Taking four months off from the culinary side of my life to experience and write about the Daily Herald's Fittest Loser contest this spring, gave me distance and perspective from the sweet side of a kitchen. The big take-away for me remains this: the secret behind crafting great desserts lies in balancing two critical components: quality and quantity.
It all sounds simple in theory, and as we have explored in the past, the execution of an elegantly balanced dessert often calls for attention to detail. Note that I didn't include complexity as part of the secret, and great summer desserts succeed best with a breezy approach to the recipe.
Showcasing seasonal fresh fruit on your outdoor sweets table always pleases taste buds, but if you are looking to elevate your summer get-together to dinner party status, the dessert requires a culinary partnership. Perhaps a recipe that combines two very powerful ingredients, dark chocolate, and coconut, paired in a sauce alongside deliciously ripe fruit.
Creating that perfectly balanced ending to a sensational summer party begins with understanding the concept of balancing quality and quantity. One truth I learned from the Fittest Loser experience is, that while pastry chefs almost always drive home the importance of quality ingredients, we seldom balance that with quantity. It's just as crucial to show guests how much of a great dessert truly satisfies.
Getting back to the design of our summer dessert sauce, when crafting this sauce it needed to start with dark chocolate, 70 to 72 percent cacao. Often guests shy away from dark chocolate, fearing bitterness on the taste buds. That may be true with some recipes, but here the deep cocoa essence in the dipping sauce balances smoothly against the ultra sweetness of ripe summer fruit.
Thumb through most traditional cookbooks and you'll find chocolate sauces calling for a version of heavy cream to melt firm cocoa pieces into a velvety liquid. That works elegantly for cool weather desserts, but the key to success lies in baking within the season. Summer dessert sauces need a powerful flavor punch, delivered with a light touch.
Redesigning my protein shake to include coconut milk meant this tropical beverage has been on my culinary radar of late. With its mild taste, refrigerated coconut milk seemed like the perfect melting ingredient to pair with dark chocolate. My first attempt revealed a flaw in the plan: Silk coconut milk contains too much water to create a velvety sauce.
Not wanting to settle for heavy cream for the sauce base, I remembered a can of Thai coconut milk stashed in the cupboard. Pressed from coconut meat, the smooth and slightly thickened texture easily warmed in the microwave to just barely bubbling.
I wasn't sure what to expect as the chopped chocolate and hot coconut milk steeped together for what seemed an eternity. A slow and steady turn of a whisk blended the two diverse ingredients into a shiny, smooth and velvety sauce. The aroma of warm chocolate and a slight background essence of tropical coconut perfumed the kitchen.
The sauce boasted all the appeal of a traditional ganache, without any of the dairy fat. My taste buds delighted in the full bodied feel and lighter chocolate notes. Surprisingly, the coconut milk successfully melted dark chocolate without compromising the cocoa theme of this sauce. The bold flavor of coconut plays the role of culinary sidekick to perfection!
I like that this sauce doesn't announce to your taste buds, "I'm dairy-free." There's no compromise in flavor, texture of appearance. For a summer spin on the plated dessert style, skip the fondue pot and serve this sauce in low profile clear plastic cups, garnished with a sprinkling of colored sanding sugar on the rim. Then pass the luscious fresh fruit.
Look for my summer take of Greek yogurt parfaits in August. Enjoy the season!
• Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Oakbrook Terrace. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.