Amaretto Cheesecake Parfaits


There are many splendid things about summer; letting the warm sun soak through your skin, beloved outdoor barbeques with friends, endless hours spent relaxing by the pool with an icy cocktail and refreshing summertime desserts to replenish your fortitude.  As the temperature of summer escalates, the oven quickly becomes an intolerable presence no matter the sweet succulence that it can yield.  Cool desserts make their long awaited arrival to accompany light summer meals.  Berries and fruit are at their peak of sweetness and are a simple yet delicious indulgence.  Parfaits offer an amazing balance of cool, sweet, creamy and crunchy and are the perfect remedy for even the hottest of days.

These parfaits are about the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  I simply can’t get enough of them!  The individual layers can be prepared ahead of time and assembled just before serving.  I strongly encourage you to give these a try and please invite me over when you do.

Amaretto Cheesecake Parfaits          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 8 servings

Cheesecake custard:

1 cup whole milk

5 Tbsp granulated sugar

4 large egg yolks

2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

3 Tbsp amaretto liqueur

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Macerated strawberries:

1 lb fresh strawberries, sliced

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

4 Tbsp amaretto liqueur

Gingersnap cookies (I like Jules Destrooper brand, found at most grocery stores), crushed

Making the custard:

In a medium saucepan, whisk together 3/4 cup whole milk with 3 Tbsp sugar.  Bring to a gentle boil and remove from heat when it just comes to a boil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the cornstarch and the remaining sugar.  Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture whisking constantly.  Pour the combined mixture back into the medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Lower the heat and add the cream cheese, amaretto and vanilla, whisking until smooth, about 1 minute.  Scrape the custard into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard.  Refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours or overnight.

Using an electric mixer, beat the heavy whipping cream until medium peaks form.  Gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the chilled custard until well incorporated and there are no visible streaks.

Making the macerated strawberries:

Combine the sliced strawberries, sugar and amaretto in a bowl and refrigerate for about 2 hours.  Try not to eat all of them before assembling the parfaits.

Assembling the parfaits:

Spoon a portion of the custard into individual parfait glasses, followed by a scoop of the macerated strawberries and then the crushed gingersnap cookies.  Continue layering until the parfait glasses are filled.  Serve immediately.



Mexican Mocha Pudding with Kahlua Whipped Cream

Most of my friends will say that I possess addictive tendencies towards my relationship with coffee.  While my body demands a morning jolt of caffeine in its bloodstream, my afternoon coffee is purely indulgent.  There is nothing more satisfying than consuming a robust cup of coffee to revive my senses and defeat the sleepiness that looms over me in the afternoon.  This passion for the bean carries over equally to desserts and given the choice, I’d opt for a coffee-induced dessert every time.  Some warning signs that might indicate you too have an irrefutable dependence to coffee are: you have your own espresso machine at the office, Starbucks is the specified landmark for any and ALL directions given, your child shouts from the backseat at the mere site of a Starbucks, “Pull over Momma…you need a coffee” and finally, you can balance your child, purse, groceries and more while still managing to keep a firm grip on your coffee and not relinquish a single drop.

Am I alone here??  Anyone wanna go grab a coffee?

This amazing dessert is inspired to showcase the essence of a true Mexican coffee.  The flavors of this pudding are complex and are perfect for steadfast coffee lovers.  Steeping the cocoa nibs in milk adds a unique element of chocolate that creates an unexpected balance to the pudding.  The Kahlua whipped cream without doubt takes it over the top.  I like to serve this pudding in espresso cups (mostly for portion control) as it is quite effortless to become immersed in an entire bowl of this decadence without even realizing it.

Mexican Mocha Pudding          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 6-8 servings

2 cups whole milk

1 ¼ cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa nibs (can be found at most specialty stores)

2 1/2 Tbsp Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur, divided

½ cup (packed) golden brown sugar

3 Tbsp cornstarch

3 Tbsp instant espresso powder

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Make the pudding:

In a small saucepan, bring the whole milk, 1 cup of the heavy whipping cream, cocoa nibs and 1 ½ Tbsp of the Kahlua to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes.

Strain the infused milk into a medium sized bowl, pressing the cocoa nibs with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the nibs.

In a medium heavy saucepan, whisk the brown sugar, cornstarch, espresso powder and cinnamon with about 1/3 cup of the infused milk and stir to form a smooth paste. Stir in the remainder of the milk to combine.  Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat whisking constantly for about 1 minute until slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and pour into individual ramekins or espresso cups. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 4 hours, or until set.  Tip: Place plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding while chilling so that it doesn’t develop a film.

