Yearly Archives: 2010

Comida Nica

nicaragua1People often ask me what Nicaraguan food is like. My immediate response is usually “It’s not very pretty…” But I’ve changed my mind.  I got together with the very talented photographer Kristin Teig and came up with these images—Nica food cleans up nice!

From top left:

– Gallopinto (rice-and-beans), corn tortillas, and cheese on banana leaf background.

– Chicharrón con yuca—popular Nicaraguan street food served on banana leaf and eaten sans utensils: boiled yuca, pork cracklings, and vinegar-y cabbage slaw.

– Coca-Cola—in a bottle, and in a plastic baggie, as it is sometimes served (you can’t walk off with the bottles because they’ll be picked up and refilled at the Coca-Cola factory!).

– Hojuelas: fried discs of dough drenched in simple syrup.

– Mango “seleque” —we  add a generous pinch of coarse salt to tart mango.

It’s the Great Pumpkin


My sophomore year at Northwestern, my roommate Cindy and I lived in an off-campus apartment. Pies were a big thing at our place. I don’t remember why, but we frequently had pie. Pumpkin was a favorite. Anyway.

Thanksgiving is a few days off, but this year, instead of pumpkin pie (to hell with tradition!), I’m making pumpkin semifreddo. Semifreddo, if you’ve never experienced it, is like meringue and ice cream falling in love. I tested the recipe a few weeks ago to make sure it would taste—and look!—good. Approved!

Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2002

Very Important Notes:
This looks like a long recipe, but it’s fairly easy—plus, you can make it a couple of days before Thanksgiving!

Special equipment: You’ll need a candy thermometer to temp the sugar syrup. If you’re using a hand mixer to beat the whites, you may need a second person to help you pour in the hot syrup.

Caramel sauce isn’t complete without a splash of bourbon. I add 2 tablespoons, but, feel free to leave it out if you’re a teetotaler. You’ll need about 15 supermarket variety gingersnap cookies for the crust—I’ve added toasted pecans and salt for good measure. For the filling, I’ve made a few adjustments to the spice measurements.

For the Crust
1 cup gingersnap (or chocolate wafer) cookie crumbs
¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt

– Line a 9¼ x 5¼ x 3-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap.   To make the cookie crumbs, break the gingersnaps into pieces and pulse in a food processor until finely ground. Add the toasted pecans and salt and pulse once or twice to combine. With the processor running, pour the butter through the tube and process until the mixture is moist. Press the mixture onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of the prepared loaf pan. Place the loaf pan in the freezer.

For the Filling
¾ cup canned pure pumpkin
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1½ tablespoons light corn syrup
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped
½ cup English toffee bits

– In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, honey, and spices. Set the bowl aside.

– Stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the syrup boil 8 to 10 minutes or until it registers 248˚F on the candy thermometer.

– While the syrup boils, place the egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl (if you’re using a stand mixer/KitchenAid, use the whisk attachment). Beat the whites on medium speed with an electric mixer until they loosen, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Now you’re going to add the syrup—don’t be scared!—very carefully and slowly, start pouring the hot syrup in, with the machine still running. Beat the mixture until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch and the whites are thick and glossy, about 7 minutes.

-Add 1/3 of the meringue to the reserved pumpkin mixture and fold it in with a rubber spatula until it’s completely incorporated. Fold in the remaining mixture—this time you don’t want to over-mix; just fold the whites into the pumpkin, turn the bowl about 90˚, and repeat the folding action. Do this a few times until the mixture is just combined. Fold in the pecans and toffee bits and spread the mixture into the frozen gingersnap crust. Cover the semifreddo with plastic wrap and freeze at least 8 hours and up to 4 days.

Bourbon Caramel Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
½ cup whipping cream
½ stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bourbon

– Stir the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the syrup boil until it is a deep amber color, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream, butter, and sour cream. Return the pan to the heat and stir in the vanilla, bourbon, and salt. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, just until the sauce is smooth.  When ready to serve the semifreddo, heat the sauce a bit.

– To serve the semifreddo: Wipe the sides of the loaf pan with a towel dampened with hot water. Invert the semifreddo, then turn over and cut into slices. Serve with the warm caramel sauce.

