An exercise in making a great chocolate dessert—Claudia Fleming’s Chocolate Caramel Tart

Caramel chocolate tart before fleur de sel

While Claudia Fleming was the pastry chef at the Gramercy Tavern in New York City, she was one of the pioneers of using flaked sea salt to finish her chocolate caramel tart. These days, the use of a finishing salt on desserts is fairly common, but Fleming was among those who started the trend two decades ago.

Amanda Hesser wrote an article in. The New York Times (August 30, 2000) about the use of salt in unconventional ways as a flavor enhancer. In this chocolate tart recipe, a light dusting of flour de sel elevates the contrast between the chocolate crust, the smooth caramel, and the top for dark chocolate ganache.

chocolate caramel tart



  • ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour


  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche (available at specialty food markets)
  •  PInch of salt


  • 3 ½ ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate (70 to 85%), chopped
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  •  Fleur de sel


  1. Prepare chocolate dough: In bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and cocoa. Beat until smooth. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and beat until blended.
  2. Sift flour into dough mixture. Beat on low speed until combined. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch tart pan. (You can use a 9-inch pan, but the crust will be thicker and the caramel may take longer to set in step 4.)
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line tart with foil, and fill with dried beans, rice or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, and bake until pastry is dry and set, another 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  4. Prepare caramel filling: In a large saucepan, bring sugar, water and corn syrup to a boil. Stir or swirl the pan occasionally, until mixture is a medium amber color, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat. Caramel will continue to cook and darken off of the heat. Carefully but quickly whisk in the butter, cream, creme fraiche and salt until smooth (mixture will bubble up). Pour hot caramel into tart, and allow to cool and set, at least 1 hour.
  5. Prepare chocolate glaze: Place chocolate in a bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Pour hot cream over chocolate and whisk until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Pour glaze over tart, tilting tart for even coverage. Refrigerate until tart is set, at least one hour, then sprinkle with a few granules of fleur de sel. Keep refrigerated until serving.

The recipe is Amanda Hester’s adaptation of the original Gramercy Tavern tart. Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen) has also published this tart. Now, I know that making of anything with a caramel can be a challenge sometimes. It can frighten people, but with a little care, it is a lot easier than most realize. In a past posts, I detailed caramel preparation:, but more to the point, my post on Cupcake Jemma’s techniques on caramel making

The caramel needed for the tart is in between a wet and a dry caramel. The secrets to making it perfect every time are:

  1. Use a heavy saucepan; I use an All-Clad D5 or my heavy copper/nickel lined saucepan. Don’t use a dark interior pan as it is difficult to ascertain the color developing as the caramel cooks.
  2. Don’t rush things. Use medium heat and be patient. If the temperature is too high, it is very easy to push passed the point of perfect to burnt in seconds. You are looking for a medium amber color, not deep brown. I used an infrared thermometer and pulled the pan off heat at 348F.
  3. Have the butter, cream, creme fraiche (or sour cream) and salt arranged as a mise en place ready to use as soon as the caramel is at temperature. Whisk each addition in carefully so none gets splattered.
  4. Cool the tart after the hot caramel in the tart cools a bit. This will make the glazing of the gananche easier without the caramel layer moving.

This dessert is very rich, so small slices are just right. Serve with raspberries or strawberries, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream on the side. Yum!

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A Summer Treat, real strawberry shortcake made from scratch

When I was a kid, we would make strawberry “shortcake” by using store bought sponge shells and canned whipped cream with sliced strawberries. Now, if you don’t know better, it’s not a bad dessert. Sometimes, we would use biscuits made from Bisquick™ instead of the supermarket shells, and this would be much better. However, it is nothing like making a true shortcake from scratch. So, I went searching for a really good recipe for strawberry shortcake.

I came up with 2 finalists. There are fairly similar, with some variation between them. The first one is from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen. She read an article in the LA Times by Russ Parsons (published in 2009), and adapted it. The article mentioned a trick from Manhatten chef Larry Forgione, who was one of the pioneers of new American cooking 25 years ago at his An American Place restaurant in Manhattan. He adds a couple of yolks from hard boiled eggs into the flour mixture. Deb’s recipe uses this trick, but in a later reworking of the recipe, she stopped using hard boiled egg yolks and substituted fresh egg yolks instead. A nice flaky good colored biscuit resulted.

Smitten Kitchen easy drop berry shortcakes


  • 2 1/4 cups (295 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams or 3 ounces) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (205 ml) heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons (35 grams) raw or turbinado sugar

For the Strawberries

  • 1 pound (455 grams) strawberries or mixed berries, hulled and halved if large
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) heavy or whipping cream


Make shortcakes: Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, granulated sugar, and salt until thoroughly combined. Add butter and using your fingertips or a pastry blender, break it into small bits, the largest should be no bigger than a small pea. In a small bowl, whisk yolks with a splash of cream, then pour rest of cream in and whisk to combine. Pour into butter-flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to mix and mash it together into one cohesive dough.

