Category Archives: Dessert

Mixed Berry and Praline Pecan Cookie Tart

It’s Sunday and I’m flat-out with piercing back pain.  I can stand or lie down but if I sit?  Oooeee!  Good thing I already had brunch ready, topped off with a gorgeous mixed berry tart studded with praline pecans.  Given it’s a school night and there’s work tomorrow, a quick but satisfying indulgence is called for, the operative word being quick.  This recipe is a re-make of the ’90’s version of the “fruit pizza”.  Any fruit will do as a topping but I feel there’s something lush and almost scandalous about mounds of berries.  Adding the store-bought praline pecans takes this tart to a new level.  The tart is good served cold or at room temperature.  My son, James, loved it as a kid.  You’ll love it now!

Mixed Berry and Praline Pecan Cookie Tart

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 16-ounce package per-cut sugar cookie dough
  •  8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped praline pecans, found in nut section of your grocery store’s produce department
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 2-3 tablespoons jelly, I find guava jelly is the best with most fruits
  • fresh mint to garnish, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  2. Break pre-cut chunks of cookie dough and place 1 inch apart in an 11-12 inch circle on an ungreased cookie sheet or pizza pan.
  3. Gently press down on each piece of dough so all pieces meet and the end result is one large cookie.
  4. Bake 17-20 minutes or until the edges of the cookie are golden.
  5. Cool to room temperature on a cooling rack.
  6. In a medium size bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract and beat until the mixture is completely smooth and combined well.
  7. When the cookie is completely cool, spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the top.
  8. Scatter and mound the berries on the cream cheese and lightly press on the fruit to help it stay in place.
  9. Warm the jelly in microwave until it’s melted.
  10. Using a pastry brush or NEW paint brush, paint the berries with the jelly.  If the jelly firms up, warm it again in the microwave for 10 seconds.
  11. Chill until serving.
  12. Garnish with fresh mint when serving.



Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

This is one outrageous zucchini bread.  The batter will have your eyes rolling to the back of your head.  I can honestly say the first time I tasted the batter I seriously considered not baking the bread at all and , instead, simply eating it all…one generous, sloppy spoonful after another until there was no more.   I first began baking zucchini bread for my son, James, when he was a toddler but I never called it zucchini bread.  I’m pretty sure he would have turned his cute little Greek nose up at it, but how about “tea bread”?  He loved Mama’s “tea bread” and even helped me bake it.  Many a morning he suggested we invite his grandmother, Mimi, over for a tea party with “tea bread”.  Little scamp.  I covered his small, round child’s table with a linen tablecloth and set places for James, Mimi and his two best friends, Bert and Ernie.  I prepared cafe con leche or James’ favorite tea, Constant Comment and served the guests while they chatted politely about Curious George, which day that week they would go feed the ducks or the latest happenings on Sesame Street…”Mimi! Did you know there is a number 9?”  We have some lovely memories.  I hope this recipe makes it to your next tea party!

Baking day circa 1993-94. Someone was in charge of sprinkles:)

This wonderful recipe I found in the booklet of directions and recipes which came with my Cuisinart food processor.  I made no changes except for the addition of vanilla extract.  The recipe is that perfect.  It does state milk chocolate chips may be used as well but I’d rather have a sharp chocolate presence so I’ll stick with semi-sweet chips.  If your food processor is another brand I’m pretty sure it will be just fine.  (But I DO adore my Cuisinart!)

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

  • Servings: one 9-inch loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of nutmeg (I used almost 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated)
  • 1 large zucchini (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (this is not part of the original recipe)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F.  Lightly coat a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.  Reserve.
  2. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in a medium bowl.  Reserve.
  3. Insert the shredding disc with the medium side facing up.  Shred zucchini.  Add to the bowl with the reserved dry ingredients.
  4. Put the sugar, eggs and oil into the large work bowl fitted with the large chopping blade.  Process on high for 30 seconds.  Add dry ingredients and pulse, to just combine, about 8 to 10 times.  Remove blade.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  6. Let cool in pan and serve warm if desired.