It Burns

11-19-10-PostI love this picture. So soothing and festive. Do you want the recipe for this beautiful meringue? Well, too bad. Maybe some other time because this, my friend, an unapologetic rant. A non-soothing, utterly un-festive, Grinchy, grouchy, rage-filled rant.

I was looking for a portable electric burner today. In the past, when I’ve uttered the phrase “portable electric burner” at hardware or all-purpose stores like Home Depot, Target, Lowes, Sears, etc. I am met with strange facial contortions, puzzled silence, and the inevitable, “What do you want that for?” (P.S. Why do you care?)

Even though I’ve had trouble obtaining said portable burners in the past, I figured it was because I’d been shopping in New York City where the constrained real estate proportions of stores doesn’t allow for as much merchandise, as, say, Framingham, MA.

I was wrong. This is what I suffered through today.

***All conversations start with me sweetly saying, “Excuse me, sir, do you carry portable electric burners?”

Guy #1, Target: I approach him while passing the hair product aisle. He turns on his heel, takes a few steps, and turns down the first aid aisle. I’m thinking he’s looking for a colleague who might know where the burners are. Alas, he is looking for the burner in the first aid section. (OOHHHH! I just got it! I said “burner” and he thought, “Burner…Fire… Wounds… First Aid!”)
He says, “Hmm, I don’t think we have those.”
I reply, “Hmm, I think this is more of a small appliance or camping gear kind of thing.”

It is approximately 11:45am. My stomach is starting to rumble and I feel my blood sugar levels falling dangerously low. This means I only have 20 or so minutes before I begin to see spots and become speech-impaired. I zip over to Lowes.

Guy #2, Lowes:
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
Me: “Probably not, but what the heck. Do you have portable burners? You know… small, they have an electrical coil like the one on your stovetop, you plug it in, and you can cook on it?”
Guy #2: 15 seconds of silence.

Guy #3, Lowes: “Yeah! We have those! Just walk to that aisle over there and you’ll see a few different options.”

Me: Giddy! Finally, someone who knows what I’m talking about! WRONG. I’m staring at a wall of replacement coils for an electric stovetop. I guess they’re portable because they’re not connected to a stove???  Semantics.

Guy #4, Lowes: “Uhh, those are a fire hazard…What do you want them for anyway?”
Me: Glare.

Bon Appétit – Paris Food

Pain-au-chocolat_SacasaMaybe it was fall’s cinematic sunlight or the giddiness of waking up in Paris, but this was pain au chocolat perfection. A first bite left my lips slippery with melted butter and glossed with warm, bittersweet chocolate. No one was looking, so I allowed myself to lick my equally slicked and stained fingertips. Why thank you, but no, I don’t need a napkin! It was impossibly flaky—so much so that at least one third of it wound up wasted on the sidewalk.

cheeseA women I once met told me she thought cheese should be its own food group. I believe the French have already declared it so.

Candy-shopA candy shop in Île Saint-Louis. The Parisian version of me lives on that lovely island and comes into this shop to bathe in its sunset-gold light. The shopkeepers always hand me a cookie to nibble on while I fill a rustling paper bag with sweets. And as I pay, they offer me a chocolate-covered candied orange peel.

Candy-shop-2These cellophane-wrapped nougat squares reminded me of swanky marble tiles. Only better, because you can eat them. Hansel and Gretel’s evil witch must have had exactly these in her little house.

Reviewing-the-menuLunchtime in Paris. A woman peruses the menu, carefully, and with much thought. I like the beginnings of her smile. She must have read a menu item that made her mouth curve pleasantly upwards.

Lunch-at-Le-Comptoir_SacasaI’m not well-versed in the art of eating alone, but found that I was a quick study, a prodigy even, given the proper location. Pictured here, boudin blanc at Le Comptoir.

Raspberry-tartsRed is my favorite color.

breakfast-in-bedIt was quite sunny, but my friend Pauline and I drew the blue velvet shades and pretended it was dreary so we could have a proper breakfast in bed.



Ooh La La — Paris Streets


The plane lands. I gather the debris of a lengthy trip—books, magazines, scraps of paper, sweater, scarf—and haltingly make my way down the narrow aircraft hallway. “Au revoir!” and “à bientôt!” are cheerfully sprinkled on each descending passenger.

