Category Archives: Desserts

Walnut Cookies – Happy Chinese New Year

Oakland, CA Chinatown

Celebrations for Lunar New Year begin on February 16, 2018.  Commonly known as Chinese New Year, this Year of the Dog marks the 4,715th Chinese Year.


Chinese New Year Dragon Dancers

I always enjoy the celebrations and festivities surrounding Chinese New Year, and appreciate they go on for a couple of weeks!  In addition to family gatherings, there is always a big party in San Francisco where all the stops are pulled, and we celebrate with music, dancing dragons, fortune telling, food and drink.  Oh my!


My family commonly share sweet treats during new year celebrations.  While almond cookies may be more familiar, walnut cookies are also traditional as walnuts symbolize happiness of the entire family.


For my take on these cookies, I add a bit of orange zest.  Oranges symbolize a wish for good fortune and are the dessert of many Chinese celebratory meals.  Who can argue with the delicious pairing of walnuts and oranges, happiness and good fortune?!


I won’t lie to you:  making these cookies takes some patience.  Forming the dough into balls and pressing them into shape is a bit fussy.  Make these when you have the leisure to fiddle with the dough. Whilst in the right frame of mind, I enjoy the simple handwork and let myself ponder thoughts large and small.


I promise you will be rewarded with delectably crispy, crunchy cookies for any occasion.

Walnut Cookies

Adapted from The China Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan

Makes about 30 cookies, 2” rounds


  • 1/ 2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and very squishy
  • 1/ 4 cup (2 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1/ 4 cup (2 oz.) light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten and divided for use in the dough and to glaze the tops of the cookies
  • Finely grated zest of one large orange, about 1 – 2 teaspoons
  • 1 and 7/ 8 cup (8 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/ 2 cup lightly toasted walnuts, finely chopped; plus 30 pieces to decorate


  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer and beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and light. Start the mixer on a lower speed, then increase the speed to medium-high to achieve a fluffy texture.  Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add 2 tablespoons of the beaten egg and mix until fully blended.
  3. Add half the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir until mostly combined. Add the remaining half of the flour and combine thoroughly.  Stir in the finely chopped walnuts and form into a thick dough.  Pat the dough into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap; and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  4. Arrange a baking rack in the middle position of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Divide the dough into about 30 portions. Roll each portion into a ball between your palms and flatten slightly into a small round cookie.  Top each cookie with a walnut piece.  Space about 1-inch apart on a cookie sheet.  These do not spread much during baking.
  6. Lightly brush a bit of the remaining beaten egg over the top of each cookie, taking care to not let it drip down to the cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 350°F. for 18 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake an additional 12 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cooling completely on a wire rack.

A note about toasting walnuts:  I measured out 3/4 cup of walnuts and toasted these in a 350*F oven for about 8 minutes.  I chopped them finely after toasting.  As the walnuts were fairly large, I sorted pieces about the size of 1/8th of a shelled walnut for decorating the tops of each cookie.

Finely Chopped Walnuts — Resist chopping them in a food processor

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Lemon Marmalade Cake

Zest the lemon peel before juicing

My publisher made a request for an orange loaf cake – he has a fond food memory of a cake his mother baked; redolent with orange in every bite, including on top of the cake.  So off to my collection of classic cookbooks I went, Fannie Farmer, James Beard, Joy of Cooking, etc; in search of a recipe that matched his recollection.  An online search yielded Melissa Clark’s Orange Marmalade Cake, that turned out a very orange-y, moist cake.  It’s always a risk to recreate a childhood food memory, lest it disappoint, so I diverged a bit with this lemon version of the cake.  It is darn tasty in its own right, and no one has refused a proffered slice to date.


These special cakes are perfect to serve when guests stop by, or for gift-giving that will surely please.  Their bright lemon-y-ness adds a fresh note to pair nicely with a “cuppa” of your choosing.


Marmalade chockfull with flavorful rind

When I shared this cake with neighbors, I was asked if I had made the marmalade from my garden’s lemons.  I had not, but appreciated the thought for a future project!  You will want to use a marmalade that is well made, meaning chockfull of lemon rind for this cake.  The results will suffer if you use a marmalade that is more pectin/jelly than rind.


