Global Warning

‘Tis the season to sample delectable holiday desserts from France, Italey, Puerto Rico and the Middle East. A little Buche de Noel or Panforte di Siena never hurt anyone.

Think Globally, Eat Locally.


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We hear this mantra often these days. And what better time to embrace this spirit than

during the holiday season, when there are as many festive international desserts to choose from as there are countries to inspire you. • Even if you aren’t ready to trade in your Mom’s red-and-green-crystal-dusted reindeer cookies, consider spicing up your celebrations with a traditional sweet from the other side of the globe. • To that end, we convinced some of the Valley’s hottest chefs to share their international holiday recipes. But should you decide to forgo baking chez vous, we’ve also tipped you off to the bakeries and restaurants where you can indulge in these goodies without getting flour all over your kitchen. • Because after all, dessert is one of the highlights of the holidays — no matter where you come from.


Get Figgy With It!

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Most of us know the old English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But how many of us have wondered why, in the second and third verses, the carolers demand a Figgy Pudding? (In fact, they even threaten not to leave until they get some!) What’s all the fuss about?

Unlike what we here in the U.S. think of as pudding (usually something akin to the beloved Jell-o instant variety), traditional English puddings are more cake-like and stuffed with dried fruits and spices. Christmas puddings, a holiday staple in Britain since the mid-1800s, are traditionally made on Stir-Up Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, which falls in late November. This allows the flavors to develop before the pudding bursts onto the Christmas dinner table (sometimes in flames) in all its glory. 

When making Figgy Pudding, tradition dictates that every family member take a turn stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon from east to west, in deference to the route the Three Kings traveled. In addition, a coin is usually added to the mixture before it is baked. If you’re the lucky Brit who finds it, you’re assured of health, wealth, and happiness throughout the year.

But finding Figgy Pudding here in the Valley is no small feat. In fact, we admit defeat. Even Clinton Corners Cafe and Tea Shoppe in Dutchess County — the spot for all things British — doesn’t sell it (although they do carry several other English Christmas puddings). So, dear readers… please let us know if you have the inside track on where to purchase this elusive sweet.  

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Luckily Dieter Schorner, professor in Baking and Pastry Arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, shares his recipe.


Figgy Pudding

Serves 6 to 8 • Special equipment: Pudding mold or molds and a steamer large enough to hold the molds


• 11⁄2 cups raisins •  3⁄4 cup candied orange peel

• 2 apples, peeled, cored, sliced and chopped

• 1 cup moist figs, smashed* •  1⁄4 cup brandy, whiskey or sherry • 5 eggs • 1 cup brown sugar • 1 cup vegetable oil or melted butter • 1 teaspoon ground allspice •  1⁄4 teaspoon salt •  1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

• 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon • 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted • 1 teaspoon lemon zest •  3⁄4 cup finely chopped white blanched almonds •  1⁄2 cup whole-

wheat flour


*If you cannot find fresh figs, you may use dried ones if you soak them in hot milk for two hours. Once they are soft, make sure you drain them well.

1. Soak fruit in brandy, whiskey, or sherry and let stand for one day

2. Butter molds and line them with plastic wrap, leaving enough overhanging wrap to cover the top of the pudding.

3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together. Add oil or melted butter and the remaining ingredients. Blend well. Don’t forget to make a wish while blending!

4. Fill the prepared molds, cover with wrap, and place them in the steamer basket. Steam until firm, approximately 21⁄2 to 3 hours for a large mold and 11⁄2 to 13⁄4 hours for small individual molds

5. Pudding may be stored for one month in the refrigerator. Reheat by steaming for about 11⁄4 hour for a large mold or 15 to 20 minutes for small molds

6. Serve with whipped cream.




Yield: 14 to 16 doughnuts


• 2 packages active dry yeast • 3 eggs, separated • 1 teaspoon salt • 1⁄2 cup of milk or liquid non-dairy creamer • 1⁄2 cup of melted butter or margarine • 1 cup granulated sugar • 3 3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour • 1⁄3 cup of jelly • 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla (optional) • Vegetable oil for frying • Confectioners’ sugar


1. Using a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water and stir in 1⁄3 cup granulated sugar and a teaspoon of salt.

