Archive for the 'pies & tarts' Category


Banana Fudge And Berry Tart (Dehydrated)

[ Equipment: dehydrator or oven, 9-inch pie pan (7-1/2 inch diameter bottom). For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

This recipe began as an idea for a dehydrated pie. The crust is a variation on dehydrated peanut butter cookies, one of my earliest warm-air-baked cookies on VaporBaker. For a softer crust, increase the amount of peanut butter or a legume butter, as suggested below. Adding more coconut flour would give a crumblier crust. The banana fudge could be served on its own. I’d shape it in a fancy mold and present it with a drizzle of sweet fruit coulis.

I ground my own oat flour from processing traditional rolled oats. The coconut flour is just unsweetened coconut flakes chopped down in a food processor too. I would not substitute the blueberry craisins, as they play off the chocolate background very nicely without commandeering attention. If the local market doesn’t stock blueberry craisins, a mix of chopped dried sweetened cranberries and dried blueberries could work.

At 210 calories per serving, I think of this tart as an affordable dessert, but it could be even lighter with low-sugar ingredients. The maple syrup could be one of those no-sugar syrups. I’ve tried one (Maple Farms) and it works fine. Granulated sucralose or other granulated sweetener could stand in for the sugar. A legume butter in the pie crust dough would cut the calories of the peanut butter. (I don’t recommend a legume butter in step 1 of the assembly, because the peanut butter is meant to be a waterproof coating for the dried crust.) That’s a total reduction of over 400 calories per tart or 50 calories per serving.

This semi-raw tart can be made 100% raw by replacing the maple syrup with a liquid sweetener like honey. Although the tart can be optionally chilled before serving, it is a true dehydrated pastry that doesn’t need refrigeration. The recipe dehydrates at a higher 150°F/65.6°C temperature, to accelerate the preparation, which may impact flavor slightly. However, this tart has flavor to spare.

Makes 8 servings
– 210 calories per serving
– Oven Temperature: 150°F/65.6°C dehydrator

Tart Crust:

  • 1/2 cup oat flour (coarsely ground – see text)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour (see text)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons peanut butter or legume butter (see text)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup

Banana Fudge:

  • 1 large banana (8 inches)
  • 1 medium zucchini (5 to 6 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup blueberry craisins


  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 3 or 4 dried apricots

Tart Crust Method:

1. In a medium bowl, combine the oat flour and coconut flour.

2. Stir in the maple syrup and 2 tablespoons peanut butter to form a moist, pebbly meal.

3. Press the dough into a greased, 9-inch pie pan, covering just the bottom of the pan.

4. Perforate the dough every 1/2 inch.

5. Dehydrate for about 2 to 3 hours until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the pan. If pushed a little, the entire crust should loosen in one piece. Do NOT unmold the crust. Set aside.

Banana Fudge Method:

1. In the small to medium bowl of a food processor, finely chop 1 zucchini.

2. Add the banana and maple syrup. Process until mixture becomes a whipped puree.

3. Add sugar and cocoa powder and process for about 1 minute.

4. Add vanilla and cinnamon, and process until well combined.

5. Pour mixture into a baking dish and spread out. Dehydrate for 3 to 4 hours until about 1/3 original volume. Every hour, stir the mixture to break any skin formed on the surface.

6. Mix in the blueberry craisins.

Assembly Method:

1. Soften 3 tablespoons of peanut butter in the microwave (about 15 to 20 seconds). Spread a thin layer of peanut butter over the top of the tart crust.

2. Cover the top of the crust evenly with the banana fudge. Spread the fudge with the back of a spoon.

3. Slice the dried apricots into thin slivers and sprinkle over the fudge.

4. If desired, cover and chill the tart for about 30 minutes to an hour before serving.


Apricot-Almond Cream Puff Pastry Pithivier (Baked)

Standard puff pastry must be baked in a very hot oven, around 400F/204C, to get the bursts of steam that raise and separate the pastry layers. In LTB ovens at 250F/121C, any steam is too little, too late and the layers essentially fuse. This version of puff pastry replaces the steam with a heat-based leavener, namely double-acting baking powder, and replaces the layers of butter with layers of a cake flour-based “oil” dough. The dissimilar doughs resist fusion and separate more easily when the heat-based leavener puffs the layers and lifts them apart. The 2 doughs also imbue the pastry with a crisp yet silky texture.