Divide dough into 6 (for large, 3 1/2 to 3 3/4-inch wide and up to 2-inch tall) shortcakes or 8 smaller ones. I do this by pressing the dough somewhat flat into the bottom of the bowl (to form a circle) and using a knife to divide it into pie-like wedges. Place raw or turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Roll each wedge of shortcake into a ball in your hands and roll it through the raw/turbinado sugar, coating it in all but a small area that you should leave bare. (I found that the sugar underneath the shortcakes would burn, so better to leave it off.)

Place it, bare spot down, on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining wedges of dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden all over. Let cool completely on tray or on a cooling rack.

While cooling, prepare fruit and cream: Mix berries, 2 tablespoons sugar (more or less to taste), and lemon juice, if desired, in a bowl and let macerate so that the juices run out.

In a larger bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add sugar to taste, or leave unsweetened, if that’s your preference.

To serve: Carefully split each cooled shortcake with a serrated knife. Spoon berries and their juices over bottom half. Heap generously with whipped cream. Place shortcake “lid” on top. Eat immediately and don’t forget to share.

Do ahead: Shortcakes keep well for a day at room temperature. I prefer to keep them uncovered. I found on the second day, they were a little more firm but not half-bad, but they’re definitely “best” on day one.

Bon Appetit posted a YouTube of Molly Baz making strawberry shortcakes and published the recipe

Basically Strawberry Shortcakes

BY MOLLY BAZJune 9, 2019

This image may contain Food Dessert Creme Cream and Plant

Strawberries are a classic choice for this summertime dessert, but if there are other fresh berries out there callin’ your name, by all means, use those instead. And if you’ve never made homemade whipped cream before, you’re in for a treat—it’s so good, you could skip the shortcakes altogether and still have an amazing dessert.



2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface

1½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ cup plus 1 tsp. sugar, divided

1½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more

1 lemon

½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter

1 cup sour cream, divided

2 cups heavy cream, divided

1½ lb. strawberries

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven preheat to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 4 tsp sugar and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl to combine.

2. Using a micro plane, zest 1/2 of a lemon into the bowl. Save the lemon for juicing.

3. Cut 1 stick cold butter into ½” pieces and toss with dry ingredients until coated. Work butter into dry ingredients by pinching and rubbing it between your palms until there are lots of flat shards and pea-sized bits remaining. Those small, uneven pieces of unincorporated butter create steam pockets as the shortcakes bake, resulting in a tender, flaky end result.

4. Combine ¾ cup sour cream and ⅓ cup heavy cream in a medium bowl. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Scrape cream mixture into well. Working in circles from inside the well outwards with a rubber spatula, mix dough until large, shaggy clumps form.

5. Knead once or twice (don’t overdo it!) until it forms a mass and most of the flour has been incorporated into the dough.

6. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Pat to a 1″-thick square (it should be about 6×6″). Cut dough into 4 equal squares, then stack them all on top of each other, creating one very tall tower of dough. Press down on stack with your hands, flattening dough back to a square. This stacking method is what will create lots of flaky layers. Pat to a 7½x5″ rectangle about 1″ thick.

7. Cut rectangle in half lengthwise, then cut each of those 2 rectangles into 3 squares. Transfer squares to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with 1 Tbsp. sugar. Freeze 10 minutes. (This will help ensure that the shortcakes rise—rather than spread out—in the oven.)

8. Bake shortcakes until golden brown all over, 20–25 minutes.

9. While shortcakes bake, make your strawberries and whipped cream. If whipping cream by hand, place a large bowl in freezer to chill. Trim and discard stems of 1½ lb. strawberries. Cut smaller ones in half and larger ones into quarters. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cut reserved lemon in half and squeeze 2 Tbsp. lemon juice into bowl with strawberries. Add 3 Tbsp. sugar and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature, tossing occasionally as you wait for the shortcakes. They will naturally create their own syrup through the mingling of the fruit juices with the sugar and lemon juice.

10. Pour remaining 1⅔ cups heavy cream into chilled bowl. Add 1 tsp. vanilla3 Tbsp. sugar, and a pinch of salt. Vigorously whisk with your largest whisk, making figure-8 motions, until soft peaks form. This will take 3–5 minutes of good ol’ elbow grease—but don’t be discouraged if it takes longer! If you’re not feeling up to the challenge, use an electric mixer and beat starting at low speed, gradually increasing to high as cream begins to thicken. You’re still looking for those nice, slightly floppy, soft peaks. Whisk in remaining ¼ cup sour cream until just incorporated.

11. Let shortcakes cool at least 15 minutes. Gently split shortcakes in half with your hands. Place bottom halves in serving bowls. Divide whipped cream, then macerated strawberries among bottom halves. Drizzle any syrupy juices left in bowl over. Close with top halves of shortcake. Marvel at your creation. Serve and enjoy!

