Nine local chefs offer their takes on Thanksgiving classics

As a country, we've been celebrating Thanksgiving for 148 years. Black Friday aside, it's a holiday dedicated to family, friends and a festive meal, one where repetition is entirely the point.

the chefs

Chris Bonfili of La Vita Dolce

Brian Pekarcik of Spoon and BRGR

Kelly James of Sugar Cafe

Kate Romane of E2

David Racicot of notion

Ryan Racicot of La Vita Dolce

Sonja Finn of Dinette

John Wilson of Toast!

Kevin Hunninen of Park Bruges

Yet every November, magazines, newspapers, television shows and even radio programs offer up a bushel of new ideas, creative themes and helpful hints -- as if there's a slim possibility that this year you'll throw out Aunt Sally's stuffing recipe and Mom's cranberry sauce and serve the Portuguese-inspired Thanksgiving of your dreams.

For most people, Thanksgiving meals are dictated by a combination of skill level, family tradition, budget and dietary constraints. I'm no different. I may spend 364 other days a year trying out new dishes at restaurants and at home, but as my husband and I prepare to host our third Thanksgiving, we've realized that we've already found the turkey, vegetarian entree, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce recipes that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Despite all that, I still love a Thanksgiving section, so this year, I thought I'd try something a little different. I turned to a collection of Pittsburgh chefs in search of recipes for a feast that would capture the eclectic, personal, yet still traditional, assortment of dishes that characterizes so many of our Thanksgiving meals. The result? A virtual Thanksgiving potluck of family recipes and personal takes on holiday dishes.

In their restaurant kitchens, chefs run the show. Their menus are a reflection of their taste, skill and creativity. But chefs are people, too, and when it comes to Thanksgiving there are all kinds of influences at play. Some chefs' recipes closely mirror their restaurant cooking styles, like Kate Romane's roasted squash with farro and greens, delicious and healthful like so much of her cooking at E2 in Highland Park. Others are more unexpected. Ryan Racicot, a past Pittsburgh chef currently cooking Northern Italian cuisine at his restaurant La Vita Dolce in Follansbee, W.Va., offers up a fancy, French rutabaga puree dressed up for the holiday with honey, apples and two cups of cream. Meanwhile, his brother, David, of notion restaurant in Oakmont, surely one of the region's most innovative chefs, shares their grandmother's simple, rustic recipe for meat stuffing, a potato and ground beef dish that is distinctly un-traditional, except in their family where it's a holiday staple.

If you watch "Top Chef," you know that all but pastry chefs fear and loathe dessert. Fortunately, I knew I could rely on Kelly James of the Sugar Cafe for a suitably decadent, seasonal delight. Her gingersnap bread pudding (with a bonus gingerbread cookie recipe) is a delight, and it's joined by two more mouth-watering options. John Wilson of Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar offers up his recipe for rosemary-fig creme brulee, while Kevin Hunninen of Park Bruges shares his family's traditional snow pudding with custard sauce, a Fannie Farmer recipe that has stood the test of time. So much for reality television.

It was surprisingly easy to gather a (relatively) balanced array of recipes, with one glaring omission. No one offered up a cranberry sauce, so I decided to throw in mine. After all, only in the food section can a dining critic and nine talented chefs work together to create a wonderful meal.

Roasted Squash Soup

PG tested

  • 4 medium kabocha, butternut or acorn squash
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sage, chopped, plus additional leaves for garnish
  • 5 Gala apples, cored, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Halve squash, remove seeds, then brush both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast squash flesh-side down for 45 minutes to an hour, until very tender. When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the skin.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat in a heavy-duty, 6- to 8-quart pot. Cook onions until soft and translucent, then add garlic and sage and cook, stirring, until fragrant.

Add chopped apples, cook for 2 more minutes, then lightly season with salt, pepper, cayenne or chipotle and vinegar.

Add roasted squash, stirring ingredients to mix. Add stock, then water if necessary, to cover the ingredients by an inch. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes to blend flavor.

Using extreme caution, puree soup in small batches, then return to pot and reheat. Or puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. Add water to desired consistency, and season to taste with salt, pepper and additional vinegar.

