Buckle Up!

If you are looking for a fast, homey dessert, look no further.  Depending on where you are from, this could have different names, but for me it is reminiscent of a buckle, where a light batter rises around the edges of fruit as it bakes.Pear Buckle cut

In this case a very quick batter is poured into a hot dish or pan and fruit is dropped into it.  Once in a hot oven, it swells up, wraps around, and becomes one with the fruit in a moist cakey confection.

All sorts of fruit will work, from pears to berries. Since this happens very fast, before beginning be sure to have the oven preheating and all ingredients in place. Pop the dish into the oven before sitting down to eat, and enjoy it piping hot when finished. Or, make it earlier, and serve it warm it when you are ready.Pear Buckle cream

Spoon it into waiting bowls and top with your favorite ice cream.

Pear Buckle


1 heaping Tbsp. butter
2 pears, cored, seeded, peeled, cut into chunks; or 2-1/2 cups any other available fruit or berries
½ lemon: 1 tsp grated lemon rind, juice if necessary
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
½ tsp almond or vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Place butter in 6”x8” baking dish or pan (up to 8”x8”) and set in the oven to melt the butter. Cut up the fruit and toss with the grated lemon rind, if the fruit is dry or likely to turn brown, toss with lemon juice to moisten.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, measure flour, 6 Tbsp. sugar, baking powder and salt and lightly whisk to distribute.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg, add the milk and vanilla and combine well.
  3. Lightly whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, just to combine.  Pour the batter into the hot dish with the melted butter, but do not stir.  Spread the fresh fruit evenly on top and sprinkle with the remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar.  Bake 35-40 minutes, until bubbly and the top is golden brown.  Serve warm with ice cream.  Serves 4-6.

Raspberry Curd for Santa Baby

‘Twas the night before Christmas and what should appear

But Raspberry Curd in a glass ever clear.

A quick pause for Santa all loaded with gear,

While a mouse in the corner did hear him recite

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!”

Snack for Santa

Just in time for Santa! A Raspberry Curd with perfumed brightness that will add a punch of color and flavor to any holiday table.  In lieu of fresh berries, we use individually quick frozen raspberries, easily accessible in the frozen food section of most grocery stores.

In about ten minutes, a luscious curd is created by suspending raspberry essence into an egg-based cream and gently cooked while butter is whisked in until thick and voluptuous. Cornstarch also ensures perky firmness for filling tarts and cakes.

Raspberry curd is the basis of many exquisite specialty desserts.  With little effort you will have a handcrafted gourmet accompaniment for anything chocolate, pound cake, fresh pears, ice cream, and other delights.  Fill individual shells, cookie squares, a chocolate tart crust, or layer a cake with the curd.  Create a fast parfait or mousse by folding the raspberry curd into sweetened whipped cream. Treat it as you would any exotic jam or jelly.

Raspberry Curd

This is a quick and easy curd if all ingredients are prepped and ready to go.  

2 ½ cups fresh or 12-oz frozen raspberries, thawed
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest, grated
½ c cold butter, cut in ½” cubes

  1. In a blender or food processor, puree the raspberries with cornstarch and press through a medium sieve into a 1-quart non-reactive saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the puree thickens, remove from heat.
  2. Rinse blender and pat dry; add the eggs, sugar and lemon zest; blend until light, about 1 minute.
  3. With motor running on low, slowly pour in 2/3 cup warm puree and blend to distribute evenly.
  4. Rinse the pan, pat dry, and pour in the egg-berry blend. Over medium to medium-high heat slowly whisk a piece of butter in at a time. Continue whisking and cooking until mixture approaches a boil; steam will begin to rise and the curd will thicken (about 8 minutes). Do not boil.
  5. Pour through a clean, dry sieve and cover the surface lightly with plastic wrap to avoid a film from forming. When cool store in refrigerator for two weeks. Yield: 2 cups.


Rabbit Hole Rewards

It always mystifies me how recipes evolve.  It’s like falling into a rabbit hole and not wanting to come out.  Of course, with a blog named Culinary Distractions, that is not a big reveal.

If you happen to read the previous post, you’ll know this one is inevitable. The major reason for the dulce de leche preparation was to have a supply available to test this idea.  Before that, it all started because I had too much buttermilk.

