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April 03, 2007

Beauty in Transience: Spring Desserts


One of my most favorite and anticipated yearly sights is when the trees begin to sing their song of spring and bring forth their blossoms, covering winter-stripped branches with fluttery frocks in the most delicate and covetable of pastel shades (Have I mentioned that I love the color pink? although surely the astute reader could guess from seeing the scheme of my page. Right now the clothing stores are particularly dangerous for me - I walk in and I want things not because of their fit or function or even my need for them, but because they are all in whispery soft, flowy fabrics in shades of apricot and daffodil and lilac and periwinkle. I already have about 10 pink shirts in my closet. I must stop.)

I love leaving the urban concreteness of San Francisco and driving to Berkeley, where greenery is entwined into the city, from the huge old magnolia trees bursting with fuchsia blooms to the poppies blazing around wooden fences to the flowering almond trees that shower petals with every breeze.

Right now the sunshine is warm and welcoming, a gentle balm from a dreamy blue sky, not yet the languorous heat of summer. The fruits at market are perfect and sweet, a farewell to winter and a harbinger of harvests to come. I am always struck, at these jewel-like moments of beauty and pleasure, by a sense of mono no aware - that very Japanese concept created by the Japanese. Mono no aware translates roughly into "the pathos of things", and defines a gentle sadness at the transitory nature of the world, coupled with a desire to appreciate these transitory moments now. 

Mono no aware is quite appropriate to spring, of course, as perhaps one of the quintessential examples of this sweet melancholy is the viewing of cherry blossoms in Japan - crowds of people gathering at hanami - cherry blossom viewing parties - to celebrate the brief beauty of the pink and white flowers as they bloom for a few short weeks. There a beauty in their brevity, a recognition that their impermanence adds to their loveliness.

I think we all identify with this concept, even if there isn't a direct English translation. Think of when you're picking ripe fruits from a tree, knowing the tree will only produce so many of them and then it will be bare and empty for the rest of the year. Think of when you were graduating from high school or college, knowing that you and your friends were about to scatter off to your new lives and you would never be in this same place experiencing the same things again. Think of a perfect Sunday afternoon at the beach, with the ocean at your feet and the sun on your back, knowing that next day it will be cloudy and you'll be back at work.

I think food is also a perfect illustration of this pleasurable sadness - what is more impermanent by nature than food? We labor in our kitchens, working with knives and mixers and ovens, plate and decorate the finished product so carefully, photograph them from the perfect angle - and yet the whole time we know eventually what we make will be eaten - devoured. But we take pleasure in knowing what we make will bring happiness to others. There is that instant when you're looking at the end results of your work, at the perfectly composed meal on the perfectly set table - before you call everyone else in to bring an end to the moment.

I like to think that moment is what we're all capturing in our pictures.

I was pleased to find this article in a past issue of Donna Hay's magazine, a collection of gorgeously delicate and springlike desserts to celebrate the ephemeral loveliness of the season.


Orange Blossom Buttermilk Sorbet

The combination of orange and buttermilk might seem a little odd, but it turns out wonderfully: the tang of the buttermilk complements and accentuates the floral citrus notes of the orange blossom water, making it a perky, not too sweet accompaniment to the desserts below.


Roasted Strawberry Meringues

Perfection in simplicity - Crisp clouds of meringue pillowing sweet strawberries roasted in the oven, topped with a kiss of whipped cream. Although I'm not much of a jam-maker, I can appreciate the magic behind the commingling of fruit, sugar and water - roasting strawberries is a little bit like a preface to jam, and nearly as delicious.


Apple Almond Tart

This is the recipe that forced me to finally get a mandoline, as one look at the paper-thin slices of pink lady apples lying as tenderly on the tart as fallen petals persuaded me that I had to reproduce the creation. The tart is made of a gloriously puffed round of puff pastry filled with a rich frangipane studded with walnuts and pistachios, topped off by sweet slices of apple. I hadn't made puff in quite a while - watching it expand exponentially in the oven is certainly one of pastry's most thrilling experiences!