The idea for the 2 doughs comes from Chinese puff pastry. Chinese puff pastry begins with the inner dough shaped into a ball and then covered with a pie crust-like outer dough. The dough ball is then flattened and rolled up like a jelly roll to create layers and flattened again. The procedure is repeated once more, creating a multilayer effect, although not quite the “thousand layers” of fine puff pastry which would require several more roll outs. In my version, I also dispense with the ball stage. The inner and outer doughs are separately rolled out into rectangles first, stacked and then rolled up like jelly rolls.

Whereas the fat in traditional chinese puff pastry is lard, my doughs contain shortening, because none of my local markets stocks lard. My version of the inner dough incorporates a combination of shortening and butter, cut in as in a pie crust. In my experience, pure oil doughs tend to melt and fuse with surrounding layers when baked for long times at low temperatures. Butter provides structure and flavor, while the oil greases the layers and imparts a silkier mouth feel. Many pastries made with Chinese puff pastry do not rise much but are notable for their crispy layers and luxurious taste. Those characteristics can be achieved with this low temperature pastry too.

As I was developing a low temperature puff pastry, I had in mind one particular baked form: a pithivier. Like Chinese mooncakes, pithiviers are a kind of pie, but unlike mooncakes, they can be as large as a full-size pie. The pithivier in this recipe spans 6 inches, which is about as large as my LTB oven will accommodate. I fill it it with quintessential French flavors: apricots and almonds in the form of an easy almond cream and store-brought apricot preserves.

The classic pithivier filling is a firm-textured almond cream or frangipane made with almond flour. For an alternative, I put in an almond-flavored cheesecake batter, thickened with wheat flour and coconut flour. Without the flour thickeners, the filling would be more liquid-y and would spill over the dough before the top could be applied and sealed. Coconut flour, in particular, is excellent for this purpose, because it soaks up more moisture than the same amount of wheat flour. However, it has a stronger taste that can overpower the almond cream. I added only the amount necessary to achieve an acceptable consistency. For those with the inclination, the cheesecake batter could be replaced with an actual frangipane and the apricot preserves replaced with some kind of homemade apricot compote. The recipe makes over 1 cup of filling, when only about 2 tablespoons are needed per pithivier.

In some steps of the Pithivier Method, I show two pictures of the pastry. The second is an apricot-almond cream pithivier with chocolate chips and possibly demonstrating some variation on the method of assembly.

Makes 1 6-inch pithivier

– 770 calories
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Puff Pastry: Outer Dough:

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (double acting type)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons water

Puff Pastry: Inner Dough:

  • 1/4 cup minus 1 teaspoon all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon green tea powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (double acting type)
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil

Coconut Almond Cream Filling

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup coconut flour (see text)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (large)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • apricot preserves

Puff Pastry Method:

1. Outer Dough: in a medium bowl, whisk dry ingredients until well combined.

2. Dice the shortening or break it into small pieces and add to the flour mixture.

3. With hands, rub the shortening and flour until the mixture forms tiny pebbles or use a pastry blender or fork to cut the butter into the flour.

4. Sprinkle in water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, tossing and pressing  the bits until they are moist and can form a cohesive dough.Shape into a rectangular block. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

In my experience, it usually takes just over 3 teaspoons of water to form the dough. Avoid stirring or do it gently so that the gluten bonds don’t network and toughen the dough. Avoid over hydrating the dough. Too much water will turn the pastry dough into bread dough.

5. Inner Dough: in a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients until well combined. Dice the butter or break it into small chunks and add to the flour mixture.

6. With hands, rub the shortening and flour until the mixture forms tiny pebbles or use a pastry blender or fork to cut the butter into the flour.

7. Sprinkle in the oil, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, tossing and pressing the bits until they are moist and can form a cohesive dough.Shape into a rectangular block. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. As before, avoid adding more oil than necessary.

9. Shape into a rectangular brick. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

10. Layering: unwrap the outer dough and sandwich it between 2 sheets of plastic wrap at least 11 inches long. Flatten the dough into a rectangle by pressing the knuckles against it. This technique helps to minimize cracking when rolling the dough next.

11. Roll the dough out to a 9 x 5 inch rectangle. Set aside.

12. Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the inner dough.

13. Remove the top plastic from the outer dough and lightly dust with flour. Remove the plastic from one side of the inner dough and stack it on top of the outer dough. Take the top plastic off the inner dough and lightly dust with flour.

14. Beginning at one of the 5-inch sides, tightly roll up the stacked doughs and pinch-seal the flap.

15. Turn the roll around so that the length of the roll is parallel to the length of the plastic sheet with the seam side down. Cover with another plastic sheet.

