Michel Richard, Sweet Magic: 4 Autumnal Desserts

The chef of D.C.’s famed Citronelle, Michel Richard, shares four great desserts featuring apples, rum, and other such seasonal delights. His new book, Sweet Magic, is out now.

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Choco-Mocha Layer Cake With Marshmallow Buttercream

This is a great dessert for fall holiday tables. Marshmallows are about fun, and remind me of the toasting on a cozy fireplace or floating in hot chocolate.

Mocha is the offspring of the marriage of two plain-looking beans: coffee and cacao. In their natural states, both are very bitter, and I wonder what culinary adventurer had the courage to eat them in the first place. The depth of flavor they acquire when roasted, however, is simply wonderful, and maybe because of that very bitterness, they go well with lots of sugar—the ingredient common to all desserts.

The cakey part of this layer cake is mixed with instant (powdered) espresso, which gives it a nutty, toasted taste. Likewise, I put coffee in my marshmallow buttercream and in that way introduce a flavor theme that unites the cream layers and the cake layers. You’ll notice there are no egg yolks and not very much butter in the buttercream, while the marshmallow is nothing more than gelatinized egg whites and sugar. The result is lighter than buttercream but more intense than marshmallow. Soaking the sponge cake with gelatin infuses and moistens the cake with sweet coffee flavor but has none of the wetness and oversweetness of simple syrup to weigh it down.

Serves 10

Genoise and Soaking Syrup Sponge Cake (page 56), made with 1 teaspoon instant coffee added to the flour 2 cups coffee ¼ cup sugar 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin

Marshmallow Buttercream Filling 4 egg whites ¼ cup sugar 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin 2 tablespoons water ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature Hot chocolate sauce (opposite)

The day before you need to serve the dessert, bake the genoise, making sure to add the coffee powder. After cooling the cake for 10 minutes, transfer it from the pan to a wire rack and cool it completely. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate. The next day, dampen the bottom of the clean cake pan and place an 18-inch piece of plastic wrap in the bottom. Cut the genoise horizontally into equal layers. Place the top half upside down in the cake pan.

Make the soaking syrup by mixing the coffee, sugar, and gelatin with a wire whisk. Place in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 1 minute or until the gelatin is dissolved. Let the syrup sit for 5 minutes, then spoon half of it over the bottom of the cake, thoroughly soaking it. Set aside.

To make the buttercream, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high for about 1 minute, until the whites are foamy. Add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and continue mixing for about 10 minutes until the egg whites are stiff. While the egg whites are whipping, place the espresso powder, gelatin, and water in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat on high in the microwave for 30 seconds to melt the gelatin; set the mixture aside for 5 minutes. When the egg whites are whipped, add the coffee-and-gelatin mix to the bowl and whip for a few seconds until combined.

Place the butter in the microwave for a few seconds until it just starts to melt. In a large bowl, using a whisk, blend the butter until it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg white mixture into the butter.

Spoon the filling onto the soaked bottom cake layer, spreading it to the edges of the pan. Add the second cake layer cut side up (this allows the soaking liquid to be well absorbed) and spoon the remaining soaking liquid onto the cake. Cover the exposed surface of the cake with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.

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Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving and transfer it to a serving plate of your choice. Serve the slices with chocolate sauce drizzled on top.

Hot Chocolate Sauce 2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (or chocolate chips) 1 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons apricot liqueur, amaretto, or rum

Combine the chocolate, cream, and liqueur in the top of a double boiler over gently simmering water. Melt until smooth, stirring constantly. Keep warm over the simmering water if serving immediately, otherwise remove from the heat, pour into a covered container, and refrigerate. When ready to serve, reheat in the double boiler.

Maple Parsnip Cake With Maple Meringue Frosting

This cake is full of fall ingredients, maple and parsnips. Maple is made for parsnips, they love each other.

