Fany Gerson’s Family Dessert Recipe Has Traveled 9,000 Miles
Recipe Roots: Annapol, Ukraine > Mexico City > New York City
Shared by Fany Gerson
In busy Mexico City, lunch is often eaten at 3pm, after school has let out for the day. When pastry chef Fany Gerson was growing up, that’s when the extended family of aunts and uncles would meet every Thursday at her grandmother Ana’s house for the midday meal. At 94, Ana is still hosting these lunches. “My grandmother’s very fancy,” Fany says. So, lunch starts with a soup course, followed by a main course of mix and match dishes — some from Ukraine where Ana’s mother Lena emigrated from and others from Mexico where the family settled. Herring might be served at the same meal as jicama with cucumbers, salt, and chili, Fany says, and matzo ball soup shared table space with mole.
To end the meal, there is always a large — huge, Fany clarifies — platter of fruit. Guava and apricot — whatever was in season. Fruit is the dessert, but for special occasions when Ana has her cook prepare the family’s simple all-purpose dough. Made with flour, sourcream, and butter, they use it to make pies filled with cans of cherries or blueberries in syrup she used to ask friends and relatives to bring back with them from trips to the United States (today, the cans are available in Mexico). The same dough is used to make a rugelach-like cookie rolled with apricot or raspberry jam and loaded with pecans and raisins. A generation earlier, Lena used it to make hand pies she called pirog filled with apricots, wild cherries, and shredded apple, Fany explains.
While she grew up on the dough, Fany didn’t learn the recipe until she was attending culinary school in upstate New York at the Culinary Institute of America. Being away from home, she says, brought her close to the recipe.
On a visit to see her family in Mexico, she asked Ana — who prefers to be called by her name instead of grandma or abuela — how to make it. Ana begrudged the request, Fany says. “I don’t like to be in the kitchen anymore,” she told Fany. But she agreed to make it with her. When they baked together, the measuring cups and spoons Ana reached for weren’t standard ones Fany had been using in school. “The cup she uses is not a measuring cup, it’s her cup,” Fany explains. The same is true for measuring spoons. And, the flour didn’t come with a measurement. Instead Ana explained to her that the dough would tell her how much flour it needed.
Today, as the chef and founder of sweets companies La Newyorkina and Dough, Fany is surrounded by desserts, so she reserves the family dough for holidays, rolling it into rugelach-like cookies with jam or marmalade, raisins, and pecans, and she sometimes uses it for the base of a pie she tops with crumble. It’s a true all-purpose recipe, bending with each generation and cook to their tastes. We used it to make a galette loaded with sweet summer strawberries.
For a complete dessert spread, serve it alongside Fany’s hibiscus raspberry paleta, another recipe she shared with us, perfect for cooling off during the summer heat.
Ana’s All Purpose Sweet Dough (Masa de Nata)
Makes: 2 - 10 inch circles of dough
Time: 15 minutes + overnight resting
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup sour cream
3 large eggs
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature (soft)
1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and sugar together in a large bowl until evenly combined.
2. Make a well in the center and add the sour cream, eggs, and butter. Using a fork, start to break up and mix the wet ingredients together, then slowly start to incorporate the flour until a shaggy dough starts to come together. Knead by hand until smooth and uniform.
3. Divide into two even pieces, shape into a disc and wrap tightly with plastic wrap.
4. Refrigerate overnight and then roll out and use as you wish or freeze for up to 1 month.
Strawberry Galette with Ana’s Dough
Time: 30 minutes + 25 minutes baking time
1 round of dough (½ batch) Ana’s All Purpose Sweet Dough
3 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg, whisked
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the strawberries, sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl and mix to combine.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 10 inch circle about a ¼ inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Leaving a 1 ½ inch border, fill the center of the dough with strawberries.
4. Fold the edges of the dough in over the strawberries. Brush the rim with egg wash.
5. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool before serving.
Hibiscus-Raspberry Ice Pops (Paletas de Jamaica con Frambuesa)
Makes: 8 to 10
2 cups agua de jamaica (see recipe below)
⅔ cup sugar, divided
4 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
1. Combine the agua de jamaica and ⅓ cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, just until the sugar dissolves. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until chilled.
2. Mix the raspberries with the remaining ⅓ cup sugar and let sit until the berries release some of their juices, about 30 minutes.
3. Divide the raspberries and their juices evenly among the molds, then pour in the agua de jamaica mixture, dividing it evenly among the molds. If using conventional molds, snap on the lid and freeze until solid, about 5 hours. If using glasses or other unconventional molds, freeze until the pops are beginning to set (1½ to 2 hours), then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. If using an instant ice pop maker, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Agua de Jamaica
Makes: 4 cups
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
4 cups water
⅓ cup sugar, or more if needed
1. Rinse the flowers in cold water and drain thoroughly. Put them in a saucepan, cover with the water, and let steep for at least 4 hours or overnight.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar and continue to cook, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher, pressing the solids with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Add water to bring the volume up to 4 cups If the flavor is too intense, add more water as needed. You can also add a little more sugar if you like.
3. Refrigerate until completely chilled.