The Migrant Kitchen Desserts

Recipes — Dec 19, 2018

The Migrant Kitchen Desserts

In three California cities, chefs from our documentary series The Migrant Kitchen share their dessert recipes from cultures around the globe.

Photography by Kassie Borreson and Jim Sullivan

From the   Sweets Issue

Editor’s Note:  From our Emmy-award winning documentary series in collaboration with KCET, The Migrant Kitchen, we asked some of our season-three chefs to share their favorite holiday dessert recipes. The result gives around-the-world insights into cultural traditions of the season.


Mexican: Arroz a la Asturiana

Recipe by Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, El Jardín

Serves: 8


  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • 4 cups, milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • ⅙ tsp. salt
  • 1 lemon peel
  • ¾ Ceylon cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Arroz a la Asturiana is a great dessert to bring to holiday gatherings and share with loved ones. It has all the soulful flavors that speak to me during the colder months and reminds me of home and my childhood. I love to make this dish when I’m away from my mom; it gives me a warm feeling—the same one I would have while enjoying something she or my aunt made for the family when I was growing up.


Steep milk and cream with lemon peel, star anise, and cinnamon sticks. Bring 1 of cup water to a boil and add arborio rice, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until all water is absorbed, approximately 8 minutes. Strain milk and slowly add 1 ⅓ cups to rice. Stir until completely absorbed, approximately 20 minutes. Continue to slowly add remainder of milk while stirring to release the starch in rice. Stir in sugar and butter. Transfer to bowl and let cool. Top with dulce de leche or seasonal fruit.


Palestinian: Ma’amoul Cookies

Recipe by Reem Assil, Dyafa and Reem’s California

Yields: 30 to 35 cookies


  • 5 cups of semolina flour
  • 2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of melted clarified butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp. of mahlab (found at international or Middle Eastern stores)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 tsp. of yeast
  • ⅜ cups of orange blossom water
  • Filling of choice


  • 4 cups roughly ground walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange blossom water

No Arab holiday spread would be complete without ma’amoul. These delicate semolina cookies are most commonly filled with walnuts, pistachios or dates and shaped with a special wooden mold to demarcate each filling. They are typically associated with the holidays (Easter, Eid and Christmas) because they are laborious to make, hence why they’re reserved for special occasions. My earliest memory of prepping for holiday potlucks was putting the cookies in the mold and slamming the table to release the cookie dough. They are moist, buttery and delicious, and at Reem’s, we often make them with a California spin (date-infused with espresso from Red Bay Coffee, our local coffee distributor).


In a mixing bowl, pour warm melted butter and oil over semolina, all-purpose flour, and mahlab. Let rest for at least at an hour.

Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warmed milk. Heat the remaining ¾ cup almost to a boil and dissolve sugar. Add the orange blossom water.

Add all wet ingredients to the dry mixture and knead well to achieve a uniform elastic and moist dough, adding more flour if needed.

Cover and put in warm place to rest for half an hour before forming cookies.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling: combine the walnuts with the cinnamon, sugar, and orange blossom water.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Form a ball of dough about 1.5 to 2 inches diameter in the palm of your hands. Use the palm of one hand to support while making a cup or hollow by pressing the dough to an even thickness all around using the index finger on your other hand.

Place roughly 1 teaspoon of filling into hollow and pinch closed, reshaping it into a round between your palms.

Press into a wooden mold and pop out onto a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes until ever so slightly golden.

Cool cookies completely, and then sift powdered sugar over the tops.


Chinese: Black Sesame Banana Cream Pie

Recipe by Melissa Chou, Mister Jiu’s

Yields: 1 Pie

Graham crust:

  • 225 g. graham cracker*, finely ground into crumbs
    *I usually make my own graham crackers, but in this case you can probably buy some.
  • 45 g, brown sugar
  • 8 g. all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 57 g. butter, melted

Black sesame pastry cream:

  • 720 g. milk
  • 35 g. corn starch
  • 170 g. sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4.85 g. powdered gelatin, bloomed
  • 110 g. black sesame paste
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Miso Caramel:

  • 130 g. sugar
  • 110 g. water
  • 110 g. cream
  • 64 g. miso

Mascarpone whipped cream:

  • 1 pound mascarpone
  • 500 g. cream
  • 3 tbsp sugar

This was a recipe I developed mostly because banana cream pie is my absolute favorite. I’d been tinkering with some black sesame pastry cream for a menu item, and I wanted to use it up for family meal. I was also going through a pie phase, and always loved a black sesame and banana combination, so I naturally landed upon this creation.

Graham Crust:

Mix everything together. Press into an even layer in a 9” by 1” pie tin. Bake at 315 degrees in a convection oven for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Black sesame pastry cream:

Heat milk to a simmer. Mix cornstarch, sugar and eggs. Temper the hot milk into the eggs and return back to the stove. Whisk constantly until the pastry cream just begins to boil. Mix in the black sesame paste and salt. Chill completely. You may need to gently mix to smooth it out before spreading into the pie.

Miso Caramel:

Combine sugar and water and caramelize to a golden brown. Add cream and mix till smooth. Whisk in miso. Chill completely.

Mascarpone whipped cream:

Whip everything together until very soft peaks. Be careful not over whip, as it will firm quite a bit as it sits, and very quickly. If it becomes too firm to handle, gently mix in some additional cream.


Spread the miso caramel on the bottom of the baked graham crust.

Fill the crust half way (about 1 ½ c.) with black sesame pastry cream over the miso.

Top with a tight layer of sliced bananas (about 2 each), and then another layer of pastry cream to just under the top edge of the crust. Chill for at least 2 hours, until everything is completely set.

When the pie has been chilled and is ready to top, make the mascarpone cream. Spread the top of the pastry cream with a very thin layer of the mascarpone cream. Then pipe in the herringbone pattern as shown. Top with a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. Chill again for another four hours before slicing.

To pipe the decoration, use a St. Honore tip or cut the pastry bag.

Comments are for members only.

Our comments section is for members only.
Join today to gain exclusive access.

This story is on the house.

Life & Thyme is a different kind of food publication: we're reader-first and member-funded. That means we can focus on quality food journalism that matters instead of content that serves better ads. By becoming a member, you'll gain full uninterrupted access to our food journalism and be a part of a growing community that celebrates thought-provoking food stories.

The Editor's Note

Sign up for The Editor's Note to receive the latest updates from Life & Thyme and exclusive letters from our editors. Delivered every weekend.