SINCE ITS DEBUT in 2008, Spinasse has been famous for handmade pasta and other Piemontese pleasures. If you’ve never twirled a forkful of tajarin in its lace-curtained dining room — where wood-framed plexiglass dividers placed between widely spaced tables hardly undermine the rustic charm — you owe yourself a pasta pilgrimage to Capitol Hill. Just make sure to save room for dolci.
Like many small, independent restaurants, Spinasse doesn’t have a dedicated pastry chef, but executive chef Stuart Lane unabashedly loves sweets and tries to give like-minded customers lots of options. The bespectacled 43-year-old grew up in Edmonds and toiled in the kitchens of several Seattle restaurants before saving up enough to study at the Italian Culinary Institute in Piedmont, Italy, and stage at Hotel Monte del Re outside of Bologna. Since 2015, he’s headed Spinasse’s kitchen (and that of adjacent sibling, Artusi), but his connection to the restaurant dates to 2010, when he and Carrie Mashaney were co-sous chefs under Jason Stratton.
All three were up-and-comers who previously had worked with James Beard Award-winning chef Holly Smith at Café Juanita. (Smith is a godmother of sorts to Spinasse. Its first chef, Justin Neidermeyer, came up through her kitchen, as well.) Tom Douglas lured Lane away from Spinasse to be the opening chef at Cuoco, but two years later he was back, taking over as chef de cuisine from Mashaney, who was joining Stratton’s new venture, Aragona.
With her background as a pastry chef, Mashaney (now at Mamnoon) had built a strong tradition of desserts at Spinasse that Lane was determined to keep going. “I loved that we had a variety,” he says.
In Before Times, they would offer as many as seven sweets a night, but even now, with limited dine-in business and a need for items that travel well for takeout, a recent menu sported five exquisitely crafted confections. Among them: plum crostata with frangipane on shatteringly crisp pie crust; bittersweet chocolate bonet, a dense, creamy Piemontese baked pudding; lemon yogurt cake with brown butter streusel, candied pumpkin seeds and caramel; and the ever-popular tiramisu, which they build to order in a small jar using vanilla cake in place of the customary lady fingers, and chocolate crumble instead of cocoa powder.
Spinasse’s desserts play to the simplicity of Italian cuisine but also to the American palate. “They are slightly more composed than you’d find in Italy, and we have more elements on a dish than you would find there,” says Lane. His lemon yogurt cake is an example. Because its texture is reminiscent of coffee cake, he adds brown butter streusel and a dab of seasonal jam or fruit purée. (Cue the moka espresso pot.) Right now, it’s paired with persimmon purée. Topped with caramel sauce and candied pumpkin seeds, the dessert delivers sweet succor on a cold autumn night.
Spinasse’s Lemon Yogurt Cake with Caramel, Candied Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Butter Streusel & Persimmon
For the cake:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1¾ cups full-fat Greek yogurt, drained if watery
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons
Butter and extra flour to coat the pan
1. Preheat oven on convection mode to 350° F (or 375° F without convection mode).
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate, larger bowl, whisk together wet ingredients and zest. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three batches, stirring to blend after each addition. Pour batter into a buttered and floured 9-inch square baking pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t open the oven door before 35 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/8 cup liquid glucose or corn syrup
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temp
¾ cup minus 1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
In a small pot over medium flame, heat cream, glucose or corn syrup, and salt until just simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Place water and sugar in a separate pot, and cook over high flame until it turns a medium amber color. Swirl the pan to even out the color. Don’t stir. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter. Add the warm cream mixture little by little, whisking until incorporated. Stir in the vanilla paste. Pour into a heatproof container. Hold at room temp, or refrigerate if not using immediately.
Candied pumpkin seeds:
1 1/3 cups toasted pumpkin seeds
¾ cup liquid glucose or corn syrup
¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
Mix all ingredients in a small pot, and cook over high flame until caramelized to a light golden brown. Pour onto a sheet pan lightly coated with cooking spray or a Silpat mat. Cool to room temp, and crush lightly with a meat mallet or rolling pin.
Brown butter streusel:
¾ cup minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus ½ tablespoon brown sugar
2 heaping tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
Pinch of kosher salt
¼ cup brown butter, cooled to room temperature
¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Whisk together flour, sugar, milk powder and salt. Stream in the brown butter, add the cold butter and mix slightly with a rubber spatula until the mixture just comes together. (It will be lumpy.) Spread on a quarter sheet pan and bake at 325°F for 15 minutes. Cool to room temp on the pan. Crumble the streusel once cooled.
4 Fuyu persimmons, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
2 teaspoons clover honey
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
Put all the ingredients in a small pot. Cook over medium flame until the persimmon is very tender, 10-15 minutes. If any liquid remains, pour through a fine strainer, and reserve the liquid. Put the solids in a food processor or blender, and purée until very smooth, adding reserved liquid, if needed, just to help the machine spin. Refrigerate until 30 minutes before you are ready to serve the cake.
To assemble and plate the cake: Cut into square or rectangular serving pieces, and set on a plate. Spread warm caramel sauce over each piece just to cover. Sprinkle candied pumpkin seeds over the caramel in a single layer. Pipe or spoon persimmon purée on the plate and scatter the streusel.