We think of summer as bounteous, and it is. But fall is the season of harvest -- a time when the earth gives up the plenty that will sustain us through the long, cold months ahead.
Not the least of which is dessert.
"I love winter desserts," says Alice Waters, restaurateur, cookbook author and maybe the country's most renowned advocate of seasonal tastes in season.
Crisps, tarts, sorbets, granitas and compotes are among her favorites. "Crisps are fantastic, because you can adapt them to any kind of fruit or combination."
Dessert is difficult to turn down at any time of the year -- as any chocoholic will attest -- but when the wind is howling outside and the temperature is dropping, the energy-lifting properties of sweets are doubly welcome. Fruit, which can be just as soothing to a sweet tooth, can be a lighter alternative.
In Italy, fresh seasonal fruit is dessert. In the United States, fruit is all too often relegated to breakfast (in juices) or snack time.
At Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., winter desserts include an array of crisps, including apple-pear ("It's so lovely to change the taste by the kind of fruit"); candied orange rinds to be dipped in chocolate; Meyer lemon eclairs; pomegranate granita on top of vanilla ice cream; and a variety of galettes.
A galette is a type of tart "that you pile the fruit on," Waters says. The restaurant uses pineapples, oranges, pears and apples with "accents" of raspberry, currant or huckleberry.
These days, you can buy berries -- and almost any other fruit -- all year long. It's always summer or fall somewhere, and a global economy allows purveyors to choose from the whole panoply of fruits. Bearing in mind that California basically has a yearlong growing season, one is eating "closer to the land" by buying things that are in season, Waters contends.
"It's important for me, buying fruit from local growers," Waters says, "not buying anything from the other hemisphere, resisting that temptation."
For Baltimore chef and restaurateur Michael Gettier, the major differences between summer-fruit desserts and winter-fruit desserts are that summer desserts emphasize color and usually aren't cooked. Winter-fruit desserts may not be as colorful, but they are usually cooked and somewhat richer, because they often use cream.
"We serve a lot more hot desserts in winter," says Gettier, whose most recent venue was M. Gettier's Orchard Inn in Towson. A perfect example, he said, is cobblers. He also makes a fig and Parmesan cheesecake.
The cheesecake comes from a family recipe. Gettier's wife, Claudia, also a chef, has an aunt who is Puerto Rican and makes a dessert called quesadilla -- not the flat, cheesy thing we think of, but a real "cheesecake." The first time he tasted it, Gettier says, "I thought it was interesting, but it had the consistency of a wet brick."
He worked on the recipe until he found something more to his liking.
Of course, not everybody likes figs, and they can be hard to find -- unless you know someone who has a tree. Figs, though their season is fleeting, are part of the category called tree fruit.
But when most people think of fruit on trees, they think of apples and pears, which thrive in the orchards of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Anyone who's ever traveled in Pennsylvania Dutch country knows how able those folks are with apples.
Friends who regularly frequent the Lancaster area are crazy about the Amish Barn, a homey restaurant on Route 340, just east of Bird-in-Hand. While the food is good, it is apple dumplings that the restaurant is famous for.
And what apple dumplings they are. Tender apples, nestled in flaky pastry, flavored with butter, cinnamon and sugar, baked in cinnamon-sugar syrup, and served hot with milk or ice cream.
It's definitely a customer favorite, says Mary Lou Jones, manager of the restaurant.
"The Amish will eat them for dinner," she says, "though they don't make 'em as sweet as we do. Your typical dumpling is dry, just apple and dough. We just kind of developed the syrup."
Tradition, however, gets thoroughly tweaked at Restaurant Nora in Washington, where chef-owner Nora Pouillon serves D.C.'s movers and shakers an entirely organic menu.
"Since I'm a certified organic restaurant," Pouillon says, "I can only use organic produce."
Like Waters, Pouillon stays close to home when procuring her ingredients, so her winter desserts feature lots of apples and pears. She also uses prunes and dates. "They have a very short season. I use some dried things, too."
She serves such goodies as roast pears with ginger ice cream, a date-cranberry shortcake with poached pear, and hazelnut-anise shortcake with fresh dates or figs and mascarpone (a soft Italian cheese).
However, she found her customers expect her to have apple pie, so she does. "They don't get it at home" these days, she surmises.
But just to stay clear of any notion of ordinariness, she says, "I make a pear-cranberry pie with Grand Marnier -- the orange flavor of the liqueur really sets off the fruit."
Sweet Rosemary-Pear Pizza
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (preferably organic)
generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg, beaten
2-3 tablespoons cold water
4 (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) firm-ripe
Bosc pears (preferably organic)
juice of 1/2 lemon
shredded zest of 1 large orange
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the pastry, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or large bowl. Cut in the butter with rapid pulses in the processor, or rub between your fingertips until the butter is the size of peas. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of water. Pulse just until the dough gathers in clumps, or toss with a fork until evenly moistened. If the dough seems dry, blend in another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon water.
Oil a 14- to 16-inch pizza pan. Roll out the dough on a floured board to an extremely thin 17-inch round. Place on the pan. Don't trim the excess pastry -- fold it over toward the center of the pie. Refrigerate 30 minutes to overnight.
