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Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style

Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style

by Cindy Mushet

The bold flavors of the Mediterranean have been inspiring American home cooks for years. And now, at last, comes Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style, a book bursting with exciting desserts.

Both California and the Mediterranean, whose terrain and climate are similar, boast a market basket of intensely flavored foods for the baker -- warm


The bold flavors of the Mediterranean have been inspiring American home cooks for years. And now, at last, comes Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style, a book bursting with exciting desserts.

Both California and the Mediterranean, whose terrain and climate are similar, boast a market basket of intensely flavored foods for the baker -- warm spices, fresh fruits, nuts, herbs, honey, chocolate, cheeses, preserves, filo dough, wines, and spirits. Cindy Mushet has spent more than fourteen years as a pastry chef incorporating these flavors into classic desserts -- cookies, custards, cakes, ice creams, and sorbets -- that are uniquely American yet convey the wonderfully intense and unique flavors that capture the feel and spirit of the Mediterranean.

If it's Italian you love, experience the Pistachio Layer Cake with Nougat Cream or the Raspberry Mascarpone Tart with Chocolate Crust.

Dreaming of the south of France? Soothe your soul with the farmhouse simplicity of Caramelized Apple Cake with Rosemary or the cool, refreshing, and surprising Mint and Chocolate Pots de Crème.

If Spain makes you swoon, try the luxuriantly rich Crema Catalana or sample the Spanish Olive Oil and Spice Biscotti.

The white-washed hills of Greece surface in a new version of the classic Galataboureko, a spiced semolina pudding in filo topped with a crimson Spiced Blood Orange Caramel Sauce.

North Africa's bright flavors can be found in the creamy Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango in Lime Caramel Sauce or the dramatic filo Snake Pastry with Fig, Almond Paste, and Lemon.

If you draw from the exciting flavors of the Middle East, try the Caramel, Date, and Sesame Tart or any of the five enticing new versions of baklava.

Drawing from her years of teaching experience, Mushet has written recipes with simple, detailed instructions to ensure your success. Each recipe includes notes on which steps can be completed in advance, as well as suggestions on how best to serve and store your dessert. A mail-order guide provides sources for hard-to-find ingredients and equipment integral to the Mediterranean and American kitchens.

Every detail of Desserts: Mediterranean Flavors, California Style creates a sense of confidence and inspiration that will lead you to the kitchen and, best of all, to the table with friends and family.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Despite its somewhat gimmicky-sounding title, this is actually a wonderfully appealing collection of mouthwatering desserts from a knowledgeable and thoroughly professional pastry chef. Mushet, a consultant and author of a baking journal, started out at Chez Panisse and went on to become pastry chef at Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland. She has translated her favorite Mediterranean flavors and flavorings--fragrant spices and herbs; fruits of all sorts, dried, crystallized, or fresh; pastis and other aromatic liqueurs; almonds, pistachios, and other nuts--into American-style desserts that are often imaginative but never contrived or bizarre. There are Grilled [Slices of] Coconut Cake with Double-Lime Ice Cream, Raspberry Mascarpone Tart, Dried Sour Cherry, and Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Biscotti, and other delectable treats, along with boxes on techniques, ingredients, culinary history, and more. Instructions are painstakingly detailed but unintimidating, and make-ahead notes and serving suggestions are included throughout. Highly recommended. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

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Read an Excerpt

Chocolate, Hazelnut, and Orange Torte

serves 10 to 12

In Italy the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is so popular that it has its own name, gianduia. This duo can be found in all manner of sweets, from gelato to candies to cakes, and with good reason -- it is a flavor match made in heaven. This dense, moist torte, fragrant with hazelnuts and speckled with bittersweet chocolate chips, was created by my friend Joanne Fusco while working at a bakery in Italy. The addition of orange zest to the cake offers a bright counterpoint and intensifies the earthy richness of hazelnuts and chocolate.

Over the years I have served this cake hundreds of times, in dozens of guises, and it's a real crowd pleaser. But my favorite way to eat it is the simplest and just as I present it here -- topped with a silken cloud of bittersweet chocolate frosting. The frosting is so easy -- a combination of melted butter and chocolate -- and so good, you'll want to use it again and again in your baking.

EQUIPMENT AND ADVANCE PREPARATION: One 9-inch springform pan  ·  Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper or wax paper. Alternatively, brush the sides and bottom of the pan with a thin, even coat of melted butter, then dust the pan with flour, tapping out any excess.