Maida Heatter’s Palm Beach Mint Brownies

Sometimes chocolate is the best last resort.  You’ve apologized, prayed, fretted and worried, yelled, torn your cuticles and had one too many drinks.  Maybe chocolate is the answer.  Not as a long-term solution but this recipe will certainly smooth ruffled feathers and ease worried minds for the time being.  These brownies were created by baking maven, Maida Heatter, and are classic world renown treats.  If you served brownies at a wedding, these are the ones you want.  If your precious angel is going through a rough time at college, these are the brownies to pack in an empty shoe box.  I made a few changes in the way I bake them.  I sprayed the tin foil lined baking pan with non-stick cooking spray as opposed to applying the melted butter process.  Worked fine.  I used pecans in place of walnuts because I adore pecans and I find walnuts to be bitter…I don’t know…I’m just not a fan.  The final change I made was rather than purchase 2 bags of York Peppermint Patties I used 2  7.7-ounce bags of Ghiradelli Chocolate Peppermint Brownie Squares I found on clearance after the holidays.  I had started actually dipping into one of the bags for an occasional treat and that’s never good.  I had no business buying more chocolates.  Boy howdy, do I love these brownies!  It is imperative you chill these overnight for the best results.  Somehow it all works together and makes this dessert well worth the wait.

Maida Heatter's Palm Beach Mint Brownies

  • Servings: 32 large brownies
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 8 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 3 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted unbleached flour
  • 2 cups shelled walnuts, broken into large pieces
  • 2 15-ounce bags chocolate covered peppermint patties
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425°.  Line a 9″ X 13″ x 2″ pan as follows: Invert the pan and center a 17″ length of aluminum foil, shiny side down, over the pan.  With your hands, press down on the sides and corners of the foil to shape it to the pan.  Remove the foil.  Turn the pan right side up.  Place the foil in the pan and very carefully press it into place in the pan.  Now, to butter the pan, place a piece of butter (additional to that in ingredients) in the pan, and put the pan in the oven.  When the butter is melted, use a pastry brush or a piece of crumbled plastic wrap to spread the butter all over the foil.  Set the prepared pan aside.
  2. Place the chocolate and the butter in the top of a large double boiler over moderate heat or in a 4- to 6-cup heavy saucepan over low heat.  Stir occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are melted.  Stir to mix.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, salt, espresso powder and sugar at high-speed for ten minutes.  On low-speed add the chocolate mixer (which may still be warm) and beat only until mixed.  Then add the flour and again beat on low-speed only until mixed.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the walnuts.
  4. Pour half the mixture (about 3 1/2 cups) into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Place a layer of the mints, touching each other and the edges of the pan, all over the chocolate layer.  Cut some mints to fill in large spaces on the edges.  (You will not use all the mints.  There will be some left over.)  Pour the remaining chocolate mixture into the pan and smooth all over.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes, reversing the pan front to back once during baking to ensure even baking.  At the end of 35 minutes the cake will have a firm crust on top  but if you insert a toothpick in the middle it will come out wet and covered with chocolate.  Nevertheless, it is done.  Do not bake any longer.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven; let stand until cool.  Cover the pan with a cookie sheet and invert the pan and the sheet. remove the pan and the foil lining.  Cover the length of the cake with a length of wax paper and another cookie sheet and invert again, leaving the cake right side up.  Now, the cake must be refrigerated for a few hours or overnight before it is cut into bars.
  7. When you are ready to cut the cake, use a long, heavy knife with a sharp blade, either serrated or straight-try both.  Cut the cake into quarters.  Cut each quarter in half, cutting through the long sides.  Finally, cut each piece into 4 bars, cutting through the long sides.  (I think these brownies are better in narrow bar shapes than in squares.) Pack brownies in an airtight box or wrap individually in clear cellophane, wax paper or foil.  They freeze perfectly and can be served very cold or at room temperature.

