Carnival of Sweets Just desserts are party fare for Mardi Gras

February 14, 1993|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

If you like merriment, glitter, costumes, bangles, beads and overdosing on sugary cakes, but can't make it to New Orleans, you might consider throwing a Mardi Gras dessert party in your own home. It's a perfect way to conquer the February doldrums and bring friends together for an afternoon or evening of indulgence that's part of the Lenten tradition.

Mardi Gras (which translated from the French means "fat Tuesday" and falls this year on February 23) provides a wonderful inspiration for your party theme. If you're not up to a full-blown masquerade party, you might request that your guests wear masks -- the more outrageous or extravagant the better.

Leave your staid white tablecloth in the drawer when decorating your buffet table. Capture the carnival fervor by using the traditional Mardi Gras colors -- green for faith, purple for justice and gold for power. Drape your table with scarves, shawls, swatches of fabric and add sparkle with brightly colored jewelry, feathers, streamers and masks. This is one occasion where creative chaos reigns.

For a dessert party, I like to get the ball rolling with something chocolate. The melt-in-your-mouth pleasures of a chocolate caramel praline roll are well worth the effort. Louisiana is known -- for its pralines -- a confection of nuts and caramelized sugar -- and this cake, which freezes beautifully so you can make it ahead, makes the most of their sweet, crunchy goodness. The trick when making the praline filling is to be sure the pecans are hot when you drop them into the hot caramel. This ensures a wonderful candy coating.

Louisiana is also famous for its bread pudding, usually made with whipping cream, half-and-half or milk and lots of eggs. But I've found a far lower-fat version thanks to Linda Hegeman and Barbara Hayford, whose new cookbook, "New-Fangled Old-Fashioned Bread Puddings," is due out this fall. It's an intensely flavored apricot honey bread pudding souffle made with low-fat milk and just two eggs.

For a perfectly puffed-up souffle, make the pudding base before your guests arrive and then, one hour be fore serving, fold in the egg whites and pop the souffle into the oven. Timing is the key to a glorious souffle, but this one will taste just as good after the fall.

No Mardi Gras party is complete without a crown-shaped "king's cake" as they are called down New Orleans way. Although traditionally it is made from a sweet yeast dough and formed into a ring, I prefer a jet-black Bourbon Street fudge cake baked in a bundt pan and jazzed with a hearty splash of bourbon. The big surprise when your guests dig into this cake is that one of them will encounter a small plastic baby doll inside. (If you prefer, a large pecan or almond can be substituted for the doll.) In New Orleans, king's cakes are devoured by the thousands in the many weeks of Carnival between Twelfth Night (Jan. 6, 12 nights after Christmas) and Mardi Gras. Custom dictates whoever gets the doll gives the next king's cake party or brings the next king's cake to the office. Perhaps this tradition will catch on with your guests -- whoever gets the doll or nut gives the party next year!

1#

Chocolate caramel praline roll

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Prep time: cake -- 20 minutes; filling -- 20 minutes; frosting -- 10 minutes.

Bake time: cake -- 20 to 24 minutes.

Advance prep: unfrosted, may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen up to 1 month. Frosted cake may be refrigerated overnight.

CHOCOLATE CAKE ROLL:

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa (Droste Dutch process preferred)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, at room temperature

4 tablespoons boiling water

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 eggs, separated

1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

CARAMEL PRALINE FILLING:

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup plus 3/4 cup whipping cream

CHOCOLATE GLAZE AND GARNISH:

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

To make chocolate cake roll: Line a 15 1/2 x10 1/2 x1-inch rimmed baking sheet (jelly roll pan) with parchment or foil, allowing several inches to extend over short ends. Grease the paper (if using foil, flour it also.) Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place cocoa and butter in a small bowl. Stir in boiling water and vanilla. In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat egg yolks with 1/2 cup sugar until very light, about 5 minutes. On low speed, mix in chocolate. Mix in flour. In clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly mix in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture; Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed and sides begin to pull away. Remove from oven and immediately place a damp dish towel over the top. Cool to room temperature.

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