IN THE KITCHEN: Sweets for the winter

Summer cooking tends to be fast and simple, whereas in winter, we indulge in longer-cooking dishes that result in richer, more complex flavors.

By Faith Bahadurian, Special Writer
   Nothing against summer, but I am definitely more of a winter cook. Summer cooking tends to be fast and simple, whereas in winter, we indulge in longer-cooking dishes that result in richer, more complex flavors.
   The same can be said for desserts, and a lovely new cookbook, “Wintersweet, Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home,” by Tammy Donroe Inman, will ensure you make the most of cold weather ingredients. The author lives in New England, and got her start working at “Cooks Illustrated” magazine and “America’s Test Kitchen” TV show.
   Fall starts off with apples, pears, pumpkins (and other squashes and tubers), and nuts, along with chocolate and warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom. Next come cranberries, pomegranates, and persimmons, then citrus and maple syrup. A section on the cheese course even includes savory fondues served with fresh and dried fruits.
   I include two recipes here, although it was not easy to choose from competitors like Pear Cardamom Crostada, Salted Dark Chocolate Tart With Pistachios, Spicy Prune Cake with Penuche Frosting, and Pecan Praline Bark.
   The desserts below would look wonderful on a cake pedestal, so if you don’t have one, why not put that on your Christmas list? I see one on Amazon that that looks just like the one in the “Wintersweet” cover photo of the Pavlova below.
   Recipes adapted from “Wintersweet: Seasonal Desserts to Warm the Home,” by Tammy Donroe Inman, Running Press (2013).
   Makes one 9-inch cake
   1 scant cup superfine sugar (process granulated to make it superfine)
   4 large egg whites, room temperature. (Save the egg yolks for another dessert, such as Donroe Inman’s Tiramisu.)
   2 tablespoons cocoa powder
   1 teaspoon cornstarch
   1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
   1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
   ¼ cup pomegranate jelly (purchased or use recipe in book)
   Seeds from ½ pomegranate, about ½ cup
   2 cups heavy cream
   1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
   2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pencil, trace a 7-inch circle on a piece of parchment and flip it over onto a cookie sheet to use as a guide for forming the meringue.
   Beat egg whites on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes, to stiff peaks. With mixer still running, add sugar one tablespoon at a time, beating well, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Beat 4-6 more minutes on medium-high, scraping down sides of bowl, until mixture is no longer gritty. It should feel very dense. Sift cocoa on top and add cornstarch, vinegar, and cardamom. Fold everything together with a rubber spatula, rotating bowl, until no streaks remain.
   Dab a dot of mixture under each corner of parchment so it doesn’t move. Mound the mixture over the marked circle, spreading it into a round pillow 2-3 inches high with a slight depression in the middle. Don’t try to make it perfect. Put the cookie sheet into the oven, immediately lowering temperature to 300 degrees. Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes, without opening oven door, until meringue is set and crisp on outside (center will be soft underneath).
   Turn off oven, and prop open oven door, leaving meringue inside to cool. You can make the meringue a day ahead and cover lightly with plastic wrap at room temperature. When ready to serve, gently loosen meringue from parchment and set on a cake stand or platter. Warm jelly with 1 teaspoon warm water. Drizzle over meringue and sprinkle with half the pomegranate seeds. Whip cream with vanilla and confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks, 1-2 minutes. Mound cream over meringue and sprinkle remaining seeds on top, serving right away.
   Orange Ricotta Cheesecake
   One 9-inch cake
   Having wide heavy-duty foil on hand will save the more complicated wrapping instructions in the original recipe. F.B.
   2 ounces blanched unsalted almonds
   ¼ cup granulated sugar
   ½ cup unsalted butter, room temp, cut into pieces
   Few drops almond extract (optional)
   Pinch of salt
   ¾ cup all-purpose flour
   12 ounces whole milk ricotta, room temp
   1 pound cream cheese (not light), room temp
   1 cup granulated sugar
   Finely grated zest of 1 orange
   4 large eggs, room temp
   Preheat oven to 350 degrees, rack in middle. Butter a high-sided 9-inch springform pan.
   For crust, grind almonds and sugar to a fine meal, 30-60 seconds (don’t over process). Add butter, extract, and salt. Process just until incorporated. Add flour and mix until dough clumps. Transfer clumps to the pan, and use sheet of waxed paper to press dough into bottom of pan only (not up sides). Bake 20-25 minutes until golden, remove from over, and set aside to cool completely.
   For filling, clean food processor thoroughly before blending ricotta and cream cheese until smooth, about 1 minutes. Add sugar and blend until combined, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber scraper. Add orange zest and eggs. Process until no lumps remain and sugar is dissolved, 20-30 seconds. Gently stir with spoon to release any air bubbles. Let it rest while you prepare water bath.
   Make a double-thickness 18-inch square of wide, heavy-duty foil. Center springform pan on foil, then tightly mold foil around pan. Pour filling over crust in pan.
   Set wrapped pan in large roasting pan and add enough hot water to roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until set, about 1 hour and 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in bath for 20 minutes. Remove cake pan to cooling rack for 1 hour, then refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. To serve, run a knife around the inside edge of pan before unbuckling and removing the ring. Run a spatula under cake to loosen and slide onto serving plate.
   Suggested toppings: Port and Cranberry Compote or Orange Kumquat Marmalade from the cookbook.
Faith Bahadurian blogs at http://njspice.net (also www.twitter.com/njspice).