tahini shortbreads with apricots, pistachios and dark chocolate

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

People. I’m going to level with you—I don’t have much to say today. I’ve been traveling like a crazy person this month to see friends and family (and for mental-health-preserving sun breaks to the desert of course). Beau left his corporate job to work with me full time. We just launched our first retreat of 2019. Plus, you know, THE HOLIDAYS.

It’s been a big month and we’re not even halfway through.

Though my brain is a bit on the fried side, I didn’t want to leave you without a holiday cookie this year! I’ve cut back on a lot of holiday hoopla and obligations, but baking holiday cookies is a tradition I cherish. It means time to be alone in the kitchen with a podcast or a favorite album spinning on the record player. It’s a few hours of chopping and measuring and mixing and standing in front of a warm oven that always restores a little of my sanity during this overfull time of year.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I got the idea for these shortbreads after making this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricots and Herbs. I had half a bag of my favorite dried apricots sitting in the pantry next to my favorite bar of dark chocolate. Which meant that every time I opened the pantry door, I broke off a piece of chocolate, fished a couple pieces of apricot out of the bag and made myself a tiny “sandwich”. As one does.

The sweet-tart apricots were absolutely perfect against the dark chocolate and the flavor combination got stuck in my head (like a Justin Bieber song, but better). When I sat down to brainstorm what sort of cookies I wanted to bake this year, I already knew it was going to involve apricots and chocolate. I remembered I had a bag of Iranian pistachios in my freezer from my last trip to Paris. Then I asked myself what flavor goes with chocolate, apricots and pistachios? And voilà—these tahini shortbreads were born.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

We leave town again in two days. I have a mountain of laundry to do. Suitcases to pack. A grumpy old cat to transport to the neighbors’ house. But somehow I don’t mind at all. I’ve given in to the chaos of the month and I’m feeling like everything will turn out how it’s supposed to. We’ll see family and friends and listen to cheesy Christmas music and spend way too much time in line at the post office and probably drink too much holiday punch before it’s all said and done.

So I guess I do have something to say after all: This month, try not to worry if things feel a little hectic and out of hand. If you’ve got presents to wrap and dinners to attend and you maybe hit the eggnog a little harder than you’d intended at your office Christmas party. It’s all par for the course. The perfectly imperfect chaos that makes the season bright. Just remember to breathe. (And maybe bake yourself some cookies.)

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

P.S. If you're looking to for an extra-special gift for that extra-special someone in your life (or even your own extra-special self), registration just opened for our May 2019 retreat in Alentejo, Portugal!

Tahini Shortbreads with Apricots, Pistachios and Dark Chocolate

  • 1 1/4 sticks (140g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (95g) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (240 mL) well-stirred tahini
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (90g) roughly chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup (50g) roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup (75g) roughly chopped dried apricots

*Notes: Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s are my absolute favorites and the only one’s I use for baking. They have beautiful color and the perfect balance of sweet and tartness. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, it looks like you can buy them on Amazon.

- This is my favorite baking chocolate. But any dark chocolate will work. I recommend chopping your own chocolate over using chips since chips are formulated to hold their shape when baked and are harder to slice.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Combine the butter, powdered sugar and tahini in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Add the chocolate, pistachios and apricots and mix by hand until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Using a piece of parchment paper, roll each piece of dough into a log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Once the dough is firm, you can also tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap, seal it in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Thaw the dough slightly before slicing.

When you're ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the logs into coins just under 1/2-inch thick and place them on a sheet pan or large plate. (These can be a bit tricky to slice due to the chocolate. If you hit a chunk of chocolate, just saw back and forth until you get through it. If that slice falls apart a bit, just press it back into shape before freezing. This dough is very forgiving.) Place the sliced cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (this ensures they don't slump or spread in the oven).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the frozen cookies on it, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake until firm around the edges and light golden brown on the bottom, 16-20 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Adapted from Soframiz by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

orange-pistachio semolina cake

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land
orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

Hello lovely people,

I’m back in Seattle after seven glorious weeks in Europe. And by glorious I mean crazy chaotic and jam-packed with work! I think I might be constitutionally incapable of being realistic about my own limitations. If a project sounds fun/interesting/novel/challenging, I feel compelled to say yes. Sleep and sanity be damned.

I’m not complaining. I got to discover beautiful Bordeaux. And collaborate with talented artists. And people-watch in Paris. And eat amazing food from my favorite chefs. And see friends. And make new ones. And drink a little too much deliciously funky French champagne. 

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

But I landed in Seattle sort of flattened from all those weeks of living out of a suitcase and navigating the stress of travel abroad. (Not once, but twice, restaurants I had booked for my retreat guests lost our reservation. One for 12 people on a Saturday night during Paris fashion week!) 

So since I got home, I’ve tried to be extra kind to myself. I’ve been making space for ample amounts of sleep. (I actually just woke up from a long Friday afternoon nap, which is unheard of for me.) Plenty of water and nourishing food. Runs through the fall foliage. Lots of laughter and connection with friends and family. And just generally more pleasure. You know--all those things we know we should be doing but don’t.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

I have a mountain of images from my trip to sift through and I can’t wait to share them with you! But as part of taking my foot off the gas for a moment, I decided to opt for something a little easier this week. This superb cake was left over from a cooking class I taught at Book Larder. It wasn’t really on my agenda to shoot it and put it up on the blog. But then I woke up the day after my class and realized I had a delicious, fully-baked cake in my possession and that it would be pretty easy-peasy to shoot and share it.

Now don’t go thinking I’d throw any old junk up here on the blog; this cake is ridiculously good. I hadn’t made it in a couple of years and had forgotten how truly fantastic it is. When I cut myself a slice in class, topped it with a mound of delicately floral orange blossom whipped cream and took a bite, I was momentarily transported.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

In line with this week’s theme of keeping things easy, this cake comes together with very little fuss. No egg whites to whip up. No need to remember to bring your ingredients to room temperature. You don’t even need a mixer. So if you also want to be extra nice to yourself this weekend, this cake is for you!

I’ll be back soon to share new work from my Paris and Portugal trips with you. In the meantime, I’ll be spending my weekend cooking, listening to records, watching the rain come down, and hopefully fitting in a nap or two.

Orange-Pistachio Semolina Cake

  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed orange juice (zest the orange before juicing and reserve zest)
  • 3/4 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups fine semolina
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter

To serve

  • 1 recipe Orange Blossom Whipped Cream (below)

  • ¼ cup roughly chopped pistachios


*Note: This cake is better the next day, so make it in advance if you have time. Leave it covered out of the refrigerator overnight. 

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the sugar, water, cinnamon stick and a small pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup has thickened slightly, 5-6 minutes minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the orange juice. Set aside to cool until the cake is done.

Butter an  8” x 8” square or 9” round cake pan. 

Combine the pistachios and sugar in a blender or food processor. Process into a fine powder. Sift the pistachio sugar, flour, baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and semolina into a large bowl. (The pistachios won't fit through a fine-mesh sieve, so if you don't have a medium-mesh sieve, use a fork or whisk to aerate your ingredients and remove lumps.) Add 1 teaspoon of the reserved orange zest and whisk to combine. Use your fingers to break up any remaining lumps.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan then transfer to a medium bowl. Heat the milk in the same pan over medium-low heat until it feels warm to the touch. Add to the bowl with the butter and whisk to combine. Add the milk and butter to the semolina mixture and stir to combine, making sure there are no pockets of dry semolina at the bottom of the bowl. 

Pour the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
When the cake is done, remove the cinnamon stick from the syrup. Pour the cooled syrup over the hot cake. Let the cake sit until the liquid has been fully absorbed and the cake has cooled to room temperature. Cut the cake into roughly 3-inch squares or diamonds. Top slices with Orange Blossom Whipped Cream and sprinkle with chopped pistachios before serving. 

Makes 8-10 servings.

Orange Blossom Whipped Cream 

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons sugar (preferably superfine), or to taste

  • 1-2 tablespoon orange blossom water


Place the cream, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the orange blossom water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until the sugar has mostly dissolved. (You can also whip the cream with a hand blender or by hand with a whisk.) Taste and add more orange blossom water and/or sugar if desired. Beat until soft peaks form and serve.

