New Year brings sweet relief Dessert: Pumpkin cheesecake and a decadent tart drop in as dieting rules take a holiday.

December 25, 1996|By Lucy Barajikian | Lucy Barajikian,From Bon Appetit magazine English trifle From Eating Well magazine Nut mosaic tart LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Cooks with some measure of food interest pull out all the stops during the holidays. They pore over tattered and stained recipes to pull together dishes that family and guests will enjoy eating until they topple over. What they spend the most time and energy over, however, is the final flourish -- dessert -- because this is the crowning glory, the showstopper, the star attraction. No matter how awful a dinner, a sublime dessert can make everybody forget what preceded it and still make it an affair to remember.

This year should hold an even greater treasury of sweet delights. On my own holiday rounds, when the dessert platters come my way, I don't expect to be stunned silly by a hostess who says, "Here, have some fat," but I do expect some belly-busters because, finally, we've been given permission.

For several years now, health-conscious adults have been trying to follow the American Heart Association's guidelines aimed at reducing fat and cholesterol. We tuned into "25 delicious ways to cut fat" and zeroed in on nutritional jargon, all to avoid clogged arteries and flabby abs. But there was some frustration -- and lots of guilt -- if we occasionally messed up the allotment for the day.

Recently, the AHA reduced our collective guilt. The new guidelines allow us to eat something "bad" occasionally, and not feel like moral failures, as long as the fat levels are not exceeded over a week's time.

And just in time, I say. With New Year's celebrations soon upon us, we can lighten up and take a short break from fake fat in a jar, butter substitutes, carton "eggs" and other food defatters, and still survive the fat season if we use a little restraint and some common sense.

On the plus side for busy people, two of the desserts, pumpkin cheesecake and English trifle, can be prepared ahead of party time -- welcome news for those who don't want to stagger out of bed at the crack of dawn to start rattling all those required pots and pans. In addition, pumpkin cheesecake makes a welcome change from traditional pumpkin pie and is a flawless way to complete a celebration.

For frazzled cooks with time at a premium, store-bought angel food cake works well for the English trifle, which will benefit from overnight refrigeration.

Bejeweled nut mosaic tart indulges the eye as well as the appetite, and is best served the day it is made, when crust and nuts are at their best.

Pumpkin cheesecake

Makes 12 servings

CRUST:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/3 cup ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup butter, melted

FILLING:

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons maple syrup

3 tablespoons Cognac

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 eggs, at room temperature

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 cup canned pumpkin

TOPPING:

2 cups sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon Cognac

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

To prepare crust: Stir together crumbs, almonds, ginger and cinnamon in medium bowl. Stir in melted butter and mix well. Press mixture in even layer on bottom of 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 425 degrees 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

To prepare filling: beat cream cheese with mixer until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy and light. Add maple syrup, Cognac, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, blending well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add cream and pumpkin and mix well.

Pour filling into prepared crust. Bake 45 minutes. Turn off oven. Do not open oven door during baking time or for 1 hour after oven is turned off. Remove cake from oven.

To prepare topping: blend sour cream, sugar, maple syrup and Cognac. Spread over cake. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Allow cheesecake to cool at room temperature about 1 hour. Cover and chill at least 3 hours or overnight before removing sides of pan. Just before serving, sprinkle almonds in ring around perimeter of cake. (This cake freezes well.)

Note: For a holiday touch, instead of almonds, cut green glazed cherries into slivers. Place red glazed cherries in ring around cake and arrange 2 green slivers on sides of each as leaves. Or cut tiny stars, using hors d'oeuvre cutter, out of slices of candied ginger as garnish.

Makes 10 servings

3 cups nonfat milk

4 eggs (2 whole, 1 egg yolk, 2 egg whites)

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 small (10-ounce) angel food cake

1/3 cup raspberry preserves

1/3 cup medium-dry sherry

4 cups fresh fruit (oranges, grapes, strawberries, raspberries and/or kiwis)

1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

additional fresh fruit for garnish

Whisk together 1/4 cup milk, 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch.

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