Seattle's Child

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festive party desserts

Pear and Dried Cherry Clafouti. Photo courtesy Maggie Mizrobot / Creative Commons

3 festive desserts from Seattle recipe developer Jean Galton

Take these kid favorites from a local mom and make them your own

As the holidays draw near, with all of its parties, concerts and just plain rushing about, it can be hard to fit in a few hours of baking. Nevertheless, it’s a part of the season that makes my entire family, from teenagers to adults, very, very happy. Here are a few of my family’s favorite baked goods. All three are homey, fairly easy to make and bound to make all the folks at your house extremely jolly. Cheers!

Brown Sugar Cupcakes with Sugared Almonds

Cornmeal makes these sturdy cupcakes a bit crunchy. They’re bathed in a lemon glaze and topped with sugary almonds. My children rate these cakes in the top three of all cupcakes they’ve ever consumed. (They might very well be biased, so you’d better try them out on your own.) If you want to skip the nuts, eliminate the almond extract and the sugared almonds and just give the cakes a sprinkle of raw or demerara sugar instead.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes


1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Confectioner’s sugar

Plus, for sugared almonds …
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup sliced almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 10 muffin tins or line with muffin papers. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and both extracts.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy. Add the brown sugar, and on high speed, beat until lightened, about three to four minutes. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the sour cream mixture.

3. In another bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the two tablespoons of granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Stir one third of the whites into the batter; then, with a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining whites. Divide the batter between the muffin tins and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool in pans 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack.

4. Meanwhile, make the sugared almonds. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the almonds. Cook, stirring until the almonds are evenly coated and lightly browned, about one to two minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the remaining sugar.

5. To make the glaze, bring the remaining ¼ cup sugar and the lemon juice to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the cooling cupcakes all over with the glaze. Sprinkle with the almonds and let cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Ricotta Tart with Cranberry Sauce

Here’s an Americanized version of an Italian-style cheesecake. It has a crunchy pecan crust and a tart cranberry accompaniment. If you’d rather not use nuts, substitute crushed vanilla wafers for the pecans.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes


½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup pecans or walnuts
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Ricotta Filling
1 container (15 ounces) ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cranberry Sauce
¾ cup sugar
½ cup cranberry apple juice
3 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter


1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Have ready a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

2. Make the crust: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and set aside (or microwave on high power 1 minute in a microwaveable bowl.) In a food processor, pulse the pecans until finely chopped. Add the flour, sugar and salt and pulse to mix. With the motor running, pour in the butter and mix until the dough begins to come together. Transfer the mixture to a tart pan and press it with your fingertips evenly up the side and over the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown. Let cool while making the filling.

3. Make the filling: Wipe out the food processor. With the motor running, combine the ricotta, eggs, sugar, vanilla, both zests and salt. Process until smooth, about one minute, and pour into the baked crust, spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or just until set. Set aside and let cool.

4. Make the glaze: In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine sugar and ¼ cup of the cranberry juice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Add the cranberries, (the sugar will seize up and harden but keep stirring and it will melt) return to a simmer and cook until the berries begin to pop, about five minutes.

5. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with the remaining ¼ cup cranberry juice. Stir into the saucepan along with the orange zest and return to a simmer. When thickened, stir in the butter until melted. Let cool completely and serve with the tart.

Pear and Dried Cherry Clafouti

Clafouti (pronounced kla-FOO-tee) is a rustic French dessert, traditionally made with fresh cherries. Serve warm – it has an irresistible custardy inside filled with tempting fruit.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 6 to 8


6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large firm ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch slices
1 cup dried sour cherries
½ cup pear eau de vie or pear nectar
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
Confectioner’s sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 10-inch pie plate or ceramic baking dish.

2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the pears and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pears are softened and lightly browned. Stir in the cherries and pour in the eau de vie or pear nectar and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.

3. In bowl, whisk together the eggs and flour until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, the milk, vanilla and salt until smooth.

4. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pears and cherries to the baking dish. Pour any extra liquid into the batter and stir well. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake until puffed and browned, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

Jean Galton is a Seattle-based food stylist and recipe developer. She shared these recipes with us in 2009.

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3 hearty, healthy, kid-friendly soups for the cooler months

About the Author

Jean Galton