Makes about 2 cups.

orange pistachio semolina cake || Image: Olaiya Land

apricot-pistachio ice cream eton mess

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Whew! The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. As soon as I touched down from my last Paris retreat, I set to work finalizing the details for fall retreats in Portugal and Paris and began promoting them. Which was aaaaaaalot more work than I imagined.

One thing I like about being self-employed is that it never gets boring. I am chief recipe creator, photographer, writer, editor, public relations agent, website developer and travel guru. Now that I’m leading more retreats abroad--and want to ensure they sell out--I am also head of marketing. Which is pretty funny since I know close to nothing about marketing!

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

But I believe in my retreats. 

My guests tell me stories of major life shifts resulting from their time abroad with me. Decisions to go for that job. Step out of an unhealthy relationship. Stop working a gazillion hours a week and spend more time with family. Start dating again. Prioritize themselves in new ways.

I, too, arrive home after each retreat feeling energized--excited about my life and ready to imagine new projects into reality.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

All of this makes the work that goes into planning each trip 110% worthwhile. Even though I know very little about marketing (at least in the traditional sense), it leaves me determined to get the word out about my retreats to the best of my ability.

Which brings me back to the last few weeks and the megaton of hours I’ve sunk into writing about Paris and Portugal. Meeting with collaborators. Editing images. Posting to Instagram and Facebook. Asking friends to spread the word, despite how uncomfortable I find it to ask for help. And researching how to promote my tours without feeling inauthentic or overly pushy.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

I’m way outside my comfort zone. And my life is something of a mess. I just noticed there’s some sort of mystery substance peeking out from under my stove. The garden needs watering and the lawn needs mowed. There is a mountain of unpacked boxes in the garage from our move. Yesterday, I discovered a pile of unpaid bills hiding under about a dozen unread magazines. The dust bunnies that occasionally tumble out from under the couch are frightening.

But it’s all ok. It wouldn’t have been in the past. I’d have been kicking myself up one side and down the other for letting my life feel so out of control. But somehow, I’ve decided that I’m ok with all of this and that it will be just fine. I’ve even carved our time for my own pleasure in the midst of all this chaos. I saw a movie on a weekday morning. I went for a walk with my friend, Rachael. I tried a few new recipes. I sat in the backyard and drank rosé with Beau. I finished a novel

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

So even though my life feels like a mess, I’ve decided it’s a beautiful mess.

In honor of which, I give you this Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess. It’s got homemade pistachio ice cream and tart apricot sorbet. Crisp orange blossom meringues. Honeyed apricots and clouds of whipped sweet cream. This is my kind of dessert: Made with love. Messy. And wonderful.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Apricot-Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess

  • 8 oz. firm-ripe apricots, each pitted and sliced into sixths or eighths
  • 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 recipe Orange Blossom Meringues (see below)
  • 1 recipe Pistachio Ice Cream (see below)
  • 1 recipe Apricot Sorbet (see below)
  • A few small fresh herb leaves and/or flowers, such as mint, basil, thyme, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, etc. (I used lemon balm)

*Note: The best thing about this Eton mess (besides how delicious it is!) is that you can make all the components from scratch or you can buy the ice cream, sorbet and meringues pre-made. It's like an edible choose-your-own-adventure! 

- If you need a little help organizing your prep, I recommend you make the ice cream and sorbet 2-3 days in advance. Make the meringues and honeyed apricots 1-2 days in advance. Whip the cream an hour or two before serving and store it in the fridge. Then pull the ice cream and sorbet 10-20 minutes before you assemble everything to make sure they are easily scoopable.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Place the apricots in a large nonreactive saucepan along with the honey and water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat then cook until just soft. (You can cook the apricots longer if you prefer them to be more of a sauce.) Remove from the heat, stir in lemon juice to taste and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. (I don’t sweeten it because the meringue is pretty sweet, but you can sweeten to taste with honey or sugar if you like. If you go this route, add your sweetener to the cream before you whip it.)

