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Judy Mattera

Pastry Chef Judy Mattera shares her favorite desserts for entertaining. By Brandy Rand, photographs by Keller + Keller

The saying “Save the best for last” is where Judy Mattera comes in.

Not only does she bake scrumptious desserts that most of us would easily abandon our diets for, but she also offers them with a beyond-the-oven warmth-a testament to the power of home baked goods and Mattera herself.

Caring for others is in Mattera’s DNA. This former registered nurse turned to a career in baking while raising her young kids. A longtime Swampscott resident, she now runs Sweet Solutions, her dessert and sweet wine pairings business, out of her home in the historic Olmstead District. Despite the predawn baker’s hours, Mattera says, “I love working in the kitchen. I like the atmosphere.”

Mattera’s spacious kitchen is adorned with well-worn tools, decorative items from France, and dozens of cookbooks. Among the many awards lining the walls is the recently won “Women Who Inspire Award” from the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs organization. There’s even a photo of Mattera with a beaming Julia Child. She has worked with some of the best chefs in the industry, including Barbara Lynch, who was Mattera’s teaching assistant at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. This led to her first professional gig at Todd English’s Figs, and then eventually the famed Olives restaurant.

Mattera’s resume is impressive: an internship at New York’s reputable Le Cirque, then back to Boston to helm the pastry programs at Grill 23 & Bar and The Federalist. “Many experiences contributed to my role as a pastry chef,” she says. “Grill 23 taught me to be organized because of the volume; the Federalist taught me to zero in on wine pairings.” The latter evoked a passion for sweet and fortified wines, an area many people ignore when it comes to menu planning. “Dessert wines not only enhance one’s dining experience, but complete it,” Mattera explains.

A stint as a consulting chef for Mondavi Wines allowed Mattera to develop her dessert recipes, as well as educate herself more on the nuances of regional wines. Citing the American sweet tooth, she stresses the importance of balance when it comes to pairings. “The wine must always be sweeter than the dessert when paired, or else it will get lost,” she says. Suggested duos include chocolate with Ruby Port, ice wine with tropical fruits or cheesecake, nut-based desserts with Tawny Port, and citrus flavors coupled with Moscato di Asti.

As a pastry chef, Mattera focuses on bringing together simple, clean flavors that are also appealing to the eye. Though her perfectly plated desserts look intimidating, Mattera is unpretentious when it comes to the practical side of baking. Her advice to conquer your fear of baking is simple: Read the entire recipe first, measure out everything in advance, make sure you have all the right tools, and follow the steps. “Also, give yourself plenty of time,” she says. “Anything you can do ahead of time is a good thing!” Mattera keeps Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream in her freezer for a quick after-dinner treat drizzled with Moscato or a late harvest wine, and she uses berries in everything from compotes to sorbets.

Mattera spends several days a week experimenting with recipes for her classes and guest appearances at special food and wine events. Take a quick peek around her kitchen and you can see her favorite gadgets all within reach: flexi molds, an immersion blender, offset spatulas, zesters, and the all-important KitchenAid mixer. When time allows, she loves travelling to France to augment her collection of antique peppermills and can’t resist a stroll through Paris’s 200-year old kitchenware supply store, E.Dehillerin.

When asked if there is any dessert not in her repertoire as an acclaimed pastry chef, she mentions that she does leave decorated sugar cookies-one of her holiday favorites–up to others at the holidays. Friends and family will happily comply in exchange for Mattera’s array of desserts, complete with lots of sweet wines, to toast a night well spent in good company.

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart: Serves 10–12

Tart Dough:

4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 c. sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/4 c. flour, sifted, plus 2 tbsp.

