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Desserts for Emotional Fulfillment
It is well known that we must eat proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables to stay alive. Those people like me who enjoy baking believe that desserts are necessary for our creative and emotional lives. A dessert can raise our spirits, celebrate an occasion, or even make an occasion. How many times have we had a chocolate chip cookie to help us through a rough day or reward us for an accomplishment? What would a birthday, holiday, or any special moment be without a favorite dessert?
Why I Bake
When people ask me why I bake, they are often surprised by my answer. I bake desserts because it makes people happy to eat them. People cannot help but smile when they talk about the desserts they like. I find that the ability to enhance people's lives with good desserts is an exciting and powerful way to broaden someone's experience.
The Power of Desserts
Good desserts not only offer stimulation but can be a diversion as well. With the presentation of a chocolate cake, you immediately anticipate its flavors and then eagerly take a bite. For several seconds, you are focused solely on the food in front of you. All concerns and problems temporarily recede. For a moment you forget things that trouble you, whether a problem at work or the latest political scandal. Desserts may not solve the world's problems, but they do offer respite. Absorbing yourself in the preparation of a dessert is a great reliever of tension. I know a top Fortune 500 executive who bakes for relaxation after a stressful day at work. If you are short oftime, you can quickly put together some cookies; if you have some time, prepare a more elaborate dessert. Preparing desserts gives you an opportunity to focus completely on the task at hand, free from distractions.
Desserts and Nutrition
People often approach me to talk about health and nutrition. They come to me with their heads held high and announce that they do not eat sugar anymore, as though they have tackled one of life's deadly sins. My response is to ask them how long they have had this problem and if they have considered seeing a psychiatrist. I cannot understand what they are trying to prove to themselves or to anyone else. I believe in everything in moderation, including moderation. Most of us cannot eat desserts every day of the week without noticing enlargements of certain parts of our bodies; on the other hand, we do not have to sacrifice them altogether. One of the most important contributions the new health consciousness has made is teaching us how to exercise so that we can still eat desserts and remain fit.
My Story In 1979
I got my first cooking job in New York City. Like most unemployed college graduates with a degree in sociology, I read the classified ads in the New York Times. One ad caught my eye because it was headed "No Typing Required." I read on as the ad asked for someone interested in the culinary arts to work in an executive dining room near Wall Street. As I had always liked to cook, I thought that this would be a fun job plus pay the rent, until I found something more serious to do. As I got involved in cooking on a professional level, I realized how passionate I was about the subject. I reasoned that I should spend as much time as possible cooking, since I knew that my interest could not be satiated by cooking only in my free time. I attended the New York Restaurant School in Manhattan and then spent the next eight years working in New York, Paris, and San Francisco for small and large restaurants, a catering company, and a gourmet takeout establishment. In 1977, I decided to focus solely on the preparation of desserts. I find more freedom and creativity within the precision of baking than I ever felt in the main kitchen. Baking uses fewer ingredients than cooking, and as a result requires one to be more introspective in designing new and interesting desserts.
My Dessert Style
My experience with cooking has given me a palate that I use to create desserts. In baking, people often forget that the primary reason for a dessert is its great taste, and that balance of flavors is important. A chocolate torte, for example, will taste different if you serve it with an espresso custard sauce instead of a vanilla ice cream. The flavor, texture, and sweetness of the chocolate cake will be a major determining factor in what to serve with it. Over time I have developed an extensive repertoire of taste experiences that I draw on when conceiving new desserts.
I am a traditionalist when it comes to desserts in the sense that I create my desserts from classic recipes, and although I will adapt an idea and give it a new twist, I like it to stay true to the original. Often my refinements are very simple, but the impact can be substantial. All of this may seem contradictory, and therein lies the subtlety of creativity in dessert making.
Designing a Dessert
When designing a dessert, there are several things to keep in mind. As a rule, there should only be three primary flavors in the dessert. More and the flavors get muddled. With three or fewer main components, each helps accentuate the others, resulting in a dessert where the sum is greater than its parts.
The taste and texture of desserts differ from those of entr�es. Desserts are not only sweeter but are also more straightforward. Their texture is lighter and smoother than that of a main course. By the end of a meal your palate has had many different and conflicting flavors from previous courses. Desserts should be less complex in their composition, so that after eating them, your taste buds are closed off, and there is a finale to the meal.
There are two approaches to dessert preparation: the simple or rustic approach and the extreme artistic style where desserts become an architectural forum. I believe that there should be a balance between these two styles. Desserts should look composed and visually appealing with a definite style, but I do not like to take this idea too far. Architectural desserts should be placed in a class of their own, similar to ice carving. (Ice carving is seen as sculpture, not as edible food, even though it is created with edible ingredients.) What is created with sweet ingredients would never be attempted with fish or beef. Tell someone that you are going to turn their salmon into a swan or a miniature piece of furniture and they would think you had lost your mind! Sugar and chocolate may be easier to mold and turn into a "creation," but just because it can be produced does not mean that it should be. Desserts should not look so contrived that you feel someone had their hands all over your food while it was being arranged, or that you don't know where to begin to eat. A dessert should not be comprised of several isolated components on a plate, forcing you to taste several areas to get a sampling of the whole.
Garnishes are often added to a dessert to liven up its appearance and give it color, but unfortunately these garnishes do not always relate to the dessert itself. The addition of mint leaves, for example, should be limited to a dessert that has mint in it; mint should not be placed on every dessert that leaves the kitchen. All ingredients on a dessert plate should have a direct relationship to the flavors of the dessert.