Heather Gude spoons her chocolate cake batter into lightly oiled, ridged ramekins. Before they go into the oven, she unwraps a Vosges curry-and-coconut chocolate bar, and breaks off a piece to push into the middle of each miniature cake. Baked for only six minutes, the “molten” center takes on a new twist – the flavor of the chocolate cake mixes with sweet curry powder and coconut from this exotic candy bar.

She then tops the cake with vanilla bean ice cream and a spoonful of warm chocolate sauce, also made from the curry-coconut chocolate bar as well as a touch of Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur.

The next time this baker-turned-private-chef makes this dessert, the molten center might ooze caramel or chocolate flavored with Baileys Irish Cream – depending on what new ingredient or flavor she’s found.

“I’ve experimented with every different flavor you can possibly imagine,” says Heather. “I find random chocolate bars and just melt them and stick them in the middle of it.”

And that’s how Heather approaches the many desserts she makes: changing crusts, fillings, and toppings. She’s always looking for the exotic and the interesting – like an artist starting with a brand new canvas and relying on inspiration or surroundings to create a new painting.

“I’m always trying to go above the average,” she says. “When you eat a dessert, it needs to make an impression.”

This same fall day, she’s making a cheesecake flavored with fresh pumpkin, which has been drizzled with maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and roasted in the oven before being puréed. She decides on a crust made from gingersnap cookies, pecans, and butter. And she’s working on a vanilla cream pie, one of her signature desserts.

She opens a fresh vanilla bean – a favorite ingredient – scrapes out the tiny vanilla seeds, and lets them simmer slowly with the cream and milk, to infuse the liquid as it thickens. Today’s crust combines vanilla wafers with coconut, almonds, and lime zest. She rattles off a list of other crust combinations for her cream pies, like one with lime shortbread cookies, macadamia nuts, and coconut. “It’s really delicious,” she notes.

“This is the pie people have asked me to FedEx them,” she says with a laugh. “People have asked me to move to L.A., so I can make it for them.”

What’s surprising about Heather is that she uses no recipes. In order to print her recipes on these pages for our readers to try throughout the off-season, we had to record the recipes as she made the dishes.

A self-taught baker and cook, Heather, thirty-five, mastered many techniques by reading and cooking. She flips through a coffee-table dessert book. “I look at a dessert and I see colors and shapes and get a general idea. Then I experiment from there.”

When she lived in Boston during the nineties, Heather started a business called “The Midnight Kitchen” and delivered cheesecakes and pies to area restaurants. This mother of three boys became a cook by night, mothering by day. “I would start baking at nine or ten at night and finish at two or three in the morning,” and then deliver the goods.

She lived briefly in Los Angeles and moved about eight years ago to the Vineyard, where her husband Geordie grew up and where they had spent many summers. About seven years ago, she got into the private chef business at the urging of her friend Laura Silber, another private chef on the Island, who describes Heather as a “gifted” cook. She now works steadily in the summer for eight different families, alternating between working at clients’ homes and delivering three to five drop-off dinners and desserts in a day. Clients especially love her desserts.

“I have clients who are all about the desserts – the whole evening is about getting to the dessert,” she says. “Everybody’s different. There are pie people. There are people who just want chocolate. Then I have clients who love my desserts but hate me for making them because they end up eating them.”
Luckily, her creativity seems endless. Like the pie baker in the recent movie Waitress, whose everyday encounters led to some unusual pie creations, inspiration comes from many corners.

Her herb garden outside her Vineyard Haven home is filled with fragrant lemongrass, wispy pungent lemon verbena, and multiple varieties of sage, thyme, and basil. All find their way into many desserts, sometimes just as a beautiful edible ornament, like the pineapple sage decorating a passion-fruit panna cotta.

Heather heads to the market each day with only a vague sense of what she’ll be making. At Eden Market one day she found Goldbud pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) in season. “They’re insanely expensive,” she notes, “but you smell them and it’s like, oh my God, I can stick those in this and that.” She made a rustic plum pie, using a little balsamic vinegar, some honey, and vanilla beans.

