Rarely do we receive an invitation to a party that we find tantalizing in anticipation, sumptuous in actuality and lip-smacking in memory. Cocktail parties seem tedious, dinner parties boring and brunches tiresome. But a summons to a dessert party is a compelling date with sybaritism.
For the host, a dessert party eliminates the problems of the typical buffet. Desserts, carefully planned, are unaffected by temperature and standing time. Punch and champagne enhance sweets, and coffee or tea tempt guests away from alcohol.
That's why one year I sent invitations to 40 friends that read, "Come for coffee . . . and your just desserts." They came, every one of them, regarding it as just what they did deserve -- an invitation to epicurean hedonism.
Most arrived at the appointed hour, a surprise in itself, for they wanted first choice from the array of 27 desserts I was serving. Oddly though, despite their eagerness, my guests stood at a distance from the table, admiring the display like kids with noses pressed against a bakery window. Then something unleashed their inhibitions and the hordes rushed to dig in.
They heaped their plates with whipped cream mousse, cream puffs, cold lime souffle, frozen lemon meringue, chocolate marshmallow sponge cake, mint-liqueur pie, raspberry cookies and other sweets. Strict dieters, calorie-counters, anti-sugar-and-cholesterol lobbyists -- all were liberated from the chains that usually bind them.
I never told my guests the story of the frozen mocha pudding that started life as a cheesecake with a chocolate crumb crust, collapsed upon being unmolded and was reborn mushed together in a silver bowl. But when someone asked where I purchased the chocolate truffles, I wondered why he would think I would taint my table of homemade goodies with store-bought candy.
For me the days of preparation were heaven. New recipes, old favorites -- it was an orgy of mixing, stirring, whipping and baking. And the payoff was joyful thanks from friends who declared the party "desserts in wonderland," "an erotic dream come true" and "the ultimate pleasure trip."
So next time friends come over for refreshments, let them eat cake.
1 pound semisweet chocolate pieces
7 ounces whipping cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut in pieces
3 tablespoons brandy, optional
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts
Place chocolate pieces in a bowl. Bring cream just to the boiling point. Add to chocolate and beat until melted. Beat in butter and brandy. Cover and chill for 1 hour in the freezer or 4 hours in the refrigerator, or until hard. Wet hands slightly. Form mixture into 1-inch balls and place on wax paper. Pour cocoa or nuts onto a plate and roll balls to coat. Store in a flat plastic container with wax paper between layers. Keeps for several weeks in refrigerator. Makes about 100 balls.
1 cup sugar
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups evaporated milk
1 cup canned cream of coconut
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Place sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar caramelizes. Rinse a 2-quart porcelain or glass mold with boiling water and dry well. Pour caramelized sugar into mold, turning to coat the bottom and 1 inch of the sides. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Pour evaporated milk and cream of coconut into a saucepan and bring to the scalding point. Slowly pour into the beaten eggs, stirring with a wire whisk. Add shredded coconut and pour into prepared mold. Place in a shallow pan of boiling water in a 350-degree oven. Bake 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely. Unmold onto a serving platter, letting caramelized sugar drip down. Chill. Serves eight.