Were health or weight gain not an issue, I would eat desserts for every meal and for snacks between meal. But in this imperfect world, these are issues, and so I have to content myself with eating dessert at most once a day (or better, once a week), and for all the other possible dessert occasions throughout the day, I must be satisfied by reading dessert recipes. This is why I find a new dessert cookbook as exciting as a new novel and why I have way too many dessert cookbooks. This post is my first feeble attempt to deal with this glut.
Tropical Desserts, by Andrew MacLauchlan, has been sitting virginally on my shelf for about fifteen years. Every few years I would flip through this book, marking recipes that I would make some day, and then reshelve the book. I always assumed that the recipes would be good, as the author is also the co-author of Flavored Breads (featured in the post “The Southwest Bakery“), a bread book of which I am quite fond. Once I started cooking from this book, I did indeed like the recipes. For the most part, the recipes were fairly standard except for the use of “tropical” ingredients: for example, pineapple, cashews, bananas, and ginger (no durian).
Avocados are a wonderful fruit, and I keep thinking that they must be good for something other than making guacamole or putting in salads. I have yet to explore the recent cookbook, Absolutely Avocados by Gaby Dalkin, but I did make “Avocado Tart” (page 46) from Tropical Desserts. This tart has a custardy cooked filling made with two avocados. The problem with avocados is that once the fruit is exposed to air, it quickly oxidizes and turns an unappetizing brown. I was hoping that if the avocado was cooked, it would, like cooked apple, not turn brown. This didn’t quite work out. The day after I cooked the tart, the filling was a much duller green, although not brown. Thus I topped the tart with whipped cream, which I was going to serve with the tart anyway. This tart had a strong lime taste, a more subdued avocado taste, and a soft and pleasing texture. It was quite good, tastier than I had expected. [Go to the recipe.]
The recipe for “Pineapple Sorbet” (page 10) was very simple. It also looked relatively healthy, having very little sugar (at least for a sorbet). All you do is blend a pineapple with ¼ cup each sugar and orange juice. Then chill, and freeze in the ice cream machine. When first made, this was refreshing and not too sweet. This is, however, a sorbet that should be eaten right away. It froze to be rock hard in the freezer, and when slightly thawed had too many ice crystals.
Croissant dough is fun to make, and I spent too many years of my baking life being too scared to try it. You make a simple yeast dough, use it to encase some butter, then roll, fold, roll, fold, refrigerate, and repeat this sequence several times. The real pay off comes when you take the croissants out of the oven. I always marvel at how (relatively) easy it was to produce such stupendous looking rolls. Andrew’s “Cashew Croissants” (page 107) have a filling of ground cashews mixed with a little bit of honey. The question here is: which would be better, a cashew croissant or a plain croissant and a bowl of cashews? Shay voted for the cashew croissant; I think I would prefer a plain croissant with cashews on the side.
Although “Asian” and “tropical” are not synonyms, The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts, by Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko, has many similarities with Tropical Desserts. Both books have lots of recipes for American favorites jazzed up with one or more Asian/tropical ingredients. Pichet Ong goes a bit further, though, and some of his recipes are close to genuine Asian desserts. I stayed with the more familiar recipes; we would, after all, have to eat whatever I made, and I am not sure that “Shaved Ice with Summer Corn, Avocado, and Red Beans” (page 256) would be much of a hit in my house. Although published ten years after Tropical Desserts (2007 v. 1997), The Sweet Spot cost five dollars less. It is however, a much more nicely produced book. The page layout is cleaner, with at most one recipe per page. The font used is easier on the eye and more pleasing. There are more color photographs, and those photographs are actually useful, not artistic with odd colors, skewed alignment, or blurriness in the foreground, as is the case with the photos in Tropical Desserts. I think this is due perhaps in part to technological advances enabling a nicer book to be produced more cheaply, but also just to a change (for the better) in cookbook aesthetics.
The recipe for “Pomegranate Sherbet” (page 249) is simple: pomegranate juice, sugar, pomegranate molasses, and lemon juice. It turned out to be quite like Andrew MacLauchlan’s pineapple sorbet: not too sweet and very refreshing straight from the ice cream machine. But like the pineapple sorbet, after being in the freezer, its texture deteriorated. (And what is the difference between sorbet and sherbet? Apparently, in the United States, products labeled “sherbet” have milk fat content between 1% and 2%. This is not necessarily true elsewhere; as we see here, in Cookbookland, a sherbet need have no dairy at all.) Of these two frozen desserts, I preferred the pineapple sorbet, but then I prefer pineapples to pomegranates.
