Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dessert Thoughts and Actions

I spend a bit of time thinking about dessert, especially when I am in the supermarket. The aisles of frozen desserts are awe inspiring as they wait for us to pick up something sweet and feed it to the waiting mouths at home. The shelves of fresh desserts beckon us with aromas and visual appeal. A bakery is another spot to find great quantities of mouth watering goodies for every meal of every day.

Who do these supermarket and bakery people think we are? For one thing, they cater to people who don’t like to cook, don’t have time to cook, or buy on impulse. The marketing people are very good at enticing people to take home extra calories.

In addition to marketing, science has come a long way. Food scientists know how to produce sugar, fat and salt in delicious proportions. I am in the process of reading a fascinating book about this, The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler. He says that it’s not surprising that we are getting fatter as a nation, because of the ubiquitous availability and ingenious combining of high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods and fake foods.

I am in favor of dessert. I know that the food hucksters are trying their best to manipulate my taste buds and pocketbook. However, the dessert that I think is best is the dessert I can make at home. On its downside are: (1) sugar and empty calories are still waiting to fatten me up; (2) it takes some time to make dessert; (3) sometimes the pie gets overdone. On its upside are: (1) I have some control over how much I am poisoning myself with sugar, fat and salt; (2) I like to cook, which is why I would make dessert rather than buy it; (3) I can downsize a dessert recipe to my small household standards; (4) like most people, I feel better when I have dessert that pleases me.

I have some standards for dessert making.
My dessert must be sweet but not oversweet. I like cherry pie that is somewhat tart. Supermarket pies often are sweeter than my exacting standards. They also have lackluster, un-flaky crusts, but that is a different issue. Cheesecake is rich enough in its various incarnations to be indigestible even though it is beautiful to behold.

My dessert must be easy to make and not require any equipment that an old fashioned cook wouldn’t have. Electric mixer, yes. Beyond that, probably no. Spoons are still great tools. A little basic knowledge of cooking can produce adequate pies and pastries, and even home made ice cream. It’s not hard.

My dessert isn’t made of fake ingredients. For instance, there is a recipe for Gumdrop Cereal Bars in my Taste of Home’s 5-Ingredient Cookbook. Three of its five ingredients are manufactured items. They include gumdrops, miniature marshmallows, and Corn Pops cereal. Come on, people. Give me basic ingredients that my grandmother would recognize.

Your reward for reading this far is the recipe for yesterday’s dessert, chocolate soufflé, which I modified by reducing the quantity listed in my big fat cookbook. Before you get excited, you must know that a soufflé is very easy to make. You just have to remember to serve it immediately after it comes out of the oven because its beautiful puffiness will fall very quickly. You can skip the gourmet suggestion of putting a collar around the top of the soufflé dish.

I made this chocolate soufflé after watching a Martha Stewart rerun on television where she and a cook whose name I forgot made one together. As a form of intimidation, they called it soufflé au chocolat, which dressed it up but left it otherwise still easy to make. If you don’t finish it in one sitting, it is good for breakfast the next morning, even if it is cold. That is, if you believe that breakfast food isn’t just eggs, cereal and pancakes.

Chocolate Souffle
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book 12th edition, 2002.)

1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
3 beaten egg yolks
3 egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar

Butter the sides of a 1 ½ quart souffle or baking dish with high sides. Sprinkle the inside of the dish with sugar (bottom and sides). Set the dish aside.

In a small sauce pan melt the 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in flour. Add milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add chocolate. Stir until melted. Remove from heat. Gradually stir chocolate mixture into beaten egg yolks. Set aside.

Beat egg whites and vanilla until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold a small amount of beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining beaten whites. Transfer to prepared dish.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve immediately. To serve, insert two forks back to back; gently pull soufflé apart into serving size wedges. Transfer to plates. If desired, top with whipped cream.

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