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (227)
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons finely chopped orange zest (145), about 2 large oranges
2 large eggs
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
4 ounces (about 3/4 cup) miniature bittersweet chocolate chips (274)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter

Softly whipped cream (54) flavored with Frangelico
Miniature chocolate curls (106), optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven.

To make the cake, place the hazelnuts and 3/4 cup sugar in a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about 20 to 30 seconds. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer is fine; just allow a little extra time to reach each stage in the recipe), cream the butter until light in color, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the ground hazelnut-sugar mixture and beat on medium speed for an additional 2 minutes, or until the mixture looks very light and fluffy. Beat in the orange zest.

In a small bowl, combine the whole eggs and egg yolks and whisk just until blended. With the mixer running, dribble the eggs into the butter mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend in fully (about 15 to 20 seconds) before adding the next. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times during this process. In a separate small bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder to blend. Add the flour mixture to the batter and mix thoroughly on medium speed, about 20 to 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides, then add the chocolate chips and blend well. The batter will be very stiff.

In a clean mixing bowl, using a clean whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon, and continue beating just until the whites hold firm peaks and are glossy, another 1 to 2 minutes. To check the whites, dip a spoon into the bowl and scoop out some beaten whites -- the whites should sit firmly on the spoon, and the peaks that formed in the bowl when the spoon was lifted should hold their shape (the very tips of the peaks may bend slightly -- this is okay). Be careful not to overbeat the whites, or they will begin to clump and separate.

Use a rubber spatula to stir one-third of the beaten whites into the cake batter to loosen and lighten the mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the cake pan, level the top, and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the center of the cake springs back when gently touched with a fingertip or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the butter until it is completely melted and has just come to a boil. Immediately pour the butter over the chocolate, then let the mixture sit for 2 minutes. Gently whisk the frosting until it is blended and smooth (if the chocolate still has lumps, place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and stir constantly until the lumps have melted).

Place the bowl of frosting in the refrigerator. Every 5 minutes or so, remove the bowl and whisk the frosting to blend in any patches that have cooled and are beginning to harden on the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue until it reaches a spreadable consistency, about 30 minutes. If the frosting gets too hard, simply place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the desired consistency is reached (this will happen quickly, so don't walk away).

To unmold the cake, run a thin, sharp knife around the edges of the cake to loosen any areas that may have stuck to the pan. As you do this, gently press the knife into the side of the pan to avoid gouging the cake. Then pop the sides off the springform pan and set aside. Gently set a plate or cake cardboard on top of the cake, then flip it over and remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper. Place your serving dish or a cake cardboard on the bottom of the cake, then turn the cake right side up. To frost the cake, scrape the frosting from the bowl onto the center of the cake and use an icing spatula or the back of a spoon to spread it evenly over the top, just to the edges -- do not spread any frosting down the sides. Use the tip of the spatula or spoon to make swirls in the frosting.

SERVING AND STORAGE NOTES: Serve at room temperature accompanied by a spoonful of softly whipped cream. I like to flavor the cream with a bit of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur). If you like, garnish each plate by sprinkling it with some miniature chocolate curls. Store the cake at room temperature. There is no need to wrap the entire cake with plastic; instead, simply press a piece of plastic wrap against the cut surfaces. Though the cake is at its best the same day it is baked, it keeps well for 3 to 5 days.


Chocolate, Walnut, and Orange Torte: Substitute 1 3/4 cups (6 ounces) walnuts for the hazelnuts above. Toast the walnuts according to the instructions for toasting almonds (254).

Chocolate, Almond, and Orange Torte: Substitute 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 ounces) whole, natural, toasted (254) almonds for the hazelnuts above.


Gianduia is a sensuous blend of chocolate and hazelnuts that originated in the Piedmont area in northern Italy. Like many inventions, its creation was a serendipitous meeting of necessity and ingenuity. In the early 1800s, the chocolate makers of Piedmont were faced with a shortage of cacao beans. As part of the war effort against Napoleon, the English navy was preventing trade ships bringing the beans from South America from arriving at their final destinations in Europe. In an effort to augment what little chocolate they could obtain, Piedmont chocolate makers added ground hazelnuts to their chocolate, and a taste sensation was born. It received an official name when it was introduced at the carnival of Turin and given the same name as one of the popular festival masks -- gianduia. Though gianduia is technically a paste, or butter, of chocolate and hazelnuts, the term is applied to all manner of sweets that contain this uniquely satisfying combination of nuts and chocolate.

Copyright © 2000 by Cindy Mushet

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