Baked Dulce de Leche Apples

Growing up there was no baking done in our house.  None.  No cookies, no cakes.  Except during the holidays Mama would bake a frozen apple pie and when girlfriends spent the night, which was almost never, she always and without fail prepared Pepperidge Farm Puff Pasty Apple Turnovers.  But Mama had a tendency to burn things…anything…everything and these turnovers were no exception.  She had one baking sheet, an old, warped aluminum sheet covered with burnt-on stains.  I looked at them as friendly reminders of her past culinary disasters.  Saturday mornings during sleepovers Mama couldn’t “pop” the turnovers in the oven, oh no.  Everything she did was done at hyper speed, from the moment she flew out of bed in the morning until the moment she collapsed into bed at night.  As Mama slammed the baking sheet into the oven, the pastries skittering wildly about the tray, the crash of metal on metal and the slamming of the oven door could be heard down the street…or at least on our side of the house.  And as I stretched in my twin bed with its girly white lace bedskirt, I looked over at Dana/Andrea/Ann waking up in the matching twin bed with the identical bedskirt.  We always smiled knowing we could breakfast later at their house with the utmost confidence it wouldn’t be burned.  Sure enough,  Mama rapped on our door on the bedroom door with the back of her hand, her middle knuckle sounding like the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun.  “Girls!  Breakfast is ready!”  I always wanted to sing back, “We know.  We smelled the smoke.” but that would have been sassy and disrespectful and Mama DID NOT tolerate any of that in her house.  No, ma’am.  She would not have batted an eye in front of anyone outside of the family, but later?  Holy Mary, mother of Jesus!  She was liable to wash your mouth out with an enormous, white bar of Ivory soap AND ground you.  Uh uh.   Don’t sass Mama.  Anyway, in our soft blue or pastel pink baby doll nighties off we’d saunter into the kitchen to find a bowl of freshly cut fruit, cold glasses of milk and a gorgeous platter of beautifully arranged turnovers, the pastries were all puffed up with layers of crunchy sweetness.  Sadly, the bottom  of each and every turnover was a solid, black charred mess.  Every.Single.Time.  Without speaking, we’d peel off and enjoy the tops which hadn’t burned and scrape the apple and nut goo on the bottoms with spoons while the exhaust fan roared in the background sucking out the smoke. That was the closest Mama came to baking apples and pastry and we were fine with it.  When you’re twelve or thirteen you know when life is good and our lives were good.  Good and rich with Mama’s love!



Baked Dulce de Leche Apples

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 apples
  • 1 13-ounce can dulce de leche
  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed and kept chilled until needed
  1. Line a small baking sheet with tin foil and set aside.
  2. Mix sugars, corn starch and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  3. Using a melon-baller 1″ in diameter, scoop the core out of each apple beginning at the stem and stopping before you get to the bottom of the fruit.  You don’t want the dulce de leche to run out of the bottom.
  4. Roll each apple in the sugar mixture and press the mixture into the outside and inside of the fruit.
  5. Open both sheets of puff pastry and lay down side by side.
  6. Cut both sheets to make 4 rectangles.
  7. Place an apple in the center of one of the rectangles and fill with 2-3 teaspoons of dulce de leche.  Save the remaining dulce de leche to serve with the hot apples.
  8. Bring up the short sides of the puff pastry and press into the apple.  Gather up the long ends of the pastry and pinch together as if it was a bundle.  Pinch closed any gaps or holes.  Continue with the remaining apples and pastry.
  9. Preheat oven to 400°.
  10. Place apple bundles on the baking sheet and put in the freezer for 15 minutes for the pastry to firm up.
  11. Bake the apples 30-35 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden.
  12. Cool the apples 10-15 minutes before serving.
  13. Warm the remaining dulce de leche in the microwave until runny and serve with the baked apples.