Garnish with fried sage leaves and sour cream or creme fraiche. Serves 8 to 10.

-- Adapted from John Wilson, Chef de Cuisine at Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar

Super Simple Gravy

PG tested

Gravy can be a very intimidating sauce to make when hosting a Thanksgiving dinner party. Two things to remember about gravy: Mom and Gramma have been doing this for years, kinda like childbirth, and the best way to not screw it up is to keep it simple and have your tools ready before you begin.

-- Kate Romane

  • 4 sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1/4 cup reserved pan drippings

Gather your ingredients, as well as a whisk, a small container with a tight sealing lid, a wooden spoon, a strainer and a dry towel or oven mitt.

After your bird is out of the oven, carefully remove it from the roasting pan and set it on the cutting board to rest. Tilt your roasting pan and using a large metal spoon, remove and discard all but 1/4 cup of the pan drippings.

Place the roasting pan on the stove over low heat and saute the sage and thyme. Meanwhile, add 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup flour to your small container. Seal tightly and shake well to combine.

Then, add the chicken or turkey stock to the pan and deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Slowly pour your flour mixture into your pan, continuously whisking. Simmer over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes while the gravy thickens.

Add a touch of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Strain into a gravy bowl.

Makes 6 cups gravy.

-- Adapted from Kate Romane, executive chef of E2 in Highland Park

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce

PG tested

This cranberry sauce was adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe that also included pomegranate molasses, cilantro and mint. It was great as originally written, but what I liked best about it was the wonderful complexity that red wine added to the mix.

-- China Millman

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries

Stir sugar and wine in heavy-duty medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves.

Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium-high heat until the syrup is reduced by half (10 to 15 minutes).

Add cranberries and bring back to a simmer. As soon as the berries begin to pop, turn off the heat. Can be made up to 1 week ahead. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 cups.

-- China Millman

Maple-Glazed Chestnuts and Haricot Vert with carmelized cipollini onions, bacon lardons

PG tested

  • 2 pounds haricot vert or green beans, cleaned and snipped
  • 8 strips thick-cut apple wood smoked bacon
  • 4 cipollini onions or medium shallots, halved and cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 pinch red pepper chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted cold butter
  • 2 cups fresh roasted chestnuts, shelled and roughly chopped

Blanch haricot vert in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, then shock them in a large bowl of ice water. Drain and set aside.

Cut bacon crosswise into 1/4-inch strips. In a large saute pan, cook bacon over medium-low heat until crispy. Strain through fine mesh strainer, reserving fat. Set cooked bacon aside on paper towel.

Coat the bottom of the pan with bacon fat and heat over medium heat. Slowly brown the cipollini onions until dark and soft.

While onions are cooking, combine maple syrup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, chili flakes and molasses in a medium heavy-duty saucepan.

Bring to a boil then simmer over medium heat until the mixture has reduced and become frothy (3 to 5 minutes). Add cold butter and stir to incorporate. This will result in a caramel-like consistency. Be careful as this mixture is extremely hot! Add chestnuts, stir to evenly coat, then set aside to cool.

When onions are finished, add blanched haricot vert and bacon lardons to saute pan, mix to combine, and heat all the ingredients thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, place haricot vert, onions and bacon on large serving platter. Arrange maple-glazed chestnuts in the middle.

Serves 8.

-- Adapted from Brian Pekarcik, executive chef of Spoon in East Liberty and BRGR in East Liberty and Cranberry

Meat Stuffing

PG tested

This stuffing was something that my grandmother's mom made, so my grandmother just tried to continue that. It's a French thing that a French-Irishwoman was trying to make. Not very traditional, [but] we had it for Thanksgiving, Christmas and probably Easter, too.

-- David Racicot

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (15 percent fat)
  • 3 cups diced ( 1/2-inch cubes) Idaho potatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced Spanish onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tablespoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 stick butter

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and onions and lightly brown, then add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or non-stick spatula. Cook until potatoes are soft and the ground beef is thoroughly brown. Drain well through a fine strainer and rinse to remove grease. Return to heat and season generously with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add water and bring it to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and whisk in cold butter to emulsify. Serve hot. Serves 8.