Back in the 1980s, one of the most influential American cookbook writers was the late Sheila Lukins. Her Silver Palate Cookbook and its companion volume, The New Basics, drew on her experience from her revolutionary takeout shop, the Silver Palate. One of the go-to desserts was the carrot cake by her mom, Berta. I liked the idea of using a humble root vegetable as the basis for a dessert treat, too.

Now, if carrots are humble, then parsnips are surely among the poorest peasants in the entire Duchy of Vegetables. Poor Monsieur Parsnip! He doesn’t even have the happy orange color that brightens the carrot.

But when cooked, parsnips have a flavor and consistency that reminds me of the sweetest roast chestnuts. Grating them gives the cake the mouthfeel of shredded coconut. Add maple syrup for earthy sweetness and aromatic spices, and you have a lovely cake that has one other special quality; if you ask the people around your table what is in it, no one will ever be able to guess.

Serves 8

Cake 2 cups almond meal (or very finely ground almonds--freeze the almonds before grinding them) ¾ cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt 1 cup maple syrup 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted 2 eggs 3 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated 2 cups packed parsnips, peeled and finely grated (about 6 medium) ½ cup toasted pecans

Maple Meringue Frosting 1 cup maple syrup 4 egg whites 2 tablespoons sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan, line it with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit, then butter and flour the paper and the sides of the pan.

To make the cake, combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the maple syrup, butter, and eggs on medium speed until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry mixture, 1 cup at a time, until just combined. Stir in the ginger and parsnips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the pecans in a decorative pattern on top of the cake. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the frosting: Pour the maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Set the maple syrup over medium heat and, using a candy thermometer, monitor its temperature. When it reaches 230 degrees, start to whip the eggs on high speed. After about 4 minutes, add the sugar to the egg whites. Once the maple syrup reaches 252 degrees, pour it into the whites in a slow, steady stream as close to the side of the bowl as possible to avoid splattering. Continue mixing on medium speed until the bottom of the mixing bowl is cool to the touch, about 15 minutes.

Loosen the sides of the cake with a knife and remove it from the pan. Let it cool completely on a rack. Serve the cake dolloped with the maple meringue.

Mulled Cider and Rum Risotto

Traditionally we drink rum in France to keep you warm in winter. This dessert has all the warming ingredients of rum, cooked apples, and cinnamon. It will make you feel warm and fuzzy even if you serve it with ice cream.

I rarely eat rice except when it is cooked like risotto. Why? Because only then does it develop a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. This got me thinking: If I like that way of cooking rice in savory dishes, then why not in a dessert? As with my Ultimate French Toast (page 23), I took risotto, which is something that you don’t normally eat as a dessert, and made it into one. If you want to go overboard and really pile up the tastes, serve this with Hot Buttered Rum Sauce. Serving suggestion: Ice cream and Cinnamon Crème Anglaise (page 163) are also suitable toppings.

Serves 4

Risotto 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 2 small Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch dice 2½ tablespoons granulated sugar 1 tablespoon rum 1½ tablespoons vanilla extract 5 cups unsweetened apple juice or cider 1 slice orange 1 cinnamon stick 2 whole cardamom pods 1 ½ cups Arborio rice

Toppings ½ cup heavy cream 1 teaspoon granulated sugar ½ teaspoon rum (optional) ¼ cup almonds or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Hot Buttered Rum Sauce 1 cup packed brown sugar ½ cup dark rum ½ cup heavy cream 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Whisk the brown sugar in a heavy, small saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Pour in the rum and cream and simmer, stirring until the sauce is smooth, thickened, and reduced to about ¾ cup, about 30 minutes. Whisk in the butter until melted. This sauce can be prepared ahead and kept for several hours at room temperature or refrigerated overnight. Reheat before serving. Use this with Mulled Cider and Rum Risotto and Floating Islands with Melted Chocolate Morsels (page 37). Or simply eat with a spoon.