I like both recipes, but my spouse doesn’t like the lemon flavor of Molly’s biscuits. It is a matter of taste. The most important thing to remember is to not try to make the dough homogeneous. No kneading, and minimal processing makes a flaky light biscuit!

One alternative to the strawberry preparation is making a jam after the maceration step. Take 1/2 of the berries and all the liquid from the maceration and heat in a small saucepan until thickened. Cool, add the rest of the berries and serve on the biscuits.


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A look at the best way to cook duck breasts

Boneless Pekin (otherwise known as Long Island) duck breasts are readily available frozen, although you might find a poultry provider in your town with access to fresh ducks. Muscovy ducks are larger, and the meat is more gamey with less fat. A Moulard duck is a cross between a Muscovy drake and a Pekin hen, and has a hefty breast. I have not had the opportunity to try a Moulard duck, but I know that D’artagnan sells Muscovy, Moulard, and Rohan (a cross between Mallard and Pekin) breasts.

When I see duck on the menu of a relatively upscale restaurant, it is often a presentation of medium rare duck breast and a confit of duck leg, which is my favorite way to have duck. I often find that restaurants that serve duck are more typically presenting a half duck, usually overcooked, with well done meat and flabby skin. What a shame. Half the fun of eating duck is to crunch through the beautiful crispy duck skin!

Maple Leaf farms is a very common source in many supermarkets for half ducks and duck breasts , and I have had their half duck from the supermarket (and occasionally Costco). The half duck is vacuum packed after being cooked, so all you are doing is rewarming the duck. It is not bad, but the meat comes out well done and can be dry (but tasting good). I will use this as a shortcut for a quick meal, but it is no where close to what one can achieve with cooking a duck from scratch.

There are many recipes for duck leg confit, cooking the leg quarter by poaching in duck fat, and I am not going to talk about that now. Let’s spend some time discussing cooking duck breasts, which can be easily accomplished.

I watched Thomas Keller’s Masterclasses, and he had a segment on pan roasting duck breasts. I also watched a bunch of YouTube on cooking duck breast. My technique is an amalgam and is very easy.

If the duck breast are frozen, put them in the refrigerator to defrost. After they are defrosted, remove any packing material and dry the breasts with a paper towel. Let the breasts sit uncovered skin side up in the refrigerator for several hours to allow the skin to dry. Keller has his sit for 3 days! Remove any silver skin from the breasts. With a very sharp knife, score the skin in a diagonal cross hatch pattern, with the knife cutting down to but not into the meat. Keller’s alternative is to prick the skin with a “sausage pricker.” Either way, this will allow the fat to render from the skin more readily.

The various techniques fall in two categories: a hot pan or a cold pan.

Keller tells you to start with a pan on medium heat with a thin layer of oil (canola, grapeseed, etc not olive oil). Cook skin side down until about 80% done, then baste the top of the breasts with the rendered duck fat in the pan. Cook until medium rare (temp of 123o F), turn over the breasts and cook the meat side just long enough to color it.

I like the cold pan start. Season both sides of the duck breast with salt and pepper. Place skin side down in the pan (I used a non-stick pan), and turn the heat to medium. Cook without turning the breast for 8 minutes. The fat will render and the skin will not stick. Using tongs, turn the breast 90 degrees to cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the side, then an equal amount on the other side and finally 1 1/2 minutes on the flat meat side. The goal is an internal temperature of 125o F for medium rare. Remove to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut through the meat side down to the crispy skin in 3/8 inch thick slices. This method is adapted from Douglass Williams, the chef/owner of Mida in Boston. He suggests placing a pyrex dish to act as a weigh on top of the duck breast while cooking on the skin side to help force out the rendered fat from under the skin, with draining the excess fat from the pan periodically.

You can make an orange sauce gastrique to go with the duck very easily. Dice one shallot and saute with 20 grams of unsalted butter. Add 30 grams of sugar and 1 tablespoon of honey. Then add 80 milliliters of red wine vinegar and 20 milliliters of cognac. Zest one orange into the pot, and then add the juice of the orange. Reduce and remove from the heat. Mount the sauce with 20 grams of unsalted cold butter. Serve on the side of the duck breast.

Thomas Keller’s orange gastrique:

50 grams honey
150 grams orange juice
150 grams roasted veal stock
10 to 15 grams lemon juice
A couple of scrapes of orange zest
5 to 10 grams butter (optional)

Put orange juice and honey into a medium saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce until the orange juice and honey reach a syrupy consistency. As the bubbles
increase in size, the gastrique becomes more viscous. Increase the heat slightly to speed up the cooking process, looking for large bubbles around the edges of the pot and light caramelization. Swirl the gastrique to check the changing consistency. Be careful not to let it caramelize or burn.

Slowly add the veal stock, swirl to mix, and return to simmer, cooking until the sauce is reduced to your desired flavor (by about one third). Add in orange zest, adjust with lemon juice or vinegar if you find that the gastrique needs more acid, and season with salt to taste. To finish the gastrique, remove from heat and stir in the cold-cubed butter, which will soften the flavors (if desired) and provide a velvety texture and mouth feel.