-- Adapted from David Racicot, executive chef of notion in Oakmont

Rutabaga Puree with apples and honey

PG tested

The humble rutabaga might not seem a particularly festive vegetable, but dressed up with apples, honey and cream, it makes for one impressive puree.

-- China Millman

  • 3 pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 medium Honeycrisp apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 7 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In large heavy-duty sauce pan, place peeled and diced rutabaga and apples and cover with milk. Simmer on medium heat for about 45 minutes or until rutabaga is fork-tender. Strain rutabaga and apple from liquid (you can discard liquid).

In a small pan, heat up 2 cups of heavy cream.

Place rutabaga, apple, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and honey into the bowl of a food processor. Puree on high while slowly pouring in hot cream. Add butter and puree until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Season to taste.

Serves 12 to 16.

-- Adapted from Ryan Racicot, executive chef of La Vita Dolce in Follansbee, W.Va.

Sweet potatoes with black pepper fluff and toasted pecans

PG tested

Chris Bonfili's style is all about tweaking classic dishes, like this flavorful twist on the traditional sweet potato casserole.

-- China Millman

  • 4 medium-sized yams, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, small diced
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped into small pieces, 2 tablespoons reserved for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups marshmallow fluff

>Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 degrees for a convection oven).

Slice yams on mandolin or with a sharp knife into 1/8 inch slices.

Lightly coat a large saute pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Cook onions until soft and evenly brown, then carefully deglaze with bourbon.

Add the cream and reduce by 1/3. In a glass 9-by-13-inch baking dish, lay down 1 layer of yam slices. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the cream and onion mixture, then season with salt and pepper. Every other layer, sprinkle with toasted pecans as well. Repeat until the dish is full. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 more minutes. Then remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.

While the gratin is cooling, fold 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper into the marshmallow fluff. Smear fluff on top of gratin and lightly toast with a kitchen torch, or carefully under the broiler. Sprinkle with reserved pecans before serving.

Serves 10 to 12.

-- Adapted from Chris Bonfili, executive chef of Avenue B in Shadyside

Turnip and Spinach Gratin

PG tested

Sonja Finn's family Thanksgiving menu is full of delicious-sounding vegetable dishes, such as tomato-fennel soup and potvarak, a Serbian dish of sauteed and baked cabbage and sauerkraut. Lest anyone mistake it for ascetic, it also includes this incredibly rich and incredibly delicious gratin. You'll never see anyone eat turnips and spinach quite this happily again.

-- China Millman

  • 6 cups heavy cream
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 pounds turnips, peeled and cut into 8 segments per turnip
  • 6 leeks
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds spinach, washed and spun dry
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

In a medium sauce pan over low heat, cook cream and thyme for about 1 hour until cream is reduced by about half. Keep a close eye near the beginning to make sure the cream doesn't boil over. Remove thyme stems and season with salt (about 2 to 3 teaspoons) and freshly cracked pepper.

Blanch turnips in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water for 7 minutes. Remove turnips from water and transfer to a tray and refrigerate while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Cut leeks into 1/2-by- 1/2-inch tiles. To clean, submerge in a bowl of water. Let sit about 10 minutes. Then lift leeks from water carefully so as not to disturb dirt that has settled to the bottom of bowl.

To a large saute pan add 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil to cover bottom of pan. Add leeks and cook over medium heat until translucent but still a bit crunchy. This should take about 8 minutes.

Add spinach to leeks. Salt mixture and cook until spinach is just wilted. Then drain this mixture to remove any excess liquid.

Butter the bottom and sides of a large gratin dish.

Pour 1/4 of the cream into the dish. Layer half the turnips. Put all of the spinach and leek mixture over turnips and pour over 1/2 remaining cream. Sprinkle 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of that. Then layer the second half of the turnips. Pour over last of cream. Top with rest of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until bubbling. Uncover and cook another 12 to 15 minutes until top is browned.

Let cool about 15 minutes before serving.

