Dabs of Delectables

When I start planning a menu for a celebratory meal, my first line of attack is the dessert course. Whether it is an intimate sit-down affair with fine china and crystal, or a stand-in-line buffet kiddush with paper and plastic, I want the grand finale to be a memorable one.

Now, creating a dessert for eight is quite a different matter than making one for 80. The former can be more complex, such as spectacular individual fruit tarts, beautiful unmolded puddings, and cakes of a variety of layers elaborately plated and presented.

Preparing desserts for a crowd involves using large pans that yield a cake or cookie that can be cut into plentiful and pretty shapes, a large bowl of the finest fruit salad or compote you can make, and mini-muffin pans that can be used for a variety of batters.

Assembling these small, sweet bites on a large tray or platter results in an artistic display of "eye candy." And, of course, I always include at least one chocolate confection; after all, what's a celebration without chocolate?

Almond Bars

1/2 cup packed, canned almond paste (about 5 oz.), coarsely crumbled
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp. almond extract
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds (about 11/2 oz.)

Pulse almond paste in a food processor until broken up into small bits, then add salt and one-quarter cup sugar and continue to pulse until finely ground, about 1 minute.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch square baking pan, then line with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 opposite sides, and butter foil.

Beat together butter and remaining half-cup of sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with a paddle attachment) or 6 minutes with a handheld.

Add almond mixture, egg yolk and almond extract, and beat until well-combined, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add flour and mix until combined. Spread batter evenly in pan with an offset spatula.

Lightly beat egg white in a small bowl, then brush some of it over batter and sprinkle evenly with almonds.

Bake until top is golden, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 1 hour.

Transfer with foil to a cutting board, then discard foil.

Cut into squares or more decorative rounds using a crimp-edge or small cookie-cutter.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.


Molten Chocolate-Lava Cakes

14 oz. bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
11/4 cups unsalted butter
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
2 tsps. vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
additional confectioners' sugar

Generously grease 8 three-quarter-cup soufflé dishes.

Stir the chocolate, butter and cinnamon, in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl to blend.

Whisk in 3 cups of the confectioners' sugar, then the chocolate mixture, then flour.

Transfer batter to prepared dishes, filling to the top and dividing equally. (These can also be made one day ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake until batter has risen above dish, top edges are dark brown, and centers are still soft and runny, about 15 minutes, or about 18 minutes for refrigerated batter.

Run a small knife around cakes to loosen. Allow cakes to rest in dishes 5 minutes.

Using hot pad and holding dish very firmly, place plate gently atop 1 cake and invert onto plate. Repeat with remaining cakes.

Dust with a little more confectioners' sugar.

Serve cakes with ice-cream or crème fraîche, if desired.

Makes 8.


Walnut-and-Dried Apricot Rugelach

Dough Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter or margarine, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/2 lb. whole-milk cottage cheese
pinch of salt

Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup apricot jam, whisked until smooth
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped dried apricots
2 Tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a food processor or mixer, combine dough ingredients until a smooth dough forms. Divide into 4 pieces and form each into a 5-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each disk out to 8 inches in diameter, about one-eighth-inch thick. Spread each circle with 2 tablespoons of jam. Sprinkle with a fourth of the walnuts and a fourth of the apricots.

With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut each circle into 8 wedges. Starting at outside edge, roll up each wedge to enclose filling. Place, point-side down, on greased cookie sheet.

Combine sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle each pastry with this mixture.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until golden-brown.

Makes 32 pieces.


Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

1 cup chopped pistachios
4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
30 strawberries with stems attached, dry

Place the pistachios in a small deep bowl.

Melt the chocolate chips on a low simmer in a double boiler.

Holding the stem of a strawberry, dip each individually into the chocolate and then in pistachios. Place them on a piece of parchment until hardened.

Makes 30.

Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.




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