Try this cold pan start roasting technique. It is a quick way to prepare an elegant and very tasty entree.

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A new take on the no-knead bread

In August of 2020 (if you can remember before COVID-19 hit), I published my thoughts on Jim Lahey’s no-knead Sullivan Street bakery creation as written about by Mark Bittman in The NY Times. I’ve made this bread and it is wonderful. But not everyone has a large Dutch oven or a clay cloche bread baker, and I saw an interesting YouTube by J. Kenje Lopez-Alt that used more common kitchen equipment and a modified recipe. I thought it was worth trying and sharing so here is the recipe.

almost no-knead white bread


Medium Aluminum mixing bowl

Large Aluminum mixing bowl

Half sheet pan

Digital scale



400 grams bread flour

300 grams water (100° F)

2 Grams Fast acting yeast

8 grams Kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon White vinegar


The flour amount determines the quantity of the rest of the ingredients. Use 75% of the weight of the flour as water, 0.5% as yeast, and 2% as salt. Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the water by mixing all of the water into the dry ingredients with your hands to get all the flour incorporated into one ball, then cover the dough ball with the medium mixing bowl, and put the sheet pan on top of the inverted medium bowl to help create a seal. Using cool water will result in a slower rise (18 hours versus 5 to 6 hours). Use of a dash of vinegar (1/8 teaspoon) will help gluten form.


This is where the recipe is a little more “hands on” than the original Sullivan Street bread. After 15 to 30 minutes, remove the sheet pan and the medium bowl, and stretch the dough by reaching underneath a quadrant with your fingers moistened with water, pulling the dough up stretching the dough, then folding it to the center, repeating with the other 3 quadrants.  Pick up the dough ball and reshape it into a ball, recover the ball with the medium bowl and sheet pan, and let it rest.  Repeat this process 5 or 6 times, thus forming more gluten structure and makes the dough smoother.  The dough can then go in the refrigerator overnight for a slow rise (or can sit on the counter for 6 hours for a faster rise, but slower is better).  Remove from the refrigerator and let sit on the counter for a minimum of 1 hour before shaping and final proof.


Dry the medium bowl with a towel.  Using a dish towel, dust the towel heavily with flour to coat the towel center.  Stick the towel in the medium mixing bowl, flour side up.  Do one last quadrant pull and shape, pulling the dough ball onto a floured board, pinching the folds into a seam.  Flip it over and using the sides of your hands, help stretch the ball to get a nice smooth surface and a nice ball shape (30-45 seconds).  Put the dough ball (seam side down) on to the floured towel in the medium mixing bowl.  Cover the bowl with the half sheet pan.  Let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 2 hours depending on ambient temperature).


Preheat the oven to 500° F for at least ½ hour. Flip the bowl with the sheet pan on top so the dough rests on the sheet pan upside down, and carefully remove the floured dish towel. Take the large mixing bowl, and put water in the bowl, swish it around and dump the water out, leaving a little moisture on the inside. Flip this onto the dough ball sitting on the sheet pan, and put the sheet pan with the dough covered by the large mixing bowl in the oven. The moisture on the inside of the big bowl will steam, helping to form the crust of the bread. Lower the temperature of the oven to 450°, and bake for 20 minutes. Then, remove the bowl and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to a golden brown color. Let rest for 30 minutes.

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The monster of a cookie–attempts to recreate the Levain cookie

Updated 4/2/21


The Levain bakery in New York City is famous for its 6 ounce chocolate chip cookie, and this has spawned a number of imitators and copycat recipes. I found 3 recipes that are similar in ingredients but vary in amounts and techniques.

These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net  Also, in November of 2019, the team at Cupcake Jemma came up with their attempt to recreate the monster cookie.  These versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are the…

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Making the misnamed “brownie tart” (really, another good flourless chocolate tart recipe )

I watch (by taping with the DVR) Saturday morning’s Food Network program, the Kitchen. I don’t know why I bother, as the recipes presented on the show are mostly not appealing to me, either in their components or their lack of complexity. This is not a show aimed for sophisticated chefs, or ones aspiring to be, but rarely, the show has a recipe that sparks interest. We make a chicken stir fry with ramen from the show as well as an interesting Greek lamb and beef meat loaf. So when Geoffrey Zakarian presented a “brownie tart” I was intrigued enough to try it.

It is a bad label or name for this tart, as it is really a flourless chocolate tart. It is rather simple to make, and it tastes quite good. It is fudge like in density without the gooey texture of a brownie. Obviously, this could be make for Passover, but could be made anytime of the year.

Like other flourless cakes, this one uses nuts to support its structure. Rather than almonds, hazelnuts are used here.