Quick Guava and Cream Cheese Tartlets

In keeping within the last-minute and easy holiday treats theme, (see my last post of Parmesan, Pepper and Lemon Oyster Crackers), this sweet morsel is just the ticket.  I love bringing island and tropical flavors to our house as we live in the tropics and also, due to my Puerto Rican roots, our Christmas season is redolent with joyous, celebratory music, luscious ripe fruits from hot climes and plenty of brilliant sunshine.  Pineapple, guava, tamarind, orange and limes, guanabana, mamey sapote, coconuts and apple bananas are some of the magnificent fruits of the season.  I made these guava and cream cheese tartlets just so I could nibble on guava paste.  Sweet and utterly decadent, the taste and even the smell of the ripe, fresh fruit careen me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Puerto Rico.  As a child the kitchen seemed cavernous although now I marvel at the countless breakfast, lunch and dinners that little nook cranked out, day in and day out for years.  The aromas which wafted out of that kitchen are legendary but at Christmas… well!  My grandmother was a renown baker, recognized throughout the island for her magical cakes.  Her wedding cakes were breathtaking in beauty and taste.  I’m pretty sure the rum syrup she drizzled over them had a lot do with it.  One of the cakes ordered often was the “brazo gitano” or gypsy arm.  It was a vanilla sheet cake slathered with homemade guava paste, rolled up, heavily dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with four or five maraschino cherries.  Being so young in age I never understood why someone would want, never mind PAY, for a cake without icing.  A cake without one edible, handmade and hand painted Cinderella or Snow White.  There weren’t any lilies or roses, dwarfs or footmen in livery or, at the very least, sweet, little woodland creatures.  But the gypsy arms sold.  And the profits were my grandmother’s “pin” money.  I would give anything for a taste of one of those cakes.  Or to smell the vat of fresh guavas and sugar bubbling away on the stove.  Christmas time turned the kitchen and dining room into a bustling hive of activity.  My grandmother would hum often when she made her flowers.  What an indulgence it was when she would pinch off a small knob of pastillage for me to savor!  I can see her now, her arms flailing wildly, as she shooed away the errant sparrow who mistakenly flew in through an open window and swooped down to light on one of her floral masterpieces.  Those precious days are gone as well as many of our family members who lived at my grandparent’s massive house.  So many were involved in one way or another.  An aunt might help out by trimming the crusts off the of the gypsy arm.  Any uncle who happened to be around could not sit down to a freshly brewed cafe con leche until he helped carry the 4-foot high wedding cake out to the waiting van.  But the fruit desserts, the “brazo gitano”, which in the folly of my youth I completely disregarded, are today dear to me although they are now faint memories.  We may not have these treasured sights, sounds and smells any longer but I guarantee you, cut off a sliver of guava paste, close your eyes and as it slowly melts in your mouth you’ll be with me at 177 Flanboyanes Avenida.

These little tartlets are a sweet-salty treat that will surprise you with their ease of preparation.  At my grocery store the guava paste is shelved with the canned fruit…go figure.  Packed air-tight in plastic, guava paste is a great pantry staple to have on hand especially during the holidays when sweets are more…how shall I say? De rigueur.  Also good to have on hand are the frozen fillo shells.  Simply store them in the back of your freezer and when you need a quick nibble to enjoy with a glass of champagne they are at your service to fill with shrimp, mushrooms sautéed in wine and tarragon or any number of combinations.  The little shells crisp up perfectly and add a great touch of elegance to any cocktail hour.  I know I don’t to tell you there should always be 2 or 3 bricks of cream cheese in the refrigerator as well.  If you’re pressed for time or low on energy, skip the fruit or berries on top and merely give the finished tartlets a good dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  Enjoy!


Guava and Cream Cheese Tartlets

  • Servings: 45 bitesize tartlets
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 14-ounce block guava paste, for some reason it’s stocked in the canned fruit section of my grocery store so look around for it
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1.9-ounce boxes of mini-fillo shells, total 45 shells
  • confectioner’s sugar to garnish, optional
  • berries or pomegranate seeds to garnish, optional
  • fresh mint leaves to garnish, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Place the fillo shells on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
  2. Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese and egg until light and fluffy.  Set aside.
  3. Place guava paste in a microwaveable bowl and heat in 30 second intervals until the paste has melted.
  4. Pour the melted guava paste into the cream cheese mixture and add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract.  Mix until smooth and there are no streaks.
  5. Fill each shell with a generous teaspoon of the guava mixture.
  6. Bake 12-15 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven and immediately dust with confectioner’s sugar, carefully press in mint leaves and berries.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Classic Tiramisu

Tiramisu is the Italian creation which will save your ass when the 3:00 slump hits you at your desk, stove, steering wheel or washing machine.  Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” and with the coffee and sugar called for in the recipe, it will!  I first made this dessert in 1991.  I had decided to have an Italian Thanksgiving as I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey and the traditional “fixin’s”.  Our guests were family plus one of Jimmy’s students from MIT, Laura Duenes, and her boyfriend, Forest McKennie.  When Laura decided to pull up stakes and move to Fort Lauderdale, Jimmy immediately offered her a plum job.  She knew all of us…my entire family.  We loved her and she loved us.  Laura was young, smart, beautiful… the quintessential cheeky, sassy Chicana.   While she flew all over the country standing up to banks, my little sister, Pamela, kind of ran the office… answering the phones, filing, etc.  Nothing made them happier than when they were both in the office together.  One afternoon Jimmy returned to the office from a meeting.  Walking in, he found the office surprisingly quiet.  Turning a corner he found Laura’s and Pamela’s eyes riveted to the television set and his desk had been somewhat reorganized.  They were both doing their nails; his desk was covered with cuticle sticks, base coat, polish, top coat, nail files and all manner of hand creams.  As Jimmy exclaimed, “What’s going on here?   This is a business, ya know!” both girls, without moving a muscle, answered, “SHHHHH! We’re watching our story.  It’s General Hospital.  It’ll be over in a minute.”  Can you imagine saying that to your boss, never mind giving yourself a manicure at work!  Knowing he was outnumbered, Jimmy just shook his head and muttered, “Girls!”.  Laura was family.  We had a superb Thanksgiving that year.  I found the menu and have to say, it was pretty great.

