Fanciful Fall Fare Flavoured with Flair

Spiced red wine pear compote with blood orange and sugar roasted walnuts

Autumn arrived two months ago, and the season awakened our senses—the indelible scents of nature which permeated the crisp, cool air; the flamboyant hues of red, orange, and yellow foliage which set the dazzling landscape ablaze with striking sunset colours; and the rustling sounds of windswept leaves which crunched softly beneath our feet. From the dramatic change of scenery, it was a cue to reflect and a time to pay tribute to the return of autumn, to celebrate the harvest season, and to express gratitude for the generous bounty of the earth.

In a vibrant, urban multicultural milieu, many different ethnic groups bring their own culinary heritage to the fall food fête and enrich the North American autumnal traditions in the process. My foodie friend and I, inspired by the picturesque and fragrant flourishes of the fall season and influenced by the worldwide diffusion of culinary cultures, retreated to the kitchen, and to satisfy our craving for heart-warming comfort food, created sweet delights made with seasonal produce, an enjoyable way to savour festive dishes of fall fare, to preserve the pleasures of the table, and to honour our country’s smörgåsbord of culinary diversity. Simple yet sophisticated, our unpretentious flights of fancy exude the epitome of autumn, bringing the rustic beauty, natural sweetness, and earthy warmth of the season to the table.

Wedge of versunkene Apfelkuchen with plum slices

On a clear, chilly evening, we pulled out the measuring spoons and cups, mixing bowls, and baking pans and first baked a dessert dish which revolved around one of the pomaceous fruits that abound during the autumn months: the apple. Pastries made with the fabled forbidden fruit, from apple galettes to apple strudels, have been perennially popular but even more so during this time of year. In the mood for some comforting cake, we took our epicurean inspiration from one of the most loved sweet delicacies in central Europe, the Versunkene Apfelkuchen, a simple Austrian-German gâteau with “sunken” slices of pomme d’Api set sumptuously on top. In our rendition, the traditional Teutonic treat was updated with luxurious ingredients and revamped with a fanciful spin, elevating the classic dish from home-style to modern haute-casual fare. Jazzed up with an overflowing abundance of diced morsels of peeled, fresh Gala and Delicious varieties and a generous amount of plump raisins and dried cranberries, this moist and dense cake was seasoned with a judicious mélange of aphrodisiac spices, including a heavy hit of cinnamon, and laced with a liberal measure of dark rum. The tender, tart apples and tangy dried cranberries provided a pleasant counterbalance to the subdued sweetness of the sinfully soothing delicacy. Without a shimmer of frosting, the fruit-studded kuchen was so seductive and so scrumptious that it vanished quickly from the serving plate even before you could say the entire German name of this timeless specialty of Österreich and Deutschland.

Slice of rum-spiced pumpkin pecan pie

For the second sweet dish, which was composed from scratch on a separate evening, two of America’s favourite old-fashioned recipes, the pumpkin pie and the New Orleans pecan pie, which grace customarily North American dining tables during the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday, are combined into a double delicious, decadent dessert. This traditional pumpkin-pecan treasure, which pairs together two iconic staples of the fall harvest season, embodies an aura of French cuisine which can be traced to the early French settlement of Louisiana. Audaciously adventurous and disturbingly daring, our intoxicating take on the Southern classic turned out to be powerfully potent in taste and aroma. Instead of a regular pastry pie shell, a light pecan shortbread crust tinged with fresh ginger and citrus notes cradled a luscious pumpkin purée filling peppered with pumpkin pie spices, perfumed with red rum, and punctuated with finely minced fresh ginger and thin orange zest threads. A blanket of caramelized roasted pecans, enhanced with black rum and delicate strands of orange zest, was arranged gracefully atop the indulgent pumpkin filling. As a finishing touch, the upper surface of the pie was flambéed with a pronounced overdose of dark rum, crowning the dessert with a punch of panache. Prepared in sensational style, this twisted Southern sweet specialty, lavishly loaded with zingy accents and devilishly drenched in liqueur, was intensely rich and hearty, a titillating tart-like pastry not intended for the faint of heart—or palate.

Slice of gingerbread cake with poached pear half, spiced syrah reduction, and sugar roasted walnuts

In further pursuit of piquant pleasures, I created, on a cold, winter-like morning, a third sweet dish which continued to call for the sensual embrace of autumn spices. More elaborate than the first two sweet concoctions, this dessert featured a hefty, moist gingerbread cake based on the British baked molasses pudding. In this time-honoured version flavoured with black treacle, the alluring blend of aromatic spices provided a sensuous warmth and intriguing depth to the dark and mysterious gâteau, the caressing heat intensified by the sustained presence of ground ginger and minced fresh ginger. Gentle whispers of blood orange zest imparted a pleasant pizzazz to the pudding, while small speckles of chopped toasted walnuts and pecans lent further complexity to the harmonious interplay of flavours, aromas, and textures found in this subtly sweet delicacy. Embellished with irregular-shaped pieces of ginger confit, the sublimely spiced cake was partnered elegantly with a toothsome compote made from another popular pomaceous fruit of the season. Sweet and succulent, Williams’ Bon Chrétien pears were poached in red wine infused with fresh citrus fruits, fresh ginger, and a heady mix of aromatic spices. Served chilled, the lush pear halves were drizzled with a French syrah reduction and garnished with slender strips of mellowed ginger and citrus zest steeped in mulled wine. The stunning stewed fruit, with its deep burgundy colour, complemented beautifully the earthy brown tones of the extravagant gingerbread cake. To complete the composition of the regal dish, a dainty sprinkling of coarsely chopped, sugar roasted walnuts added a whimsical touch to the dreamy ensemble.

As fall fades slowly into winter and we gradually succumb to the frosty weather and magical wonders of winter, we reminisce the sweet serenity of the autumn season captured quintessentially in our gorgeous gourmet dishes which we relished and shared among family and friends during the convivial food fête. We admire the countless hands that toiled in the fields and orchards to harvest the fruits of their hard labour; we marvel at the mysterious workings of life and what mother earth has graciously bestowed upon us. Life is beautiful, and let’s be thankful for that.

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