Hazelnut Flourless Chocolate Tart

Recipe courtesy of Madeline Zakarian, Anna Zakarian, AND Geoffrey Zakarian

Show: The Kitchen

Level: Easy

Yield: 8 servings Total: 1 hr 30 min

(includes cooling time)

Active: 35 min


  • 1 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon of hot water
  • 1 1/2 pints raspberries
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish, as needed Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving


1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a fluted 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a food processor add hazelnuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, salt and 1/4 cup of sugar and pulse until finely ground. Set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt unsalted butter over medium heat, then cook swirling the pan occasionally, until nutty-smelling and deep golden in color, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the bittersweet chocolate chips. Let stand until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk the butter and chocolate until smooth, scraping up any browned butter solids from the bottom of the pan. Let cool slightly.

4. In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs with the remaining 1 1/4 cups of sugar and coffee mixture on medium speed, about 5 minutes. With mixer on low, add the chocolate-butter mixture, followed by the cocoa- hazelnut mixture. With a spatula scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top is glossy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Let cool until slightly warm.

5. Remove the outer ring from the tart pan. In the center of the tart, place the raspberries in a circle or in the shape of a heart. Garnish with sifted powdered sugar. Serve with ice cream.

Adapted from “The Family That Cooks Together: 85 Zakarian Family Recipes From Our Table to Yours” by Anna Zakarian and Madeline Zakarian â Little, Brown and Company 2020.

SDR notes. The use of coffee, often included in many chocolate recipes to enhance the chocolate flavor, is totally unnecessary here, as the cocoa powder and chocolate pieces provide plenty of chocolate intensity. The hazelnuts give a slight granular texture to the tart, which I liked, but my spouse did not. The nuts could be ground more, but with the risk to creating a hazelnut butter. Unlike many other flourless chocolate cakes, there is no need to beat the egg yolks and whites separately, but be sure to get enough air into the beaten eggs and sugar.

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German Chocolate Cookie Bar

I don’t know what it is about the combination of coconut, pecans, and chocolate, but it certainly works for me. But first, a little history. German Chocolate Cake originated in 1957, when a Dallas Texas housewife, Mrs. George Clay, had her recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake printed in the “Recipe of the Day” in the Dallas Morning News. The recipe used the baking chocolate created by Samuel German for the Baker company in 1852. This sweet chocolate was marketed as “German’s Chocolate” but didn’t gain widespread use until Mrs. Clay’s recipe was reprinted widely, but with a loss of the apostrophe “s” leading to some to assume that German chocolate cake has a German origin. The common link today is the use of chocolate, coconut flakes, and pecans in a dessert. Which brings us to the subject of today’s post.

Let me freely admit, I am a food snob. I dislike using recipes that use shortcuts, mixes, and commercially prepared products, as I like to be sure of the content and sources of my ingredients.  This also tends me to dismiss recipes from places like Parent’s magazine and Family Fun and Reader’s Digest. But my wife saw this recipe (originally from Family Circle Magazine) mentioned in a House and Garden email, and I thought “well, maybe.”

Of course, my cooking sensibilities could not allow me to make this recipe as written, so I made some changes (more work, but the results should be much better). Some of them feel free to ignore (like making your own chocolate wafer cookies, using bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet) but I did not advocate making sweetened condensed milk from scratch.

German Chocolate Bar Cookies by SDR

  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This recipe has 2 components. The first is to make scratch chocolate wafer cookies to use as the base of the bars.  The second is to make the bars themselves.

The recipe for the chocolate wafer cookies is adapted from Alice Medrich’s “Pure Dessert” by Deb Perelman at and is much better than the commercial alternatives.


  • 1½ cups All-purpose flour (6.75 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (dutch processed)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (18 tbs total)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1¾ sticks), slightly softened
  • 3 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1.  Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and baking sod in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix thoroughly.  Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl.  Pulse several times.  Combine the milk and the vanilla extract, and with the food processor on, add this to the mixture and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and clings to the side of the food processor.  Transfer to a large bowl and knead the dough to make sure it is evenly blended.
  2. Form the dough into a log about 14 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap the log in wax paper, and refrigerate until firm.  Like many other cookie doughs, it is better to refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
  3. Put the racks of the oven in the bottom and upper thirds, and preheat to 350°F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Remove the log from the refrigerator, and cut slices 14/ to 3/8 inch thick.  (If you are trying to duplicate the commercial cookies, cut them thinner and decrease the baking time.)  Place the slices 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Bake, rotating the baking sheet from top to bottom and back to front about halfway through baking.  The cookies will puff up, and then deflate.  The average baking time is 12 to 15 minutes.  They are done about 1½ minutes after they deflate.  In my oven, the cookies were done in 13 minutes.  Do not under or over bake–the cookies should be crisp when they are cool.  Remove the sheets from the oven and leave the cookies for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container to 2 weeks or frozen for up to two months.  They can be eaten with some milk, used to make ice cream sandwiches, or as we are using them here, to be mixed with butter and become the base of a bar cookie or a cheesecake.

