Photos by Shannon Richardson

Brick & Elm food contributor Ruthie Landelius is Hispanic, but says she never really connected with her family heritage during her childhood. It became important to her as a young adult, and this chef found expression for that cultural appreciation in the kitchen. “The tradition and the romanticism within the dish, the history of it, where it originates from … embracing it as you cook” helps her forge those connections to Mexican culture, she says.

For this issue, Landelius shares two favorite, summer dessert recipes inspired by that heritage. 

The first, a chocolate tart, is a traditional Mexican dessert with an element of surprise: The cayenne spice in the crust delivers a slow, subtle heat with each bite. “When you think about Mexican food, you expect some sort of spice. But you don’t expect it in a dessert,” Landelius says. “Whenever I add cayenne to my chocolate desserts or cheesecake, I like to add it to the crust rather than the actual filling. You get that spice right at the end, when you swallow it.”

For the next dessert, Landelius admits her piñon-and-pistachio ice cream cake isn’t exactly traditional. Nevertheless, “it’s summertime, and who doesn’t like ice cream in summertime?” she asks. The cake relies upon piñon (pine nuts) ice cream, a unique flavor made by El Tropico, a beloved local ice cream shop. “I’m just a huge fan of El Tropico, so I wanted to honor their beautiful, tasty ice creams with a fun, summer dessert. My favorite flavor they have is piñon,” says Landelius.

The ice cream cake also comes with a flavorful surprise. In this case, it’s an infusion of ginger. “Ginger is not really a prominent flavor in Mexican cuisine,” Landelius admits, but she loves adding Asian-inflected elements to her dishes. “It’s just my thing,” she says.

Both the tart and the ice cream cake are rich, delicious and simple to prepare—but with surprisingly complex flavors. 

Mexican Chocolate Cayenne Tart with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt 
2 tablespoons cornstarch 
12 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 cup heavy whipping cream 
3 tablespoons butter 
2 eggs 

1 cup vanilla wafers 
1 cup pecan halves 
3 tablespoons sugar 
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted 

Whipped Cream: 
2 cups
whipping cream 
½ cup powdered sugar 
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
Extra powdered sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Mix together cinnamon, salt and cornstarch with a fork. Set aside. 

Process together the vanilla wafers, pecans, sugar and cayenne pepper. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Combine melted butter with wafer mixture. Then press into the bottom of a tart pan. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. 

Heat a cup of water in a small pot. Bring water to a boil. Combine chocolate, cream and butter in a mixing bowl large enough to fit on top of the pot. Whisk until chocolate is melted. 

Pour chocolate mixture into a glass bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Fold in cinnamon, salt and cornstarch mixture. Then, add eggs and whisk until smooth. 

Pour chocolate mixture into cooled crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. 

Using a stand mixer and whisk attachment, whisk whipping cream, cinnamon, and powdered sugar together until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag with a decorative tip. Place in the refrigerator until ready to pipe onto the tart. 

Pipe whipped cream and sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the tart and serve. The tart can be served warm or cold.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Piñon and Pistachio Ice Cream Cake with Dulce de Leche

12 ounces gingersnaps, lightly crushed 
3 slices candied mango, coarsely chopped 
3 slices candied ginger, coarsely chopped 
½ cup unsalted butter, melted 
2 tablespoons sugar 
1 ¼ cups dulce de leche 
½ cup mango nectar 
3 pints piñon ice cream (My favorite is from El Tropico. You can also use vanilla.) 
½ cup salted roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped 
½ cup shredded sweetened coconut 

Combine the gingersnaps with mango, ginger, sugar, and melted butter in a food processor. Process into crumbs. Press crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and up the sides of a spring-form pan. Freeze for 15 minutes or until firm. 

Combine dulce de leche and mango nectar in a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth. 

Spread half of the ice cream onto the chilled crust. Drizzle half the dulce de leche sauce over ice cream. Scoop remaining ice cream over the first layer. Drizzle the rest of the dulce de leche on top, saving extra for serving. Sprinkle cake with sweetened coconut and chopped pistachios. Freeze for 2 hours or until firm. 

Remove the ring and cut pie into wedges. Serve with leftover dulce de leche. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings