‘Twas a toss-up today: what might be the more helpful column? How to use leftovers from yesterday’s Thanksgiving feast, or revisit Cookbooktober with another new cookbook released this fall? “New England Desserts,” by Tammy Donroe Inman, won the toss. I purchased my copy at Eight Cousins in downtown Falmouth—it was the last copy, but they assured me they would be restocking, especially if I wrote about it here.
Inman describes herself this way: “Boston-area writer, mother, cook, gardener, obsessive blogger, pseudo-photographer, cryptogram lover and vagabond public school teacher. She’s been called other things, too.” This is the write-up on her blog, called Food on the Food, which she has been writing (on and off) since 2006. Her bio states that “after earning her chops in the test kitchen at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, she spent nearly twenty years writing about food for publications like Fine Cooking, Yankee Magazine, the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Life, and Serious Eats.”
I was not familiar with her blog, but after a quick peek, I thought her recipes looked pretty appealing. I will be returning to the website in the near future, to try her paella and lobster bisque. For now, however, we will be talking about homemade cakes, cookies, candies, pies, crisps, cobblers, crumbles, and ice cream—all arranged by order of seasons.
For those of you who may be wondering what exactly is a New England dessert, Inman explains: “Since the very first taste of maple syrup, New Englanders have pined for something sweet. The region’s native plants (corn, squash, pumpkins), orchard fruits, fresh dairy products, even the early ice industry, have all been used over the past four centuries to create culinary inspirations for our developing nation. From the mountains of Maine to the farms of Vermont to the beachside villages of Cape Cod, New England has earned a reputation for fantastic desserts. What started out as necessary, high-calorie sustenance has become an exercise in pleasure and a celebration of the seasons.”
And that is an excellent description of her collection of recipes. Inman states that she is a New Englander, “born and bred.” Born in Maine, her “sandbox days” were spent in New Hampshire. She spent her school years in the Boston suburbs and vacationed on the beaches of Cape Cod and/or Connecticut. She graduated from Tufts University and the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts.
She worked behind the scenes of the hit television show “America’s Test Kitchen,” where she learned how to rigorously test recipes (and came “face to face with Julia Child!”). Her book contains a mix of easy weekday recipes as well as “more adventurous weekend projects and holiday worthy desserts.” Published by Globe Pequot, with lovely photographs (Inman took the cover herself), this book is a little pricey, but would make a terrific gift for a home baker.
Spring desserts include Rhubarb Ginger Crumb Cake and a Grape-Nuts Pudding that I must try very soon. Summer offerings might inspire you to make a batch of Pie Crisps, and moving on to fall, there are Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and instructions for Cranberry Crumb Bars. Winter suggestions commemorate familiar recipes for such classics as Spicy Gingerbread, Indian Pudding, and Needhams, a Maine potato candy that are basically Mounds bars (before the well-known candy came into being, as this recipe dates back to the 1870s.
As the author says, “Wishing you all health and happiness. I hope you’re finding things to love during these challenging times. Maybe this will be one of them!” I suspect she is correct—this is a book from which I will be cooking all year round. Here are a few samples; there is an entire chapter devoted to ice cream, which, of course, needs a good recipe for Hot Fudge Sauce.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
“You cannot go wrong with these pumpkin spice whoopie pies. Use canned pumpkin or fresh roasted, puréed pumpkin or squash, like butternut. It’s worth letting the fresh stuff drain in a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl for at least an hour to remove any extra liquid. This will ensure your cakes don’t spread too much in the oven. Makes 16–18.”
For the cakes:
2 cups AP flour
½ tsp each: baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
11⁄3 cups cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup puréed pumpkin, fresh or canned
For the filling:
8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
2¼ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
8 oz cream cheese, cold
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease or line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
For the cakes, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a medium bowl; in a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, and pumpkin, then add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until combined. Drop the batter in heaping tablespoon-sized dollops spaced two inches apart (a 1-oz cookie scoop works great here). The batter should slump a bit when scooped rather than hold its original shape like a scoop of ice cream. If it’s too thick, add one to two tbsp water. Bake 11–13 minutes (for best results, bake one cookie sheet at a time on the center rack, so the tops don’t crack). Remove from the oven when the centers are set and spring back when gently pressed. Let them sit on the hot pan for 5 minutes before transferring to racks to cool; repeat with the second and third batch; let cool completely before filling.
For the filling, beat the butter with an electric mixer (preferably fitted with a paddle attachment) until no lumps remain. Add the sifted confectioner’s sugar in two or three batches, and beat on low to start, then increase to medium-high until combined; add the cold cream cheese and salt and mix until smooth and fluffy. To assemble, wait until the cakes are fully cooled, then match up similarly sized cakes. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling and place in the center of the flat side of one of the cakes (again, a 1-oz cookie scoop is the perfect tool). Sandwich another on top, and gently press and twist until the filling reaches the edges; repeat for the rest. Serve cold or at room temperature; store, loosely covered (so the cakes don’t get too sticky), in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze.
Hot Fudge Sauce
1¼ cups water
1½ cups granulated sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
½ tsp fine sea salt
4 oz bittersweet chopped chocolate or 2⁄3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp heavy cream
In a small saucepan heat the water, sugar and butter over medium-low heat, stirring until the butter melts. Whisk in the cocoa powder and salt; cook, whisking constantly, until bubbles form around the edges. Generously brush the sides of the pan with water, to remove any remaining sugar crystals, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, without stirring, until the mixture thickens. With a clean wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate and the vanilla until the chocolate melts; simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes until the sauce thickly coats the back of the spoon, and is reduced to about 2 cups. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the cream, a tbsp at a time; transfer to a pint jar and let cool completely. Store covered, in the refrigerator, for 1 to 2 weeks; to reheat, gently heat in the microwave in 15-second increments at 50 percent power, stirring in between, just until the sauce is pourable.
1 cup ap flour
1 tsp granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
½ tsp salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 tbsp ice water
1 tsp milk
In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt until combined; add the cold butter and run the machine for 10 to 15 seconds more. Add the ice water and run the machine 5 to 10 seconds more, until the mixture begins to clump. Dump the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and gather it together, handling it as little as possible, and quickly form it into a disk. Fold it over a couple of times on itself to create layers and press it into a disk again; wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Flour the counter and rolling pin generously; roll the dough to a one-quarter inch thickness and cut it out with cookie cutters or strips. Set these on the baking sheet and gather the scraps together; re-roll and cut more until you have used all the dough. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with more sugar; bake for 16 to 20 minutes, until deeply golden brown for the best flavor. Serve with ice cream, or as part of a cookie tray.