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Volume 37 Issue 8, - June 14 - 20, 2007 now in our 37th season

Summer Dessers

by Maryjane Mojer

Why, do you suppose, desserts are less likely to fill us with pangs of guilt and remorse in the summer time than in the winter months?  Why are they more acceptable, or, perhaps simply more justifiable?  My own justification which happily works hand in hand with my dessert denial is that in summer, desserts are healthier.  The fruit is riper, naturally sweeter, and we (and by we I mean not me) are satisfied with the perfect peach or a bowl of berries.  Also, in warmer months, many of us tend to move around a good bit more.  Biking, walking, and swimming make it okay to splurge a bit on a sweet or two.

While, in theory simple fresh fruit for dessert is just dandy, I’m in fact happiest when my berries are encased in a buttery crust, smothered in whipped cream, or folded into sorbet.  Yes, I love fresh, sweet berries and luscious ripe plums and peaches and always include a bit of something with my whole grain cereal for breakfast.  (No matter how the rest of my day goes, at least I know I start off right!)  I do love cake, and cookies and mousse and anything sweet, though I am trying these days to limit my sugar intake.  I also have a long standing relationship with dark chocolate.  My all-time favorite dessert however is just about anything with fruit in it.  Pies, tarts, turnovers, fresh fruit and shortbread cookies, summer berry shortcakes, and floating islands covered with berries.  These are the treasures that make dinner worth eating.

Fortunately, my husband shares my love for pie and turnovers, and on our honeymoon a few years back, he kept a sharp eye out for diners and pie shops (as well as yarn stores…the man is the quintessential enabler).  During a month-long circle tour of the Great Lakes, we found lots of both.  Michigan was a particular hot bed of fruit filled goodness, with a side of Bismarck’s (think cream filled cruller) and meaty pasties.  (That’s pasties like cat not pasties like cake.  Say it right or they’ll know you’re from back East.)  We also happened to be there for the annual cherry festival.  Fresh cherry pie is an entirely different obsession then cherry pie made with pie filling.  Worth the trip all on its own.

Though I’m quite happy with pie and turnovers, I’m always on the lookout for something else fruity and scrumptious.  One of my favorites is my summer berry bread pudding.  Bread puddings are traditionally cold weather desserts and made with bread baked in custard.  For a lighter version, I use a crème brulee base and angel food cake, folding in fresh berries.  If you love to make angel food cake, knock your socks off.  If I’m going to put all that time and effort into making a cake than can be temperamental, (or maybe it’s just me that’s temperamental) I’ll eat it just as is.  For this recipe, I use a store bought angel food cake.  This dessert can be made a day or two in advance, and you can use any summer fruit that you have on hand.  I particularly like a combination of berries; raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries.

Summer Berry Bread Pudding

If you enjoy Crème Brulee, the following recipe is a keeper.  Just like the summer berry bread pudding, your crème brulee will be baked in a ramekin and a water bath, 350 degrees, but a bit longer, about an hour.  It will jiggle, but will be firm. Cool, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and brown under a broiler or with a torch.  Every home should have a propane torch.  You can pick up a handy dandy automatic trigger at any hardware store, and a small tank at the market.  It will become your best kitchen friend, second only to your kitchen scissors.

If you have ramekins, butter the inside and pack them with torn angel food cake.  Add your berries between bits of cake.  Pour Crème brulee slowly to come just to the top.  You may want to let them sit for a moment or two so that the cake can absorb some of the mixture, and refill.  Bake them in a water bath, 350 degrees until set.  For your bread pudding, this will be about 35 minutes.  Cool and chill overnight.

A bit of whipped cream on top is gilding the lily and rightly so.  I’m not particularly good at waiting for it to cool down.  Patience is not my greatest virtue when it comes to desserts, but if you are a stronger person than I, your patience will be rewarded.

Brulee Base

10 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups heavy cream

Pinch salt

Whisk yolks with 1/2 cup of sugar and vanilla.  Bring heavy cream just to a boil with 1/2 cup sugar.  Slowly add the hot heavy cream mixture to the yolk mixture.  Whisk till smooth.

If you’d like to make chocolate crème brulee, pour hot cream mixture over six ounces of chopped chocolate.  Whisk till smooth, then pour mixture over yolks and whisk till combined.

With baking as well as cooking, you are only limited by your imagination. Take a gander at the recipes above, or at any recipes.  Think of the recipes as components, and add your own spin.  The chocolate brulee base with chocolate cake and dried cranberries is incredible.  What would your favorite be? Apples and cinnamon made with leftover coffee cake?  Recipes like this are my favorites because you can create your own specialty, and utilize what you already have.  I love to use up bits and pieces in my refrigerator and bread box.

My other all time favorite summer dessert is Strawberry Shortcake.  Fresh strawberries, cut and tossed with a bit of sugar in the morning or better yet, the night before will yield a gorgeous, jewel like berries with a beautiful sauce.  Fresh whipped cream, with just a bit of sugar to sweeten and a tiny bit of vanilla, and biscuits.  This is where some friends and I part ways.  One friend swears by the sponge cakes sold in the produce isle at the store, another one uses ladies fingers.  The only true shortcake for me is the Bisquick recipe.  It’s on the box, and it’s foolproof.  I drop the bisquit dough by the spoonfull onto a pan, and I like to bake them so they're crisp and brown. In my humble opinion, nothing beats it.  And while it’s not whole grain, add a bit of fruit and it’s the perfect breakfast.

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