In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review: Sweeter Off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season

Written by Chef Donna Marie Desfor | Jun 22, 2016 1:35 AM

Sweeter Off the Vine

Yossy Arefi

Photographs by Yossy Arefi

Get it: Ten Speed Press, Hardcover, 256 pages, $23. (Amazon $16.52 (new); Kindle $12.99)

See it: Photos of every finished recipe, plus photos of fruits and other ingredients make this a visually stunning book.

Make it: 62 seasonal recipes with component recipes and seasonal variations, plus 9 recipes for "year-round essentials" and 5 recipes for your "seasonal larder."

In a world of nearly season-less fruits, it's hard to remember what tastes best when.  Now, thanks to popular blogger, food photographer and writer Yossy Arefi's Sweeter Off The Vine, you have a collection of recipes for peak-season fruit, and a handful of recipes that straddle each season.  This book reflects the flavors of each season but balances each fruit ingredient with inventive ideas that range from easy, five ingredient affairs to more complex and involved baking endeavors.  Regardless of what you choose to bake, Arefi's recipes are thorough and colorfully descriptive.  You'll find navigating the simple or complex to be a worthwhile effort, and the results no less than delicious.  Best of all, most of the recipes in Sweeter Off The Vine are rustic, home-style desserts, so you need not have the deft touch of a pastry chef.

Perhaps the most surprising element to these classic and homey fruit desserts is the variety of whole grain flours Arefi uses, like buckwheat in her Buckwheat Tart Shell and Cacao Nib Poppy Seed Wafers.  She combines spelt flour with all-purpose flour in her Spelt Quick Puff Pastry that almost guarantees you'll never buy the frozen stuff again.  And, then there's rye flour that Arefi likes to use when baking with berries and stone fruits, as in her Blackberry and Sage Cream Puffs.

Lest you think each recipe requires you to fire up the oven, rest assured that there are ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet recipes, crème fraîche and caramel recipes (the crème fraîche caramel sauce recipe alone is worth the price of the book!), as well as a few marmalades, jams and preserves thrown in for good measure. 

In the end, this book is nothing less than a must have, must use, and must pass down to the next generation of home-bakers.  The recipes feel like treasures that will announce each season for years to come. 

Try these enticing recipes from Sweeter Off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season by Yossy Arefi



The rich flavor and beautiful color of pistachios makes them the perfect addition to this classic pound cake. The strawberries here are sweetened with just a bit of lavender-infused sugar, which imparts a subtle and light floral flavor, perfect for spring. I like to serve this cake in thick slices with generous spoonfuls of juicy berries and a dollop of whipped cream, like strawberry shortcake, but better. Culinary grade lavender is available at many spice shops, farmers' markets, and online, but a tablespoon or so of chopped mint or basil leaves is a fine substitute. 


1 cup (130g) shelled pistachios

1 1⁄2 cups (195g) all purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

3⁄4 cup (175g) unsalted butter, softened

1 1⁄4 cups (250g) granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract (page 235)

1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract

1⁄2 cup (120ml) whole milk, at room temperature




1 1⁄2 pounds (675g) strawberries

1⁄4 cup (50g) granulated sugar, or less if your berries are particularly sweet

1⁄2 teaspoon organic lavender buds

1⁄2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped from the pod



Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Position a rack in the center of the oven, preheat to 325ºF (165ºC/Gas Mark 3). Grease and flour a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan.

To make the cake: Grind the pistachios in a food processor just until they resemble flour. Be careful to not grind them into pistachio butter, though that would be delicious. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed until smooth, then, with the mixer still running, slowly stream in the sugar. Cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Occasionally stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the batter in three additions, mixing until just combined. Finish mixing the batter by hand with a rubber spatula. Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then remove the cake to a rack to cool completely.

To make the strawberries: Combine the sugar, lavender, and vanilla seeds in a mortar and grind with a pestle until the lavender is broken up into fine bits and the sugar is fragrant. Alternately, this can be done in a food processor. Hull and slice the strawberries in half if they are small, in quarters if they are larger; combine the sliced strawberries and sugar in a bowl and stir gently. Let the berries macerate for at least 15 minutes at room temperature before serving.

To serve: Slice the cooled cake into thick pieces and top each slice with a generous spoonful of berries and their juices. Top with whipped cream. Extra cake keeps in an airtight container at room temperature for three days.

Reprinted with permission from Sweeter Off the Vine, by Yossy Arefi, copyright © 2016, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.  Photographs copyright © 2016 by Yossy Arefi



With white petals surrounding their yellow centers, chamomile flowers look a lot like little daisies. In these sweet, milky custards, chamomile and honey are a natural pair--both of them floral and sweet. Top each panna cotta with coarsely chopped pistachios and a sprinkle of bee pollen for a vibrant and elegant dessert.

2 cups (480ml) heavy cream

1⁄2 cup (20g) fresh chamomile flowers, stems and leaves removed, or 2 chamomile tea bags

1 cup (240ml) whole milk

1 (1⁄4-ounce/7g) envelope unflavored powdered gelatin

1⁄4 cup (60ml) mild-flavored honey, like clover or wildflower

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract (recipe follows)

Pinch salt

1⁄2 cup (65g) chopped pistachios, to serve

2 tablespoons bee pollen, to serve (optional)

Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins with a paper towel dipped in a bit of canola or grapeseed oil. Heat the cream in a saucepan set over medium heat until just barely simmering. Add the chamomile flowers (or tea bags), turn off the heat, and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl and reserve.

Pour the milk into a clean saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top, but do not stir. Let the gelatin soften until the grains look wet and like they are beginning to dissolve, about 5 minutes. After the gelatin has bloomed, warm the milk and gelatin over very low heat, whisking occasionally, until the gelatin dissolves, 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to let the mixture bubble or simmer, which will inhibit the gelatin's ability to set.

Whisk in the honey, vanilla, and salt. Add the chamomile infused cream and whisk to combine. Divide the mixture among the prepared ramekins and chill them in the refrigerator until set, at least 4 hours and up to overnight. If you are going to leave them overnight, cover each ramekin with plastic wrap.

To unmold the panna cottas, run a thin knife around the top edge of each ramekin to release the sides, and invert it onto a plate; you may have to shake the ramekin gently to get the panna cotta to release onto the plate. Top each panna cotta with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios and a dusting of bee pollen. Alternatively, serve the panna cottas in their ramekins with the garnishes.



You may have noticed that I use vanilla beans a lot in this book, which I know can be prohibitively expensive. But vanilla beans are quite economical if you buy them in bulk online. I tend to buy a pound of beans once a year, which is enough to make a big batch of vanilla extract, use whole in recipes, and even give some away to friends. If you don't think you can use an entire pound of beans (usually about fifty), it is worth it to ask a friend or two to split an order with you. Feel free to use this ratio to make more or less extract, depending on your needs.

 6 vanilla beans

1 cup (240ml) vodka

1 glass jar or bottle with a tight fitting lid

Slice each vanilla bean in half lengthwise and place them in a glass jar or bottle. Trim the beans to fit the jar if necessary. Pour the vodka over the top, and make sure the beans are completely covered with alcohol. Screw the lid on tightly and give the jar a good shake. Put the jar in a dark, cool place (but not somewhere you'll forget about it) and let it infuse for at least two months before using. Shake the jar every couple of days. After two months, you can strain the extract into another bottle to remove the seeds or continue to let the extract infuse for up to one year.

Reprinted with permission from Sweeter Off the Vine, by Yossy Arefi, copyright © 2016, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.  Photographs copyright © 2016 by Yossy Arefi


Published in Donna Marie Desfor, In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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