2 tbsp. cornstarch, sifted Pinch kosher salt

Chocolate Filling

9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, 64-70% cacao (Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Valrhona), chopped

3 oz. unsalted butter

6 egg yolks

1 whole egg

Pinch kosher salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. Banyuls wine

4 oz. Chilled cherry sabayon

8 oz. Banyuls wine

4 oz. Cherry wine

6 egg yolks

6 tbsp. sugar

Pinch kosher salt

1/2 c. heavy cream

1. Tart dough: In mixer using paddle attachment, cream butter with sugar. Whisk egg yolk with vanilla extract and add to mixture. Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt and add slowly until dough comes together. Do not over mix. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

2. Roll dough out to 1/2-inch thickness. Fit into a 9-inch round tart pan with removable bottom. Cover with wax paper, and place a small bag of rice in the center to weight it down. Chill again. (This can be done one day ahead.) Blind bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Remove weights and finish baking until golden brown in color, about 5-10 more minutes.

3. Chocolate filling: Melt chocolate and butter over double boiler. Set aside. In mixer, whisk yolks, egg, salt, and sugar for 5 minutes or until triple in volume and pale yellow in color. Fold into cooled chocolate. Add vanilla extract and Banyuls wine. Place into prebaked crust and bake for 8 minutes at 325°. Serve with chilled Cherry Sabayon. 4. Chilled Cherry Sabayon: Combine Banyuls and Cherry Wine in saucepot and reduce by one-half, or 6 ounces. Set aside. Whisk yolks with sugar and pinch of salt in large metal bowl. Add wine reduction and place bowl over a sauce- pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly about 4-5 minutes. Mixture will become thick and color will be pale pink. Remove from heat and continue whisking over clean bowl filled with ice until cold. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. When chilled, take heavy cream and whisk until soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream into chilled sabayon and serve immediately.

Judy’s perfect pairing: Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls “Rimage”, France “Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls “Rimage” is a red wine from 100% black Grenache grapes. Grown in the Langeudoc- Roussillon region of southern France, it is full bodied with a nose of dried cherries, mocha, and caramel. Served with a bittersweet chocolate tart in a vanilla bean shortcrust, it is an excellent balance of dessert and sweet wine.”

Cranberry Orange Sorbet Cranberry Orange Sorbet

Cranberry Orange Sorbet: Yields 5 1/2-c. servings

2 c. cranberries

1 c. sugar

11/2 c. orange juice

1 c. water

Pinch salt

1 cinnamon stick

Zest from 1 orange pirouette cookies

1/4 c. light corn syrup

4 oz. unsalted butter

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 2 tbsp. flour, sifted1. In saucepot, place all ingredients except zest and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bring to simmer and cook until cranberries pop and are soft. Remove from heat. Cool. Puree mixture, then strain. Stir in orange zest. Chill overnight and freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions.

2. Pirouette cookies: In medium saucepot, melt first three ingredients. Remove from heat and add flour. Transfer to mixer fitted with paddle, and combine thoroughly. Rest for 20 minutes. (Batter can be made one day ahead.)

3. Preheat oven to 350°. Weigh 1/4ounce of batter and roll into ball. Place on well-greased cookie sheet and flatten with palm of your hand. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until golden in color. 4. Roll baked dough around handle of round wooden spoon or metal dowel while still warm, pressing seam firmly. Slide off onto cooling rack.

Butterscotch Crème Brûlee Butterscotch Crème Brûlee

Butterscotch Crème Brûlee: Makes 8 1/2 c. ramekins

2 c. heavy cream

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/2 c. dark brown sugar

5 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

8 tbsp. Sugar in the Raw

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Combine cream, vanilla bean, and brown sugar in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Combine yolks, whole egg, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk until mixture is thick. Temper the hot cream into the egg mixture. Stir in figure eight motion using a rubber spatula. Repeat two more times. Strain mixture through chinois or fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Add vanilla extract.

2. Lightly oil ramekins and fill with custard. Place ramekins in a large roasting pan, then pour hot water in pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until custard is firm around edges and middle is still soft. Remove from water bath, cool, then place in refrigerator for several hours.

