Why should neighborhood ghosts and goblins get all the treats?
By Jason Frye • Photographs by Andrew Sherman
As a kid, two days stood out for a candy-binge-eating
bonanza: Easter (why? we’ll never know) and Halloween. But now I’m an adult, and the craving for Cadbury Eggs or Fun-Size candy bars is behind me. My palate has expanded (I won’t say it’s more sophisticated because I still love a log of cookie dough) and refined. Those sweets of my childhood and the twice-yearly gluttonous holiday sugar orgies have given way to simply, dessert. Like a civilized person.
I’ll have a cheese course for dessert or even just an after-dinner drink, but still nothing satisfies like something sweet, rich and at least a little decadent. Oh, and since I am a grownup, something a little boozy ain’t half bad either.
So where do I turn for dessert? Where should you look to get your fill of sweets? I talked with a trio of dessert mavens about some most excellent treats us grownups can enjoy this Halloween. No costume required.
Pastry Chef, Circa Restaurant Group: Brasserie du Soleil,
Osteria Cicchetti, Circa 1922 and Boca Bay
Amanda Corbett makes my absolute favorite dessert in Wilmington (and maybe all of the world): the pot de crème at Brasserie du Soleil. Rich chocolate, the perfect texture, an appropriate portion size, this is my go-to.
“My philosophy when it comes to desserts for adults is ‘Not too sweet,’” says Corbett. “That’s why I often incorporate a pinch of salt in my recipes, for balance.”
Corbett will go savory on a dessert, opting for the cheese plate from time to time. “The thought of replacing an amazing slice of Circa 1922’s seven layer chocolate cake with a plate of cheese may be a faux pas for some,” says Corbett, “but I dare you to try Osteria Cicchetti’s crumbly, creamy Danish blue cheese with orange honey and lavash crackers paired with a cabernet.”
Challenge accepted, but on to the sweets.
“My current favorite is my newest addition to Osteria Cicchetti’s menu: the peanut butter cake. I’m talking layers of smooth chocolate ganache, creamy peanut butter mousse, roasted peanuts and salted caramels. I use almond flour, so it’s gluten free, plus the flour adds some nuttiness. I like pairing it with an aged port wine; it’s like a play on the classic PB&J.”
Corbett shares a family recipe with Salt, a childhood favorite and holiday classic: peanut brittle.
“My grandmother used to make a huge batch to give out on the holidays, and watching my mother and grandmother cook and share their love for others through food sparked a flame in me.” Find this treat atop a Brasserie mini or make it at home.
Roast 1 pound of shelled peanuts in your oven for five minutes, until warm to the touch. Stir 2 tablespoons soft butter and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with peanuts until butter is melted. Set aside. Combine 1/2 cup water, 2 cups granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cooking until golden brown.
Once syrup is golden brown, pour over peanuts. Stir once, quickly pour mixture in a thin layer onto a cookie sheet. Allow to set about 20 minutes, then break apart by hand.
“My Greek grandmother — who I’m named after — lived with us when I was growing up, and she made the most incredible Greek pastries,” says Kathy Rayle, owner of the aptly named Bakla-Vavoom. “Baklava was my favorite, and I’ve never, not even once, enjoyed a baklava the way I enjoyed hers.”
Baklava is so simple — phyllo dough, butter, nuts, honey syrup — that it’s hard to get right. Rayle has it nailed. She’s been making baklava for 15 years, and every time a tray of it appears at a party, I surreptitiously eat as much of it as I can.
“A good baklava is about contrasting textures. The top layers of phyllo are crunchy and the bottom portion moist from the syrup,” she says. “Although it’s a sweet dessert, I enjoy a bit of a savory note for balance.”
But a great baklava, like the one that inspires Rayle, is about proportion. Like a good party, too many nuts and too little phyllo and it falls apart; too much phyllo and too few nuts and it’s doughy.
“Ultimately I try to recreate the lingering taste that my grandmother’s baklava had. I can only hope mine comes close.”
Rayle’s take on baklava is both traditional — like her grandmother’s — and totally new. As in vegan. She removes the butter and honey, replaces them with similar vegan ingredients, and makes a batch that sells like crazy at Tidal Creek Co-Op. Her traditional batch sells too; you can buy directly from her, from a handful of Harris Teeter stores or at The District.
Like any good cook, she’s passing her love along, and her 10-year old daughter, Ava, has started her own YouTube cooking show (“Cool Classic Cooking,” check it out). I sampled one of Ava’s mini-pumpkin pies recently and she’s on the right track.
“I only cook desserts on my show,” Ava says. Seems like we’ve come to the right place.
Surf House Oyster Bar & Surf Camp
“I have a really bad sweet tooth,” says Amanda Benoit, pastry chef at Surf House in Carolina Beach. “I mean, practically the only thing I eat is dessert.”
Which explains why her dessert menu and I became such fast friends.
Her chocolate bar — a flourless torte with caramel, bourbon sugar and vanilla ice cream — is the perfect fix for a sugar-junkie, but so is her pecan pie (which probably has a splash of bourbon in it; this is, after all, a list of treats for grown ups) and her key lime pie and her ice cream.
“I’m moving into my fall/winter desserts in October,” says Benoit.
That means hot chocolate made the old-fashioned way: real chocolate (she prefers Valrhona), heavy cream and milk. Oh, and mint or cayenne pepper or a splash of something tipsy. Like all creative types, she’s got to switch things up — stretch and challenge — to keep it inspired.
Benoit likes to experiment and encourages home cooks to play, try a recipe, use a new ingredient — like Old Grand-Dad bourbon, which she uses for the lingering vanilla notes — “Make something you’ve never had before.”
“What would basil ice cream be like? How can I use thyme? Would lavender bring some balance to this dish? Those are questions I ask and things I try,” says Benoit, who also enjoys the sweet-savory paradox, but isn’t going to deprive her need-for-sweets. “I mean, I’m not into the $24 cheese plate — that’s not dessert — but savory can really set off the sweet.”