16. With the rolling pin, flatten the roll by indenting it along the length with the rolling pin. Then roll the dough out to a 9 x 5 inch rectangle.

17. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Beginning at one of the 5-inch sides, tightly roll up the dough and pinch-seal the flap. Then cut the roll in half. One half will be formed into the bottom of the pithivier; the other half will be the top.

Pithivier Method:

1. Pithivier bottom crust: Center one of the puff pastry sections (seam side down) between two sheets of plastic wrap (I re-use the plastic from making the puff pastry). Flatten the roll with a rolling pin and then roll out to approximately a 7 inch circle.

2. Cut out a 6-inch circle. The cutter shown above is actually 5-3/4 inches in diameter.

3. Transfer the pastry circle to a greased baking sheet. In the picture above, the baking sheet is the bottom of a removable bottom cake pan. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the almond cream on the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border.

Optional: sprinkle 2 or 3 teaspoons of mini chocolate chips over the almond cream.

4. Spread a few teaspoons of apricot preserves over the almond cream. Then brush some beaten egg around the dough border.

5. Pithivier top crust: repeat steps 1 and 2 with the remaining section of puff pastry. After cutting out the 6-inch circle of dough, cut out the venting holes and slits. In the picture above, I used mini cookie cutters for a decorative touch. Before transferring the top crust to the pithivier, I removed the decorative cutouts and set them aside.

6. Position the top crust dough over the apricot-almond cream filling and align the edges. Seal the edges by pressing down and around with a fork or spoon.

7. Brush the top crust with beaten egg. In the picture above, I restored the cutouts that were set aside in step 5 before applying the glaze.

8. Bake for about 60 minutes or until the crust is a golden color. Cool. Slice and serve.


Cherry Mandarin Rustic Tart w/Cream Cheese Crust

[ Equipment: baking pan, oven or temperature-controlled slow cooker accurate to 250°F/121°C. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

A rich cream cheese crust counters the tang of mandarin oranges and cherries in this rustic tart. Since baking my first mini fruit tarts last year, I’ve been planning to make larger versions (this one spans 6 inches and can serve 2 or 4). The opportunity arrived when one of my local markets had a 50% off sale on bags of mandarin oranges. Because the flesh of oranges encapsulates so much juice, I did not think of trying an orange tart at first. Yet the idea did cross my mind, and after some research, I did find examples online.

In pictures of orange tarts I saw, orange slices were cut against the segments for a circular sunburst or spoked wheel design. I thought the mandarin oranges (I believe the ones in my bag were Murcott Mandarins) too small to get many slices with that technique. Hence, I just cut the segments into thirds and piled the tiny wedges onto the dough for a random effect that served the “rustic” nature of the pastry.

To my taste buds, the real flavor of mandarin oranges lies not in the juice or the pulp, but in the peel. I first time I tried zesting on a mini grater, I barely accumulated 1/2 teaspoon of zest from an entire peel, because the grater held onto a large portion and because what did come out had been crushed into a wet mess. Instead, I prepare zest the old fashion way: by scrapping off the bitter pith and fine chopping it with a sharp knife. With this technique I get up to a tablespoon of zest. I rub the zest lightly between my fingers to release the oils before adding it to batters.

Along with the zest, the tart gets a flavor boost from cherries – only a few cherries, because they are meant to enhance the acid from the oranges. Although I didn’t spice this tart, a little ginger and/or cinnamon mixed in with the sprinkled sugar could pleasantly perk up the fruit. I have included an optional marmalade glaze both for extra sweetening and for flavor.

The cream cheese crust is a variation on the low-fat crust from my mini rustic tarts. The classic cream cheese crust has only butter, but I kept the butter-shortening blend to help the crust maintain its freeform shape, as it bakes for over 2 hours. The ratio of butter to cream cheese varies with recipes. I’ve seen some with more butter than cream cheese (by volume and weight since butter and cream cheese weigh the same per unit volume) and vice versa.

The first time I glazed this tart, I brushed on heated apricot jam, but thought it ordinary in this recipe. Now, I glaze it with a homemade lavender mandarin marmalade that punctuates the orange flavors. Lavender flowers transform the condiment into something almost mysteriously good but also very subtle when applied as a glaze. Because the marmalade stands well on its own, I gave the recipe its own page.

