Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Desserts

As I've mentioned many times before, I generally avoid baking and dessert making at all costs. The mere thought of measuring flour, blooming yeast and busting out a scale sends shivers down my spine, and usually sets off a chain of events ending in my crying in a quiet corner of the kitchen. I was reminded by a recent episode of Top Chef, however, that every decent cook must have at least one (if not two) dessert recipes in his arsenal because, let's face it--you never know when you're gonna need one. The one positive thing that I can find in dessert making (since I don't really have a sweet tooth) is that it generally doesn't have to be mind blowing or original for people to think it's great. Even the most mediocre of cakes and pies can set off an unstoppable chain of high-fives and a chorus of "yums!" (take it from a gal who works in a building with a test kitchen).

Thinking about the many top chefs that have been sent home because of their inability to bust out a halfway decent confection, I started considering what I would do in a situation where I had limited funds and what's more, limited baking skills and a time limit. With all these limitations, what's a cook to do? My solution would be to let simple, fresh and seasonal ingredients do the work for you. In the past I've relied on homemade palmiers, which I doubt any judge would turn down nestled with a delicious scoop of ice cream or drizzled with a rich chocolate or caramel sauce. But when certain fruits are at their peak, there's no reason not to let them shine and do the work for you. That's why, as we approach berry season, I like to fancy myself a pastry chef and pretend that I have any skill in this department whatsoever.

One of my all-time favorite activities growing up was going to the strawberry festival in my hometown with my girlfriends. Barrels and barrels of local Maryland strawberries (which are in season just for the spring) were cut into quarters and served over a big scoop of fresh sweetened whipped cream or yogurt. After perusing the craft and jewelry stands in the hot May sun, we usually stood in line to grab another bowl for the ride home. I still love stocking up on berries once they start to pop up in late spring. These days, I try to be a tad more health conscious (but not much) buy sweetening thick, delicious Greek yogurt with sugar or honey. You get a nicer texture and more body than with regular yogurt, plus a lot more in the way of flavor. It's the easiest possible thing to make and as long as you've bought the freshest berries possible, I don't think anyone wouldn't be impressed with a simple dish like this for dessert, or even breakfast.

In late summer when the peaches are perfect, you can use them or your favorite stone fruit instead. It always looks lovely (and impressive) to have a nice big dollop of sweetened Greek yogurt on each peach slice, topped with a bit of mint. Or, you could top the fruit with plain Greek yogurt and drizzle honey over the whole thing. There's no actual recipe here today, just the idea that you can sweeten Greek yogurt to your liking and serve it with ripe seasonal fruits. I hope this helps other baking impaired cooks like me!


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