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Seasonal Pantry: Cool weather desserts provide comfort, warmth

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When life seems overwhelming, and that has certainly been the case locally this fall, spending time in the kitchen can be healing, especially if you aren’t under any pressure, timewise.

That’s a luxury a lot of us don’t have these days but if you can steal a few hours, you’ll be rewarded in several ways.

The first reward is the process of cooking itself, which is both physical and sensual. It is a great way to shut out the world for a while. Turn off television, turn off talk radio, turn up some favorite music, don’t answer the phone, turn off text and email notifications.

The kitchen fills with intoxicating aromas as soon as you cut into, say, fresh ginger or begin to dice pears. These aromas deepen and grow more intense once something is in the oven.

Today’s recipes all feature ginger, which has a sweet, warm and slightly spicy scent; combined with vanilla, it’s almost enough to make you swoon.

Today’s recipes are three of my favorite cool weather desserts. I like making them as much as I like eating them and, honestly, perhaps a bit more.

When I got my first cookbook, at age 8, my favorite recipe was Butterscotch Brownies, which are quite similar to the ones here, but without the ginger or salt. I loved the cooking part but would often forget about them once they were in the oven. Oops.

The aromas of burned brownies are nowhere near as calming as when they are pulled out in time.

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When a friend left a basket of ripe Comice pears at my back door a couple of weeks ago, I bit into one and, as its juices ran down my chin and through my fingers, I thought of this gingerbread, which I hadn’t made in years. How could I resist?

These pears were very small, not much bigger than a chicken egg; I used eight instead of the two that the recipe calls for. You want about 2 cups of diced pears.

Some people like to serve whipped cream with this, but I do not think it enhances the gingerbread.

If you want to gild the lily a bit, make ginger butter by mixing a stick of butter with 2 teaspoons of grated fresh ginger and a teaspoon or two of sugar, to taste.

Serve it alongside, for guests to slather as they wish.

Pear Gingerbread

Makes 6 to 8 servings

½ cup butter, preferably local, melted

½ cup, packed, brown sugar

1 pastured egg

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

2½ cups sifted all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoon mustard flour, such as Colman’s

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup light molasses

½ cup honey

½ cup boiling water

½ cup fresh orange juice

2 large ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into large dice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

Pour the melted butter into a large mixing bowl, add the brown sugar, and mix well.

Stir in the egg, fresh ginger and orange zest. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, mustard, ground ginger, cinnamon and kosher salt.

In a third bowl, mix together the molasses, honey, boiling water and orange juice; fold in the pears.

Add one-third of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Stir well and add one-third of the molasses mixture.

Stir well, and repeat twice, until all of the ingredients have been incorporated.

Pour the batter into the buttered pan, set on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for 1 hour, or until the center springs back when lightly touched.

Remove the gingerbread from the oven, let it cool on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, and remove from the pan.

Serve warm.

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It is easy to overindulge in these brownies, especially after their aromas drift throughout the house as they bake.

By the time you pull them out of the oven, you’ll be ravenous.

Salted Ginger Brownies

Makes 12 to 18 servings

1 tablespoon plus ¼ cup butter, preferably local

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

— White pepper in a mill

1 cup, packed, light brown sugar

1 large pastured egg

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup lightly toasted and chopped walnuts, optional

2 teaspoons Maldon Salt Flakes or other flake salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Use the tablespoon of butter to coat the inside of a 9-inch square pan. Set it aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder and kosher salt in a small bowl, add several turns of white pepper, and set aside.

Put the butter in a small saucepan set over very low heat and when it is melted, stir in the sugar.

Put the egg into a medium mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until it is light and creamy. Fold in the butter mixture, the ginger and the vanilla.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture and the nuts, if using. Pour into the buttered baking pan, using the spatula to remove all of the batter from the mixing bowl.

Sprinkle the salt flakes over the batter and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned on top but still a tad soft in the center.

Remove from the oven, cool slightly, cut into squares, and finish cooling on a rack.

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This tart is so delicious that it can easily be a centerpiece holiday dessert.

When I first began making this, in the mid-1980s, I used Laura Chenel Chèvre, which remains an excellent choice, even though there are a lot more options now than there were then.

Just be sure to use a fresh, spreadable type of goat cheese, not an aged one.

Ginger-Chèvre Tart

Makes 6 to 8 servings

For the crust:

½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature

¼ cup, packed, brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup toasted walnuts

For the filling:

10 ounces fresh chèvre

½ cup granulated sugar

1 pastured egg

1 pastured egg yolk

¾ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

¼ cup coarsely chopped candied ginger

First, make the crust. Put the butter and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are well-blended.

Add the vanilla and flour, pulse several more times, and add the walnuts.

Pulse once or twice, use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the work bowl, and pulse again, until the dough is smooth and uniform. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Clean the processor’s work bowl.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Press the chilled dough into a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Lower the oven’s heat to 350 degrees.

To make the filling: Put the chèvre, sugar, egg and egg yolk in the work bowl of the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the cream and fresh ginger and pulse a few times; do not overmix.

Spread the candied ginger over the pie crust and pour the custard mixture over it.

Set the tart on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the custard is firm and the top pale golden brown; do not over cook.

Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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