Chocolate wafer cookies

Now, onto the making to the bars themselves:


  • 13 ½ ounces of chocolate wafers, ground up in a food processor
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 ounces chocolate
  • 1¼ cups sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans


  1. Heat oven to 350° F.  Butter a 13X9 inch baking pan, and line with a sling of parchment paper (also buttered).Buttered pan lined with parchment paper
  2. Grind the wafer cookies in a food processor until they are fine crumbs.  Transfer to a bowl and melt the ½ cup of butter, and mix thoroughly. Press the mixture into the baking pan, using a spatula and a flat surfaced measuring cup to evenly spread the crumb mixture.
  3. Combine the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate pieces in a bowl.  Pour the condensed milk into the bowl and mix thoroughly with a spatula. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Using the parchment paper sling, lift the bars and place on a cutting board.  Cut into 36 pieces.


I used a 70% cocao bittersweet chocolate from Scharffenberger because you need to balance the sweetness of the condensed milk and coconut flakes.  Semi-sweet morsels would not work as well.  I chopped the mini-blocks of Scharffenberger with a knife. Since you want everything to mix together well, that is why I elected to mix the coconut flakes, pecans and chocolate together first, and then added the condensed milk to bind everything together (rather than a layer of condensed milk, topped with chocolate first, coconut second, and finally pecans).  This is a very intense bar and a small serving is enough.

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The monster of a cookie–attempts to recreate the Levain cookie

The Levain bakery in New York City is famous for its 6 ounce chocolate chip cookie, and this has spawned a number of imitators and copycat recipes. I found 3 recipes that are similar in ingredients but vary in amounts and techniques.

These cookies are humongous and are meant to be shared.  The edges are crisp, and the centers are soft and chewy.  The nuts are an integral part of the cookie, and cannot be omitted, so nix for those with nut allergies.

In April, 2019, Stella Parks published a Levain style cookie and in November, 2019, Delish contributors June Xie and Makinze Gore put their version on the Net  Also, in November of 2019, the team at Cupcake Jemma came up with their attempt to recreate the monster cookie.  These versions are not alike, and differ in technique, so as a public service, here are the 3 recipes in one place, and hopefully this will inspire everyone to try and experiment with them all and determine their preference.  Please let me know what you think!

Here is Stella’s recipe:

Super Thick Chocolate Chip Cookie


  • 4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113 g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, firmly packed; 113 g)
  • 3 1/2 ounces white sugar, preferably well toasted (about 1/2 cup; 100 g)
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15 g)
  • 2 teaspoons (8 g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100 g), straight from the fridge
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283 g), such as Gold Medal
  • 15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425 g), not chopped chocolate; see note
  • 8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240 g)

Toasting white sugar will give a more caramel tasting note to the cookie, and is worth the trouble.  Here’s how to do it:

Use a 4 pound bag of granulated sugar.  Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F. Pour sugar into a 9- by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Toast until the sugar turns ivory, about 1 hour. Stir thoroughly and continue roasting, pausing to stir every 30 minutes. The sugar will produce steam as a byproduct of toasting, so it must be stirred well to allow that moisture to escape. Stirring should also help move hot sugar from the edges toward the center, and cool sugar from the center toward the edges, for even toasting. Continue toasting and stirring every 30 minutes until the sugar has darkened to the desired degree, from a light beige to the color of traditional brown sugar, between 2 and 4 hours more.

Smaller amounts of sugar can be done, but watch the sugar and toss more frequently.

The Delish copycat recipe for monster cookies

  1.  Weigh 100 grams of walnut pieces.  Raw walnuts have a skin that can be a little bitter, so bake the walnut pieces for 5 minutes at 350° F (convention) on a tray, then place the pieces wrapped up in a clean kitchen towel and rub the pieces to remove the skins.  Set aside.
  2. The 400 grams of chocolate can be any type you wish–milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, chips or chunks, or a mixture.  The Jemma team used all milk chocolate chips.
  3. 230 grams of butter (8.09 ounces) must be cold.  Put in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle, and beat for 30 seconds, just to break it up a little.  Then add the 2 sugars (160 grams=5.6 ounces of caster (superfine) sugar (regular cane sugar can be used), plus 160 grams of light (not dark) brown sugar).  Mix for 30-45 seconds.
  4. Add the chocolate and the walnut pieces and mix just to combine everything (about 15 seconds).  Next add the dry ingredients.  Note–if you don’t have self rising flour, take 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix with 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt.  This recipe uses 200 grams self rising flour, so to make your own self rising flour, just combine 2 tsp of baking powder for each cup of all purpose flour.  For the King Arthur flour that I use, one cup=150 grams, so 1 1/3 cups=200 grams plus 2 tsp+½+1/8 tsp (just under 2¾) of baking powder. Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.
  5. Whisk 2 eggs together.  Pour into the mixture and combine to mix throughout the dough.
  6. Weigh dough balls to 125 grams.  Press gently into a ball (do not roll them tightly) onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 90 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (355°F convention) with a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven.  Bake 6 cookies at a time with good space between, as the cookies will spread.  Bake for 17 minutes for a gooey center and crisp outside.  Cool for a least 5 minutes before eating.