It may seem odd to suggest that a 6-inch tart can serve 4. However, a quarter tart reports in at over 200 calories. For a more substantial dessert, serve a quarter tart with a heap of orange slices. A single mandarin orange counts just 40 calories.

Makes one 6-inch tart, 2 to 4 servings
– 215/4 or 430/2 calories per serving
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Pastry Crust:

  • 5/8 cup all-purpose flour (3.4 oz)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chilled vegetable shortening (zero trans-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon chilled butter
  • 2 tablespoons chilled cream cheese, regular or low-fat
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilled lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon milk


  • 4 mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented (reserve peels for zesting – see below for zesting method)
  • 5 cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon mandarin orange zest
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon butter


  • 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Glaze (optional):

Method: Mandarin Orange Zest

1. With a spoon, scrape the white pith off the back of the peels.

2. Julienne the peels into thin strips.

3. Then cross-cut them into tiny bits. Lastly, mince the peel finely. Store covered in the refrigerator. Rub the zest lightly between the fingers to release oils before adding it to food.

Method: Cream Cheese Pastry Crust

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar and salt until well combined.

3. Add the cream cheese, pinched into small chunks, and cut into the flour with a pastry blender or rub it between the hands until it attains a crumbly texture.

4. Cube the butter and cut in the flour mixture with pastry blender or rub between the hands until it attains a pebbly texture (the size of small beans or smaller).

5. Mix the water and lemon/lime juice in a cup. Sprinkle lemon water – 1/2 teaspoon at a time – over the flour mixture, tossing and pressing (do NOT knead) until it forms a cohesive ball. In my experience, 2 to 3 teaspoons of this acidulated water will suffice to make the dough.

6. Shape the dough into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap with a 10-inch long sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Method: Tart

1. Pre-heat the oven to 250°F/121°C. Cut the orange slices into thirds, for a total of about 1 cup.

2. The tart will be baked on a baking sheet, which in these pictures is the bottom of a 7-inch removable bottom cake pan. Cut a 7-inch circle from a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the baking sheet and press the paper circle on it. The water will serve as a temporary glue.

3. Unwrap the pastry dough and center the disk on the plastic wrap. Cover the dough with another 10-inch sheet of plastic wrap and roll the dough out to about an 8-inch circle.

4. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and dust with flour.

5. Gently fold the dough in half and then in half again to form a wedge or quarter circle.

6. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and unfold.

4. In a small dish, mix the thickener ingredients until well combined. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a generous layer of the thickener, leaving a 1-inch border clear, and spread with the back of a spoon to cover evenly.

5. Pile 3/4 cup of the orange slices on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border to form the sides of the crust later and reserving 1/4 cup of slices for garnishing. Sprinkle the quartered cherries over the orange slices. Sprinkle the zest and 1 to 2 teaspoon of sugar over the fruit (more sugar for mildly sweet oranges).

6. Top the fruit with dots of butter (about 1 teaspoon total). Fold the sides of the dough up over the fruit and press down at the corners.

7. Brush the dough with milk. Bake at 250°F/121°C for about 2-1/2 hours or until the crust is lightly golden brown. If baking in a slow cooker, place a trivet (mine was a metal condiment cup) in the crock so that the baking tray doesn’t touch the bottom of the crock and scorch the tart.

8. Allow the tart to cool.

9. The glaze could be smooth or flecked with bits of orange from the marmalade. Heat the marmalade for a few seconds in the microwave to soften it. For a smooth glaze, press the marmalade through a fine sieve and discard the pulp. If necessary, dilute the glaze with a few drops of water to loosen it.

10. Brush the glaze over the fruit. Slice and serve.


Crustless Cherry Berry Tarts With Olive Oil Frangipane (Baked)

[ Equipment: oven or slow cooker with temperature control. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The term crustless refers to the lack of a pastry crust. These tarts are all “filling”, the fruits embedded in a leavened pastry cream batter. The pictures above show 2 versions of the crustless tart. The top one has the lighter batter, cherries and delicate top crust. The bottom tart is denser, firmer and packed with blueberries. They are variations on Rachel Allen’s No-Pastry Pear and Almond Tart, which she demonstrated in an episode of her TV show (see a picture of Allen’s tart here).

Clafoutis may be the most famous no-pastry tart, but her tart was not a clafoutis, which has a wetter batter at nearly 4 times the level of hydration (compared with Julia Child’s clafoutis recipe). Rather, the batter’s ingredient roster suggested a frangipane, an almond pastry cream, but formulated with a higher ratio of flour to almond meal and leavened with aerated egg whites to create a texture and body closer to that of a cake.