2. Blend in the milk, butter and egg yolks and 2 cups of flour. Beat in the rest of the flour until it forms a soft, smooth dough

3. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let rise for about an hour and a half or until it has doubled in size. Punch the dough down and knead it about 12 times until it is smooth and elastic 

4.  Roll out the dough with a flowered rolling pin until it is about 1⁄4″ thick.  Use a biscuit cutter or drinking glass to cut the dough into circles about 21⁄2 or 3 inches in diameter 

5. Divide the circles in half; drop one teaspoonful of jelly into the center of one half of them 

6.  Brush the edges of the dough circles with egg white, then lay another dough circle on top 

7.  Pinch the edges together to seal them

8.  Place the filled circles on a lightly floured cookie sheet and cover with a dish towel. Leave to rise for about an hour, or until the circles have doubled in size 

9. Pour vegetable oil into a fying pan until it comes about 2 inches up the sides; heat over medium flame until it reaches 370° F. Carefully lift a few of the uncooked doughnuts with a spatula and gently drop them, top side down, into the hot oil. Let them fry for 3 to 5 minutes until uniformly golden brown. Turn them as necessary to cook evenly 

10. With a slotted spoon, remove the doughnuts from the oil and place them on paper towels to dry. Repeat steps 8 and 9 as necessary until all doughnuts are done. Watch that the oil temperature doesn’t drop below 350° F.

11. Dust the Sufganiyah with confectioners’ sugar and serve!



A Miraculous Doughnut


Who doesn’t like doughnuts? Whether eating Malasadas from the Hawaiian Islands, Pfannkuchen from Germany, Zeppoles from Italy or Puczki from Poland, these fried treats have universal appeal. But in Israel, jelly doughnuts — called Sufganiyah — are a traditional Hanukkah treat. Like doughnuts the world over, Sufganiyah are cooked in oil. This fact is significant, since Hanukkah celebrations commemorate the “Miracle of the Oil.” According to the Talmud, at the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.

In 1997, a group of Israelis attempted to set a world record by erecting a 12-foot structure made entirely of 64,000 Sufganiyah doughnuts. Although the oily monolith never made it into the record book, it’s a sure bet the workers didn’t go hungry.


Middle Eastern Magic


As a young boy, Serge Madikians, chef-owner of Serevan Restaurant in Amenia, adored a classic Iranian dessert called Yakh-dar-behesht, which literally means “Ice in Heaven.” This sophisticated dessert — a custard made from milk and rice flour, flavored with rosewater, and garnished with pistachios — traces its roots back to ancient Persian cuisine. Each New Year’s Eve, his mother would prepare it for the entire family — Armenians of Ukrainian heritage living in Iran. Today, Chef Madikians prepares a panna cotta at the restaurant, “which I hope not only reflects the flavors of Yakh-dar-behesht, but maybe will also evoke the pleasures of enjoying these wonderful flavors, combined in a sensual and exotic fashion.”

Here’s the recipe:


Panna Cotta


Yield: 6 servings

2 sheets of gelatin  • 21⁄4 cups heavy cream • 1⁄2 cup whole milk • 2⁄3 cup sugar • 2 tablespoons rosewater  • Zest of  1⁄4 orange


1. In a small bowl, cover the gelatin sheets with cold water and allow to soften .

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, gently heat the heavy cream, milk, sugar and orange zest.  Stir to make sure all the sugar is melted. Allow to steep for five minutes or so 

3. While the mixture is still warm, remove the softened gelatin from the water, squeeze off all the water and add to the warm heavy cream and sugar mixture.  Stir well to make sure all the gelatin is melted and incorporated into the mixture.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and divide it between six 4-ounce containers  

4. Chill for at least three hours 

5. The panna cotta is best enjoyed on  the day it is made, but it will keep for a day in the fridge.


Le Grand Gâteau


The origin of the French classic Bûche de Noël, literally translated as “yule log,” can be traced back to a pagan tradition celebrating the winter solstice. On this shortest day of the year, a large log would be burned as a symbol of the rebirth of the sun. As Christmas came to replace solstice celebrations, families would burn the biggest log available in the hearth, using embers from the previous year’s log to ignite it. The yule-log tradition disappeared when hearths were replaced with small stoves and furnaces, but it is thought that French pastry chefs created the holiday log-shaped cake as a stand-in for the yule log of yore. Originally made of thinly rolled sponge cake filled with jam or cream and iced with buttercream frosting, there are now countless variations in flavor and presentation.

    Luckily, Jean-Claude Sanchez, the pastry chef at the acclaimed Jean-Claude’s Patisserie and Dessert Cafe in Warwick, Orange County, is a master at crafting these intricate — and highly decorated — desserts. “People make it the centerpiece of their holiday dessert table,” says Jean-Claude’s wife, Annette. “They come from all over the region to get them.”