Orange Blossom Buttermilk Sorbet

from Donna Hay magazine

makes about 1 quart

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon orange blossom water

1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind

2 1/2 cups buttermilk

Combine the water, sugar, orange blossom water, and orange rind in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat on the stove until the mixture comes to a boil.

Let boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool completely.

Add the buttermilk and stir to combine. Place mixture in the refrigerator, covered, overnight to chill.

Chill in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.

Roasted Strawberry Meringues

from Donna Hay magazine

makes about 15 meringues

75 ml egg whites (about 3 eggs)

1/2 cup sugar

8 strawberries, hulled and halved

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup whipped cream (for serving)

Preheat oven to 390 degrees. Place the strawberries in a baking dish and sprinkle with the sugar (you may not need all of it depending on your taste).

Roast strawberries in the oven for about 10-15 minutes or until the strawberries are soft and syrupy - you will be able to smell the fruit.

Remove from oven and set aside.

Lower the oven to 250 degrees. Beat the egg white in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.

Add the sugar and whip to incorporate until the mixture is thick and glossy.

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Spoon the meringue onto the prepared sheets by round spoonfuls. Use the spoon to make a dent in the center of each meringue.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until the meringues are crisp on the outside. Then turn off the oven and let the meringues dry in the oven for another 30 minutes.

When you are ready to serve, spoon some roasted strawberries into the center of each meringue and top with some whipped cream.

Apple and Almond Tart

from Donna Hay magazine

serves 8-10

(2) 10-in prepared butter puff pastry sheets, thawed (this is from Donna Hay magazine; I made my own puff pastry but I'm going into puff pastry making details in another post!)

1 cup almond meal

1/4 cup sugar

35 g unsalted butter, melted

1 egg

2 tablespoons honey

1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

4 pink lady apples, thinly sliced

For the apples: Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat on the stove.

Let mixture simmer for 10 minutes and then remove. Let cool completely.

Place apples slices in the sugar syrup and set aside.

Preheat oven to 355 degrees.

For the filling: Combine the almond meal and sugar in a bowl. Add the butter, egg, and honey and stir thoroughly to combine.

Fold in the pistachios and walnuts. Set the mixture aside.

For the tart: Cut out two 9" rounds from the puff pastry sheets. Cut out a 7 1/2 in round from one of the circles to create a border.

Place the border on top of the second puff pastry round. If you like, you can egg wash between the two pieces to help them stick together, but don't get egg wash on the edges or the puff will be unable to expand.

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Spread the filling over the center of the shell. You may have some filling left over.

Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes until the puff pastry has puffed up and is golden and the filling looks firm.

To serve, remove the apple slices from the syrup and arrange on top of the tart.

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All these recipes are wonderful Anita. I do not know which one to choose as they all talk to me in the same manner. Beautiful and airy.

Hi anita,
that apple and almond tart looks utterly gorgeous.
I *must* make it soon.

- fanny

PS i also loooooooooove pink

I love cherry blossoms. If I could put them anywhere on patterns I would!
I am discovering this DH lady more and more. I am looking forward to trying out the sorbet. The apple slices look fantastibulic!

hi anita, and what beautiful, delicate puff pastry that is! - and i'm thrilled to note i'm not the only person who finds watching puff's magnificent rise in the oven fascinating ;-)

Beautiful photos and recipes. Gorgeous!

very pretty, i love your photos!


Hi Anita,

all your photos look beautifully taken. I especially love the first one in the entry. It look almost like a painted portrait.

And the slices of delicate. Great job! =)

Wow, that is three times the loveliness. All of those are so beautiful and look light as air. Fantastic job.

Spring is in the air, especially with these gorgeous desserts! Your apple slices are perfect. I think a mandoline will be my next kitchen splurge:) Thanks for sharing!

Beauty indeed! Wow!

Lovely post! The tiny slithers of apple on the tart look beautiful!

