Mascarpone-Champagne Fruit Salad

My client told me her family loves figs. Since this is not exactly fig season and I was making the dish a couple days before Thanksgiving I decided to use dried Figs. Instead of throwing them in the Fruit Salad with the risk of the figs looking like dried up sad lil’ nuggets floating in a mass of lovely fresh fruit, I decided to soak them in Port Wine.

After their little fig-gy bath, I made the Port more syrupy with sugar and then candied the Cranberries with the Port. To balance out the robust character of the Port soaked fruit I decided to lighten the mood. I was drawn to pears as “tis their season” but felt they would brown up so fast it would be ridiculous. Unless of coarse they were poached… in something fantastic… something like Champagne. After poaching and slicing those lovelies I felt a need to continue using the poaching liquid and the image of a syrup-y Champagne Sauce made creamy with Mascarpone flooded my mind and the sauce for the Fruit Salad was set. Of course, poaching the pears was best with a Vanilla Bean which I then dissected and added into the creamy fruit salad “dressing”. It’s freckled character adding to the romantic indulgence of what is simply a bowl of seasonal fruit.

Mascarpone-Champagne Fruit Salad

with Champagne Poached Pears and Port-Soaked Figs

1 cup dried figs

1 ½ cups port

½ cup sugar

½ cup cranberries

3 oranges

½ cup sugar

2 lg pears (fairly firm, not too ripe)

1 bottle Champagne

1 vanilla bean (optional)

8 ounces mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup grapes

4 tangerines

1 cup pomegranate seeds*


½ cup fresh mint, torn into pieces (optional)

½ cup lemon stilton, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)

½ cup walnuts, crumbled (optional- leave on the side to be added by guests)

Trim the tips of the figs. Add to a small saucepan and pour in the port. Bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer for 5-8 minutes, until they are just softened. Remove figs. Add in the ½ cup sugar and dissolve. Add in the cranberries and simmer for 15 minutes until the cranberries become “candy”. Remove cranberries. Halve the figs and add back into the port syrup while preparing the remaining items.

Optional Step, if you desire Candied Orange Peels: With a vegetable peeler, peel off the orange rind into thin slices. Cutting some slices into your desired shape if necessary (such as thinner long strips like I did). Place the orange peels in a small saucepan and bring up to a boil. Drain off the water and repeat boiling the peels and draining at least two more times until the peels are tender. Add in 1 cup of sugar into the sauce with about 1 cup of water. Add in the peels, bring up to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the syrup for at least 1 hour. Cut off the white membranes of the orange, halve and then cut into slices. Place in salad bowl.

Peel the pears with a vegetable peeler. Halve the pears, with a small scoop, remove the center seeds (I use a melon baller- but a teaspoon works), remove the stem and the base until the pear is “clean” with no extras. Cut each half into about 4-6 slices. Place all the slices in a tall sided skillet or saucepan and pour the champagne on top. Toss in the vanilla bean if using. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat. Allow to simmer about 10-15 minutes until the pear slices are tender, but not mushy. Overripe pears will actually turn brown- not pretty. Remove the pears with a slotted spoon and cool. Add the ½ cup sugar to the champagne and bring up to simmer. Reduce the syrup down to about ¾ cup. Meanwhile, remove the seeds from the vanilla bean. Slit on end of the vanilla and with the back of the knife, scrape along the bean until the sandy-fine seeds, ball up. Stir the seeds into the champagne-syrup while it comes up to a simmer. Remove the champagne syrup from the heat and melt in the mascarpone cheese, stirring until it becomes a creamy, smooth thick sauce.

Cut the pears into 3-4 1-inch pieces. Toss with the mascarpone-champagne sauce. Combine the remaining fruit in a salad bowl, the candied cranberries, grapes, mandarin slices, orange slices, pomegranates, and the drained soaked figs (the port sauce can be used for another use later). Toss altogether with the mascarpone-champagne sauce, the mint leaves, and candied orange peels. Garnish with the lemon-stilton and walnuts. Enjoy!