Old-fashioned tapioca made with toasty sweet dulce de leche seemed a perfect match with the creamy tartness of buttermilk.  But I was wary of buttermilk in tapioca pudding.  The pudding must simmer in order to cook the pearls and thicken it, and the heat could cause the buttermilk to separate in the process.tapoica cooking

When I realized I could use less buttermilk and simply add it once the pudding had thickened, the idea finally came together.  Tapioca is fine without the addition of egg, but even a little makes a difference, even one yolk.  Cooking the egg yolk too long is also problematic, but incorporating the yolk once the tapioca thickens would add just enough egginess to do the job and lend a thick creamy mouth feel.  After that, the buttermilk could be heated to blend flavors, but not boiled.

tapioca spoonSo here it is, I’m out of the rabbit hole, back in the sunlight enjoying the rewards of a lovely discovery.taapioca partial glass

Dulce de Leche Buttermilk Tapioca

Old fashioned tapioca gives pearly thick results blended with the sweet-tart combination of dulce de leche and buttermilk.

1/3 cup pearl tapioca
2 ½ cups milk
1/2 cup dulce de leche, depending on preferred sweetness
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Soak the tapioca in 1 cup milk for 1 hour.
  2. In a heavy medium pot over medium-high heat, combine the tapioca mixture, dulce de leche, the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, and salt.  Whisk to incorporate the dulce de leche and bring mixture to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture thickens, pearls swell and become translucent, 10 to 12 minutes; whisk frequently to keep the bottom from sticking and scorching.
  3. Temper the egg yolk by mixing a bit of the hot mixture into it and adding it back into the pot.  Continue whisking, about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk and cook until it returns to a simmer, approximately 1 minute longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
    Cover the surface with plastic wrap and let cool.  Serve warm, room temperature or chilled.  It will thicken substantially as it cools.  Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.  Serves 6

As a pudding, sprinkle with fresh grated nutmeg.  Thin it and use it as a warm sauce over fresh fruit or cake.

Reason to Celebrate

We have a real glut of apples happening at my local market―a most certain nod that the winds of fall are fast approaching. Meanwhile, leaves begin to display golden shades and shadows stretch longer in the afternoon sun, it’s as if nature is taking one long breath.  I have mixed feelings about this change of seasons:  I’m both sad that summer is all but gone, yet excited for the approaching harvest.

Living closer to the land again, I’m regaining my awareness and connection with the natural life cycle. Peaches and nectarines replace summer berries now, while apple varieties like Jonathon, honey crisp, gala, and Fuji steadily gain prominence.  Absolutely nothing compares to eating produce at its peak. Freshly picked for consumption means it hasn’t been sitting in a cooler for months making its way to my grocery store.

Fuji apples
Fuji apples

I recently bought a few early Fuji apples to make a nice dessert for friends, and my favorite French Apple Torte came to mind.  I have been making it for so long that I have lost the original documentation. There’s nothing terribly unique about it―your normal baking staples and a few sweet, crisp apples wrapped in a moist custard-like batter. Just know that it is all about the apples.

The batter only requires a few stirs with a whisk or large spoon. The apples are added and it is unceremoniously dumped into a baking dish.  While in the oven, a simple topping is quickly put together and poured over the semi-baked torte. It continues to bake until fully set and the edges of the apples caramelize.Apple Torte

This little beauty hits all the right notes.  It’s bursting with bright nuances from fresh sweet apples and further enhanced by the rich egginess of the crazy-custard-like batter that binds it all together. The caramel topping’s buttery sweetness and texture becomes the perfect counterpoint to the clean apple flavors.

Apple Torte Slice (1)Elegant in taste and appearance, it is a dessert suitable for just about any occasion.  Consider it as the finish to a special dinner, an impromptu treat for drop-in company, or perhaps the best reason of all, to celebrate the apple harvest.  Do enjoy it warm from the oven with ice cream or a custard sauce.

French Apple Torte

1/2     cup all-purpose flour
1/3     cup sugar
1        Tbsp baking powder
1/8     tsp salt
1/2     tsp vanilla extract
2        eggs, lightly beaten
2        Tbsp olive oil
1/3     cup milk
4        baking apples such Braeburn, Rome, Fuji, etc, peel, core, thick slices (about 2 pounds)
3      Tbsp butter, melted
1/3   cup sugar
1       egg, lightly beaten

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9″ springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside.
  2. In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.
  3. In small bowl combine vanilla through milk and blend well.  Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended.  Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter.  Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl.  Stir to blend, and set aside.
  5. Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it.  Return to the oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove to rack and cool from 10 minutes.  Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or custard sauce.  Serves 6 to 8.

Vehicle of Convenience: Custard Sauce

An old friend used to call ratty old cars that didn’t look like much, but ran well—vehicles of convenience.  I’m not sure that my favorite custard sauce falls exactly into the old-beater-category, but it is pretty unremarkable to look at.  And it certainly has rescued me on more than one occasion.