3. Assembly: Before serving, turn on broiler. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. of Sugar in the Raw over each custard and place all ramekins on a baking sheet. Place baking sheet under the broiler and broil until sugar has caramelized, or use a hand-held mini kitchen blowtorch.

Judy’s perfect pairing: Sandeman 10 year Old Tawny Porto, Portugal “A butterscotch custard with a caramelized top is a definite match with Sandeman 10-Year-Old Tawny Porto. A red-tawny color with fruity aromas and tastes of raisins, dates, and nuts, this Porto has a smooth, silky, thick texture that matches the dessert. With a long, elegant finish, this is a grand finale!”

Hazelnut Financier (Nut Cake) Hazelnut Financier (Nut Cake)

Hazelnut Financier (Nut Cake) Serves 8

2 oz. butter, unsalted

2 oz. hazelnuts (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 c. cake flour, sifted

1/4 c. almond flour

1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1/4 tsp. baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. almond extract 4 oz. egg whites

poaching liquid

1 bottle of dry white wine, 750ml

3/4 c.sugar

2-3 strips lemon zest

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 cinnamon stick

4 pears (French Butter, d’Anjou, or Forelle), peeled, cored, and halved

1. Melt butter and reserve. Lightly toast hazelnuts at 300° for 10 minutes. When cool, place in food processor and finely grind. Do not overprocess. Combine cake flour, almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, powder, and salt with the ground nuts. Whisk whites until foamy and fold into dry ingredients. Add almond extract, then reserved butter. Place batter in a 3×7 ” buttered loaf pan lined with parchment. You can also bake in mini muffin tins lined with paper cups. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Slice thinly and serve with poached pears.

2. Poaching liquid:In large sauce pot,combine wine with all ingredients except pears. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat when sugar has dissolved. Add pears with cored side up and gently poach for about 30 minutes or until tender. (Poaching time will depend on ripeness of pears.) When they reach desired tenderness, remove pears from liquid. Reduce poaching syrup by half, about 10-12 minutes, at a gentle simmer. Cool. Pour cool poaching liquid over pears and refrigerate overnight. Before serv- ing, strain pears, then cut vertically and fan slices on top of hazelnut financier.

Judy’s perfect pairing: Mas Amiel Muscat, France “French Butter pears are poached with cinnamon bark and vanilla bean and steeped overnight. Fanned and served with a hazelnut financier (a nut cake) makes a great finish with this fortified Muscat from the Maury Appellation, part of Roussillon region near the Spanish border.”

Lemon Sponge Pudding Cakes Lemon Sponge Pudding Cakes

Lemon Sponge Pudding Cakes Makes 15 1/4-c. ramekins or 8 1/2-c. ramekins

4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 c. sugar, divided (1 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup)

7 eggs, separated

1/2 c. flour, sifted

Pinch of salt

15 oz. milk, room temperature

7 oz. lemon juice (approx. 6-7 lemons)

Zest from 2 lemons1. Preheat oven to 325°. Butter ramekins and place in large roasting pan.

2. In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter together with 1 1/4 cups sugar. Change to whisk attachment and add yolks slowly. Add flour, salt, milk, and lemon juice and mix carefully. Strain through regular strainer into a large bowl. Add zest. Whisk egg whites with salt and reserved 1/4 cup sugar in another bowl until egg whites form soft peaks, then gently fold into batter. Ladle or spoon into prepared ramekins. Carefully pour hot water, not boiling, into roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in still oven in a water bath for 45 minutes or until top is set.

3. Remove from water bath and cool slightly before and serving. (You can also invert dessert and place on serving dish.)

Judy’s perfect pairing: Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato D’Asti, Italy “This delicate sweet frizzante wine from the Piedmont region is refreshing with clean flavors. It has a fruity nose of peach and apricot, light and soft on the palate with a lively finish. With this dessert, you have texture between the cake and custard layers, which balances the Moscato d’Asti. It will not overpower, as this is a light dessert matching the lightness of the wine.”