Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts was one of the most talked about cookbooks of 2014. Sure there are the requisite recipes, but the book also includes essays like “Breaking Up with Panna Cotta” which begins with the line:
Oh man, gelatin: It’s creepy stuff for sure.
For a food world used to high-gloss coffee table books, Fancy Desserts redefined what a cookbook could be. In his interview with Evan Kleiman, Headley describes his affinity for the Italian sbrisolona, which he describes as a “crumbly cake-cookie hybrid.” Evan Kleiman suggests using it as a crumble on bar cookies or in place of crumble on a chocolate pie. Below is an excerpt from the book and a recipe.
When I was a kid I’d make a mix tape (maybe to impress a girl I had a crush om, maybe to impress myself), I would mumble quietly to no one, Avoid using anything that Ian MacKaye has played on or released. But then in the end the tape would be 45 percent Discord Record songs. Every time. I felt compelled by a higher force. And it’s the same with sbrisolona on every single plate. I use it a lot.
In Italy, sbrisolona is a crumbly cake-cookie hybrid shared among friends while sipping coffee and talking passionately about nothing important. It comes as a single cookie, but as soon as the first person snaps into it the whole thing shatters into confetti all over the table. It’s great. My version of sbrisolona is never intact. It is born as a crumble, or more accurately, a streusel topping. I use it to coat balls of strawberry ice cream for a snack that mimics a Good Humor ice cream bar perfectly. I toss it on desserts that are a bit too introspective otherwise, the ones that need to be reminded that everything we do is supposed to be a joyful experience.
Yield: 3 cups
All-purpose flour 1⅓ cups (233 grams)
Instant polenta 1⅓ cups (233 grams)
Sugar ¾ cup (150 grams)
Salt 2 teaspoons (8 grams)
Baking powder 2 teaspoons (8 grams)
Egg 1 (50 grams)
Vanilla bean ½, scraped
Zest from ½ lemon
Zest from ½ orange
Unsalted butter, very cold 1 cup, or 2 sticks (233 grams)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the fl our, polenta, sugar, salt, baking powder, egg, vanilla beans scrapings, lemon zest, and orange zest and mix by hand.
3. In a food processor, combine the butter and polenta mixture and pulse until the butter is pea size. Do not overpulse; you want there to be chunks of butter. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a pastry cutter or two knives—just don’t use your hands, because the butter needs to be cold.)
4. Sprinkle the mixture out into an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, stir with a fork, and finish baking until lightly browned, about 10 minutes more.
To serve: Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Keep on hand for pretty much anything and everything.
Reprinted from Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts: The Recipes of Del Posto’s James Beard Award-Winning Pastry Chef by Brooks Headley, with Chris Chechin-De La Rosa. Copyright © 2014 by Brooks Headley. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.