In my version of this recipe, I kept the Allen’s flour-to-almond-meal ratio (about 1:1 by volume), but changed out the butter for a combination of olive oil and milk. My experience has been that butter tends to dry out LTB cakes. As to the choice of oil, I thought the fruitiness of an extra virgin olive oil made it a fine substitute for butter in this recipe, adding both fat and flavor to the batter and blending nicely with the cherries and blueberries. Unlike conventional baking, LTB will preserve the taste of the olive oil. The oil’s only a partial substitution for the full amount of butter to keep the calorie count down, although at 410 calories per tart, it’s not diet food. Milk covers the remainder for hydration.

I also experimented with the amount and preparation of the egg whites and the addition of egg yolks. In Allen’s recipe, the egg whites were beaten for 30 seconds until frothy and then mixed into the frangipane batter. The air in the whites, invigorated by a 400°F/200°C oven, blew up the tart. However, an LTB oven at 250°F/121°C doesn’t develop that kind of puffing heat, so the volume of the raw whites pretty much sets the height. With that limitation in mind, I tried whites beaten to the foam stage (stabilized with lemon juice) and beaten to the stiff peak stage. With the stiff-peak whites, the tart baked up like a cottony chiffon cake, but tasted and felt like a light almond cream as it dissolved in the mouth. The tart with the foamed whites came out moist and dense, like a traditional frangipane.

Both types are described in this recipe. Type 1 has the stiff-peak egg white and cherry fruit. Type 2 incorporates the foamed egg whites and blueberries. Although the overall hydration is about the same in both recipes, the type 2 has less milk (and twice as much egg white). I recommend a superfine or baker’s sugar for the type 2, because it will dissolve faster or more thoroughly in the reduced hydration of batter prior to folding in the egg whites.

What did I do with the leftover egg yolks? Well, I saved them for other things like custard-base ice milks and enriched scrambled eggs. I did try a type 1 tart with a yolk (shown above on the left). It tasted too eggy, too much like a cake, really overpowering the fruit. On the other hand, the yolk tart held its shape better, no cracks in the top crust, and with a denser texture, like a type 2 tart. In the type 1 recipe, I list an optional amount of ground flax seed to get some of the cohesion of an egg yolk without its standout flavor.

Makes 2 mini tarts
– 410 calories per tart
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Type 1 (stiff-peak egg white batter):

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground flax seed (optional, see text)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
  • 8 cherries, pitted and sliced lengthwise in half

Type 2 (foamed egg white batter):

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries

1. Grease 2 4-inch mini tart pans and set aside. The non-stick pans above were greased and floured, but did not release much better than pans that were greased only.

2. In a medium bowl, sift flour and almond meal. Mix in the sugar and combine thoroughly. Instead of sifting, I will put the flour, almond meal and sugar in the bowl and rub it between my hands to combine them and eliminate any lumps.

3. Type 1 tart: in another bowl, whip the egg white with the tablespoon of sugar, lemon juice and salt until it reaches the stiff peak stage.

Type 2 tart: in another bowl, whip the egg whites with the lemon juice and salt until it becomes a light foam. A fork is perfectly adequate for this job.

4. Add milk and olive oil to the flour mixture and whisk until well combined. Note: the type 2 batter will be much thicker in this step because it has less milk.

5. Type 1 tart: Fold the stiffened egg white into the batter.

Type 2 tart: Gently mix the foamed egg whites into the batter.

6. Fill each tart pan about 3/4 full of batter.

7. Place cherries cut-side up in batter or sprinkle blueberries into batter. The cherry tart on the left is a type 1. The one with blueberries on the right is a type 2.

8. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove to a rack and cool. Note that type 1 tarts will sink and crack as they cool.

9. Unmold and serve. As seen in the first picture above, the top crust on the type 1 (cherry) tart breaks apart easily. I saved the pieces and reassembled them on the tart once it was unmolded. I garnished the cherry tart with chopped walnuts.


Chinese Mooncakes With Plum-Lima Bean Filling (Baked)

[ Equipment: oven or slow cooker. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The Chinese Moon Festival happens on September 22 this year, which means: it time for eating mooncakes! This recipe is a healthier take on the classic pastry. It begins with a filling made from dried plums and baby lima beans, replacing the traditional red bean paste which was loaded with fat and sugar. The shell is a low-fat, soft crumb version of the crispy, eggy crust of Shanghai mooncakes from Malaysia. All together, this tasty reconstruction has 1/3 the calories of the mooncakes of yore.