Experimentation doesn’t always result in happy endings, however.

 I’ve had baking disasters,” she admits. “I’ve had a chocolate cake foam over and over in the oven until there was nothing left.” (She thinks it was a reaction to adding too much salt to the baking soda.)

Still, enough successes – and demand from clientele – keep Heather experimenting.

“Color really inspires me; seeing a flower, or hearing a song, or smells…will create an image in my head of something.” And her next dessert is on its way.

Fresh pumpkin cheesecake with pecan-gingersnap crust
This cheesecake has a creamy filling flavored with pumpkin and spices, and a crunchy crust of gingersnap cookies and pecans. It’s nice if you have time to roast fresh pumpkins. Otherwise, canned pumpkin purée will be fine. Either way, this cheesecake makes a great Thanksgiving or holiday treat.

Serves 8

10-inch spring form pan


• 1 cup gingersnap cookies
• 1 cup pecans
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 5 tablespoons butter, melted

Pumpkin filling:

• 2 1/2 cups pumpkin purée or 2 medium sugar pumpkins (about 3 pounds each)*, 1/4 cup reserved
• 4 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ginger powder
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 2 pounds cream cheese, softened
• 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 7 eggs, 2 of them separated

Pumpkin icing:

• 1/4 cup pumpkin purée (reserved from canned pumpkin filling or fresh pumpkin)
• 1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
• Maple syrup, to taste
• 4 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk


• 1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped (save a few whole pecans for center garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease the inside of the spring form pan. Combine gingersnap cookies, pecans, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor; process until the pieces are small, but still a little chunky. Place mixture in a mixing bowl and drizzle with melted butter. Mix well. Press into the bottom of the spring form pan.

2. Ready the spring form pan for a water bath by securely wrapping the base in a double layer of wide-width heavy-duty tinfoil that comes halfway up the side of the pan.

3. In a bowl, mix 2 1/4 cups pumpkin purée with the maple syrup and spices.

4. Place cream cheese in a mixer and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in 1 cup sugar, then pumpkin purée and sour cream. Add 5 eggs and 2 egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each one.

5. Remove mixture to a different bowl and clean out the mixer. Place 2 egg whites and 2 tablespoons sugar into the mixer and beat on high until you have stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the pumpkin-cheese mixture and pour into the spring form pan.

6. Place pan into a larger roasting pan and add warm water, making sure it doesn’t go above the tinfoil. Bake for approximately 90 minutes or until the cheesecake puffs and the center is almost set. Turn the oven off, remove the cheesecake from the water bath, and place it back into the cooling oven with the oven door slightly ajar. Let the cheesecake cool for 1 hour and then refrigerate until set, 4 to 6 hours or preferably overnight.

7. To make the icing, in a food processor mix the reserved pumpkin purée with the cream cheese and add maple syrup to taste. Add the condensed milk, and refrigerate until ready to use. The icing will seem thin at first, but will thicken when refrigerated.

8. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake and release the pan. Spread the icing on top and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Garnish with three whole pecans in the center.

* To use fresh pumpkin: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Quarter the pumpkins (leaving the skin on) and scrape out the seeds. Place the pumpkin pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and top with maple syrup and spices. Roast for 30 minutes. Flip the pieces over and baste with the maple-spice mixture. Cover tightly with foil and roast 1 hour, or until tender.

When the pumpkin is roasted, discard the skins and scrape the pumpkin flesh and everything on the baking sheet into a food processor. Purée until creamy. Place the mixture through a food mill to remove all fibers for a perfectly smooth purée.

Passion-fruit panna cotta
Adding passion-fruit concentrate and mango purée to a traditional panna cotta gives a delicious twist to this chilled, ultra-creamy, pudding-like dessert. With a dollop of strawberry sauce and a spoonful of mango-kiwi relish to garnish, you’ll look like a pro. It makes a refreshing finish to a spicy curry or other warming winter dish.

Serves 8

8 4-ounce ramekins

Panna cotta:

• 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
• 2 tablespoons water
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup sugar
• 5 tablespoons Perfect Purée passion-fruit concentrate*
• 1/2 cup Perfect Purée mango purée*
• 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
• 2 teaspoons lime zest
• 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped

Fruit relish:

• 2 ripe mangoes, diced small
• 2 kiwis (not too soft), diced small
• 2 star fruit (if available), seeds and tough edges removed, diced small
• 1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste
• Zest and juice of 1 lime
• 1 teaspoon coconut oil


• Strawberry sauce (recipe follows)
• Mint or sage leaves

* Perfect Purée of Napa Valley is a line of unadulterated fruit purées, concentrates, and zests available by ordering through Cronig’s Market or online at www.perfect puree.com.

1. Lightly oil or spray the ramekins. Mix the gelatin with water in a small bowl, and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients and let them sit for about an hour to infuse. Whisk a few times to aid in the process.

2. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and simmer for about 3 minutes (do not boil). Turn off the heat, and stir in the gelatin. Let sit until gelatin is dissolved, about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.

3. Pass through a chinois or fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Ladle into ramekins. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. You can make this dessert two days ahead.

4. To make the fruit relish, mix the mango, kiwi, and star fruit together in a bowl. Add honey to taste, lime juice, zest, and coconut oil to give it a nice sheen. Taste and make adjustments accordingly.

5. To serve, slide a dinner knife around the edge of the ramekin and gently tap upside down onto a dessert plate. Garnish with the strawberry sauce, a dollop of fruit relish, and a mint or sage leaf.

Strawberry or raspberry sauce
This is a simple sauce that gives a refreshing and colorful accent to many desserts, including the panna cotta and the molten chocolate cakes.

About 2 cups (8 to 10 servings)

• 2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries or raspberries
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil

1. Add the strawberries or raspberries, sugar, and vanilla seeds and pod to a saucepan and let sit about 30 minutes to let the sugar break down the fruit.
Turn heat to medium-low and let the mixture cook about 10 minutes, until it begins to resemble a purée. Discard the pod and purée the sauce in a food processor with the water until fluffy, a few seconds.

2. Add the vinegar, lemon juice, and coconut oil. Taste and make adjustments to make it sweeter or tarter. Strain through a chinois or fine mesh strainer.

Vanilla cream pie with white chocolate and an almond-coconut crust
Though Heather varies the fillings, crusts, and toppings of her cream pies, this “all-American” vanilla cream filling is her most popular.

Serves 8

9-inch deep-dish pie pan

Almond-coconut crust:

• 1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
• 1/2 cup sliced almonds
• 1/2 cup sweetened coconut
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon lime zest
• 5 tablespoons butter, melted

Vanilla custard:

• 2 cups heavy cream*
• 1 cup milk*
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
• 5 egg yolks
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1/4 cup white chocolate chips

* For the 3 cups total cream and milk, you can substitute any combination of heavy cream, light cream, and milk, but do not use all skim.


• Whipped cream
• Toasted sweetened coconut
• Lime zest

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the vanilla wafer crumbs, sliced almonds, coconut, sugar, and lime zest. Stir in the melted butter and press into pie pan. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden. Set aside.

2. Whisk together the cream, milk, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla bean and seeds, and egg yolks in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until smooth.

3. Cook on low heat for about 45 minutes, whisking occasionally. As the mixture begins to simmer and thicken slightly (if the mixture hasn’t started to thicken after 35 minutes, turn the heat to medium-low), continue whisking constantly until really thickened (do not boil). The appearance will change from a dull finish to a nice, glossy sheen.

4. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the butter and white chocolate chips. Pass the mixture through a chinois or fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Pour into the pie crust. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. When cooled, top with the whipped cream just before serving. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and lime zest.

Molten chocolate cake with chocolate curry sauce
A chocolate lover’s dessert that’s a cross between a chocolate cake and a soufflé, this can be varied by changing the type and flavor of chocolate pieces placed in the center.

Serves 10

10 2- to 4-ounce ramekins

• 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
• 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 8 tablespoons butter
• 1/2 cup Ghirardelli sweet ground chocolate (not unsweetened cocoa)
• 6 eggs, separated
• 1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
• 1 3-ounce Vosges “Naga” curry-coconut chocolate bar,* or other chocolate bar

Chocolate sauce:

• 3 3-ounce Vosges “Naga” curry-coconut chocolate bars* or other chocolate bar
• 3 tablespoons Frangelico (hazelnut) liqueur, or to taste
• 3 tablespoons light cream, or more as needed


• Vanilla bean ice cream
• Strawberry or raspberry sauce, optional (recipe above)

* Vosges chocolate bars, available in a dozen flavors, are sold at Nochi gift store at 29 Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

1. Melt the chocolates and butter in a double boiler over simmering water. Whisk in the ground chocolate. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. In a mixer using the whisk attachment, mix egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar on high until thick and fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on a low speed, slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate.

3. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Clean out the mixer bowl, insert whisk attachment, and beat egg whites with 4 tablespoons of sugar and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate for at least an hour until mixture gets cold (mixture will thicken and seem like fluffy fudge).

4. About 20 minutes before serving dessert, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil the ramekins. Spoon filling into the ramekins. Break chocolate bar into 10 pieces, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and insert one piece into the center of each ramekin.

5. Bake for about 8 to 12 minutes, or until each cake puffs and is slightly cracked; center will still be soft. Do not overcook (when removed from oven, cakes will continue to cook).

6. Meanwhile, to make the chocolate sauce, melt chocolate bars in a saucepan on low. Whisk in the liqueur and light cream until blended, and remove from heat.

7. When cakes come out of oven, let sit for a few minutes before inverting onto a dessert plate. Garnish with ice cream and top with chocolate sauce and strawberry or raspberry sauce, if using.

Poached spiced pears with Sauternes sabayon
Serves 6


• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
• 1/2 cup golden raisins
• 2 sprigs lemon thyme or thyme
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 2 cardamom pods
• 2 cups Sauternes, or a nice dessert wine
• 6 whole ripe pears (Bartlett or Anjou work nicely)
• 4 tablespoons butter, softened
• 6 tablespoons honey


• 6 egg yolks
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 cup reserved poaching liquid (if there’s not a cup left, top off with Sauternes or dessert wine)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, stir the first seven ingredients together with the wine, and let the flavors combine while you prepare the pears.

2. Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Carve out the core of the pear from the bottom, and trim bottom, if necessary, to make pear flat enough to stand up.

3. Drain the wine from the stuffing mixture and reserve. Remove whole spices and herbs and reserve with the wine. Mix the butter with the stuffing mixture. Fill the cavity of each pear with about one-sixth of the filling. Place pears, stem side up, in a baking pan. Pour reserved wine, with the whole spices and herbs, around the pears and cover the pan with foil.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil, baste the pears with the liquid in the pan, and continue baking uncovered, about 40 to 50 minutes. During that time, baste several times, and when pears begin to caramelize, drizzle 1 tablespoon honey over each pear and continue baking until golden brown and caramelized. Strain liquid again and reserve for the sauce.

5. The sauce should be made just before serving. In a mixer using the whisk attachment, mix egg yolks and sugar on high until thick and fluffy and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.

6. Transfer the mixture to a metal bowl and place in a larger pot with 2 to 3 inches of simmering water. (The metal bowl can be floating in the water.) Whisk in the poaching liquid and continue whisking vigorously until the sauce is thick and frothy, about 15 to 20 minutes, scraping down sides as you whisk.

7. Set each pear, warm or room temperature, on a dessert plate and serve with a dollop of the sauce.