The wine flowed and laughter rang out all afternoon.   The tiramisu was a huge hit, smooth, rich and cool on a hot south Florida day.  Laura and Forest eventually married and accepted positions in D.C., then south Africa and back to D.C..  Those were some good days and every single time I make tiramisu I think of that girl.

Tiramisu is a glorious make-ahead treat.  Granted, there are several steps in making it but, boy, is it worth it!  It can be prepared in a 9X13 inch dish, individual pots or wine glasses.  Some folks make their own ladyfingers but I find store-bought are fine.  Because the bags of cookies in my store are 7 ounces, I try to make a somewhat double layer of ladyfingers on the bottom of the dish.  One bag isn’t enough for this recipe and the extra cookies give the dish added structure.  There’s quite a bit of liquid in the recipe and the cookies soak it up in a most delicious way.  Tiramisu should be served as cold as you can get it, so feel free to chill your dishes if you’re inclined.  The set, chilled texture is not even as firm as Jello although it is not runny either.  If you prepare this dessert in one large dish it’s best to serve it up in the kitchen.  And be assertive with your serving spoon and spatula.  The tiramisu will lose its shape, fall over and slide around making serving a bit of a challenge but it’s not meant to be pretty.  It’s meant to be spectacular!

Classic Tiramisu

  • Servings: 14-16
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 14 ounces ladyfingers
  • 1 cup espresso
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rum, dark or golden, divided
  • 4 tablespoons Gran Marnier
  • 1 pound mascarpone cheese
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa, to cover top of dish
  1. Set a 9X13 inch baking dish aside.
  2. In a large shallow bowl mix the espresso, 2 tablespoons of rum and Gran Marnier.
  3. Working quickly, dip each ladyfinger, one at a time, into the espresso mixture, moistening each side then placing on the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue until the bottom of the dish is completely covered.  I make a second layer of cookies, completely optional, with about 1″ in between each ladyfinger.  Reserve enough cookies for a final layer in between the mascarpone mixture.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl place the remaining rum and mascarpone and beat until smooth.  Set aside.
  5. In a small double-boiler over medium-low heat, beat the egg yolks with 3 tablespoons of sugar until light and foamy, about 4 minutes.
  6. Pour the hot yolks into the mascarpone mixture, mix well to combine and set aside.
  7. In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the  vanilla extract until soft peaks are formed  when the beaters are lifted.
  8. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in.  Fold in the remaining cream adding 1/3 at a time.  Set aside.
  9. In a separate bowl and using a hand mixer with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until foamy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue beating the egg whites until the peaks hold their shape.  Do not over beat.
  10. Add the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in until there are no streaks of egg white.
  11. Pour half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers in the baking dish.
  12. Lightly dip the remaining ladyfingers, one at a time, in the espresso mixture and layer evenly over the poured mascarpone.  Break the cookies to cover any holes.
  13. Pour the remaining mascarpone mixture over the cookies, smooth the top and refrigerate uncovered overnight.
  14. Prior to serving, cover the top of the tiramisu with a thick dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder.
  15. Serve immediately.