Many people prefer to buy mooncakes than make them under the mistaken belief that they require fancy molds and esoteric ingredients. The popular thin-skinned Cantonese mooncakes sold in the US are molded, but other styles, like the Shanghai mooncakes, are shaped by hand with varying degrees of decoration. Homemade mooncakes can be as elaborate as the baker has time to lavish on them, pleasing the eyes and palette – and the wallet, since a single mooncake can cost over $10 US, and prices are rumored to be higher this year.

This recipe doesn’t jettison the original concept of mooncakes, as some of today’s so-called mooncakes might be accused of doing. In the ingredients and the form are elements of the past. Although the basis of the filling is pureed dried plums, the baby lima beans give structure, cut the intense sweetness and echo the legume nature and shading of traditional red bean paste. (Prepare the beans by soaking them in water ovenight; then simmer until tender, about 40 to 50 minutes.) The 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar is to taste. It acts as a preservative too, since the lima beans dilute the sugar concentration and could weaken the anti-bacterial properties inherent in the dried fruit.

The rich brown of the plum-bean paste contrasts nicely with the yellow-orange of the whole dried apricot, representing the moon (and standing in for the traditional salted egg yolk). Alternatives to dried plums include dried figs or dates. The lima beans could be replaced with another firm, mild flavor bean like mung beans or soy beans or try any bean in the cupboard. Dried nectarines, peaches or kumquats would make fine moons too, if they are small and fit inside the pastry.

I first read about Shanghai mooncakes at Corner Cafe. They originated in Malaysia, not Shanghai, by way of a similar pastry from Hong Kong. For my recipe, the biscuit crust has been modified in content and technique to reduce the fat and develop a flakier crumb. Yogurt compensates for the excised butter. It imparts richness as well as hydrates the dough. I originally substituted more beaten egg, but decided that the strong eggy flavor competed with the filling. Plain yogurt is fine, but vanilla yogurt brings a touch of smoothness.

Shanghai mooncakes have a crispy, crunchy shell, while the skin on Cantonese mooncakes is soft and chewy. In both types, the dough is kneaded to develop the gluten. In this recipe, the wet ingredients are incorporated into the dough with very little kneading or stirring to avoid developing the gluten for a tender, flaky pastry, as in a pie crust. In the alternative, for a more traditional, chewier texture, the dough could be kneaded briefly. I pressed the mooncakes into mini tart pans to flatten them into disks and flute the edges, like the scalloped sides on Cantonese mooncakes.

The decoration on top of Shanghai mooncakes can be as simple as almond slivers or pumpkin seeds arranged in an attractive pattern. However, consumers have come to associate the fine and fancy reliefs on Cantonese cakes as a measure of quality. While hand-crafted individual designs are too labor intensive for commercial sales, artisan and home bakers can let their imaginations fly. For the cakes the pictures, I cut out designs from scrap dough, embossed them with the dull back of the knife, laid the pieces out on top and varnished the surface with egg wash to glue them down.  An alternative to cutting out and assembling the designs is to imprint the scrap dough with a small cookie mold or stamp it with a cookie stamp.

Makes 2 mooncakes
– 310 calories per mooncake
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C


  • 1 tablespoon butter or vegetable shortening
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon plain or vanilla yogurt (see text)
  • 1 egg beaten (see text)


  • 12 dried pitted plums or prunes (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/8 cup cooked baby lima beans (see text)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 dried apricots (see text)

Filling Method (makes about 3 tablespoons):

1. Put dried plums, lima beans and sugar in a small bowl and with an immersion blender, puree to a smooth paste. Alternatively, put ingredients in mini food processor and puree to a smooth paste.

2. Transfer paste to a microwave-safe dish and heat on HIGH for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove (careful, dish may be very hot) and stir paste vigorously for about 30 seconds to release steam and cool. Put back in the microwave and repeat heat-stir process another 5 or 6 times, until mixture has darkened and stiffened to the point that an inserted spoon will remain standing.

Alternatively, transfer paste to a small nonstick fry pan and stir over low heat until mixture has darkened and stiffened to the point that an inserted spoon will remain standing.

3. Cool and store in a closed container or plastic bag. Refrigerate until ready to assemble mooncakes.

Pastry Method:

Pre-heat oven or cooker to 250°F/121°C.