Gingerbread & Pumpkin Mousse Trifle

Tis the season for delicious gluttony! I love the Holidays and the fact that is a time for extravagant dishes.

This year settling on the perfect holiday dessert seemed nearly impossible, so we combined many of our seasonal favorites. Gingerbread is simply classic and I am always looking for an excuse to make the spicy cake. But denying chocolate during the Holidays seemed a sin onto itself therefore we decided on a Chocolate-Gingerbread Cake made with Coffee-- the hodgepodge of flavors were made more delightful with the bittersweetness.

Trifles for me are often born of slight baking disasters in desperate need of transformation. One memorable cake-to-trifle experiment was after the disappointing results of a Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Kahlua Cake. I can’t remember the details, my brain was fuzzy after the heavenly impact of spooning up the layered cake crumbles with whipped cream.

My attraction to making a Gingerbread Trifle came after watching Paula Deen whip up an interesting concoction. I am partial to more natural, albeit not as speedy as Paula might like her ingredients. I am happy to cheat a bit as I did by using Organic Canned Pumpkin in the Fluffy Pumpkin Mouse that was layered in between pieces of the cake. The final touches included Candied Orange Peel and Candied Ginger—you can purchase or make both of these. I made the Candied Orange Peels, while I didn't make the Candied Ginger, David Lebovitz has a great recipe I am planning to try next time.

After it was all done, I realized my sweet tooth was aching a bit. To balance out the intense sugar I layered the Mousse and Cake with an unsweetened, barely touched with vanilla bean whipped cream.


words can barely say. Most of our guests ate in serene silence—

Take that fruitcake.

Chocolate & Coffee Gingerbread Cake

Shift together the dry ingredients:

2 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ginger
Pinch each: Cloves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg

Melt together the “wet” ingredients:

1/3 cup chocolate chips, melted

2 sticks of butter

1 cup hot coffee

¾ cup brown sugar

1 cup molasses

4 eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a shallow baking dish (we used a 9 x 13) by rubbing the bottom and sides with butter and dusting with cocoa powder. If you don’t have cocoa powder, flour works fine.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Melt the chocolate chips and butter together. Mix in the hot coffee. Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar & molasses. Cool slightly to ensure the eggs will not scramble in the chocolate. While whisking the chocolate mixture, slowly add the eggs until incorporated. Shift in the dry ingredients, folding after each addition, take care not to over mix.

Pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan until you are ready to assemble the trifle.

Pumpkin Mousse

1 package unflavored gelatin

1 ½ tbls cold water

3 large egg yolks

½ cup sugar

15 ounce can pumpkin (or if you are less of a cheater than I am: 1 ½ cups cooked & pureed pumpkin will work also)

Pinch each: Cinnamon, Ginger, Cloves, and Nutmeg

4 cups heavy cream, chilled

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Take a double boiler or a metal bowl that fits on top of a saucepan (that’s what we use!). Combine the cold water and gelatin in the top boiler pot/bowl. Allow to thicken for 1-2 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar into the gelatin mixture over the boiling water until a thermometer reads 160F. Remove the egg mixture and whisk until cooled and thick. Whisk in the pumpkin and spices, cool.

Beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in half of the pumpkin-custard, until smooth and an even color. Add the vanilla bean paste to the other half of the whipped cream.

The grand finale….

Layer the Trifle:

Take about 2 handfuls of the cake and gently crumble it into a Trifle or other glass bowl. The layer needs to be even, about 1-2 inches high. Dollop in the Pumpkin Mousse until there is an even layer. Crumble on more cake, dollop on the Vanilla-Cream, more cake, more mousse, more cake, more cream….. until the bowl is filled to the brim with goodness.

We filled the bowl and ended up with leftovers of all three.

Somehow I don't remember either of us complaining about that.

Let me know your favorite Trifle combos.

I am terribly excited to use and abuse my Trifle privileges….

Indulge me.