Make ahead: You can assemble this dish up to 3 days ahead if you want to get some cooking done before Thanksgiving day. Just get it all layered and ready and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Pull from the refrigerator a couple of hours before putting it in the oven. It may need just a few additional minutes of covered cooking.

Serves 12.

-- Adapted from Sonja Finn, executive chef at Dinette in East Liberty

Gingersnap Bread Pudding

PG tested

While this dessert is somewhat time consuming, it's well worth the effort. Brioche loaves can be hard to track down locally, but challah is an excellent substitute.

-- China Millman

  • 1 loaf brioche (or challah)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Gingersnap crumbs (see gingersnap recipe at or use 1 bag store-bought cookies)

For the custard
  • 6 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 9 ounces egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the brioche into cubes. In a large bowl, toss the cubes of bread with the melted butter. Whisk sugar and ground cinnamon together and toss the mixture with the buttered bread. Place the bread onto a couple of buttered sheet pans and toast for about 20 minutes, turning the bread cubes halfway through the cooking time.

For custard, whisk together the heavy cream, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and let the cinnamon steep for 15 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/2 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Bring the cream mixture back to a simmer and temper the cream into the eggs by adding a small amount at a time to the hot mixture while stirring. Strain custard into a large clean bowl and set aside.

Toss the bread cubes with the cinnamon custard and let the mixture soak for at least 1/2 hour.

Make the gingersnap crumbs by placing the cookies into the bowl of a food processor and using the pulse feature to crush them. Or you can place them into a resealable bag and crush them with a rolling pin. If you are using the gingersnap recipe listed below, be sure to bake them a day or 2 ahead of time and let the cookies that you will be crushing sit out on the counter to get crisp. It is nice to reserve some whole cookies to garnish each serving of pudding.

Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch pan and turn half of the mixture into the pan. Sprinkle a layer of gingersnaps over bread and spread the rest of the mixture over the cookie layer. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and spread remaining gingersnap crumbs over top. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until custard is set and top of the pudding is lightly browned. Let it set for a while before slicing.

Serve with a drizzle of Molasses Caramel Sauce (recipe follows). Serves 12.

Make ahead: The bread pudding can be made a day ahead and sliced cold before gently reheating.

-- Adapted from Kelly James of the Sugar Cafe in Dormont

Molasses Caramel Sauce

PG tested

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 7 ounces condensed milk (half a 14-ounce can)
  • 2 ounces molasses
  • 6 ounces heavy cream

Melt the sugar in a medium heavy-duty pot over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, until the sugar is dissolved and the desired brown color is reached, then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, combine condensed milk, molasses and heavy cream. Heat to simmering and carefully whisk into the caramelized sugar, adding a small amount at a time until it's all incorporated.

Leftover sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month.

-- Adapted from Kelly James, Sugar Cafe, Dormont

Snow Pudding

PG tested

[This recipe] came from my grandmother on my dad's side, who acquired it along with others I have always associated with New England regional things. Our "family" recipe might have been taken directly from the Fannie Farmer cookbook. In any case, it's a nice, light, refreshing dessert after a heavy meal.

-- Kevin Hunninen

  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (1 envelope)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, minced
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg whites, beaten stiff

In a small mixing bowl, soften gelatin in cold water for 5 minutes and then dissolve in boiling water. Add lemon juice, zest and sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Set this mixture aside in a cool place, stirring occasionally.

When the mixture is thick enough to hold the mark of a spoon, beat with a whisk until frothy. Fold in egg whites which have been beaten to stiff peaks until all is well incorporated, making sure the gelatin mixture doesn't settle to the bottom.

Put in serving bowl (or individual cups), and refrigerate until firm. Serve with soft custard sauce.

Soft Custard Sauce

PG tested

  • 3 eggs or 6 yolks
  • 2 cups scalded milk (180 degrees)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat eggs to blend evenly. In saucepan, slowly add milk, then sugar and salt to them. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, flavor with vanilla extract to taste, and serve warm or chilled. Serves 6 to 8.