Anita, everything is fantastic! I have those recipes at home and I can say your food looks better than the food int he magazines! ;)

Everything looks so beautiful! Makes me love spring even more.

I tried to comment, but had an error here goes, again...these look beautiful! Makes me love this time of year even more!

Awwww.. best spring post EVER.


Hi Anita! All three of these deserts are absolutely gorgeous. I anxiously await your puff pastry post!

The apple tart is yummy... i like to have it as my breakfast snack. Try having some cinnamon sugar sprinkle on top of the apples placed on tart and bake it for another 10-15mins... it's great!

Oh, Anita!

You are such a beautiful writer. I couldn't agree with you more about the beauty of spring and the intricate balance that exists in our kitchens.

I just love the almond tart!

beautiful - did you core the apples? the fine slices look whole and I thought they might have a tough core

Anita, what a beautiful post. Your writing and wonderful selection of recipes are a delight to read.

Wow -- the apple tart blows me away. Just gorgeous. I am also a Tante Marie grad and was reading the recipe, but I am having a hard time envisioning the puff pastry. Is it two layers of circles -- a double bottom crust -- with a border around them? I know this seems like a stupid question; maybe it's just a late Sunday night thing! I'd love to try the recipe sometime, though.

Wow, what a wonderful array of recipes. I know I really would enjoy that sorbet so that may be the first one I try. Thanks so much for sharing them all. Have a great day!

Thank you! I love Donna Hay, she has the most beautiful and inspiring articles!

Yes, I love the layout of your page:) Pink always makes me so happy!

I love watching cherry blossoms bloom! I wish I had found about DH earlier - but it's fun now that she has so much material out to explore!

Thank you! I always find sucessful puff pastry a heartwarming validation of my baking abilities - one ability, at the least!:)

Thank you! I'm glad the recipes turned out so well!

Thank you! They turned out so nicely they almost photographed themselves!

Thank you! I was totally waiting for flowers to bloom so I could do this post!

Thank you! The apples were totally worth getting a mandoline - I never would have thought of slicing them so thin!

Thank you! I loved doing a springtime post!

Thank you! The one I got wasn't that expensive either, or I've heard that there are good ones in Japantown, if your area has one.

Thanks! The recipes were fun to work with!

Thank you! The apples are all thanks to the mandoline - scary but fun new toy!

That's so sweet of you! DH is definitely very inspirational in terms of her gorgeous photography!

Thank you! Looks like you are enjoying a beautiful spring over in Japan!

Thank you! I was so excited when the trees started flowering and I could do this post!

Thank you! I am working on some puff now...stay tuned!

That's a delicious suggestion - I'll have to try that sometime!

Thank you! I enjoyed writing this - and given the amount of goodies coming from your kitchen, I'm sure you can relate to making people happy!

Thanks! Yes, I cut each apple in half crosswise and dug out the seeds, then attached one half at a time to the mandoline and sliced away!

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the recipes, they were fun to make!

Hey, a fellow Tante Marie grad! When were you in school? Yes, for the puff pastry you need two sheets of puff. One you cut a 9" circle out, the other you cut a 9" circle out and then also a 7 1/2" circle out of the middle, leaving you with a ring that you place on top of the first whole circle. Does that clear it up? Let me know if you need more clarification!

Thank you! The buttermilk sorbet is definitely an interesting recipe to try, and it would go well with a lot of desserts, I think!

What a beautiful post!

very fresh and pretty!
Sooooo Springy.
Now to get the tempuratures up to match your vision...

What a thing of beauty ! And you perfectly conveyed the Japanese theme in your apple almond tart creation.

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

The flowers last for such a short time - the trees are already green!

Thank you! I really liked the apple slice idea - must find ways to use it again!

The orange butternilk sorbet muast have been delicious! Of course, it all looks very good.

The meringues were a big hit at a Labor Day barbecue this weekend. Roasting the strawberries make them almost magical. Thanks for sharing the recipe. :)

First time here!!! my god!! u r sooooo talented!!loved tis post!!! :)

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