This cake is a Russian New Year’s Eve tradition, and therefore no, this recipe I’ve been promising to share for 15 years isn’t late, rolling up here with a mere 36 hours left in the year, it’s exactly on time. The Napolyeon Tort is inspired by a classic mille-feuille (French for “thousand leaves”) which is made with layers of puffed pastry filled with pastry cream. The Russian version has far more layers and, like the Russian Honey Cake, is coated with crumbs made from extra cake. It was created in 1912, when it was created to honor the 100th anniversary of Russia’s defeat of Napoleon’s invasion — initially it was shaped to resemble his triangular bicorne (hat); the crumbs are said to represent the snow that did the French troops in. Due to ingredient limitations, margarine often replaces butter, the cream is sometimes made without eggs, and the cake layers are more brittle than a traditional pâte feuilletée, but as each family makes it their own way, you’d be pressed to find two recipes that agree on what makes a perfect one.
A couple months ago, I was out with friends and we stopped briefly back at a friend’s place (hi Jocelyn!). It smelled amazing and it turned out she had chicken chili going in the crockpot. Despite not planning to stay, we inhaled a bowl in her yard before heading back out again and I have not stopped thinking about it since, hospitality on a you-never-know level. Stews and hearty soups are already wired with this energy — they keep well, are easily reheated, and if nobody else eats it, you’re happy to have it for yourself. But if it’s already ready, it means you can have impromptu drop-ins, and they are unquestionably the best kind. The table isn’t set, the toys aren’t put away, you’re still in sloppy clothes, and everyone has more fun.
Because I excel at timing, I decided long after most normal people had long wrapped up their holiday cookie baking last December to make the checkerboard cookies, Sara, who works with me behind the scenes, has been steadily requesting for about a decade. It’s just… I was a skeptic. I imagined checkerboard cookies would be a hideous amount of work for something that looked cute but probably didn’t taste like much, the dark portions chocolate in color, not flavor.
If you created a mood board that accumulated all of my cocktail interests — whiskey, lemon juice, succinctness, and some kind of niche New York spin [see: Fairytale of New York, Perfect Manhattan] — you might also wonder why it’s taken 15 years for us to talk about the wonder that is the New York Sour. Let’s waste no more time without it. The New York Sour is, in fact, a classic whiskey sour — whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and an egg white, if you wish, for a more dramatic texture — with dash of red wine that, ideally, should float atop creating distinct layers that integrate as you sip. I had thought that rye is more common than bourbon, because rye can come from New York, but have yet to find that corroborated. Regardless, you can use what you have, as I did.
Last week, in a continued effort to get my fridge back to inbox zero after it was groaning under the weight of the extraneous contents of a few shoots here this fall, I decided to take my surplus of cranberries, oranges, and pecans and turn them into a cranberry bread. Except — wait — I don’t have a recipe for cranberry bread. Why did you guys let me go 15 years without a cranberry bread recipe on this site? How did I go 1300 recipes deep in the archives and never find my forever version of one of most classic late fall recipes everyone deserves in their repertoire? Let’s fix this right now.
Along the way to this final cranberry bread — which yes, predictably required purchasing more cranberries, pecans, and oranges for testing and retesting, as if I’d misunderstood the assignment — two things happened that shocked even me.
We had friends over on Saturday for a Please Help Me Clean Out The Fridge dinner. Between a cookbook shoot (coming next fall!) and filming new YouTube episodes (coming next week!), my already-overtaxed kitchen spaces have been groaning at the seams. As someone who weirdly delights in an empty fridge — my version of a clean desk, clear mind — I needed to clean the slate before starting on anything new. Fortunately, some friends selflessly stepped up to the plate and we now have two fewer lasagnas, one less mega-pie, and one fewer neglected winter squash holding up progress.
I have a serious soft spot for dinner rolls: small, buttery, plush rounds that I have, to this day, never actually eaten with dinner, you know, warmed in a basket. (But I hear it’s great!) At the bakery where I worked in high school, they’d come out of the oven in a big pan, fully kissingcrusted and that part where you pull two rolls apart and a few feathery filaments of bread that couldn’t decide which roll they’d like to adhere to when separated are absolutely my favorite part. A warm roll, split and spread with salted butter or jam or both was my breakfast so many mornings. When I make them at home these days, I’m equally likely to use them for small egg sandwiches for breakfast, slider rolls for pulled pork, or even alongside a bowl of soup on a chilly day like this.
I am in awe of people who can make a meal plan, repeating many favorite dishes weekly or several times a year, knowing that they love what they love. Because I’m not: I like shiny new recipes. My favorite thing to cook will always be the last new thing I made. All attempts to be a responsible sort of person with a plan are consistently jettisoned by a sparkly whim that landed in my head in the last day or two, like a Big Apple Crumb Cake. Or, in this case, an Ottolenghi recipe from The Guardian I apparently bookmarked over three years ago and forgot about until this stunning image flashed across my screen a few weeks ago and all of my best-laid October plans were kicked to the curb. I haven’t a single regret.
This is the bouldered and dramatic intersection of two of my favorite things: cinnamon baked apples and a thick crumb cake. I don’t know how they make crumb cake where you are, but here in New York, and where I grew up in New Jersey, crumb cake isn’t a genteel cinnamon-ribboned or finely streusel-ed coffee cake, but a hefty square that’s 50% crumb topping and 50% a golden, sour cream-enriched cake and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Thanks to brown sugar and cinnamon, the crumb topping is always a dark stripe, and a snow-cap of powdered sugar isn’t optional. Fruit is, but this is too good with fresh apples to skip them.
If things seem a little quiet around here this summer, do know that it’s less because I’m out having a hot vax summer and more because I’m in my own personal quarantine-for-a-good-cause: finishing up my third cookbook, which will be out next fall. Although I’m somewhat (“somewhat”) panicked by the vanishing weeks between now and the deadline, I am so excited about this book and I can’t wait to tell you more about it, you know, should I survive the photoshoot and edits. (If you’ve spent some time on this site, you know what a forbidding task the copyeditor has ahead.)
I will never find it again [Update: It’s been found!], but a few weeks ago a TikTok* went through my feed in which a woman is invited to eat half a dozen eggs and she says “Oh no, that’s too much.” “But what if I scoop them out, mash it with mayo, and stuff it back together?” “Thanks, I’ll have the whole tray!”
Of course, violins are not made small enough to express the woe that is ordering a sub-par drink at the kind of resort with palm trees, beaches, and a daily agenda of luxuriating as lazily as possible. But, have you ever ordered a good strawberry daiquiri at a bar? I have not. As neither the holiday weekend nor strawberry season are over yet, this seems as good a time as any to make it right.