To make the risotto, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are just tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Pour the rum in at the edge of the skillet. Heat briefly, then ignite it carefully using a long match. Shake the skillet until the flame goes out. Stir in the vanilla. Set aside.

Bring the apple juice, orange slice, and spices to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Melt the remaining butter in a large, heavy nonstick saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the rice to the melted butter and stir for 2 minutes, or until the rice starts to become translucent. Pour in about ¾ cup spiced apple juice and bring it to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat to a point where the liquid is simmering gently. Stir continually until the liquid is completely absorbed. Stir in the cooked apple mixture and an additional ½ cup spiced apple juice. Stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the spiced apple juice ½ cup at a time at first, then ¼ cup at a time toward the end of cooking, stirring until each addition is absorbed. Cook, adjusting the heat as necessary so the liquid always simmers gently, until the rice is tender but not mushy, 20 to 25 minutes total. You may not end up using all the liquid.

Whip the cream in the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, adding the sugar little by little and then the rum, if desired.

To serve, spoon the warm risotto into soup bowls. Top it with whipped cream and sprinkle it with nuts.

Apple Compote Tart

Apples are fall to me, and they remind me of my mom. She'd pick apples in September and keep them in the attic. On my way home from school, I could smell from a distance when she was cooking apples and vanilla, and would run home the rest of the way.

My mother was a good cook, but you wouldn’t call her the most fabulous cook in France. Raising a houseful of kids mostly on her own was enough of a challenge, without throwing ooh-la-la gourmet cooking into the mix. Still, like most of us who look back on our earlier years, I find there are things Maman made that conjure up sweet memories of childhood or, more to the point, memories of childhood sweets.

Like most mothers in France, she was well versed in the art of chausson aux pommes, a simple applesauce tart with a pastry crust. I would come home after school, drop off my books, and grab one of these tarts as I ran to play football (soccer).

This recipe is inspired by that tart of my childhood, but I have called for brown sugar and cinnamon, two ingredients that I rarely used until I came to America. And rather than a flaky pastry crust baked in single-serving portions, I make a larger tart with a fluffy, moist brioche dough and an almond-and-brown-sugar topping.

I hope this makes your children happy football players or happy at whatever they chose to do after school.

Serves 8

Apple Tart ½ recipe (1¼ pounds) Brioche Dough (page 81) 6 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch dice (6 cups) ¾ cup packed brown sugar, dark 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup heavy cream 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar ¼ cup water

Almond Topping 1⁄3 cup sliced almonds 1⁄3 cup packed brown sugar, dark 2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To make the tart, butter the inside of a 10-inch quiche mold or springform pan. Lightly flour a work surface and the top of the dough and roll it out to about a 10-inch circle. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Cover the mold and dough with plastic wrap and set aside to rest.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the apples into a large pot with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover and cook slowly on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Continue cooking, uncovered, for 5 minutes longer, stirring once or twice. Add the heavy cream and cook for 5 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Transfer the apples to a bowl and cool them on the counter.

Pour the cooled apple mixture into the center of the dough circle and spread it carefully, leaving a ½-inch border around the perimeter of the dough. In a small bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and water. Brush the mixture onto the border. Bake for 10 minutes. The dough will rise up along the edge of the pan as it bakes.

While the tart is baking, mix together the almonds, brown sugar, and egg whites to make the topping. Once the tart has baked for 10 minutes, carefully spoon and spread the topping over the apple compote to cover it. Return the tart to the oven and bake it for 15 minutes longer. Cool before serving.

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Michel Richard is the chef/owner of Michel Richard Citronelle and Central in Washington, D.C., and Michel at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia, which opened in October. Michel made one of the rarest leaps in the world of food: from the pastry kitchen to chef of some of the country's foremost restaurants. A chef who inspires colleagues with his creativity of invention, he was among the first chefs inducted to the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who in American Food and Wine. He has been a guest on Good Morning America and the Food Network. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and children.