    Bûche de Noël can be found at several area bakeries, including: Jean-Claude’s Patisserie & Dessert Cafe Warwick, 845-986-8900. Flavors: Orange Grand Marnier, hazelnut, double chocolate, and chestnut • Calico Rhinebeck, 845-876-2749. Flavors: chocolate cake with white chocolate mousse; chocolate cake with dark chocolate mousse; white cake with raspberry mouse • Something Sweet Dessert & Cafe Middletown, 845-343-2233. Flavors: chocolate and vanilla • Nola Bakery Cafe Hudson, 518-828-4905. Flavors: lemon, chocolate, and chestnut.


Chocolate Bûche de Noël


Here is Jean-Claude’s recipe, which serves 10 to 12 people.


Biscuit:  1⁄2 cup hazelnut flour • 1 ounce pastry flour •  1⁄2 cup sugar • 1 ounce sugar • 3 whole eggs • 3 eggs yolks • 3 egg whites • 1 ounce sugar Ganache filling: 3 cups heavy cream • 16 ounces bittersweet chocolate Rum Syrup: 1 cup sugar • 1 cup water • rum to taste


Rum Syrup: Put water and sugar into a pot and bring to a boil. Cool and add rum according to your taste.


Ganache Filling (prepare one day ahead of time): Bring the heavy cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate chunks. Let stand for a moment, then stir gently. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the next day.



1. Mix hazelnut flour and pastry flour

2. With a hand mixer, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and

1⁄2 cup sugar until ribbon-like and pale in color. Reserve in a bowl

3. Mix egg whites with the remaining sugar until they are glossy in color and soft peaks form

4. By hand, delicately fold half the egg mixture and half of the flour into the egg whites and finish with the second half 

5. Line a tray with parchment paper and spread the biscuit mixture evenly on it 

6. Bake in a preheated oven at 375° F until light golden brown

7. When you are ready to make the bûche, peel the parchment paper from the biscuit then replace it underneath the biscuit until ready to roll

8. Moisten the biscuit with rum syrup using a pastry brush

9. Bring the ganache to room temperature. Beat gently until soft peaks form. Spread about half of it over the biscuit and, with the help of the paper, roll the bûche

10. Store in the refrigerator for 2 hours 11. Remove the parchment paper. Spread the leftover ganache over the cake. Use a fork dipped in hot water to create “bark.” Decorate and serve.


The Nutty Italian


The quintessential Italian Christmas dessert — a wonderfully dense concentration of honey, spices, candied fruits and almonds — Panforte di Siena has its roots in 13th-century Tuscany. Historians conjecture that this cake, whose name translates to “strong bread,” was first introduced by nuns and may have served as a treat for passing warriors during the Crusades.

Although sublime on its own, Panforte can also be enhanced with cocoa or melted chocolate. This enchanting confection, once made only during the holiday season (and still produced commercially in Siena), has now become a year-round favorite. Professor Schorner shares his recipe with us.



Where to Find it

Many local Italian bakeries don’t make — or even import — Panforte di Siena anymore. “The old- timers liked it, but the younger people want Struffoli [firm fried dough with honey],” says Louis Strippoli of Poughkeepsie’s Caffe Aurora. Still, Alessandro Portale of Dolce Italian Bakery (845-227-2484)in Lagrangeville, Dutchess County, does carry it. “I find it is still very popular,” he says. “Once I put it out at the end of November, customers get excited.”

The Apple Pie Bakery at the Culinary Institute also carries Panforte di Siena. 845-471-6608.



Panforte di Siena


Yield: One 8- or 9-inch cake


• 1⁄2 cup candied orange peel • 1⁄2 cup candied lemon peel

• 1⁄2 cup candied citrus peel • 1⁄4 cup brandy • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour • 11⁄2 cups blanched almonds, halved • 11⁄2 cups toasted blanched hazelnuts, halved • 21⁄4 tablespoons cocoa

• 11⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting

• 1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice • 1⁄2 cup sifted all-purpose flour

• 1 cup honey • 2 cups sugar • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


1. Soak candied fruits in brandy overnight 

2. Butter an 8-inch cake mold and line the bottom with wax paper 

3. Preheat oven to 275 – 285 ° F.

4. Drain fruit and save brandy for later use 

5. Dust fruit with the one tablespoon of flour.  Combine fruit, nuts, cocoa, spices and the 1⁄2 cup of flour 

6. In a large saucepan, combine honey, sugar, and reserved brandy. Set the heat to high. As the mixture heats, dip a brush in water and use it to wash down the sides of the pan to prevent crystals from forming

7. Bring to a boil.  Remove from stove and pour hot sugar over fruit and nut mixture while vigorously stirring until fully incorporated 

8. Pour into prepared cake mold and bake in oven for 25-30 minutes 

9. Cool and wrap in plastic wrap,  and store in an airtight container 

10. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon before serving.



Arroz con Dulce

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