To assemble: Break 3 or 4 of the meringues into large pieces and spread them over a large serving platter. Arrange scoops of  the pistachio ice cream and apricot sorbet over the meringues. Dollop the whipped cream over the ice cream. Spoon the honeyed apricots over the cream and scatter the herbs over the top. Serve immediately.

Makes 6-8 servings. And you’ll have some ice cream, sorbet and meringue left over. (Score!)

Orange Blossom Meringues

  • 9 oz superfine sugar (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Pinch salt

  • 6 oz egg whites (from about 5 large eggs), room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

  • 1-2 teaspoons orange blossom water

*Note: For my full list of tips on working with egg whites, click here then scroll down to the recipe section.

- Orange blossom water varies in strength. Start with one teaspoon and see how your merengue tastes. Add more orange blossom water if desired. (I used two teaspoons of Noirot brand orange blossom water.)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 225° F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Place the sugar in a small bowl. Add the cornstarch and salt. Whisk to combine and break up any clumps. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites at medium speed until soft peaks form, 2-3 minutes.

Increase the speed a little and slowly sprinkle in the sugar mixture. It should take you about a minute; adding the sugar too quickly or before the eggs form soft peaks will result in a less stable meringue that might spread or weep. A minute or so after all of the sugar mixture has been added, add the vinegar and orange blossom water. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until the meringue forms very stiff peaks, 5-8 minutes longer. You will know the meringue is stiff enough when it will hold the whisk attachment perfectly upright with no other support. 

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Spoon the meringue into 6 heaping mounds, each about 4 inches wide on the parchment-lined sheet pan (be sure they aren’t touching). Use the back of a spoon to flatten them a little so they cook more evenly.

Bake the meringues until they are crisp and dry to the touch on the outside but still white (not golden or cracked), 90-120 minutes. Check on the meringues periodically to make sure they aren’t coloring or cracking. If they are, rotate the sheet pan and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

Turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to dry out. When the oven is completely cool, remove the meringues. If you're not using them immediately, transfer them to an airtight container. The meringues will keep, tightly sealed, for up to a week if you have baked them fairly dry.

Makes 6 large meringues.

Apricot Sorbet

  • 2 lbs. very ripe fresh apricots

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 3 drops almond or vanilla extract (I used almond)

*Note: This makes a full-flavored but very tart sorbet, which is perfect against the sweet meringues and creamy pistachio ice cream in this Eton mess. If you want a sweeter sorbet, you might add a touch more sugar.

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Split the apricots in half, remove the pits, and cut each half into thirds. Combine the apricot wedges and water in a medium nonreactive saucepan and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Once cool, puree the mixture in a food processor or blender until smooth. Taste a spoonful and if there are any small fibers, press the puree through a mesh strainer. Stir in the almond or vanilla extract. Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz


Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com

Pistachio Ice Cream

  • 2 cups whole milk

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch

  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

  • 1/2 cup toasted pistachios, finely ground

  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Fill a large bowl with ice water. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch. In another large bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth.

In a large saucepan, combine the remaining milk with the heavy cream, sugar and corn syrup. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes. Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Return to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in the pistachios, almond extract and salt. Set the bowl in the ice water bath and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cold. Cover and transfer to the fridge to chill completely, 4-6 hours or overnight. Alternately, place the mixture in a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag partially then squeeze out as much air as possible as you lower the bag into the ice water. Seal completely and chill until quite cold, at least 30 minutes. (The increased surface area allows the ice cream base to chill much more quickly. I learned this tip from Jeni Britton-Bauer—the author of this recipe—and use it for all my ice cream.)

Strain the ice cream base if desired, pressing the pistachios with the back of a spoon to extract all the flavor. (I like the flecks of pistachio in my ice cream, so didn’t strain it.) Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pack the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the ice cream and close with an airtight lid. Freeze the pistachio ice cream until firm, about 4 hours before scooping. 

Makes about 1 quart.

Recipe by Jeni Britton-Bauer

Apricot Pistachio Ice Cream Eton Mess on millys-kitchen.com