Make the whipped cream:

Combine the remaining ¼ cup of chilled heavy whipped cream and 1 Tbsp of Kahlua in a mixing bowl and beat until peaks form.  Spoon onto puddings and serve.

Enjoy! xo

Triple Lemon Cake

In honor of my sweet husband’s birthday this year, I presented him with the “baking bible” as I like to call it; an enormous collection of my most cherished cake recipes to choose from.  It’s a treasured family tradition to select your favorite birthday dessert on your special day (even though we all get to indulge in it) and it’s actually quite an overwhelming task as I’ve made many delicious sweets over the past number of years.  I think he changed his mind 4 times before finally committing to his most beloved birthday cake…Triple Lemon Cake…couldn’t have chosen better myself!

There really is nothing better than lemon cake; so light and refreshing.  You forget for a moment that you’re actually consuming a pound or so of butter (but who’s counting?).  The lemon mousse filling is so irresistible, it’s tempting to eat it simply on its own…I just can’t imagine the cake without it.  For a lighter result, you can substitute the Swiss Buttercream for Whipped Cream, but for the love of all things sweet, PLEASE don’t substitute the lemon mousse!

I’ve made many variations of this lemon cake and it’s the most requested cake (next to chocolate) that I make.  I seem to modify a component of the cake every time that I make it and this combination is definitely THE ONE!  Actually, the truth is…in the mind of a baker, particularly a fanatical one, I don’t think a recipe is ever absolute.  Part of the challenge and enjoyment of baking comes with the gradual evolution of a simple recipe into something unforgettable.  Next time I make this cake I might try it with a traditional meringue (perhaps toasted) or a whipped cream frosting…we’ll see…

Triple Lemon Cake          {Print Recipe}

Making the lemon curd (for the lemon mousse):

Makes 2 ½ cups

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

1 cup minus 1 Tbsp sugar

¾ cup freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces

Fill a large bowl approximately halfway with ice and water and set aside.  Fill the bottom of a double boiler with water at least 2 inches, but not full enough to touch the underside of the top double boiler and bring to a boil.

Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar into the top of the double boiler (off of the heat) and whisk until blended.  Add the lemon juice and mix well.  Reduce the heat to medium low until the water comes to a gentle boil.  Place the egg mixture over the water and heat, whisking constantly and scraping the edges frequently with a spatula (so that the eggs don’t scramble) until the curd is very thick, about 7 minutes.  The curd should coat the back of a spoon when ready or hold a distinct shape on the surface when the curd is lifted and falls back into the bowl.

Push the curd through a fine strainer with a spatula into a medium sized bowl.  Add the cold pieces of butter, letting it sit for a minute and then mixing until combined.  Once all of the butter is melted and incorporated, place the medium sized bowl over the large bowl filled with ice water and let sit until the curd is completely cool.  Once cooled, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight before preparing the mousse.

This recipe makes a little extra lemon curd, but I assure you it won’t go to waste!  Lemon curd is amazing with scones, fruit or simply enjoyed with a spoon.

Making the cake:

Yield: (3) 9” layers

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 eggs, room temperature

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder (-1/8 tsp for high altitude)

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 cups granulated sugar

2 Tbsp grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

1 cup buttermilk (+2 Tbsp for high altitude)

Grease and lightly flour (3) 9” cake pans.  After greasing the pans, I like to place a piece of parchment paper cut to size in each pan.  Then I grease the parchment and lightly flour the pan.  This really aids in the easy removal of the cake.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed for about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice and beat until combined.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour and buttermilk, alternately, starting and ending with the flour mixture.  Make sure to beat on low speed (unless you want to wear the flourJ) and beat until each addition is well combined.  Pour evenly into the prepared pans.  I use a scale for this step so that I can assure evenly sized cake layers.

Bake at 350 degrees F (325 degrees at high altitude) for about 25-27 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out clean) making sure to rotate the pans during baking for even browning.  As anxious as you may get, please don’t open the oven door before 20 minutes have passed.  I have been cursed with many a sinking cake out of pure impatience!  Remove from oven and let the cakes cool on a rack, in their pans for about 10 minutes.  Run a knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove from pan.  Let cool completely and refrigerate before filling and frosting.  Prior to refrigerating you can also brush the cakes with a simple syrup.  This step adds moisture to the cake and greatly enhances the flavor.

Making the simple syrup:

½ cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and vanilla.  Brush the warm mixture over the cooled cakes before filling.

