4:55pm | November 24, 2013

Holiday desserts show off seasonal favorites

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Apple Clafoutis & Pumpkin Pie Brulee for Thanksgiving (The Today Show)

With the great fanfare that savory foods get from me during the holidays, I like desserts to offer a hint of sweetness but ultimately be either very light, or quite small.  From my Casual Cooking cookbook (Chronicle 2002) comes this airy Apple Clafoutis, a french-country farmers favorite.  Best made in a cast-iron pan with local apples and farm-fresh eggs.  I’m using Apple’s from The Schmitt’s Philo Apple Farm.

And to spruce up the timeless pumpkin pie, serve it in mini ramekins and brulee the top with your torch.  A party favorite, the act of torching any food brings an element of intrigue to your guests, and keeps even the most die-hard Thanksgiving cook from the tedium of the same old pie.

To make the most of the most of the holidays with friends and loved ones, slow down the process, make fewer things more enjoyable, reach out to local purveyors and farmers to use what is fresh and in season.  You’ll be a happier cook and a better guest at your table!

~  Michael Chiarello

APPLE CLAFOUTIS  Michael Chiarello’s CASUAL COOKING    Serves: 6



1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

1 cup milk


1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apple (1/2-inch dice; about 1 large apple)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grappa, Calvados, or other fruit brandy

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1/3 cup crème fraîche

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Make the batter: Sift the flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and milk until well blended. Add about one-third of the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk to form a paste, then gradually incorporate the remaining egg mixture. Whisk until well blended.

Cook the apples: With the tip of a knife, scrape the vanilla bean seeds from the pod into an ovenproof 10-inch cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet. Add the pod and the butter and cook over moderately high heat until the butter turns nut brown. Add the apple and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes to soften them. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard. Sprinkle the apples with the granulated sugar, reduce the heat to moderately low, and cook until the apples are about three-fourths done and the sugar has melted and is coating the apples in a light syrup. Add the grappa or other brandy, swirl the pan briefly, then spread the fruit evenly in the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat. Working quickly, pour the batter through a sieve evenly over the fruit. Bake until the edges of the clafouti are puffed and browned and the center is set, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Put some confectioners’ sugar in a sieve and generously dust the surface of the clafouti. Serve warm directly from the pan with a dollop of crème fraîche.

PUMPKIN PIE BRULEE    Michael Chiarello    Serves: 6


Rustic Dough:
9 ounces cake flour (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pinch gray salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoon cold water

** option premade pie dough


8 oz Mascarpone or natural cream cheese, softened

2 cups canned pumpkin, or roasted in the shell and pureed butternut squash

½ cup sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

½ teaspoon gray salt

1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten

1 cup milk

¼ cup (½ stick) melted unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the dough:

In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, add the dry ingredients and mix for 5 seconds to blend.  Add the butter and vanilla and mix until the butter is about the size of peas.  Add the cold water and blend until the dough just comes together. Form the dough into a roughly shaped ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.  Remove pie dough from the refrigerator.  With the plastic wrap still on, pound with rolling pin a few times to flatten to 1 ½ inch.  Remove from the plastic wrap and roll out on a floured surface to 1/8” thickness. Cut dough to the size of your brulee ramekins (I use 4” ceramic ramekins). Butter each ramekin and place dough circle in the bottom. Put the pie shell back into the freezer for 1 hour to firm again. Fit a piece of aluminum foil to cover the inside of the shell completely. Fill the shell up to the edges with pie weights or dried beans (about 2 pounds) and place it in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, remove the foil and pie weights and bake for another 10 minutes or until the crust is dried out and beginning to color.

Make the filling:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat until combined. Add the whole eggs, yolks, half-and-half and melted butter and beat until combined. Finally, add the vanilla, cinnamon and ginger, if using, and beat until incorporated.  Pour the filling over the warm prepared pie crust 1” thick (you can go deeper if you like and simply increase the baking time) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the center is set. Place the pie on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. When cool, just before serving, make the brulee topping. Sprinkle the sugar over the filling in each ramekin.  (Be sure to completely cover the filling with a thin layer of sugar). Using a mini-torch, torch the top until sugar is caramelized. The ramekins can also be browned under a broiler. If using a broiler, stick the ramekins inside a pan and under the broiler until light brown.  Serve immediately

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