southern dessert ambrosia, a mix of sliced oranges and shredded coconut, I turned to David Tanis's lovely book, A Platter of Figs. David Tanis updates the dish with just a few simple touches, turning it from simple and retro into something far more elegant, complex and delicious.

Segmented citrus

Instead of just using oranges, David has you use grapefruits, blood oranges, kumquats and navels (I didn't have navels, so used clementines). The grapefruits are segmented, the oranges are peeled and sliced and the kumquats are sliced, so you not only have a whole dance of different citrus flavor going on, but layers of texture too, especially once the soft pineapple and spiky coconut are tossed in. Some versions of the old ambrosia add canned crushed pineapple to the mix, but here, David has you dice up fresh pineapple, which adds an element of pure sweetness to the dish. And instead of sweetened shredded coconut, use unsweetened shredded coconut (I used a mix of flaked and shredded, just for fun). David's original recipe makes an enormous amount of ambrosia, so I scaled down the citrus a bit to the quantities below and it served 6 of us at the end of a 3-course lunch quite well.

David's ambrosia is the perfect winter dessert - seasonal and juicy, deeply satisfying and delicious, and beautiful to boot. I'm in love.

But next week is my mother's birthday and I am, of course, in charge of dessert. And while I adored the ambrosia, I'm not sure it's birthday party material. I want to find something that's celebratory and special, but still relatively light. So what can I make? A wintery pavlova? An angel food cake? A towering croquembouche filled with nothing but sweet, delicious air? Help a girl out, folks!

David Tanis's Ambrosia
Adapted from A Platter of Figs
Serves 6

2 pink grapefruits
2 blood oranges
2 clementines
8 kumquats
1/2 ripe pineapple
Sugar, if necessary
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. With a sharp knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of the grapefruits, blood oranges and clementines, then peel, making sure to remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl, section the grapefruit into wedges, cutting between the membranes. Before discarding, squeeze out the grapefruit carcasses into the bowl, they should yield quite a bit of juice. Slice the blood oranges and clementines into 1/4-inch rounds and add them to the bowl. Slice the kumquats into the thinnest rounds possible and add to the bowl. Peel and core the pineapple, then cut into small pieces and add to the bowl. With your (clean) hands, mix the fruits very gently. Taste the juice and if absolutely necessary, add a bit of sugar. Cover and set aside for up to several hours.

2. Just before serving, sprinkle the coconut over the salad. Toss gently and serve immediately.