“Ginger Oatmeal Raisin Cookies” (page 91) are standard issue oatmeal cookies with candied ginger and a small amount of cayenne pepper. Danny noticed and commented positively on the spiciness of these cookies, but no one else really noticed anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps one could better appreciate the subtle effects of the ginger and cayenne by taste testing these cookies next to oatmeal cookies without ginger and cayenne. They were still good oatmeal cookies, but if I make them again, I will certainly increase the ginger and possible the cayenne also.
“Chinese Almond Cookies” (page 102) are Pichet Ong’s version of Chinese restaurant cookies. He uses butter and not lard (so I did not have to make that substitution myself). I omitted the egg glaze and the almond on top; putting the almond on top is a good way to guarantee that picky eaters will not go near these cookies. Thus it was that Henry enjoyed these cookies, and as long as these cookies lasted, he would usually grab a couple on each foray out of his lair. The cookies had a very nice texture: they were right in the Goldilocks zone between soft and crisp, between grainy and gritty, and they kept their texture over several days. [Go to the recipe.]
Sweetened condensed milk is popular in hotter climes; it lasts forever, as opposed to fresh milk which spoils quickly. It should not be thought of as inferior to fresh milk, just different, as raisins compare to grapes, pickles to cucumbers, or salt cod to cod. Thus those, such as certain cafés in Ann Arbor, who serve iced tea with sweetened half and half or, even worse, sweetened milk, and call their concoction “Thai iced tea” are terribly wrong. This digression is by way of explaining why our family name for “Condensed Milk Pound Cake” (page 33) is “Thai Pound Cake” and for “”Sweetened Condensed Milk Chantilly” (page 24), “Thai Whipped Cream”. The pound cake, in addition to the sweetened condensed milk, had all the normal pound cake ingredients: butter, flour, eggs, white sugar, and it baked up nice and firm, just like a pound cake should. It was as good as any pound cake, and better than many. The whipped cream, which Pichet suggests serving with the pound cake, was a big hit at my table. This is simply cream whipped with sweetened condensed milk. Pichet uses two tablespoons for one cup of cream. I used what was left over from making the pound cake, which might have been as much as twice the amount called for.
Adapted from Andrew MacLauchlan, Tropical Desserts
½ cup butter, cut into chunks
1¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup water
2 avocados, peeled and pitted
Juice of 2 limes
½ cup sugar
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½-1 cup cream
1-2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
To make the crust, pulse the butter with the flour, cumin, salt, and sugar in the food processor until the butter is in lentil-sized pieces. Add the water and pulse just until the dough comes together. You may have to add more water. Alternatively, do this all by hand. Form the dough into a disc, and let it rest for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375º. Roll out the dough into a large circle, big enough to fit into a 10-inch tart pan with the the sides doubled over. Line a 10-inch tart pan with the dough, and trim the overhang, leaving enough overhang to double the sides, then fold the overhang over to get double thick sides. Save the trimmings in case you have to patch the crust. (You obviously do not have to double the sides; I do it because I like crust and I think doubling helps with crust shrinkage when prebaking.) Prick the crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with parchment paper, fill the paper with pie weights (dry beans or rice), and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Near the end of the baking period, remove the weights and parchment paper so that the bottom of the crust can begin to brown.
To make the filling, blend the avocados, lime juice, eggs, and sugar in a blender. When smooth, add the rest of the ingredients, and blend until well combined. Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Let the tart cool on a rack. If you want the whipped cream topping, then whip the cream with the sugar (or, if you happen to have any, whip with sweetened condensed milk). When the tart cools, spread with the topping.
Adapted from Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko, The Sweet Spot
1¾ cups flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ cups almond flour
1 cup butter, cut into chunks
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
Sift the flour, sugar, and baking soda together. Beat together the almond flour, butter, and salt; a heavy duty electric mixer is good for doing this. Beat in the egg and almond extract. On low speed, mix in the flour just until combined. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325º. Line one or more baking sheets with parchment paper. You will need at least two baking sheets, but with just one you can bake the cookies in batches. Separate the dough into 36 pieces. Gently shape each piece into a ball, then flatten slightly. Place the cookies on the parchment lined baking sheet(s) and bake until just starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on a rack.