Fall DessertsBy Katherine Costello | Photos by Katherine Costello and Josie Sanders
Although I sigh as I bid farewell to the summer garden, it is officially time for fall baking! It was hard to narrow down to just three desserts, but I did and I will tell you why I chose these.
It was love at first taste with the pots de crème. I called my chef-friend Nick to get his recipe and acquire him for an afternoon of baking. He’s a perfectionist, and the mouthfeel and flavor of these delights prove it. I used 4-ounce canning jars for my vessels — cute, oven proof and inexpensive. This recipe can also be made ahead and served later. They are easy to transport to a dinner destination or give as a house-warming.
The second choice, the caramel cake, was a new one for me. The addition of brown butter to the frosting makes this cake a winner. I tried to make this cake before and struggled with several failed — but still edible — attempts before I was fortunate to have my friend Kimmy Neuron help me figure out the icing. The delicious one here is easy and foolproof.
The third and final selection was my task of all tasks: apple pie. I can bake a cake, but the thought of creating piecrust used to make me cringe with anxiety. My mother, who still followed a recipe for French toast after decades of cooking for seven children, was flawless when it came to piecrust. I only remember the assembly, her pie pans heaping with apples. The leftover crust remnants she would sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and bake, given to us as treats. After this assignment, I no longer “fear the crust.”
Chocolate Pot de Crème
This recipe generously filled seven 4-ounce serving vessels.
- ½ cup milk
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Marshmallows, graham cracker crumbs and/or chocolate chips, to garnish
- Using a heavy-bottomed saucepan, slowly warm the milk over medium heat. Once a skin has formed and it’s hot (not boiling), add your chocolate. Remove pan from heat, add the cream and mix slowly with a spatula. While this rests, gently whisk together the yolks and sugar. You do not want it to foam. Pour the chocolate mixture into your egg mixture gradually and whisk each time. You don’t want the warm mixture to curdle your egg mixture. Strain the liquid. Let stand 2-3 minutes and skim off any foam. Pour or spoon your mixture into whatever oven-safe vessel you choose.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a deep baking pan with parchment paper. Place your serving vessels inside the baking pan. Add boiling water to the pan (about halfway) and then cover loosely and bake until the middles are still a little jiggly (about 30-35 minutes). Remove from pan and refrigerate until well chilled and firm.
- Top with some marshmallows and give it a little torch. Add some graham cracker crumbs and chocolate chips, and you’re done. Change up the flavor and toppings to anything you want. Have fun and enjoy!
Alabama native Nick Simpson is currently the sous chef at Spoke & Steele at the Le Méridien Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, working under executive chef Tyson Peterson for the last three years. Simpson is a perfectionist, which is apparent when you taste anything at Spoke & Steele. With a background in music, he will often sing through his mise en place. His passion for food is apparent and contagious. And his pot de crème recipe will have you heading in for jar two!
One of the most important keys to a great crust is to keep the butter and dough cold at all costs. I have even chilled my hands prior to working the dough. I added Applewood-smoked bacon fat to my piecrust for just a bit of savory flavor. (The baking fragrance is amazing!) Granny Smith apples are a great choice for their consistent tartness and ability to hold their shape well.
- 2 ½ cups (12.5 ounces; 350 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 ounces butter (frozen)
- 1/3 cup drippings from applewood-smoked bacon (frozen)
- 6 tablespoons ice-cold water
- 1 egg plus 2-3 tablespoons water, for egg wash
- Place flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and blend.
- This is a bit of a quirky way to make crust but it has worked very well for me: Use a potato peeler to shave the butter into large pieces; place back into the freezer until the last possible minute before making the dough. Break up the bacon fat into small pieces and put them back into the freezer, for the same reason.
- Clear a workspace area large enough to roll out your pie shell. Place a large piece of parchment down on the workspace and then place the flour mixture on top. Remove the butter and fat from the freezer and sprinkle across the top of the flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the pieces of fat and butter into the flour, working quickly to flatten them into the flour. (This is sloppy looking, but it works.) Pop the mixture back into the bowl. Add the cold water 1 tablespoon at a time, working quickly (I use a silicone spatula) until you’re able to gather the dough together into a ball and it is just moistened. Use just enough water to achieve the “ball” consistency.
- Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Place one half of the dough on a piece of floured parchment and quickly roll out into a rectangle. Lightly dust with flour and fold into an envelope fold (both ends together, then fold the ends on top of each other); cover and chill for 30 minutes. Repeat this with the other piece of dough.
- Prepare the apples (see “Apple Prep”). Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put one part of dough onto parchment on your workspace and quickly roll into a circle about an inch wider than your pie-plate size all around. Place the dough over your pie plate and trim evenly around. Promptly place the dough remnants into the fridge and save for decoration.
- Add the prepared apples to the pie pan on top of the bottom crust and chill while you roll out the top dough circle. Roll out the top dough circle and lay the top piece over the apples and trim, leaving about an inch over your pie edge. Pinch the top and bottom dough together with your fingers, and then crimp the edge. (I use the basic two-finger crimp, pressing the dough between the thumb and index finger with the opposing hand).
- Brush the top of the crust with the egg wash. Cut slits into the top crust in a decorative pattern, and then place into the 375-degree oven. Bake until golden brown (about 45 minutes). Remove from oven and cool on a rack. Serve warm with your favorite vanilla ice cream.
- 7 medium-sized apples, peeled and sliced (Granny Smiths recommended)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Mix all ingredients together in one large bowl. I try to have extra apples on hand to ensure they are evenly heaped and spread into the prepared pan.
When you are mixing in the milks and flour, work quickly and on a low speed or even by hand. The batter should be thick, but you should be able to spread it evenly in the cake pans. I have prepared it with two 9-inch rounds, but I also like the three layers to get my optimal frosting-to-cake ratio.
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
- 4 tablespoons soft butter or oil
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 4 whole eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup regular milk
- 4 cups self-rising flour
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 9-inch cake rounds
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your pans by lining the bottom with parchment paper; spray the bottom and sides with nonstick spray.
- Over medium-low heat, brown the stick of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the milk solids are dark golden brown; set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the softened butter (or oil) and sugar. Mix, beating for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the cooled brown butter and beat 2 more minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, milk and vanilla. Add the milk mixture alternately with the flour to the egg mixture, ending with the flour.
- Pour batter into your prepared pans. Bake in the 350-degree oven until center springs back and cake is golden brown (about 25 minutes). Remove pans from the oven and cool for 10 minutes on a rack; invert and continue to cool. I like to quickly pop the layers in the freezer for about 30 minutes so the frosting will adhere nicely to the cake layers.
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) brown butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups cream (half buttermilk works, too)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4-6 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted
- Brown the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; strain and return to the pan, adding the sugar, syrup, salt and cream. While stirring, bring the mixture to almost a boil and cook for about 7 minutes; let mixture cool.
- When cooled a bit, add to a mixing bowl and whip on high for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Add powdered sugar, stirring in 1 tablespoon at a time, to thicken to the desired consistency. It should be a very thick, pourable mixture.
- Slice the cake layers across their tops to make sure they are flat. They should be cool before you ice them. Spread about one-fourth of the icing on the bottom layer. Place the second cake layer on top and ice the top; repeat with the third layer. Use the remaining icing to cover the sides of your cake. You should be able to easily spread and cover the sides with an offset spatula; chill to let the icing set. Place on a plate or cake stand and serve.