1. In a bowl, cream butter and sugar with fork until well combined.

2. In a small bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt until well combined. Cut flour mixture into butter mixture with a fork or pastry blender until mixture looks uniformly crumbly.

3. Add yogurt and gently toss in flour until yogurt is evenly distributed.

4. Add beaten egg, one teaspoon at a time, using toss, press, crumble actions until mixture just comes together and forms a dough (about 3 to 5 teaspoons). Avoid stirring or kneading the dough or the gluten will toughen the pastry (or lightly knead for a chewier texture – see discussion above).

5. Divide dough into 2 portions.

6. Shape each portion into a small disk and cover with plastic wrap (plastic wrap should be larger than 6-inches square). Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

7. Unwrap one disk, lightly dust the dough and plastic with flour, and place disk on center of plastic wrap. Place a another piece of plastic wrap over the dough and roll out a rough circle about 5-1/2 to 6 inches.

8. Remove top plastic wrap, dust with flour and press a 4-1/2 inch round cookie or biscuit cutter into dough. Peel off excess dough and save for decoration. The 4-1/2 inch dough circle could be cut out freehand with a knife too. The cookie cutter method is only a convenience.

9. Optional: place a dried apricot in the center of dough.

10. Put 1-1/2 tablespoons of filling in center of dough, covering the apricot.

11. Lift up sides of dough to wrap the filling and pinch the top closed to form a ball. If the dough is very moist and threatens to tear, slide a butter knife or a frosting spatula under the dough and gently lift up over the filling.

12. Dust the dough ball with flour and gently flatten into a disk, about 3-inches in diameter. Put the disk into a greased mini-tart pan (4-inches diameter), seam side down.

13. Press disk outward until the disk touches the sides of the pan. If there are any thin spots on the surface, cover them with thin sections of scrap dough and rub down edges. The patches don’t have to be blended into the surface, because any telltale seams will be hidden by decoration.

14. With scrap dough, create a decoration on top of the mooncake. Typical mooncake images include flowers, leaves, animals, fishes, abstract patterns and chinese characters. Brush the mooncake with an egg wash made from the leftover beaten egg thinned with 1 or 2 teaspoons of water. In the above picture, the flowerhead on the daisy decoration was covered with poppy seeds for a 3-dimensional effect. The poppy seeds were sprinkled on after the egg wash so they would adhere to the surface.

15. Bake at 250°F/121°C for 60-70 minutes until golden brown. Cool for 30 minutes and unmold. Put the mooncakes on a rack and continue cooling until the bottoms of the mooncakes are dry.

16. The picture above shows the inside of a mooncake with apricot “moon”. I’ve stored these mooncakes at room temperature for over a week. The high sugar, low moisture filling resists spoilage. However, I strongly recommend that they be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight plastic bag or container for maximum freshness.

Shown below are some more of my mooncake creations. The designs are (in order) a Chinese dragon, leaves and berries and the Chinese character for “moon”.


Rustic Fruit Tartlets (Baked)

[ Equipment: slow cooker or oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The first thing I ever baked in a LTB oven was a pie pastry, and although I’ve baked other pie pastries since, I hadn’t tried a rustic fruit tart. Fruit pies have very wet fillings, and the moisture can penetrate the crust over long LTB times and cause sogginess. The situation is worse with LTB, because less juices evaporate in the cooler heat. The crust of a rustic tart cannot be pre-baked, so the fruit must be drained of excess juices beforehand and the crust prepared to soak up any juices that seep out.

The base recipe for this pie crust was published in Cooking Light Magazine and contains about 1/2 the fat of other recipes I’ve seen. I wanted a low-fat crust both to reduce the calories in the tart and to reduce the baking time. Pastry chefs have known that standard pie crusts can be baked as low as 300°F with the trade-off of more oven time (see The Case For Baking Pastry Shells Blind At Low Heat by Florence Fabricant). However, as a preference, LTB on VaporBaker cools the oven down to 250°F. The handful of higher-fat doughs I tested at 250°F were dense, hard and greasy. Those tests were done several months ago, and the poor results could have been inherent in the recipes or due to my faulty culinary technique. I may re-test higher-fat crusts, if there are recipes that demand them.