In a fog, I walk up to the bespectacled man at customs. He looks no-nonsense, but turns out to be chatty. I fumble with answers—after ten days of awkwardly searching for the right words in Italian and French, I have trouble answering in plain English. Outside, the sky is a furious, incandescent fuchsia and the wind, after eight hours of breathing a thick, hot vapor, is a sea urchin, all aggressive needles.  I feel far away. From what, I don’t know, seeing as here is home, here is familiar. Nonetheless, otherness. Days and days later, disorientation still lurks. It’s much darker in the morning than before I left. I can’t sleep, and night drags lazily on its belly towards the dawn.

Clign-7Paris, so often caught on film and between the black-and-white of text and page, is difficult for me to see clearly, without the word wreaths and golden halo. I walked the Jardin du Luxembourg, Trocadéro, Ile Saint-Louis, Notre Dame; all the big names and little dead-end streets, as if sleepwalking. The brisk fall air and blue tinged light dizzying, drugging, releasing dusty moths in between my lungs and sternum. Super-saturated Technicolor, the song had it right, this is life through rose-colored glasses.

Roses_Sacasa1A stroll through Paris.




old-lady1A visit to the Clignancourt, the flea market.







La Dolce Vita

The trip was sudden. My father called from Rome to say a friend, Aída, was planning a dinner to draw attention, and hopefully, investments, in Nicaragua. The dinner would take place at Ca’ del Bosco, a winery in the Franciacorta region of Lombardy. The chef planning the dinner was Michelin-starred  Vittorio Fusari, currently  owner of Dispensa Pani e Vini, a lovely, modern restaurant with glass-walled kitchen, where local, and often, neglected, ingredients are showcased. Aída asked if I would plan the menu with Vittorio—I balked, to say the least. “I’m not a chef,” I explained, but, she pressed and coaxed, and, a day or two later, I was packing my bags.

Padenghe  sul Garda, about a 2-hour drive from the Milan airports, is breathtaking. Lake Garda is encircled by the picturesque town, complete with terracotta-hued lakeside villas and cafés, bobbing sailboats, and snowcapped mountains in the distance. I could see the gently rolling waves from my bedroom, where I found a personalized chef’s jacket laid out on the bed.

The glint of  chef Vittorio’s Michelin stars kept me up that night. In the morning, I was driven to Torino, where Salone del Gusto was taking place. Vittorio, with an abundant mane of silver hair and matching beard, met me at the gates of Salone. We talked about traditional foods of Nicaragua, and within a few minutes, had outlined a  menu that would combine Italian and Nicaraguan ingredients and methods of preparation. Then, it was on to a tour of Salone—I must have eaten at least 5 kilos worth of regional cheeses, prosciuttos, breads, olives, and more cheeses. It was a dream version of a street fair. I love a street fair.

The day of the dinner, I went to Dispensa, with my father’s housekeeper, doña María del Carmen, in tow.  Chef Vittorio wanted to serve tortillas at the dinner, and doña María del Carmen came, mercifully, to help—about 200 tortillas needed to be shaped and cooked right before the dinner. At the restaurant, I was very graciously absorbed into the staff—all boys—and helped prep for the dinner. Halfway through the day, Vittorio sat me down for an incredible lunch. I’m not a food critic, but I can say that every bite tasted of the changing foliage, the earthy breeze, and the surrounding vineyards.

Later that afternoon we moved the operation to the Ca’ del Bosco kitchens and started readying for service. Among the appetizers were beef tartare polpettini dusted with pinol, a blend of ground toasted corn kernels, cacao, and spices normally used as a beverage base or as a coating for fried fish.  A first course of risotto with black beans paid homage to Nicaragua’s gallopinto while seared filet of beef was served with a delicately spiced cream sauce that also had pinol. It was inspiring to see how our humble pinol can be made to sing (expect to see a version of the recipe here soon). The hectic pace of plating course after course for 100+ guests was nerve-wracking, but I think I slipped into the groove easily and…dare I say it? Did I experience a tinge of nostalgia? Did I suddenly want to be a line cook?