-- Kevin Hunninen, executive chef of Park Bruges

Fall greens with butternut squash and farro

PG tested

This delicious, healthful dish would make a great vegan main course for a mixed group at Thanksgiving. For other occasions, it makes an excellent accompaniment to all kinds of roasted meats and fowl.

-- China Millman

  • 2 yellow onions, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 sweet red peppers, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into1-inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh rosemary and sage, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups farro
  • 2 bunches fall greens, like chard or kale, cleaned and stemmed

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Put large stock pot of water on to boil (to blanch your greens). In a large bowl toss onion, garlic, pepper and squash with 1/4 cup or so of olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper until nicely coated. Dump onto a sheet tray. Put the tray in the oven and stir every 20 min or so. Roast until the squash is soft, about 40 minutes.

While your veggies are roasting, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Salt generously. Add your farro and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until tender. Strain into a large bowl and toss with a touch of olive oil.

Blanch your greens in boiling water until just tender and bright green.

Add blanched greens and roasted veggies to your warm farro and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

Make ahead: The veggies can be roasted a day ahead, reheated just before serving, and tossed with the warm farro and freshly blanched greens.

-- Adapted from Kate Romane, executive chef of E2 in Highland Park

Gingersnap Cookies

PG tested

If you're just making cookies for the Gingersnap Bread Pudding, I would recommend halving this recipe -- it will still make a lot more cookies than you need, but you can freeze the leftover dough. It also makes excellent dough for gingerbread cookies; just roll it out on a lightly floured surface.

-- China Millman

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 12 ounces (3 sticks) butter
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs

Into a large bowl sift together 2 1/4 cups flour, the baking soda and the spices. Whisk in the brown sugar (if it's lumpy, you may want to press it through a sieve first).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk it into the flour mixture. Add the molasses and eggs and stir until combined well (you can use clean hands). Stir in remaining 2 1/4 cups flour and continue to work the dough until it is lump free and thoroughly combined. If your dough is very sticky, you can add 1 or 2 additional tablespoons of flour.

Chill the dough for at least 1 hour. Roll 1 teaspoon-size pieces of dough into balls and place them at least 1 inch apart on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a nonstick mat. Press them gently to flatten them.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 to 13 minutes, then let them cool on a rack. Extra dough can be wrapped tight and frozen.

Makes about 6 dozen 2-inch gingersnaps.

-- Adapted from Kelly James of the Sugar Cafe in Dormont

Fig & Rosemary Creme Brulee

PG tested

If you can't find fresh figs for the puree, you can substitute a couple of slices of ripe pear.

-- Gretchen McKay

  • 1 quart heavy cream (36- to 40-percent milkfat)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 2 fresh figs, stems removed and cut in half.
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 6-ounce jar fig jam
  • 1/2 cup sugar (for brulee)
  • 4 fresh figs and 8 walnut halves for garnish (optional)

In a blender, puree 2 cups of cream with 2 figs, being careful not to whip the cream. In a medium saucepan, combine the fig cream with the other 2 cups of cream, the brown sugar, the vanilla bean and the fresh rosemary. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, in a medium, heat-proof bowl, lightly beat the eggs and egg yolks to combine.

When cream mixture is hot, whisk a few ounces into the egg mixture. Keep adding the hot cream slowly, whisking as you go (a second pair of hands is helpful here).

Cool mixture in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spread a thin layer of fig jam in bottom of each brulee dish and place dishes in a large roasting pan. Ladle 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of the cream mixture into each dish, removing and discarding rosemary and vanilla bean as you go. Carefully pour hot tap water into the pan to come halfway up sides of dishes. Carefully put the pan into oven, making sure not to get water into the dishes

Bake until custard is just set, but still a little jiggly in the middle, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Carefully remove pan, let rest on counter for 10 minutes, remove dishes and chill again for at least 2 hours in fridge. Before serving, sprinkle sugar over the top of the custards, then use a kitchen torch or the broiler to melt the sugar until it is a deep amber in color. Top with sliced figs and walnut halves, if desired.

Serves 8.

-- Adapted from John Wilson, chef de cuisine of Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar

China Millman: 412-263-1198 or . Follow her at


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