Art as Dessert

I came to the realization some time ago that I am not a dessert person. I rarely order from the dessert menu, am never tempted by the ubiquitous chocolate concoctions available for $8.00. Occasionally, I might be talked into sharing a few bites of something with a fruit compote. My after-dinner weakness takes the form of cheese, much harder to resist than sweetness: a lovely, hard, rich cheese to nibble on between sips of a dessert wine, a creamy blue cheese to melt on the tongue.

But then, from the library, I borrowed Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, and have been unexpectedly converted to the dark side. She’s local, this woman, owner and operator of Citizen Cake and Citizen Cupcake. I know of her, I’ve read about her in cooking magazines, seen her on TV, but have yet to walk the short distance to her restaurant to sample the art. It’s definitely on the list of places to try, indeed, walking to the library constitutes a quarter of the distance it would take to get to the café, and we practically drive past it each week for groceries, but I haven’t mustered the motivation to go out just for dessert. Now, perhaps, ça vaut le voyage.

This is a book in which I am actually tempted to try each and every one of the recipes. The pictures make my mouth water and I enjoy reading the background explanation for each creation, how she came up with the idea and the title for each. The fact that each dessert has a title should be proof that they are works of art, like “Untitled II: Chocolate with Raspberry and Fennel Tones“. The first recipe in book, and the first one I tried, was perhaps not art per se, but rather a plain warm-up to what was to come: I started wtih Chocolate Chip Cookies Straight Up. I have, what I consider, The Best Chocolate Chip cookie recipe- doesn’t everyone? – so I was curious to try another person’s interpretation of The Best, especially that of an artiste. Plus, I had on hand some fabulous Dagoba dark chocolate chips (I will never go back to milk chocolate) and turbinado sugar which, at Elizabeth’s suggestion, decided to experiment with in a cookie recipe. The one main difference I noticed in this version was that it included baking powder, which I had never put in cookies, but which yielded very pretty, puffy, chewy cookies. Alas, they were not as good as The Best. I suppose personal taste is everything.

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Skipping ahead, I settled on a plated dessert to try: Norcal (An Homage to Laura Chenel) – chevre rice pudding, dates, candied kumquats, pistachios, honey. I chose this one only because we had goat cheese on the point of souring in the fridge, which turned out to be an unlikely and fortuitous happenstance. Kumquats just happened to be on sale and, oddly, Medjool dates were actually on special display at the grocery, so it was practically destined. I didn’t realize that rice pudding could taste this good. How could I ever have known that such ingredients could be combined to transform what is normally a cloudy sludge into light, fluffy, salty, sweet magic? I will never look at rice the same way again.

Thus initiated, it took little time to decide on the next experiment: Lovelova: Persian Strawberry and Saffron Pavlova. This, now this, is quite possibly the best dessert I have ever tasted. img_0013.JPGIt is rose-perfumed bliss, every bite enveloping my senses with strawberries and saffron, roses and pistachios; it is something to taste with the whole mouth. I am astonished and continue to be astonished with how good this is. I have not, as yet, bought the twenty-two dollar bottle of pistachio oil which is the only thing I skipped in the presentation of this dessert, but now, I feel that the droplets of dressing to surround the sweetness warrant the purchase. It certainly won’t expire because there will be no shortage of occasions to use it. This sensational dessert and I am only three recipes in! We have some amazing 3-course meals in our future.

By the bye, I include this photo of Coconut-Lime Cake with Mascarpone Frosting. It sounded good in the magazine, but the dry, heavy cake is an example of why I don’t normally go in for dessert. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the picture. And the frosting.

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