In all, the visit was dreamy. My gracious hostess Aída plied me with local fare and fabulous sparkling wine, chef Vittorio and his staff welcomed me into his kitchen, and the Ca’ del Bosco folks Ivo and Alfonso let me roam around the vineyard and winery. Grazie mille a tutti!

A Slice of Heaven

I heart Nigella Lawson. The gusto and relish with which she eats are contagious—like laughter. The recipe that follows is an adaptation of “Lemon Meringue Cake” from Nigella’s Feast. I was looking through the book a few weekends ago while visiting family in D.C. and swooned when I saw the photo: a gold-tinged cloud of cake oozing bright yellow silk. The cake is baked and assembled in this manner: two cake pans get a layer of cake batter and a layer of French meringue spread on top. Once baked and cooled, lemon curd and whipped cream are sandwiched between the cake layers for a cake, custard, cream, and meringue miracle. Perfect for me, as I continue having my crush on all things whippy and white,but, also, what dreamier than a big, fluffy, sticky cake sandwich?

As you know, I recently posted a pastel de limón recipe and, wanting to avoid repetition and bore you, I settled on a filling of goat’s milk dulce de leche, toasted and chopped pecans, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Having no guests handy, the leftover cake would have to be refrigerated for a few days, so the whipped cream needed to be stabilized to avoid it becoming a sad, weeping mess. A bit of gelatin and cream cheese will keep this dessert fresh and pretty for about 3 days (probably longer, but you’ll surely have eaten the whole thing by then).

An announcement to Future Dinner Party Guests: this was so intensely, close-your-eyes-at-first-bite delicious that you will be seeing it more than once. However, I do intend to vary the fillings…Nutella and strawberries, dark chocolate ice cream and cherries, banana pudding and toffee, poached figs and custard, etc.

Originally published as Lemon Meringue Cake

Very Important Notes: You can replace the goat’s milk dulce de leche with regular dulce de leche or fillings of your choice—see some of my suggestions above.
– Gelatin needs to be dissolved in warm water, but if you add warm water to your chilled whipped cream, you’ll defeat the purpose of the chilled cream, no? Be sure to cool the gelatin to room temperature, and don’t be tempted to pop it in the refrigerator or freezer because it’ll turn boing-y and won’t mix into your cream, capisce?

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, for greasing the cake pans
4 large eggs, separated
1½ cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
½ goat’s milk dulce de leche
½ cup toasted and chopped pecans
½ teaspoon Maldon salt

– Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line and grease the bottoms of 2 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and 1 tablespoon butter.

– Place the egg yolks, ½ cup of the sugar, butter, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and lemon zest in food processor and pulse until combined. Add the lemon juice and milk and process once again until combined.

– Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans. It is a skimpy amount of batter, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Simply spread as evenly as possible with a rubber spatula.

– Place the egg whites and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat the whites on medium speed with an electric mixer until they loosen, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the remaining 1 cup sugar and continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add ½ teaspoon of the vanilla and whisk just until incorporated, about 15 seconds more. Dived the stiff, glossy whites between the 2 pans, spreading straight on top of the batter layer. Leave 1 smooth, then, peak the second one.

– Bake 10 to 20 minutes until the meringue tops are golden and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted. Transfer the cake pans to a cooling rack and cool completely, about 1 hour. While the cake is cooling, chill a (metal) mixing bowl and whisk so they’re ready for making the whipped cream. Carefully unmold the flat-topped cake onto a cake stand or plate, meringue-side down.

– Combine the gelatin and water in a small bowl. Microwave until the gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds. Cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Place the cream cheese, ¼ cup of the confectioners’ sugar, remaining ½ teaspoon vanilla, and dissolved gelatin in the chilled bowl and whisk on medium speed until whippy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream and whisk just until thickened, about 2 minutes.

– Drizzle the dulce de leche evenly over the inverted cake and top with pecans and salt. Spread the whipped cream on top, to the edges. Carefully invert the second cake onto the palm of your hand, then, gently turn over so the meringue is facing up, and place it on top of the whipped cream. Sift the remaining ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Cracked Up

I need Botox. My dermatologist thought I was bonkers when I inquired into the procedure that would render me smooth as silk, but, given the fact that I am called “ma’am” by shopkeepers, young and old, and the Save the Children gang that patrols my stretch of Mass. Ave., I’d say I am ready for it.