In some circles this sauce could be considered a Crème Anglaise, and we have already covered its wonders back in September with Floating Islands and Eggs in Snow.  Today’s custard sauce is the trimmed down version:  instead of 4 egg yolks, we use only 1 egg—just enough to supply that eggy flavor we crave.  For additional body we include a bit of cornstarch, much like Britain’s well-loved Bird’s Custard Powder. The cornstarch not only helps to thicken the sauce, it also improves its holding power, making it far more stable and less fickle than the usual egg-based custard sauce.

Not only is this convenient sauce delicious and fast; it is extremely versatile and especially handy when time and resources are limited. It can be made in an easy 10 minutes and will hold for two days in refrigerator.  Serve it hot, warm or chilled over pound cake, fresh or baked fruit; flavor it to suit the occasion:  add citrus, almond or other extract, a jigger of brandy or a favorite liqueur.  Yes, I’ve even served it on hot oatmeal…Blackberries, cooky, custard sauce

Today at the market I picked up a slim basket of tempting blackberries (no, they weren’t local; but I tell self that in Texas they rarely are anyway).  Later I whipped up a quick convenient sauce to honor the berries.  I briefly marinated them in a bit of sugar plus a dash of balsamic vinegar.

blackberries with custard sauce


At dessert they were liberally doused in plenty of the silky, thick custard sauce.  What a glorious sight:  blackberries floating amidst a burnished brown marinade and creamy custard sauce—a stunning marbleized swirl in the glass.

Custard Sauce

1 large egg, room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp genuine vanilla extract
1-1/2 cup milk, divided


  1. In a medium bowl whisk the egg and sugar together until light and sugar is incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Place cornstarch in a small bowl, stir in 2 Tbsp of the milk, and mix until smooth. Whisk the slurry into the egg mixture and beat until well combined, about 1 minute.
  3. In a small pan over medium-low setting, heat the milk until bubbles form on edges and steam is rising from the surface, but not boiling.
  4. Whisk about ½ cup of the scalded milk slowly into the egg mixture to temper the eggs. Pour the egg and milk mixture into the pan, whisking into the remaining hot milk.  Return the pan to low heat, stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes—the temperature will reach 170 degrees, but not boiling.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
  5. Strain the sauce through a fine whisk and let cool.  Cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid surface film from forming.  Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.   Serves: 3 – 4

Crazy about Canelés

For anyone fond of custard creations like crème brûlée or flan, you are hereby forewarned about canelés.  On first glance, they don’t look like much.  Not known for perfect shape or artful finish, the crisp little cakes may appear more like pâtisserie rejects—some malformed, with exteriors ranging from extremely dark to downright burnt.

Cute as a bug's ear
Cute as a bug’s ear

But, if there is heaven in a bite, this would surely be it.  Beware:  it takes only one to set off a profound physical and/or spiritual reaction.  It may also make your eyes bug out and simultaneously cause you to swoon.

Canelés are not new; they have been around France for centuries—and could be one of their better kept secrets.  These charmers have a fascinating pedigree.  Hailing from the Bordeaux region, the crepe-like batter was originally baked in tin-lined copper molds, brushed with bees wax.  Turns out the bees wax provides a natural non-stick coating, along with a lovely hint of honey flavoring.

It was discovered that baking them in a very hot oven caramelizes the exteriors to resemble something like the tops of crème brûlée.  Meanwhile, their interiors develop an enchanting cake-like custard filling.  It is this contrast in textures and flavors that yields a package in a class of its own.  Without competition.Caneles

canele moldOnce on the canelé trail, I was thrilled to discover that there are alternatives to the horrifically expensive copper molds.  Silicone molds are also available; they are affordable, easy to work with and provide surprisingly good results.  As far as baking with beeswax, that is still to come; I buckled and added a bit of honey to my batter as a tasty alternative. Food grade quality beeswax is available on line at a number of websites.

Canelés are delicious anytime (from personal experience).  Of course, the French enjoy canelés with a nice glass of wine, but they are equally delicious with coffee, at breakfast, a mid-day sweet, as a fine dessert, or, you name it…



2 cups milk
2 Tbsp butter, plus 1 Tbsp butter for molds
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup less 2 Tbsp sugar (variation: ½ cup sugar + 1/3 cup honey. Add honey to milk to equal 2 cups)
¼ tsp salt
3 eggs, room temperature