Please let me know if you try either (or someone else’s copycat of the Levain cookie). Most important, are these monsters cookies better than the tried and true chocolate chip cookie benchmark, The NY Times modified winner from my prior posting?

Update 12/30/2020:  I made the Cupcake Jemma recipe.  It is very interesting as the use of cold butter and short beating times creates a very untypical cookie dough that only comes together as you mold the mixture in your hands to make a mildly compressed ball.  The freezing of the balls of dough before baking probably prevents them from flattening and spreading as they bake, so I will try to flatten the ball of dough before baking next time.

3 Different bittersweet chocolates

The cookie itself, eaten after 15 minutes out of the oven, has crisp outsides and crumbly insides that (due to the amount of chocolate) is very gooey.  

The cupcake jemma cookie 125 grams (4.41 ounces)

The combination of dough, walnuts and multiple chocolates tastes great, and I can see why this monster cookie has such a reputation.  I’ll update again after trying the other two recipes.

Update 4/2/2021

I had cookies from the Georgetown branch of Levain, so I can comment on the “original” vs the copycat.  I liked the Levain cookie (I got the chocolate chip walnut one so it is a direct comparison).  I think the Cupcake Jemma version is very close, but with a little more cakelike center in the Levain cookie.  So much depends on the cooking time of the cookie as to the degree of doneness of the center of the cookie, and the 15 minute time for the Cupcake Jemma version seems right.  The Levain cookie is bigger, so I have to see how the Stella Parks and Delish versions stack up. 

The big question should still spark some conversion.  I think the NY Times cookie (with the addition of walnuts and the 3 ounce version–so that it is a direct comparison) is a better cookie.  It doesn’t have as gooey a center, which I prefer.  Now, to be fair, I still have to try the Stella Parks and Delish versions of the monster, but I have tried the Levain version, and the monster loses to the NY Times version cookie.

Has anyone tried these yet?  I’d be interested in your comments. 

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A Different Kind of Brisket, complete with a story behind it, just in time for the Holidays

This is a revisit to the post I made on September 21, 2017. I made some slight changes in our version of the Ferst Brisket, and I included the back story in this post.

The Ferst Family Brisket history was originally published in The Forward.  Here is the story:

The Brisket That Traveled from Europe to Philadelphia and Back to Stockholm

Shared by Walter Ferst

Recipe Origins: Germany > Stockholm; Riga, Latvia > Philadelphia

In the late 19th century and just before World War II, when Jews in Eastern Europe started to scatter, recipes were carried with relatives to different corners of the globe. That was the case with Walter Ferst’s family brisket, a simple preparation plugged with garlic and laced with onions that his grandmother made for holidays in Philadelphia.

Unbeknownst to him as a child, the recipe also remained in Europe. While much of the family came to the United States around the turn of the century, a set of cousins stayed in Germany until the mid- to late-1930’s. “They were out for a Sunday picnic when they were accosted by Brown Shirts who roughed them up and turned their car over,” he recalls. “The family righted the car and drove north until they got to Sweden. They never went home, they just drove.”

Living in Israel for a summer in his early 20’s, Walter used a family directory to reach out to a distant cousin Mary Bagg in Stockholm to say he would be in town and would like to meet. “In [the 1970’s], the way you got mail when you traveled in Europe was through American Express,” he says. “Anyone could mail you a letter to their office and they would hold it. When we arrived, they had a letter for me.” Mary insisted that he stay with her and introduced him to another cousin Jorge.

After a day of sailing around Stockholm, drinking Slivovitz to stay warm, Jorge brought them to his mother’s home for dinner. When Walter walked into the house, he recognized the scent coming from the kitchen: his grandmother’s brisket with paprika, onions, and white wine. His grandmother had died eight years earlier. “You have to picture being a 21-year-old kid living out of his backpack and he sits down to this meal and it’s the same one his grandmother made for him as a kid. I can remember it vividly.”

The brisket recipe is still the one that graces the Ferst family table on cold nights, particularly on Hanukkah, but it suits the Rosh Hashanah table as well.

*A version of this recipe first appeared in The Forward, then in the Jewish Food Society, and reprinted in Hadassah magazine.

Kauffman/Ferst Family Braised Brisket


The finished brisket The Finished brisket

Serves 12 to 15

Time:  At least 4 hours cooking


  • 7 to 8 pound whole brisket, flat and deckle attached
  • 14 or more garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresly ground black pepper
  • 4 medium (2½ pounds) sweet onions, cut crosswise into thick slices
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 1½ cups water

Equipment needed:  large roasting pan or Dutch oven, wooden toothpicks.