Cake recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Making the lemon mousse:

Yield: 4 ½ cups mousse

1 ½ cups lemon curd  (see recipe above)

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, cold

2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar

Whip the heavy whipping cream and sugar on high speed with a whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream until just combined.  Try not to eat the entire bowl of lemon mousse before filling the cake…it will take an immense amount of willpower…good luck.

Making the Lemon Swiss Buttercream:

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

5 egg whites (pasteurized)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed/strained lemon juice

Combine the egg whites and sugar together in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.  Set mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.  Whisk mixture until sugar dissolves and a candy thermometer reads 160 degrees F.  Sources say that 160 degrees is a recommended temperature for egg safety.  Even so, I still like to use pasteurized eggs in buttercream just to be safe.  Once the egg mixture reaches temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and attach to the stand mixer and mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch.  Add the butter a little at a time (about 8-10 additions) and then add in the vanilla and lemon juice.  The buttercream will be beautifully smooth and shiny.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one of the cake layers on a cake plate.  Spread half (or as much as desired) of the lemon mousse onto the cake.  Place the second cake layer on top of the mousse and repeat with the third cake.  Frost the entire cake with the Swiss Buttercream.  Store the cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoy for up to a week.  Before serving, remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes.  You’ll want the buttercream to soften to room temperature.

This cake is quite a labor of love and definitely a special occasion cake as it has many steps.  Fortunately you can make it over several days before assembling…AND…what better way to express your love to someone close to your heart??  Enjoy!

Lemon Semifreddo


Lemon Semifreddo

We had another wonderful “international night” with our next door neighbors this time celebrating the Campania region of Italy.  This region is well known for its abundance of lemons which play an important role in most of their cuisine.  With summer in full swing, a frozen lemony treat sounded so refreshing, cool and delicious…a perfect choice for a warm summer evening.

Lemon Semifreddo, or “half-frozen” is a very popular dessert in Italy and is basically frozen custard; sweet tangy lemon curd combined with freshly whipped cream frozen to create a wonderfully creamy delicious treat.  You can make Semifreddo in just about any flavor and I have to say, there isn’t a Semi-freddo that I’ve met yet that I haven’t enjoyed.

Traditionally Semifreddo is frozen in a ramekin or mold.  I chose to freeze it in dessert glasses so that I could serve it “parfait-style”.  I topped the frozen dessert with fresh whipped cream, candied lemon zest and crushed gingersnap cookies.  I just love the combined flavors of lemon and ginger.

The evening was a culinary success as we sipped Italian wine, ate Pizza Marguerite and finished the meal with a refreshing dessert.  The company and conversation were pretty wonderful too. 🙂


Lemon Semifreddo          {Print Recipe}

Yield: 8 servings

For the candied lemon zest:

4 lemons, scrubbed

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

For the lemon curd:

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

8 large egg yolks

½ lb unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ½ cups chilled heavy whipping cream

Making the candied zest:

Remove the zest from the lemons with a zester, making sure not to remove any of the bitter white pith.  Place the zest in a small bowl, cover with boiling water, and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain.

Bring the sugar and cold water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the drained zest, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes.  Transfer the zest and syrup to a bowl, cover and let stand overnight.  The next day, transfer the zest and syrup to an airtight container. (The zest can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

Making the lemon curd:

Prepare an ice bath and set aside.

Whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and butter in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to boil and becomes thick and pudding-like, 10-15 minutes.

Strain the curd through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (this process will remove any egg whites that might have cooked), and set the bowl in the ice bath.  Stir the curd periodically until it is cool, then remove the bowl from the ice bath and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The curd can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Whip 1 ½ cups of the chilled heavy cream in a large mixing bowl with a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Remove the chilled lemon curd from the refrigerator.  Gently fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream until well combined.  (It can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.)

Assemble the semifreddo:

Arrange eight dessert glasses or 6-oz ramekins on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spoon the lemon mousse into the molds, filling each with about ¾ cup.  Cover and transfer to the freezer to firm up for at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

Drain the candied lemon zest and set aside on a plate or sheet of parchment.

To serve, remove the molds from the freezer and let them warm up for about 15-30 minutes.  (If using ramekins, you can dip each one briefly in hot water to release the semifreddo.)

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 1 cup chilled cream in a medium bowl until soft peaks from.  Top the semifreddo with the whipped cream and finish with a garnish of candied lemon zest and crushed gingersnaps.

Recipe adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt