Make the last course more than an afterthought
By Jane Trask
Tastes for dessert run the gamut from one person's desire for a slice or two of cheese at the end of a meal to another person's craving for a sweet chocolate confection anytime, anywhere. But regardless of whether you seek in your dessert a pleasant taste sensation or a sugar high, such treats can be fun to make, beautiful to behold and delicious to consume.
While we usually consider dessert to be a course served at the end of a meal, some folks live by the credo, "Life's too short, so eat dessert first!" Since we're entering into the holiday season - the perfect time of year for gatherings of friends and family - why not host a dessert party? You can make your own selection of goodies or ask each person to bring a sweet and a sweetie. A dessert party works great in the evening, but is also perfect for an afternoon tea-something so fashionable these days, we may be breaking out the white gloves again soon.
Should you opt for a goodie-gathering, make sure to also serve a savory or two. Pretty sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, pastry cups filled with ham salad or any savory mixture, bowls of olives and almonds (bowls of each, of course!), or like the Scandinavians, toppling piles of roughly cut homemade brown bread, buttered and topped with sliced cheese. If you're taken by the idea of dessert-only dining, an alternative is to follow dessert with a lightly dressed salad, after the Continental fashion. It levels out the sugar rush and tastes very refreshing.
Lest you still consider dessert to be an afterthought following a meal, keep in mind that you can also create a treat eye-pleasing enough to earn its own place at the table-as a centerpiece. A beautifully arranged bowl of fruit qualifies, as can a fetching cheese plate under a dome, especially if you include edible flowers. Or consider a towering Croque Monsieur-tasty globes held together by drizzled strands of melted sugar. They can be purchased, but they're simpler to make that you might think.
Another crowd-pleaser that can do double duty as decoration is Pavlova Magic. This Australian treat is sold in an egg-shaped container in many stores and also in numerous food catalogs. The package contains the ingredients for a large meringue and custard to put in the center. Just add fruit and you've come up with a winner from Down Under!
Desserts can also become gifts, another subject on our minds this time of year. If you have a special cake or brownie or cookie you make, layer the dry components into a pretty glass container and paste on a label that lists the recipe and the rest of the ingredients. Voilý-an inexpensive but very personal present.
For a pretty and pretty simple fruit dessert, grill pineapple wedges (keep the leaves on!) on a slightly oiled rack until just charred and serve with ice cream. For a variation on the Italian custom of serving strawberries with balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked pepper, try this idea: Simmer one cup strawberry syrup with1/2 cup balsamic vinegar until reduced to about one cup of liquid. Pour over dishes of halved fresh strawberries and top with a dollop of sour cream and a drift of cracked pepper. Belissima!
But how could we speak of dessert without mentioning one of nature's most perfect foods? For chocoholics, a dessert just isn't unless one of the ingredients comes from those delectable cacao beans. From parfaits to mousses, from truffles to candy bars, from cheesecakes to brownies, chocolate can find a place in virtually any dessert. If you're a chocolate lover and have a group of like-minded friends, a dessert party becomes all the more enthralling, with guests not only sharing their favorite treats, but also rhapsodizing about the wonders of the best chocolate desserts they've ever eaten.
Whatever your druthers - cheese, chocolate or something in between - dessert is a multi-functional treat. Share it, give it as a gift, use it as part of your table setting, but most of all - eat it and enjoy!
Apple season begins in the fall and this is the best time of the year to enjoy the American tradition of apple pie with cheese on it. In the following recipe, the pie already has the cheese in it! A neat trick that tastes great with apple pie is to pour room-temperature cream through the openings in the crust just before serving.
Apple of Your Eye Pie
- 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup shredded Gjetost cheese
- 2/3 cup shortening
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4-5 tablespoons ice water
In a large bowl, combine flour, cheese and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in shortening until mixture has a coarse, crumbly texture. Add vanilla and ice water, blending with fork until mixture leaves sides of bowl and forms a ball. Divide dough into 2 pieces, 2/3 for the bottom crust and 1/3 for the top. On a lightly floured board, roll out larger piece into an 11" circle and fit into deep-dish 9" pie plate.
- 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 pounds baking apples (cored, peeled and sliced)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon grated orange peel
In a large bowl, thoroughly combine filling ingredients. Pile high into piecrust, On a lightly floured board, roll out remaining dough to make a 12" circle. Place over apples. Brush water around edge of bottom crust, and then pinch crusts together. Fold edges under and flute. Cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape and prevent cracking.
To bake, whisk together one egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk; brush mixture over top of crust, avoiding edges. If desired, sprinkle with granulated sugar. Place pie on cookie sheet or large baking pan, cover pie lightly with foil and bake at 400ƒ for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes more, or until apples are tender. Cool on wire rack.
CrËme de la CrËme
A toothsome concoction known as CrËme BršlÈe -a silky custard topped with a burnt sugar crust - is another dessert that looks harder to make than it really is. There's a recipe for this popular item in just about every cookbook, but if you're serious about the subject, buy, beg or borrow a yummy little book called Elegantly Easy CrÈme BršlÈe & Other Custard Desserts by Debbie Puente (Renaissance Books, 1998, $14.95). It has every possible recipe from classic to Caribbean (which tastes like a PiÒa Colada) to Eggless CrÈme Caramel. Other offerings include roasted red pepper and chocolate espresso bršlÈes and sugarless maple custard. It also provides all the techniques for preparation and caramelizing, which is either done via broiler or kitchen blowtorch. An added bonus is the final chapter, which gives tips on how to make sweet somethings like chocolate boxes and botanical ice bowls, which will add pizzazz to your dessert presentation.
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