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Rinse the brisket and trim any excessive hanging pieces of fat, but leave the rest of the fat intact for cooking.  Make 14 or more ½ inch incisions through the fat into the meat and insert garlic cloves in the slits.
  2. Season both sides of the meat with salt, paprika and pepper, then place in the center of the cooking vessel, fat side up.  Pin whole slices of onion to the meat with toothpicks to completely cover the meat, scattering the remaining slices around the bisket.
  3. Mix the water and wine together and pour over the brisket.  Cover the pan tightly with foil or the cover of the Dutch oven.
  4. Cook until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 3 to 3½ hours, then uncover and cook for an additional 45 minutes, basting with the pan juices every 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and let rest for 20 minutes.  Remove the onions and toothpicks.  Carve and serve with the pan juices.

Now here are our modifications.  Start the cooking at 375º F for 15 minutes per side, then reduce the heat to 350° F and follow the rest of the directions.  After cooking is finished, reserve the juices and the onions and allow the fat to separate.  Remove about 1/4 of the onions to add to the finished gravy, and pureé the liquid and the rest of onions together in a blender or food processor (blender is better to achieve a nice homogeneous sauce).  When the meat is cooled, slice it against the grain in ¼ inch thick slices, and put it in a storage container.  Cover with the gravy and refrigerate overnight.  Warm gently the next day, and serve with the gravy/reserved onions.

Now I know many of you are fans of a sweet brisket (including my wife).  This is a very nice version of a more savory brisket, and the garlic, paprika and onions make it a standout, particularly the treatment of the reserved juices and onions to make a pureéd sauce.  The sauce perfectly accompanies the well cooked and tasty brisket.  We also think the brisket tastes better and is more tender when sliced cool, and reheated the next day in the gravy.

L’shana Tovah.

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Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake, a mashup of a brownie and pecan turtles

Hi chocolate fans!  This is a recipe from an article in Gourmet magazine from October, 1992, written by Zaan Early Zakroff entitled Forbidden Pleasures.  This dessert is not really a cake, but it is not a candy either.  It is taking the chocolate coated pecan caramel cluster (aka Pixie or Turtle), and mounting it on a brownie like base.  I was somewhat surprised that I could not see this recipe on the Gourmet archives at, and I am happy to publish it so that it does not get lost forever.  I did find some individuals who have posted this recipe on the net.  My post is from the original article, with some helpful suggestions.

Chocolate Truffle Turtle Cake

Cake base

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  •  2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract


  • ¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

5 ounces pecan halves


  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped fine

Optional Rum-burnt sugar sauce

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup dark rum


    • Make the base: Line the bottom of a buttered 8 1/2 inch springform pan, or tart pan with a removable fluted rim, with a round of wax paper and butter the paper. In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and add the cocoa powder while stirring, until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in brown sugar until smooth, and then let mixture cool. Beat in the egg, then stir in flour, pecans, salt and vanilla extract. Spread the batter in the prepared pan, bake the base in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes (until it is just firm to the touch, and pulls away slightly from the side).  SDR–this may require more than 10 minutes depending on your oven, it is done when the center is set but still a little underdone.

      Brown sugar and butter

      Mix the cake base

      Ready to pour into the pan

      Let the base cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and invert the base onto cooling rack, discarding wax paper. While still warm, fit it into 8 inch springform pan (will slope up the sides slightly).

    • Make the caramel: In a small heavy saucepan combine the brown sugar, the corn syrup, the butter and the salt, cooking the mixture over moderate heat stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water, until the sugar is dissolved.

      Boiling the caramel

      Boil it undisturbed for 8 to 10 minutes, or until candy thermometer registers 260 degrees F. (Be careful not to extend the caramel heat as this will create a hard caramel, which in the finished cake will be hard to cut and eat.)  Remove the pan from the heat and add cream, vanilla extract, and lemon juice, stirring to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature (it will thicken).  SDR–if the caramel cools too much, it will not pour.  Do not wait until the caramel cools to room temperature. Arrange pecan halves end to end onto the cake base in concentric circles to cover the base completely. Pour cooled caramel in the center of the pecan layer, and allow gravity to spread it.

      Pecan halves added, ready to pour the caramel

    • Make the ganache: In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil, and remove the pan from heat. Whisk in the chocolate and the salt until the chocolate is completely melted. Cool to room temperature, then beat the ganache with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks (don’t overbeat, as it will become granular). Spread the ganache evenly over the caramel layer, and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (The cake can keeps for 1 week chilled and wrapped in foil). Run a thin knife around teh edge of the cake, remove the side of the pan, and transfer carefully to a plate. Let cake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to cutting, so that the ganache is a little soft.
    • Optional Sauce: In a dry large deep heavy skillet, cook the sugar over moderately high heat, stirring constantly with a fork until melted completely and a deep golden caramel. Remove the skillet from the heat, into the side of it pour the water carefully, a little at a time, and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, until the caramel is dissolved. Add the rum and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes. Pour the sauce into heat-proof dish and cool, then serve on side of cake.
  • Servings: 12
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours
  • Recipe Type Cakes, Chocolate, Desserts, Gourmet Magazine
  • Source Author: Zaan Early Zakroff (Forbidden Pleasures, Gourment Oct 92)

Since this is a very sugary dessert, a small portion is ample.  Enjoy!

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