Baking Quality Desserts
by Emily M.
from Virtuous Daughters, November 2008~Volume 8, Number 8
Ahh . . . Dessert!! What a sweet thought! As the leaves fall from the trees and snow begins to fall (at least in my part of the country!), I find myself spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes and making old favorites. Desserts are my favorite things to bake. Most desserts are chocked full off unhealthy fats, sugars, and artificial ingredients. As I bake, my desire is to produce a flavorful yet healthy product.
Ever since I started cooking as a young child, my parents have reinforced this important principle for quality food:
“Quality food should not only taste good, but it should
look good, be good for you, and be good for the budget.”
This principle has served to guide me as I’ve progressed in my cooking skills. However, it is challenging to apply this principle to desserts, especially the “be good for you” part! Here are some of the ways I’ve learned and ways I’m working on to make desserts fit the principle:
Making Quality Desserts
The best desserts are those made completely from scratch. Scratch desserts typically have the freshest ingredients, which translate into taste and healthiness. They will also usually cost less per serving, since many of the ingredients are purchased in bulk. Another important aspect: made-at-home scratch recipes don’t have artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and additives (unless, of course, they are added by the cook!).
I am not afraid to use whole wheat flour in all of my dessert baking. I have learned to utilize 100% whole wheat flour in everything I bake, from pie crusts to angel food cake to sugar cookies. We use fresh-milled flour made directly from wheat berries and milled minutes before it goes in the recipe. Whole wheat flour is much healthier with concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It also is much tastier, too, adding a nutty flavor. Most of the time people will not even notice it, but when they do, it’s almost always positive comments.
Using whole wheat flour, however, comes with special challenges. As our family has worked at it, we’ve learned to overcome these challenges to produce quality desserts.
The Scriptures say, “…eat thou honey…” (Prov. 24:13). I also incorporate honey in some of my dessert recipes, not only for its sweetness and health benefits, but for its ability to moisten the final product. The Scriptures also caution against too much honey…it will make you sick (Prov. 25:16)! Even good things like honey must be used in moderation or it can ruin a dessert with its strong flavor.
Sometimes people relate whole wheat flour and honey to boring, bad-tasting food. However, as I’ve been fine-tuning my recipes, it’s been pleasing to hear people’s responses. For example, my brother, Benjamin, took some of my honey-kissed banana bars to his boss. After the boss commented on how wonderful they were, Benjamin told him it was made with whole wheat flour and honey…the boss thought he was lying!
I am working on incorporating other healthy ingredients in my cooking:
For optional sweeteners, rather than refined sugar, I’m working on using molasses, Sucanat, and turbinado sugar. These sweeteners contain nutrients missing in white sugar. They have to be used with caution, though, as their flavor can overwhelm desserts designed to have delicate flavors.
Olive oil is more nutritious than vegetable or corn oil. I use it regularly in my dessert baking. Like honey, it can easily become an overwhelming flavor in delicate desserts.
Flax seeds are very high in omega fatty acids which are good for heart health. They are a great addition to many baked goods. Flax seeds can even be used to make an egg substitute. I very frequently use the flax seed egg replacer in muffins and cakes. You will be amazed at how your muffins rise with flax seed egg replacer. On another note, flax seed egg replacer will cost much less than eggs.
Fresh chopped nuts will add tremendous depth to many desserts. Make sure the nuts are fresh and not bitter before adding them to the dish. It is a good practice to store nuts in the freezer in air-tight containers to preserve their freshness. Toasting nuts before using them in baking will improve flavor as well as remove any staleness that may have developed during storage.
Using organic ingredients in a dessert will help improve the overall healthiness of the dish.
So why is it important to eat food that is good for you? The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in you spirit, which are God’s.” The Lord Jesus lives inside those of us who have accepted Him as Savior and I want to do everything I can to take care of the place where He lives.
It is crucial to pray and ask for God’s help before starting to bake. Without the Lord’s help, I can do nothing well. John 15:5b says, “…for without Me ye can do nothing.”
Before beginning to stir up a dessert, I try to remember to check the pantry and the refrigerator for the needed ingredients.
When I’ve completed stirring a dessert, I check back through the ingredient list for anything I may have inadvertently left out. (I once baked a beautiful pumpkin pie that I accidentally left the sugar out of. Fortunately the mishap was discovered before it was taken to a friend’s house for supper!)
If a dessert doesn’t turn out perfect or the way it looked in the picture, I don’t let it discourage me. I rarely have perfect desserts the first time I try a new recipe. Practice makes perfect.
When it is discovered that a written recipe needs a revision, I make notes on the recipe card or in the cookbook of the needed changes. Chances are, I’ll forget what needed to be changed if I don’t promptly make note of it.
If I can’t find a recipe for something I want to bake, I frequently search the Internet, looking for the needed recipe. I can find almost any recipe and even some wonderful new ones on recipe websites.
Use Minute tapioca instead of flour to thicken fruit pies. Flour can easily make pies gummy if just a little bit too much is added; tapioca won’t do that. To prepare the tapioca, just place it in a blender and process for about 30 seconds. It normally takes about half as much tapioca to thicken a fruit pie compared to flour … and, without being gummy or sticky.
