Any celebration should be greeted with a sweet homemade occasion dessert

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Whenever I removed a tart, torte, cookies or cake from the oven my family would ask, “What’s the occasion?” They knew something was up because rarely, if ever, did I serve anything other than fresh fruit for dessert. The “occasion” usually was a cause for celebration, the kind that brought close family and friends together to share a joyful experience.

A job-promotion, a good report card, a soon-to-arrive baby, anniversary, birthday, bon voyage or welcome home — small, intimate gatherings, sometimes last minute, that didn’t require a call to the caterer — just a simple meal followed by a dessert that marked the exceptional happening. After the l’chaims and mazel tovs, everyone at the table would get down to the business of eating, knowing that something sweetly special was waiting as the finale.

It’s easy enough to drive to the nearest bakery and bring home picture-perfect baked goods, but how I love to get out my mixer, assemble my ingredients and ultimately have the whole house perfumed by the aromas coming from my kitchen, reminding me that this is a special day.

My repertoire includes the following, which have become favorite family “occasional” desserts.

Raspberry Cheesecake Squares | Makes 16 squares

6 (4¾-by-2½-inch) graham crackers
2½ Tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
2 Tbs. milk
2 tsp. finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
¼ cup seedless raspberry jam
raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Crumble graham crackers into a food processor, then finely grind with sugar and a pinch of salt. Add butter with motor running, then press mixture evenly over bottom of an ungreased 8-inch-square baking pan. Bake in middle of oven 10 minutes, then cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend cream cheese, egg, milk, zest and lemon juice in cleaned food processor. Add jam and blend filling well.

Pour filling over crust and bake in middle of oven until slightly puffed and set, about 30 minutes. Cool cheesecake in pan, then chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours. Cut into squares.

Chocolate-Orange Almond Torte | Serves 10

For cake:
7-oz. box almond paste
grated zest of small orange
½ cup sugar
1 stick soft butter or margarine
3 large eggs, room temperature
6 Tbs. flour
6 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder

For chocolate glaze (optional):
2 Tbs. heavy cream
2 Tbs. butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
thinly sliced orange wedges

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Grate the almond paste into a mixing bowl using the large-hole side of grater. Add the zest, sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until combined. Beat on high until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape bowl down and beat on high until light and fluffy. Mix flour and cocoa and fold into the batter until just combined.

Spread batter evenly into the greased and floured pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted between the center and edge comes out clean. The middle will still be soft. It will firm as it cools.

Cool on a wire rack.

To make glaze: Put cream, butter and chocolate pieces in the top of double boiler. Stir until melted together.

Pour warm glaze over cake and smooth to edges. Garnish with orange slices placed around the edge.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].