Double Strawberries and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry


When last Jim and I were in Paris we had the good fortune to meet several times with my extended family.  They entertained us as only Parisians can, in fine restaurants with lots of yummy champagne.  My cousins also rounded up the family who were in town for a Sunday afternoon reunion in the house of my father’s cousin, Marie Claire, where we spent the afternoon reminiscing  over days long past and laughing at our young foolishness, sipping champagne and nibbling on a gorgeous mirabelle plum tart made by my cousin Hubert’s wife, Anne.  Marie Claire’s apartment had been her sister, Francoise’, and that was where I began my first adventure in France oh, so many years ago.  Whenever I went to Paris I stayed with Francoise and having gone all over the city by foot I came to know her neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine pretty well.  With Mama and without, I took the Metro to get around, and found the walk to the station and back to the apartment an absolute delight.  Magnificent  maple trees lined the streets leading to her house and, I have to tell you, I never felt prettier or happier than when I my feet hit those sidewalks.  I felt as though I was walking on air.  Francoise’ building was, and still is, magnificent.  The entrance hall was mahogany, the floor large black and white tiles whilst an antiquated brass elevator  waited at the right…or was it the on the left?  Regardless, it was there in all its creaky, rumbling glory.  However, if you chose not to wait, an exquisite caracol staircase was ready to take you to the second floor.  Although the elevator was majestic it was still a bit utilitarian so I always chose to take the staircase, resplendent with a dark ruby Persian runner held in place by old brass stair runners tacked into the well-worn mahogany steps,  stained obsidian and sunken in the middle by years of use.  And the apartment!  I remember some rooms being sea-green in color, enormous oils of our ancestors hung in heavy gold frames on most walls and the dining room and her generous bathroom completely beguiled me with its charming fireplace and mammoth, cast-iron claw-foot bathtub.  For me Francoise’ house was, and will always be, the height of luxury.  She introduced me to the French press for coffee, the beauty and pleasure of engraved calling cards, the importance of knowing how to read a map and the notion that a sterling porringer makes a fine ash tray.

Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!
Treasured bits from years past. Crazy about her calling card!

Meals were small and only when necessary.  We were too busy to eat.  We left the flat early in the morning.   Most days Francoise went to her office where she wrote for various magazines while Mama and I were off to museums, shops and concerts, all possible by taking the Metro.  Towards the end of the day we met up for a glass of wine or champagne then back to the apartment to dress for dinner.  How I love that apartment and how special it was to be back in it with Hubert, Anne and their daughters and Grand-cousin, Marie Claire.  Still lovely and well-appointed with family pieces but now with bursts of life and color from the artwork of many grandchildren.  Merci encore, Marie Claire, pour un apres-midi splendide!


This pastry is not only easy but dramatic in its presentation.  The puff pastry is store-bought and although it appears braided it is not.  Strips of dough are folded over and the end result is one good-looking dessert.  The dried and fresh berries compliment each other quite well, the dried berries mixed with cream cheese lend a creamy texture while the fresh give a juicy blast of flavor.



Double Strawberry and Cream Cheese in Puff Pastry

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 12-14 fresh, ripe strawberries, sliced vertically 1/4″ in thickness
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, I like using vanilla sugar
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1.2-ounce bag or 2 cups of freeze-dried strawberries, available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s
  • 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 (that’s 1 sheet) of a 17.3 ounce box of puff pastry, thawed but kept in the refrigerator until needed
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.
  2. Toss the fresh strawberry slices with tablespoon of sugar and set aside to macerate.
  3. In a blender, mini-food processor or magic bullet process the freeze-dried strawberries until they are the texture of powder.
  4. In a small bowl mix the cream cheese until it becomes loose and easy to handle.
  5.  Add the strawberry powder and confectioners’ sugar to the cream cheese and stir until both are completely mixed together.
  6. Remove the sheet of puff pastry from the refrigerator and gently unfold on top of the baking sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil.  Place the pastry so the fold marks run vertically.  The pastry will look like 3 equal rectangles attached together by the folds.
  7. Working as quickly as possible so the dough stays chilled, lightly roll out the dough so that it measures roughly 9 1/2″X 10 1/2″.
  8. Leaving the inside rectangle intact, make 1/2″ diagonal cuts into the two outside pastry rectangles.  Discard the 4 corners of the pastry.
  9. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly down the center rectangle all the way to the cuts.  Mound the fresh berries on top of the cream cheese mixture evenly.
  10. Fold the top and bottom flap of dough over the berry filling.
  11. Fold the diagonal cuts over the berry mixture alternating left and right until the entire pastry is braided.  Tuck in any loose ends.
  12. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  13. Bake pastry for 30-35 minutes or until golden.
  14. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.