I made 2 changes to Cooking Light’s base recipe: more shortening and the addition of sugar. I increased the amount of shortening by 1/2 tablespoon, because the dough from the original recipe was too dry after the fat had been cut into the flour mixture. The reason for the dryness could be that the 1/2 cup of flour I measured out weighed 0.25 oz more than in the original recipe. (It wasn’t due to the introduction of sugar, because I made a sugarless crust that also needed the additional shortening.) Rather than remove the excess flour, I saw it as an opportunity to re-balance the butter-to-shortening ratio to devise a crust that holds its shape better through long baking times. The extra shortening adds only 25 calories per tartlet. For those who object to the shortening as an ingredient, an all-butter crust should be fine in this recipe, as rustic tarts aren’t fussy about shaping.

The small amount of sugar turns the pie dough into a pate sucre, but it’s main purpose to give the crust a golden color from caramelization. Crusts without sugar resist browning in LTB. The picture above shows an apple tartlet with a sugarless crust. While the pictures of the nectarine and apple tartlets don’t highlight the color differences very well, the apple tartlet was lighter, and both spent the same amount of time in the oven (in fact, I may have baked the apple tartlet a few minutes longer to try and get it to brown more). As an alternative to a pate sucre for a golden crust or to deepen the color of a pate sucre, brush the crust with a bit of beaten egg or milk before baking.

The idea for drawing out juices from the fruit by macerating it with sugar originated from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake and Pastry Bible. Where she cooks down the drained juices and adds this caramelized concentrate to the pie, I usually leave it out unless the first batch of tartlets were too dry. Even after the fruit has macerated, it will continue to release juices as the tart bakes. Therefore, I sprinkle a sugar-flour mixture on the inside bottom of the tart to soak up and thicken the liquid for a moist filling that doesn’t run. I did make tartlets without the thickener, and there were one or two dark spots underneath the crust implying that some juices may have seeped into the dough (the tartlet didn’t leak juices, however).

I shaped and baked the tartlets in mini tart pans as a convenience, but they could as easily have been created free-form. My tartlets have been filled with nectarines and apples so far. I’m confidant that peaches, plums, cherries, kiwis and assorted berries should work as fillings too. Smaller berries like blueberries could be baked whole.

Makes 2 tartlets
– 280 calories per tartlet
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Pie Crust:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2.5 oz/70gr)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening (zero trans-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilled lemon or lime juice


  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup roughly chopped fruit (shown are nectarines and apples)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon or ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • extra sugar for sprinkling


  • 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Pre-heat oven or cooker to 250°F.

1. Toss fruit in lemon juice and sugar. Pour into sieve and place sieve over a bowl to catch liquid. Allow fruit to sit for about 1 hour.

2. In a small bowl, mix flour and sugar for thickener. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients for pie crust: flour, sugar, salt. With a fork, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture looks uniformly crumbly. The fork should have thin tines, so that the fat is cut into the flour, not mashed into it. Of course, a pastry cutter works too.

4. Combine ice water and lemon juice in a small cup. Sprinkle liquid, 1 teaspoon at a time, over flour mixture, lightly toss and press until it forms a dough that holds together. Do not mix or knead the dough or the gluten will toughen the crust. Divide dough into 2 parts.

5. Shape each ball of dough into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

6. Unwrap a disk of dough and lay it on the center of the plastic wrap. Place another sheet of plastic wrap over the dough. Roll out the dough until it is roughly 6 inches in diameter. Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap.

7. Turn a mini tart pan (4-inch diameter) upside down and center it on the dough.

8. Slip hand under plastic wrap and turn dough and pan right side up. Peel off plastic wrap. Carefully lift up the dough up with one hand and and with the other hand, press the dough into the side of the pan.

9. Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with half (about 1 teaspoon) of the thickener mixture.

10. Spoon into the crust half of the drained fruit filling.

11. Sprinkle the top of the fruit with cinnamon and nutmeg or ginger and nutmeg or your favorite combination of baking spices. If the fruit is not satisfactorily sweet or is sour, sprinkle on another 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

12. Put a pat of butter (about 1/2 teaspoon) over fruit. Fold sides of dough up over fruit. The dough must not completely seal off the top of the tart. There should a hole at the center to vent steam. Cut off some of the dough, if necessary, so that the top remains vented.

13. Prepare the second tartlet in the same manner. Put both tartlets into oven. If baking in a cooker, put moisture-absorbing towels under the lid and the tart pans should sit on a trivet. In the picture above, the trivet is rolled up aluminum foil.

14. Bake for 75  to 90 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden. Cool and unmold.

15. Serve a tartlet by itself or with a dollop of light whipped topping or sour cream, as desired. The tartlets are great as food-on-the-run too.