Desserts by the book There is a sweet trend occurring in the publishing industry, and confections are everywhere. Here's a sampler for novices and experts alike.

November 12, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

It's time for dessert.

After years of being buried under an avalanche of low-fat, vegetarian, quick-and-easy, tea-time, Italian, Mexican and Thai trends, the sweet stuff is finally getting its due.

There's a slew of dessert books hitting the market, and everyone from chocolatier of death Marcel Desaulniers to fitness guru Richard Simmons is getting into the act.

There are elegant books, like Desaulniers' "Death by Chocolate Cookies" (Simon & Schuster, 1997, $30) and Victoria magazine's "Sweet Baking" (Hearst Books, 1997, $30). There are homey books, like "The Neighborhood Bakeshop," by Jill Van Cleave (Morrow, 1997, $25) and Joan Nathan's "The Jewish Holiday Baker" (Schocken, 1997, $23.) There are the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know compendiums, like "Woman's Day Desserts" (Viking, 1997, $25.95) and "Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts." There's the homey-campy "Sweetie Pie" from Simmons (GT Publishing, 1997, $22). And there is even "Desserts for Dummies," by Bill Yosses and Bryan Miller (IDG Books, 1997, $19.99), replete with illustrations, explanations, definitions and tips.

"We have been overrun with dessert books," said Arlene Gillis, of Books for Cooks at Harborplace. "I have hardly any books face-out, they're all spine-out, because there are just so many of them [on the shelves]."

There are a number of explanations why dessert books are flourishing just now.

Gillis thinks it's a sort of a natural wave that hits the publishing industry every year. "Last year it was Italian," she said. "The year before it was tea -- we must have had 11 books about serving tea."

Charles Pinsky, a New York television producer and director who's filmed a new series on desserts with Jacques Torres, pastry chef at the notable Le Cirque 2000, credits restaurant chefs with sparking new interest in the end of the meal.

"In the last year, dessert has become a happening thing," he said. Instead of being an afterthought, desserts now come on fancy plates with elaborate presentations. "People have just become more dessert-oriented."

Joan Nathan, a Washington-based food writer, cookbook author and soon-to-be Maryland Public Television star (with her series on Jewish cooking in America), said her publisher's request for "a baking book" evolved into a highly personal book about Jewish bakers. "One of the things I wanted to do in a baking book was show recipes of the past," tracing holiday traditions handed down from generation to generation, she said.

She visited bakers from all over the world for recipes ranging from New York bialys to Mexican banana cake to Passover chocolate cake. And she included stories and recipes from her own Aunt Lisl.

A concern for the past also motivated Carol Durst, a New York caterer and cooking-career counselor whose new book is "I Knew You Were Coming So I Baked a Cake." "I'm really trying to pass on a tradition of baking," she said. "Who is going to teach the children to bake, if we're all out working?"

For the Moosewood Collective, a group of 20 chefs who run a restaurant in upstate New York, the time had come for a dessert book, which had long been "on the list" of cookbooks they wanted to write. Moosewood spokesman Maureen Vivino said it may seem "a little odd" that the new book, "Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts," comes on the heels of a cookbook low-fat recipes. "But we've always tried to be all-inclusive" in terms of recipes, she said.

Moosewood has long been famed as a vegetarian venture, but Vivino said these days only three of the 20 collective members are strict vegetarians, and the restaurant serves fish on weekends. "And people do splurge on desserts."

Vivino said the collective's chefs "tried to expand on the idea of what dessert really is," with chapters on beverages and on frozen desserts that mostly require no fancy equipment. Ninety percent of the recipes have less than 1 gram of fat per serving, and none has more than 6 grams per serving, she said.

Recipes include tangerine cheesecake, chocolate-cherry angel food cake, butterscotch banana cream pie and, of course, the famous Moosewood fudge brownies.

Elizabeth Alston, executive food editor at Women's Day magazine and one of the editors of the new "Woman's Day Desserts," said, "It may seem funny to be doing this book now, when so many people are so concerned about health. But I think a lot of people really like to make desserts." People like to make dessert for company and may even offer a selection, say, a rich chocolate mousse and a fruit sorbet.

Among the new book's recipes are the basics, such as chocolate nut brownies and blueberry pie, and the more adventuresome, such as mascarpone lemon cream tartlets and warm chocolate souffle cake.

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