I happened to have a jar of divine Meyer lemon marmalade from the Clif Family Kitchen in Napa Valley, procured during a recent visit to their St. Helena winery.  They produce mouth-watering preserves from fruits grown on their farm, and recently received recognition when their preserves were listed on “Oprah’s Favorite Things 2017” list.


If you are in the St. Helena area, I highly recommend a visit to Clif Family Winery.  I had a wonderful time there with friends tasting wines and having lunch from their Bruschetteria food truck.  Their retail shop carries their now famous preserves, along with other custom offerings.  I came away with preserves, olive oil, candied nuts, spices and, oh yes — wine.


If you cannot find lemon marmalade, using orange marmalade as the cake is originally conceived, is sure to please.  There is also a video of Melissa Clark preparing her cake, a bonus for those appreciating a refresher on techniques and tips.

Lemon Marmalade Cake

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s Orange Marmalade Cake


  • 2/3 cup lemon marmalade, divided
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened; plus 1/ 2 tablespoon for the glaze, and more for greasing the pan(s)
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/ 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/ 8 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar


  1. Position an oven rack into the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350  Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, or use three mini loaf pans, approximately 3 x 6-inch size. Coarsely chop any extra-large pieces of peel in the marmalade.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together softened butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy; about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each until well incorporated.  Beat in 1/ 3 cup marmalade and the lemon juice.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture by hand, until no traces of flour show.
  4. Scrape batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake until the surface of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; about 35 minutes for mini-pans or 50-55 minutes for one large pan.
  5. Remove from oven and transfer pan(s) to a wire rack. Cool 10 minutes, turn cake out of pans and place on a rack right-side up.  Place a rimmed baking sheet under the rack to catch any dripping glaze.
  6. Heat remaining 1/ 3 cup marmalade in a small pan over low heat until melted; whisk in confectioners’ sugar and 1/ 2 tablespoon of butter until smooth. Slather warm glaze over the top of the cake(s), allowing some to drizzle down the sides.  Cool completely before serving.

Note:  As with many cakes, this one will have the tenderest crumb if eaten on the day it is baked.  Next day the crumb is firmer, and the lemon-y-ness is both richer and mellower.  It’s all good!

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Summertime Fruit Cake

There is a slight Goldilocks’ attitude to my preference for a summer time cake featuring fruit.  Not too dense and not to light, but a medium textured, moist cake that seems just right for a satisfying sweet treat during our late summer heat.


If you are a baker, or a fan of simple fruit cakes, you may already be acquainted with Marion Burros’ iconic Original Plum Torte.  It is said to be the New York Times’ most requested recipe, and indeed, was published every September for seven years back in the 1980’s.  Now that’s serious lasting power, and apt appreciation for a genius cake.


Ms. Burros also encourages home bakers to experiment with our own adaptations, and this is one of mine.  Over the years my family has enjoyed several variations, but we seem to especially appreciate using peaches and/or nectarines.


This cake, which is pretty forgiving when it comes to making substitutions, is a brilliant showcase for perfectly ripe stone fruits.  The other bonus for making this now – many of these fruits are at seasonal low pricing from your local farmers.


I hope you’ll give this cake a whirl.  There are only five, FIVE, actual mixing steps to it; fairly short for an outstanding outcome.

A few advance notes:

A combination of two medium peaches and one medium nectarine. Freestone fruit is important here.

  • Experience shows me that fruit sliced on the thinner, 1/ 3-inch side, yields for a baked cake with most of the fruit showing. If this appearance appeals, then you’ll be glad for the tip.  Slightly thicker slices of fruit results in a perfectly delicious cake that shows more cake than fruit on top.  You can always garnish with a bit more fruit, or a dollop of whipped cream.

  • Don’t overdo it with overlapping the sliced fruit. The rising cake batter needs somewhere to go.  You don’t want to weigh it down so much that you end up with a stodgy cake that couldn’t rise for the heft of the fruit topping.

A stunner — If I do say so myself!


