Everywhere I have gone on my book tour, people are shocked to see that I am not overweight. I always come prepared to share my simple dessert philosophy: I only eat single portions of homemade desserts that are worth the calories. Here are some operating instructions:
First, desserts need to be flavorful enough that everyone is satisfied with one serving. People often kvetch about the fact that I have margarine in some of my desserts. I always ask them, “well, how much are you eating? “. If the entire cake, then yes, that is too much margarine for you. However, if you have one slice, you are only consuming a very small amount of margarine. I have noticed for years that if you place a package of parve wafer cookies in front of my four kids, they will eat them until they are gone. If I give them each a thin slice of a rich chocolate layer cake, they gobble that up and then walk away. They never ask for seconds. The cake provides the satisfying buzz they are craving. The packaged cookies never give them that feeling; they are just not chocolatey enough and clearly not flavorful enough.
Second, if you are at a Kiddush, simcha or anywhere and you bite into a cookie (or other dessert) that has no taste, STOP EATING. PUT THE COOKIE DOWN. Make sure the desserts you eat are worth the calories. I wrote an entire cookbook, The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes that are really worth eating.
Third, homemade desserts are really much better for you. Either you have seen or heard about those fit ladies in France who eat pastries every day. They eat either homemade or bakery desserts that have very few ingredients. Michael Pollan, the Steve Jobs of the food world, who wrote the books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules, says that there is no amount of fat and sugar that you can put into a homemade dessert that comes close to the bad ingredients in processed snacks. Homemade is simply healthier.
One way to keep your dessert eating under control is to make plated desserts and serve every guest or family member ONE serving of a delectable, satisfying dessert. I did that this past year for Rosh Hashanah. I decided that after challah, apples, gefilte fish, matzoh balls, brisket, kasha, and a rainbow of vegetables that no one needed a dessert buffet so I didn’t offer one. Everyone received a salad-sized plate with a 2-inch square of chocolate layer cake along with a slice of strudel. I decorated the plate with a berry sauce and some other cut fruit. It was lovely. There were no seconds and thirds of dessert yet everyone was happy.
You can make a plated dessert out of almost any large size dessert. Just slice the large dessert in the kitchen into a small shape, puree some fruit or mango to add some color to the plate and decorate with fruit, toasted nuts and a dusting of powdered sugar. You can also accomplish the same thing with one mini chocolate molten cake. Have fun creating a unique plate that will impress your friends so much that no one will be left wishing they wanted anything more.
Mini Vanilla and Chocolate Layer Cake with Strawberry Sauce
9 – 16 servings, depending on size of slices
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
scraped seeds of half a fresh vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
10 ounces parve semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup parve plain soymilk
2 tablespoons parve margarine
1 cup strawberries, washed and trimmed
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar, or more to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.
2. Combine the eggs, sugar, oil, flour, soymilk, baking powder, salt and scraped vanilla beans or extract and mix well. Pour into the pan and bake for 35- 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 10 minutes and then turn the cake onto a rack to cool completely while you prepare the ganache. If baking in advance, you can freeze when cool by wrapping in plastic wrap and then slice the cakes when cold.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the sugar syrup. Place the water and sugar in a small heavy pot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Let sit at room temperature until you are ready to use.
4. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a microwave safe bowl. Melt for 45 seconds, stir and then another 30 seconds, stirring each time until melted, adding time in 15 second increments if necessary. Whisk in the vanilla. Heat the soymilk until hot, not boiling. Add to the chocolate mixture a little at a time and whisk well after each addition. Add the margarine and whisk until very smooth. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
5. Take the cake and, if necessary, trim off the top to make the top of the cake flat and trim the sides to make them straight. Eat the trimmings immediately. Cut each cake across into three slices.
6. Set aside the bottom of the cake to use as the top of the cake. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Place the top square on the paper. Place some pieces of waxed paper under the cake to catch the drippings. Take a pastry brush, dip into the sugar syrup and brush the top the all around to moisten it. Scoop up about ¾ cup of the ganache and, using a silicone spatula, spread evenly on that layer of cake; just use enough ganache to cover the layer. Add the middle piece of cake, moisten with syrup, and spread another ¾ cup of ganache. Place the reserved cake bottom on top, bottom-side up, but do not moisten it with the sugar syrup. As you assemble the cake, try to make it even by looking at the cake from the side and gently pressing down to even out the cake if the cake is too tall on one side.
7. Use a long metal spatula to spread ganache on the top of the cake. Try to reserve a few tablespoons of ganache to use for decorating the cake. Heat the blade of the metal spatula in very hot or boiling water and wipe lightly with a towel to dry and then immediately slide around the top of the cake to make the ganache completely smooth. Place into the fridge for one hour. To serve, trim off a thin part of each side so the sides are all even. Cut into squares, rectangles or large squares into rectangles, as desired. Place the reserved ganache into a pastry bag and make any flowers, dots, or swirls on top of the mini cakes. Store in the refrigerator.
8. To make the sauce, place the strawberries in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until puréed, scraping down the bowl a few times, as needed. Add the powdered sugar and mix. Taste to see if the sauce is sweet enough. If not, add more sugar. If the mixture is very thick, add a tablespoon of hot water. Strain the mixture into another bowl. Store in the fridge.
9. To decorate the plate, you can use the strawberry sauce and add fruit. If you have any ganache left over, heat in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until pourable, stir, and you can use it as a sauce on the plate.
Molten Mexican Chocolate Cakes
Makes 12 individual cakes
1/2 cup (1 stick) parve margarine
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon parve unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus ¼ teaspoon for dusting pans
7 ounces parve semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or broken into 1-inch pieces
pinch cayenne pepper
2 large eggs plus 2 yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1. You will need twelve 3-inch fluted molds or small ramekins. Melt 1 tablespoon of the margarine and use a pastry brush to brush the inside of the 12 molds. Combine the 1 tablespoon of flour with the cocoa and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon in a shallow bowl. Holding a mold over the bowl, spoon about 1 tablespoon of the flour, cocoa and cinnamon mixture into the mold. Tilt the mold all around and shake to cover all the sides. Tap the extra flour and cocoa back into the bowl. Repeat with the other 11 molds and place them on a jelly roll pan.
2. Place the chocolate and the remaining margarine in a heatproof bowl over boiling water to melt. While the chocolate and margarine is melting, mix the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Turn the speed up to high and beat for 5 minutes. The mixture will look creamy. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the cinnamon and cayenne to the melted chocolate mixture. Gently whisk the melted chocolate mixture into the eggs mixture until combined.
3. Divide the batter among the prepared molds, about 1/3 cup for each mold. Place in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour or up to 4 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or longer if needed; you just want the edges to look set, the center can still look unbaked. Let rest for 1 minute. Run a knife around the sides, and then turn over onto a plate to serve. Serve immediately, if possible. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to five days.