April 17, 2024


Free For All Food

Recipes: Three comforting desserts for the 2020 holidays

Makes 10 servings

To update Britain’s sticky toffee pudding — a steamed, too-often bland dessert hidden under a gluey, cloying syrup — we work backward, starting with the sauce. Instead of the traditional butter-based hard sauce, we spike the toffee glaze with rye whiskey. The whiskey’s spice and heat cut through the sweetness of the dark brown sugar and corn syrup; orange zest adds brightness. For the cake itself, we want to mirror the flavor of the rye, so we use a blend of rye and all-purpose flours. Dates that are steeped in coffee, then pureed, lend body and an earthiness that boosts the rye flavor.

To improve the dessert’s presentation, we make it in a Bundt pan. Covering the pan with foil keeps the cake rich and moist, similar to a traditional steamed pudding. This mimics the gentle heat of steaming in a water bath but is far less fussy.

A food processor is the best bet for handling the dates, as chopping results in an unpleasant texture in the finished dish. And be sure to check the fruit for pits.

For the cake:

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus more for pan

1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

8 ounces pitted dates (about 1½ cups)

1 cup brewed coffee

¾ cup (105 grams) rye flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup packed (199 grams) dark brown sugar

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground allspice

For the toffee sauce:

1 cup packed (199 grams) dark brown sugar

2/3 cup light corn syrup

2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons rye whiskey

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces and chilled

Heat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with melted butter, then dust evenly with flour and tap out the excess. To a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the dates and coffee and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

Transfer the coffee-date mixture to a food processor, add the sugar, and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, vanilla, and allspice. Then, with the processor running, add the butter. Pour the date mixture over the flour mixture and whisk gently until thoroughly combined. Transfer to the prepared pan, cover tightly with foil, and bake until firm and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove the foil and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

While the cake cools, make the sauce. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, orange zest, and salt. Bring to a boil, then cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce to low and add the whiskey, 2 tablespoons at a time, allowing the bubbling to subside before adding more. Whisk in the butter 2 tablespoons at a time until melted and smooth.

Invert the cake onto a serving platter and lift off the pan. Brush the top and sides of the cake generously with some of the warm toffee sauce. Slice and serve drizzled with additional sauce. The sauced and cooled cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. Cooled sauce on its own can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. To reheat, wrap the cake in foil and place in a 300-degree oven until warmed. Microwave the sauce until bubbling.


Makes 6 servings

We tried different varieties of pears and liked Bosc best because the texture held up nicely with simmering. Make sure to choose fruits that are ripe, yet firm; they should not yield to pressure. A full teaspoon of salt in the poaching liquid may seem like a lot, but it makes the fruit, wine, and spice flavors taste full and complex.

Don’t use a cast-iron skillet. Reactive metals, including carbon steel, will react with the acidity of the wine and vinegar and impart a metallic taste to the pears and poaching liquid. Opt instead for a stainless steel, anodized aluminum, or nonstick pan.

2 cups malbec wine

2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into ¼-inch slices, and smashed

4 star anise pods

½ cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

6 ripe but firm medium Bosc pears, peeled, quartered, and cored

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Vanilla ice cream or plain or vanilla Greek yogurt, to serve

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a nonreactive 12-inch skillet over medium heat, combine the wine, ginger, star anise, sugar, and salt. Using a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean halves and add to the wine, then drop in the pods. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Arrange the pear quarters in an even layer in the liquid, cut side down. Return to a simmer, then cover and cook, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer and turning the pears three or four times, until a knife inserted into a pear meets no resistance, 30 to 35 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the pears to a glass or ceramic baking dish. Add the red wine vinegar to the poaching liquid and simmer over medium-low heat until reduced to ¾ cup, about 7 minutes. Pour the liquid through a mesh strainer over the pears; discard the solids. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

To serve, scoop ice cream or yogurt into serving bowls. Using a slotted spoon, divide the pears among the bowls. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the poaching liquid over each portion and sprinkle with the almonds.

Cranberry and candied ginger buckle.
Cranberry and candied ginger buckle.Connie Miller (Custom credit)/of CB Creatives


Makes 12 servings

Our version of a fruit-studded buckle is loosely based on a recipe in Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.

Don’t forget to thaw the cranberries if using frozen. If the fruits are freezer-cold, they will cause the batter to stiffen, which will make mixing difficult.

Covered tightly, leftovers keep for up to 3 days at room temperature

3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan

1 cup (214 grams) white sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks), plus 2 tablespoons salted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled, reserved separately

3 tablespoons (42 grams) packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup sliced almonds

3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

12-ounce bag fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (3 cups)

½ cup finely chopped candied ginger

Powdered sugar, to serve (optional)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Mist a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray, dust evenly with flour, then tap out the excess.

In a food processor, combine the flour, white sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse until well combined, 6 to 8 pulses. Scatter the 12 tablespoons butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 20 pulses. Transfer to a large bowl, then measure out 1 cup of the mixture and return it to the food processor. To the food processor, add the brown sugar, almonds, and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, then pulse until the mixture begins to clump and resembles wet sand, about 20 pulses; transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Pour into the large bowl of flour-butter mixture and fold the batter with a silicone spatula until only a few streaks of flour remain. Add the cranberries and candied ginger, then fold until evenly distributed; the batter will be thick. Transfer to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer.

Using your hands, squeeze the almond-flour mixture into rough ½-inch clumps, then scatter evenly over the batter in the pan. Bake until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving, if desired.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to [email protected].