When making desserts for guests or to take to special events, I consider some of the following:
The age and tastes of my guests: Young children especially love cookies and chocolate cupcakes. These desserts are normally colorful, fun to handle, and attractively decorated. So when younger ones arrive, I make sure I have something for them that isn’t too sweet but makes them glad they came!
Older children and middle-aged people are more interested in trying new desserts. They want something that is rich and more creative than normal. For guests in this age category, I enjoy making rich desserts or something out of the ordinary, like cheesecake. They always enjoy testing my new creations.
Stick to “old-fashioned” desserts such as bread pudding, coffee cake, apple pie, or angel food cake when entertaining elderly folks or grandparents. Their taste buds are more in tune to those traditional time-honored desserts. Add a scoop of homemade ice cream to the dish and memories from their childhood will almost always come flooding back. Many times when I’ve served homemade ice cream people have started reminiscing about the last time they made ice cream with their family.
The kind of event I am attending: Different events call for different desserts. Here are a couple of examples:
Picnics are delightful summer events that are always fun to attend. Never bring a refrigerated dessert to a picnic as it is hard to keep cool and food poisoning is always a possibility. Pies are not the best choice either as they can easily fall apart in the heat or be difficult to serve and eat. A large array of tasty cookies would be just the thing to bring. Cookies are a great choice as they are easy to grab and eat as you participate in your picnic’s fun activities.
If one is attending a tea party, it is best not to take a gooey chocolate dessert to share with friends. Take something delicate like scones, shortcake, fruit turnovers, biscotti, or cherry cheesecake cups.
The weather at the event: When baking desserts to take to indoor parties or get-togethers, keep in mind the outside temperature. During the hot summer months, it is good to make a refrigerated dessert (if it can be refrigerated until served). Try using the plentiful fresh fruit and berries that are available. One idea would be to make a fresh peach pie, refrigerate it, and serve the pie with homemade vanilla ice cream and freshly whipped cream. Yum yum!!
Cooler fall and winter weather usually brings thoughts of pumpkins, cranberries, and apple cider. Make dishes that celebrate the season as well as dishes that help to warm the body. Don’t forget to have hot chocolate ready!
One year I was looking to spice up an old traditional holiday dessert … pumpkin pie. I was thinking that pumpkin pie was getting a little old and boring. I wanted to make something new, but still something pumpkin. As I searched, I came across a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake. Since I loved cheesecake, I decided to give it a try. I put a maple raisin walnut topping on my new holiday dessert and the experiment was set! As my family and I bit into the pumpkin cheesecake, we all knew that I would be making this cheesecake many times in the future!
Gift Idea… For grandparents hard to shop for at Christmas time, make up a box of festive homemade Christmas treats and mail the goodies to them. I created bunches of special sweets for my grandparents a couple years ago and they just loved it. They were delighted with the chocolate-dipped pretzels and almonds, mint fudge, and white chocolate licorice Christmas wreaths I sent them. The mint fudge that I had individually wrapped was a big hit and they rationed it out for a long time! They even shared it with others.
The Cheesecake Saga
The past year or so I have been practicing baking cheesecakes. For me it all began one day when my dad came home from a local shop and told me that the owner, a former gourmet chef, had asked me to make a New York Chocolate Cheesecake and deliver it to her about 2 weeks later. Wow! What a challenge! I hadn’t baked a cheesecake in about three years and the ones I had made were awful, to say the least. I quickly began asking friends for recipes and ideas as I began experimenting with a recipe for basic New York cheesecake.
My first couple creations were nowhere near perfect and I began to wonder if I’d make the deadline. I started praying like crazy, asking the Lord for help. You see, I already had a week-long trip to Texas planned and the cheesecake was due the day after I returned. Thanks to my dad’s vast knowledge in math, he helped me, using dimensional analyses, to solve the problem I had with the sugar to chocolate ratio.
While I was in Texas I experimented again and the best one so far emerged from the oven. As I returned home from my trip I came down with a nasty sinus infection. As we pulled in our driveway near midnight, making a cheesecake was the last thing I wanted to do. As the mixing of the cheesecake progressed, it looked quite tasty and I hoped it would be enjoyed. I placed it in the oven and when it was done (about 1 ½ hours later), I pulled it out and to my horror it was burnt on top. After allowing it to chill for a few hours my dad came to the rescue again and miraculously sliced the burnt part off. A chocolate topping was placed on the cheesecake and it looked beautiful!
We delivered the chocolate cheesecake to the lady who had ordered it and she raved about it! I was very grateful to the Lord for His help, my dad who rescued me from a cheesecake disaster, my mom who helped prepare the ingredients, and my brother who had to eat three or four of my less-than-perfect cheesecakes.
Within the past year, I have made between 25 and 30 cheesecakes. I’m thankful to my parents for buying the supplies and encouraging me as I experiment. Most of all I give thanks to the Lord Jesus for enabling me to learn this new skill. I am far from perfect and I still have many lessons to learn in this area. I’m looking forward to new experiments in the coming days!
As you are baking this fall, remember this helpful principle my father taught me and “Happy Desserting!”
“Quality food should not only taste good, but it should
look good, be good for you, and be good for the budget.”
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