I read an article in The New Yorker recently about a man who prescribes laughing for well-being. There are clubs of laughers scattered across the globe. Members gather together and laugh, at first with effort until it infects and overwhelms them. I don’t remember the exact physical rewards said exercise bestows, but the notion that a daily fit of laughter reinvigorates and rejuvenates has fixed itself in my mind.  I think I have a pretty good sense of humor. But maybe it’s a dark humor? Maybe laughs induced by less than good-natured thoughts are actually robbing me of my youth? Did a Grimm write about this? Aesop?

Aside from my theory that smirks and inside jokes between me and myself are causing premature wrinkles is the knowledge that I do furrow my brow much too much. Surprised, the horizontal rows appear, like rows of freshly plowed spring soil. Confused, the left brow swoops down, a ladle dipping into the delicate skin that’s formed on a creamy soup. Concentrated, two deep canals form above the bridge of my nose. Once relaxed, they turn into the cracked bottom of a dried out creek bed.

Even now as I’m typing and thinking that I shouldn’t work my forehead, the brows draw together like two magnets.

The one good thing about such depth of expression is that someone about to be attacked has at least a fraction of second to know that he’s about to get it. Take for instance the dude at Whole Foods who decapitated the bunch of carrots photographed above. After two days of tireless shopping for carrots with their feathery green tops still intact, I find them. By this point in my journey, I am tired. The muscles of my face are exhausted after spending many hours squinting at produce for perfect specimens. These carrots are a prize. I’m about to start bagging when the cashier distracts me. I don’t know the answer to his question. I rummage around my head for an answer, at the same time rummaging around my bag for my wallet. And then, a snap so sharp it crackles and cuts across the air like a bolt of furious lightning. I turn, unable to speak, but from the bagger’s petrified stance, I know he knows he’s made a big mistake. The necks of the carrots have been snapped, mercilessly murdered. I think I hear a whimper.

Some people resemble their dogs or their partners. Maybe I’m meant to resemble food…Raisins? Peach pits? Earthquake cookies?

When Life Gives You Limes

I found a recipe for a “Key lime meringue tart” in a recent issue of Bon Appétit. The photo was gorgeous and the title sounded swank and modern. I’d been craving something citrus-y and custard-y and am crushing on meringues (despite years of gagging at the very sight of them)—it was fate. But, as I stared longingly at the picture and read the title over I recognized something I knew very well—I grew up on “Key lime meringue tart,” knowing it as “pastel de limón,” which technically translates into lemon pie. No swagger or bragging…Our recipe wasn’t ahead of the curve or attempting to reinvent the classic. The fact is, there are no lemons in Nicaragua, just limes and tiny little Key limes known as “limones criollos.”

Though I remember my pastel de limón warmly, it had a few pitfalls. The crust could be soggy, the filling like unnaturally colored Jell-O pudding. If I remember correctly, the filling was more like pudding than curd—milk and cornstarch-based. The recipe I made is a Frankensteined mess of a pie crust I always use, a lime curd that borrows from the Bon Ap, recipe and a Cook’s Country lemon squares recipe. I loved it—you’ll love it. I liked it so much that I made for a dinner party and didn’t even offer my guests an extra piece to take home. Rude little pig. Tsk, tsk.


For the Crust (for an 8-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom)
200 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup + 6 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
Ice water

– Combine the flour, sugar, and salt on a clean, dry work surface. With a bench scraper, cut in the butter in until it resembles wet sand. Alternatively, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and add the butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand.

– Form a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg plus 1 tablespoon ice water. If using a food processor, add the egg and water and pulse just until the mixture comes together. If the mixture appears very dry and crumbly, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the mixture is cohesive but not overly wet.

– Bring the dough together with your hands. Pinch off pieces of dough (about 2-inch pieces) and with heel of hand extend on surface. This method, called fraisage, ensures that the butter is evenly distributed in the dough. Shape the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

– On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 10 inches in diameter. Gently transfer the dough to the tart pan.  Press the dough into the pan, making sure to fill the ridges. Use kitchen shears or a paring knife to trim off any excess overhang and lightly dock all over with a fork.  Transfer the lined shell to refrigerator and chill 30 minutes, then, freeze for 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

– Line the frozen shell with foil or parchment paper (this is not wax paper!) and fill it completely with pie weights or dry beans. Bake until the dough looks opaque, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

– Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F.

