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posted: 8/18/2010 12:01 AM

Turning fondue, sans the flame, into a cool summer treat

On Baking

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This hot and sizzling summer quickly stops me cold whenever temptation arises to turn on my oven. Ice cream neatly cools the palate, but occasionally my taste buds desire something more. Nothing complicated, mind you, like a layer cake or intricate chocolate dessert, but something sweet as a reward for surviving another steamy day.

I ruminated on this topic during a recent visit to the Cheesecake Factory. With a mouthful of creamy cheese delight, I pondered "Does fondue need to be hot?"

Ideas for incorporating heat-friendly recipes for an outdoor party had been percolating on my mind all day. That first bite of creamy cheesecake turned me onto the path to cooler possibilities.

Classic dessert fondue recipes offer warm and enticing sauces into which pieces of fruit or cake are dipped and enjoyed. The combination of naturally sweet, juicy fruit along with savory and creamy melted chocolate creates a taste explosion that's very nice when done well.

A summer fondue could build upon the concept of a singular strong ingredient. Chocolate fondue, while luxurious and sensual, offers only one powerful flavor component: cocoa. The culinary interest here comes from different dipping choices.

In contrast, great cheesecake boasts a strong creamy base punctuated with citrus and/or vanilla essences. This allows multiple flavors to partner and create a dessert with greater taste depth than each could singularly accomplish. Put another way: Chocolate stands alone as a solid or liquid dessert while cream cheese needs an accompaniment.

Why not combine the flavor and textural component of cheesecake into a cool fondue format. The challenge here lies in enhancing cream cheese's partner ingredients to meet the expectations of a warm velvety sauce without over flavoring the mix.

After a few tests, sweetening the cream cheese emerged as my number one challenge. To create cheesecake flavor punch, citrus needed to be included in the recipe. My first choice, lemon juice, became too powerful in the finished fondue.

Orange juice offered a mild and sweet flavor package, but lacked the biting edge of lemon to keep the fondue fresh tasting. Then it occurred to me that using granulated sugar resulted in a plain sweetness without any flavor nuances. I needed a sweetener with more bang.

Honey to the rescue. This old-school sweetener offers liquidity that smooths the cloying texture of cream cheese while adding multidimensional sweet flavors. Using honey also allowed me to bring back my first citrus choice, lemon. These two powerful yet completely compatible ingredients tame and enhance the cream cheese base.

Hard as I tried there was no getting around the truth that great fondue, even the dessert style, needs a touch of heat to bring all the elements together. Stirring in a small amount of hot water with the lemon juice nicely rounds the recipe. The best part: my stove is still in summer hibernation.

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