Special tools:  Small canelé baking molds


  1. Scald the milk and butter until bubbles form on edge of pan (183 degrees), remove from heat and add the vanilla. Cool to warm.
  2. In medium bowl sift the flour, sugar and salt together and make a well in the center. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and pour them into the center of the flour.  Add the milk mixture and stir with a spatula to incorporate the wet with the dry. To remove lumps, pour mixture thru a sieve into a holding container.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, preferably 48 hours, and up to 3 days.
  3. The day of baking, brush silicone molds with butter. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
  4. Gently stir the cold batter to re-combine; it will have separated. Place the molds on a wire rack over a baking sheet and fill the molds with batter about ¾ full.  (Return batter to refrigerator.)
  5. Set molds on rack over baking sheet in oven, close door and reduce heat to 425 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. If browning unevenly, reverse the molds.  Close the door and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Bake for an additional 45 to 60 minutes, until very dark brown, almost burnt.  Continue to reverse the molds every 20-30 minutes.
  6. Let canelés cool in their molds (about 10 minutes) on wire rack — this will help them firm up and avoid collapse.  Remove from molds, place canelés on their sides on cooling rack; they will become crisp and more stable as they cool.  Wipe out molds with toweling to remove any baking debris and repeat; it is not necessary to brush the molds with butter for 2nd  Yield:  about 36 canelés.

Canelés are best eaten the same day.  To freshen, reheat in 450 degree oven 5-10 minutes.

Dessert Not Easily Forgotten

Even the names are enchanting: œufs à la neige (eggs in snow) and ȋle flottante (floating island). Picture pristinely shaped ovals nested in snowy cream, or billowy meringues adrift in a sea of custard. Pure fantasy.Ala Neige in glass

Although the French names suggest culinary ownership many countries claim their own unique versions. For the most part they are all about tender clouds of sweetened egg whites briefly poached and combined in some fashion with custard of eggs, milk and sugar.

For years I was captivated by the name and wanted to give Eggs in Snow a try, but only paused, blinked, and moved on. It seemed daunting; a lot of work for something that appeared simplistic and inconsequentially light.

But I was wrong. This is a complex dessert with both great style and whimsy; a sweet with such wide appeal that it would play equally well to adults and children as well as the healthy and the infirm.

Perhaps I have had a major culinary shift. These days I am in awe of all the well-constructed basics that incorporate eggs: i.e., meringues and custards. In this case, I was pleased to combine two of my favorite things and carry it a step further.

a la neige poaching


I was fascinated by the process of poaching meringues in simmering liquid. I watched as the beaten egg whites swelled into moist, firm puffs of air; the most perfect ‘marshmallow fluff’ imaginable.




a la neige custard


Of course, anything that includes custard has long been a friend of mine. In this case, crème Anglaise thriftily transforms the residual yolks into a thin, regal custard—the sea upon which the islands of meringue rest.




Ah, those lovely Floating Islands. I spooned the custard sauce into individual glasses and perched a couple of the meringue clouds atop. For contrast, I sprinkled on a few crunchy candied almonds. You would not think one of these elegant beauties would be enough—so light and ethereal, yet I was amazed and completely satisfied.

a la neige dosAs with some île flottantes, perhaps the addition a cookie or bit of cake is in order. It’s your call. Whatever you call it, it is not a dessert easily forgotten.

Eggs in Snow and Floating Islands


4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Pinch salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Poaching Liquid
2 cups milk, water or a combination of both
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

Crème Anglaise Custard
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Garnish: ½ cup candied almonds, raspberries or other fresh fruit

Prepare the Poaching Liquid
In a wide pot over medium high, heat milk and sugar to dissolve the sugar. Keep warm while preparing the meringue.
For the Meringue
1. With electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy and add the cream of tartar. Continue beating the whites until a firm foam forms. Add the salt and then very slowly add in the sugar, beating until whites are glossy and thick with soft peaks. Add the vanilla and beat until stiff peaks begin to form.
To Poach the Meringues
1. Using 2 serving spoons shape the meringues into attractive ovals and gently lower the spoonfuls into the simmering milk.
2. Poach the meringues about 2 minutes per side; turn when set and cook on the other side. Remove with slotted spoon and set on toweling to drain; and repeat.
For the Crème Anglaise
1. Strain the poaching liquid and add enough milk to equal 2 cups. Heat the milk in a small pot until it is hot but not boiling.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, with a hand held mixer, beat the egg yolks until frothy and slowly whisk in the sugar; continue beating until it is thick and light in color. Slowly stir in about 2/3 cup of the hot milk to temper.
3. Lightly whisk the custard back into the pot of warm milk. Over low heat stir constantly until it is hot and coats the back of a spoon and when a line drawn through it does not run. It should reach about 170 degrees: a few bubbles may appear along edges but it does not boil. Add the vanilla and strain into a clean bowl to cool. If refrigerating, cover the surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on surface.

To Assemble: Spoon the custard into a low serving bowl, individual wide bowls or serving glasses; float the poached meringues on top and sprinkle with candied nuts or fresh fruit. Serves 4.