Set an oven rack in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Peel, core, halve and stem the pears. Slice vertically into 1/2 -inch-wide wedges, about 14 slices per pear. Moisten with a little lemon juice. Fold back the dough's rim so it hangs over the edge of the pan. Arrange the pear slices in an overlapping spiral on the dough, starting at the rim of the pan. Sprinkle with the orange zest, basil, rosemary, cinnamon, pepper, sugar and oil. Flip the overhanging crust over the pears.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pears are speckled golden brown and the crust is crisp. Cover the crust's rim with foil if it browns too quickly. Remove the pizza from the oven and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
-- From "The Italian Country Table" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (Scribner, 1999, $35)
Michael Gettier's Fig and Parmesan Cheesecake
1 3/4 cups flour, plus extra to dust pan
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 stick of butter, melted, plus a bit more solid to butter pan and liner
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 cup light cream
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons of liqueur, such as kirsch
sesame seeds to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to fit the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Butter the pan bottom, place the paper on top and butter it. Put the pan in the refrigerator to solidify the butter.
Beat eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the milk and beat slowly to incorporate. Add the cream and beat slowly to incorporate. Add the grated Parmesan, either by beating slowly or by taking bowl off mixer and stirring it in gently with a whisk or spatula. With bowl off mixer, stir in the flour mixture. Stir in reserved melted butter, vanilla and liqueur.
Remove springform pan from refrigerator and dust the bottom with flour; shake out excess. Fill the pan with the batter until it is about halfway up the sides.
Cut the stem end and blossom end off each fig, then cut figs in half horizontally. Press each fig half into the batter, rounded side down. The batter will ooze slightly over them. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.
Bake until puffy and golden brown, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Center should be slightly springy to the touch.
Remove from oven and immediately run a thin paring knife around the edge of the cake. Let the cake sit for half an hour before removing the side of the mold. The cheesecake is best served warm or at room temperature. Refrigerating it will dull the taste. It will keep up to 3 days, at room temperature.
Amish Barn's Apple Dumplings
2 cups flour (see note)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup cold water
6 small apples, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups water
milk or ice cream, to serve
Mix flour and salt. Cut in shortening. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until all flour is moistened. On floured surface, roll dough out to a rectangle 18 inches by 12 inches; cut into six 6-inch squares. Place an apple in the center of each square. Combine 3/4 cup of the sugar and the cinnamon; spoon about 2 tablespoons in center of each apple, then top with 1 teaspoon of butter. Moisten edges of pastry; bring corners to center, pressing center and along edges to seal. Place apples in 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine remaining cinnamon sugar, 3/4 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve sugar; pour syrup around apples. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve warm with milk or ice cream.
Note: You also can use prepared pie crust.
10 ounces galette dough, rolled into a 14-inch circle (see note; recipe follows)
1 1/4 pounds ripe plums, unpeeled (see note)
about 1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon ground almonds
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons plum jam (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the prerolled dough from the refrigerator or freezer and place on a buttered or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Cut the plums in half and gently twist the two halves to separate them. Remove the pits and cut the fruit into slices about 1/3 -inch thick. You should have about 5 cups of sliced fruit.
Mix 2 tablespoons of the sugar with the flour and ground almonds, and sprinkle the mixture over the pastry, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the fruit slices on the dough in barely touching concentric circles, again leaving the 2-inch border. Sprinkle the fruit evenly with 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.
Trim away most of the 2-inch border, leaving about 1/2 inch of pastry. (Save the trimmings to make sugar cookies.) Finish the tart by folding the exposed border over itself, crimping to make a narrow pastry rim around the fruit. Brush the rim generously with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in the lower third of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the fruit is tender and the crust well-browned and its edges slightly caramelized. Let the galette cool for 20 minutes. If you would like to glaze the tart, brush it with a little gently heated plum jam. Serve the tart warm, with vanilla ice cream.
Notes: The dough has to chill for several hours, so it needs to be made ahead. It also needs to be chilled after it is rolled out. It can be made ahead and frozen for a few weeks. You can substitute any kind of fresh fruit for the plums.
-- From "Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook" by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1999, $34)
Makes 20 ounces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2 -inch pieces. Add half the butter to the flour mixture and work it into the flour with your fingertips, until the dough has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the rest of the butter and quickly work it into the dough until the biggest pieces are the size of lima beans. Dribble about 1/2 cup ice water into the dough in several stages, tossing and mixing between additions. Don't try to dampen all of the dough evenly. It should look rather ropy and rough. Stop adding water when there are a few bits of dry flour remaining in the bottom of the bowl. Gather the dough into two balls and wrap tightly with plastic wrap, pressing down to flatten each package. Refrigerate several hours or overnight before rolling.
Roll each flattened ball into a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured board; the dough will be a little less than /-inch thick. Refrigerate the rolled-out dough for at least 1/2 hour before using. (The rolled-out circles can be frozen and used the next day.)
-- From "Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook" by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1999, $34)