Summer Fruit Cake with Peaches and Nectarines

Inspired by Marion Burros’ Plum Torte

Makes one 9” round cake


  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/ 2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/ 2 cup whole milk yogurt, room temperature (substitute sour cream)
  • 3 medium peaches or nectarines, or large plums
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon cinnamon or ginger or “Dusk” spice blend
  • 1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar, or any coarse grind sugar
  • Additional butter for the pan


  1. Position an oven rack into the center of the oven, preheat oven to 350° Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment.  Make sure the pan is securely fastened, then generously butter the sides of the pan.  Set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Slice the fruit lengthwise and remove the pit. Slice into about 1/ 3” to 1/ 2” thick wedges.  Place in a medium sized bowl; add the lemon juice, lemon zest and spice.  Stir gently to evenly coat the fruit.  Set aside.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat on medium until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.  Add the vanilla.
  5. Add one-half of the flour mix, blend in slightly; then add one-half of the yogurt. Repeat with the remaining flour mix and yogurt, taking care to just mix thoroughly, but do not over beat the batter.  The batter will be thick.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan, leveling it with a spatula. Arrange the sliced fruit atop, avoiding too many overlapped pieces.  It is okay if some batter is uncovered, where it will rise during baking.
  7. Bake for about one hour. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake.  If it comes out clean, with no batter clinging to it, the cake is ready.  Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.  After 10 minutes, remove the sides of the pan.
  8. May be served slightly warm, or completely cooled. Finish with additional fresh fruit, or a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Any leftover, good luck with that, makes delicious breakfast fare.

More photos because this cake is so lovely

Now it’s time to eat from the photo session!

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French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Lots of Lemons!

Lots of lemons at this neighbor’s house!

     A walk around my neighborhood tells a tale of bumper crop lemons.  I am only seeing front yards, and they are laden with lemons!  This quick loaf cake recipe uses only the lemon rind, leaving you with options for using the juice.  I suggest making lemonade, to serve along with this cake, and setting out a lovely Mother’s Day brunch table.

     I hope you find the combination of lemon and rosemary in a cake appealing.  It may be a new cake combo to you, and if so, you may well be delighted with their subtle pairing here.  I use a mild, “buttery” olive oil for another intriguing layer of flavor.  As you might imagine, the resulting cake is fragrant, light, moist, and tender.

     Oil-based cakes stay moist for days.  And left overnight, the lemon and rosemary become more flavorful.  I mention this to say this is good for making in advance.  Once it’s served, it’ll go fast in any case.  It certainly does at my house!

     Speaking of Mother’s Day, coming up this weekend, this recipe is easily made by novice bakers.  A bit of measuring, mincing and whisking and you’ve got a top-notch gift for Mom, or Grandma, or Auntie, or a cherished friend.

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

A few advance tips:

  • Pre-measure the 3/4 cup of yogurt and bring it to room temperature before you begin mixing the ingredients. The eggs should also be at room temperature.
  • Use a quality olive oil that boasts a “buttery” taste. Save a “grassy” or “peppery” olive oil for another time.
  • This cake is perfectly delicious without the rosemary, so feel free to take baby steps with adding it. But I promise, if you enjoy rosemary, it does bring a taste sensation to desserts.


French Yogurt Cake w-Lemon & Rosemary v2

French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Adapted from Andrew Knowlton/Bon Appétit




  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/ 4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary, to taste
  • 3/ 4 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 1/ 2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional (include if using a lesser amount of rosemary)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar for the topping, “Turbinado” raw cane sugar is a good choice




  1. Lightly coat an 8-1/ 2” x 4-1/ 4” loaf pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Dust with flour, tapping out any excess.  Set aside.
  1. Position an oven rack to the lower third position. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  1. Whisk 1-1/ 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/ 2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, rub 3/ 4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Stir in the minced rosemary.
  1. Add 3/ 4 cup whole milk yogurt, 1/ 2 cup olive oil, 2 large eggs, and 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract; whisk to blend.
  1. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth the top. Sprinkle the top evenly with the course sugar.
  1. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.
  1. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.
Sprinkled with Coarse Sugar 2

Coarse sugar sprinkled atop makes for a bit of crunch

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