For the Curd
Pulsing the sugar and the zests adds an extra—well, zest! to the custard. I won’t judge you if you opt to ignore the step, though. Prepare the curd while the tart shell bakes. Save the egg whites for the meringue.

4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/3 cup lime juice
¼ cup lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream

-Process the sugar, lime and lemon zests in a food processor until zests are thoroughly broken down.

-Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt together in a medium saucepan. Add the lime and lemon zests, lime and lemon juices and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and the consistency of pudding, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain the curd into a medium bowl. Add the butter and cream and stir until completely incorporated.

-Pour the filling into the blind-baked crust and bake about 15 minutes until set. Transfer tart to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer to refrigerator and chill completely, at least 2 hours.

For the Meringue
If using a stand mixer, use the whisk attachment.
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– Place the whites and salt in a clean, dry mixing bowl. Beat the whites on medium speed with an electric mixer until they loosen. Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add the sugar and powdered sugar and continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the vanilla and whisk to incorporate.

-Top the chilled tart and bake at 450˚F until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve.

Red Rum!


For a recent cooking class, my tutee wanted to make rum cake. I don’t have rum cake in my repertoire, and although there are several fortified Nicaraguan desserts and rum is like mother’s milk to the populace, I couldn’t find one in the infamous Nica Joy of Cooking, Doña Angélica. My mom suggested I use our household orange bundt as a base and replace some of the milk with rum. A sensible suggestion, but I Googled “rum cake” anyway. Boxed yellow cake + rum. Not quite the avenue I’d planned on taking.

But then, an actual recipe claiming to be some well-known rum company’s original TOP SECRET recipe…

I like secrets! And I also like that this recipe had 3 sticks of butter plus 1 cup of heavy cream.

I added a few spices to the recipe and, deciding that ¾ cup rum in the cake was stingy (mother’s milk, remember?), made a buttery-burnt sugar-orange-rum glaze. This cake is incredibly moist and stays that way for about a week.  Love it. Love it. Love it.


I recommend a 7 or 12-year-old Flor de Caña (Nicaraguan rum) for this cake. If you can’t get Flor, substitute with dark rum of your liking. For an extra burst of orange flavor, process the sugar and orange zest in a food processor for about 1 minute.

Prepare the glaze while the cake is in the oven. It’s best to use a stainless steel saucepan for this recipe—a dark pan will make it difficult to determine the caramel’s color and progress. Avoid a shallow pan as there will be sputtering.

¡Atención! The base of this glaze is caramel, just like the one  on flan.  Please be careful when working with hot sugar—it’s like liquid napalm and you should never be tempted to stick your finger in the pot to have a taste. Unless you’re looking to erase the friction ridges on your fingertips.

For the Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup dark rum
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk

– Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350˚F. Butter and flour (or spray with Pam for Baking) a Bundt pan.

– Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt; set aside. Combine the cream and rum in a liquid measuring cup; set aside.

– With an electric mixer (use the paddle attachment if using standing mixer) on medium speed, beat the butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and beat until fully incorporated. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the cream-rum mixture, stopping once or twice to scrape the sides and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix until smooth, about 1 minute.

– Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.

For the Buttered Rum Glaze
½ cup dark rum
½ cup orange juice (use the zested orange from the cake recipe)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt

– Combine the rum and orange juice in a liquid measuring cup; set aside.

– Place the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed, stainless steel, medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, gently swirling the saucepan from time to time, until the sugar turns deep amber and begins to smoke, 10 to 12 minutes.

– Immediately remove the saucepan from heat, and slowly and carefully pour in the rum-orange juice mixture. The mixture will sputter quite violently—don’t move the saucepan or stir the mixture. Once the sputtering has subsided, return the saucepan to medium heat, and with a heat-proof rubber spatula, stir until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in the butter and salt. Reserve ½ cup of the glaze.

– Once the cake is out of the oven, poke it all over with a metal or wooden skewer. Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and allow it to sit in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.  Brush the cake with the reserved glaze and cool completely before serving.