*We're still figuring out all the ways working motherhood has changed our lives; one unsuspected cultural change is in entertaining. The last thing working mothers can do on a Saturday is spend the day cooking. Many of us would like to, especially if it could be done without skirt-clingers and snack-beggars, but Saturday turns out to be errand day, and fancy dinner parties just about fly out the window.
Still, working mothers want to keep up with chums, and there are two ways to accomplish this without back-breaking cooking and serving. One is a cocktail party (more about which next year), and the other is a dessert party. The dessert party has picked up any number of fans of late, in part because children may be invited and it can be hard to part working parents from their children on evenings and weekends. Another good thing about it is that it can be given on a weeknight or Sunday afternoon -- a nice alternative to a formal multi-family lunch on the blustery weekend afternoons ahead.
Speaking of ahead, that's when you'll make these desserts, so that come party time you can just whip them out of freezer or refrigerator and display them on the dining room table, which you have shoved against the wall. The chairs you'll need for sitting, since most people don't like to eat dessert standing up.
You'll want a variety of desserts -- one chocolate, one fruity, one low-cal, one cake, one pie -- that don't all look alike. All should be rather elaborate. Since dessert is your only feature here, you don't want to serve up anything half-baked.
Presentation is important, too. A trifle always goes in a glass bowl, and the fruits in this trifle recipe, by the way, are highly interchangeable. In England, whence it comes originally, even the fussiest cooks often use a can of fruit cocktail in winter if that's all they can come by. Although the recipe doesn't indicate it can be made in advance, a small group of trifle fans locally feel it's better the second day; the liquor has had a chance to blend in and the cream has stiffened a little.
As for the pie, yes, there is a great way to present a pie. I picked this up in a New York restaurant that served me one of the best-looking, worst-tasting pies I've ever had. Instead of a pie plate and a solid top crust, use a quiche dish and a latticework crust, brush the lattice with egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar, then bake. It's very easy and looks spectacular.
Because there's a superwoman in every crowd, you'll also want to offer a low-calorie fruit salad.
The proper drinks are coffee, brewed decaf, one fancy tea, and a sparkling sweetish wine, perhaps a rose'. Anything too dry will taste sour with dessert. For the kiddies, milk or juice, and if they're old enough to handle it, their own punch bowl. CHOCOLATE BOURBON CAKE (16-18 servings) 2 cups butter 1 cup sugar 1 cup confectioners' sugar 1 dozen eggs, separated 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup pecans, chopped 12 double ladyfingers 16 ounces dry Italian macaroons (approximately 4 dozen), broken and soaked in 1 cup bourbon 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, whipped
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat egg yolks until light and blend into butter mixture. Beat in chocolate, add vanilla and pecans. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry, fold into chocolate mixture. Line a 10-inch springform pan around side and bottom with split lady fingers. Alternate layers of soaked macaroons and chocolate mixture over ladyfingers. Chill overnight. Remove sides of springform pan and cover top with whipped cream. This cake freezes very well, and if it has been frozen, add whipped cream after defrosting.
From "San Francisco A La Carte," Doubleday ENGLISH TRIFLE (8 servings) 12-14 ounce pound cake Raspberry jam 1/2 cup medium-dry sherry 1/4 cup brandy 5 egg yolks 6 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon cornstarch Pinch of salt 2 cups milk 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 pint fresh raspberries 2 fresh peaches, peeled and thinly sliced 1 1/2 cups whipping cream 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
Trim pound cake and cut into 1-inch slices. Completely coat one side of each slice with raspberry jam and line the bottom of a crystal serving bowl with slices. Cut remaining slices into 1-inch cubes and place one layer only on top of slices in the bowl. Pour sherry and brandy over, cover lightly, and let stand at room temperature for one hour. With a wire whisk, mix yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Heat milk, stirring, until almost boiling. Very slowly, pour milk into egg mixture. Transfer to a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until custard coats spoon. Be careful not to bring near a boil or it will curdle. Remove from heat, stir, and add vanilla. Blend well and let cool. Reserving 10-to-12 firm raspberries, arrange berries and peach slices on cake. Pour cooled custard over. Whip the cream until thick and gradually whip in the confectioners' sugar; whip until firm. Reserve 1/2-cup of the whipped cream for garnish and spread remainder on top of custard. Decorate with reserved berries and rosettes of whipped cream.
From "San Francisco A la Carte," Doubleday GINGER-FROSTED FRUIT (8 servings) 2 cups plain yogurt 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped 4-to-6 tablespoons honey 1 teaspoon lemon juice 8 cups mixed fresh fruit (strawberries, bananas, kiwi, oranges, apples, etc.), sliced 8 sprigs mint
In a bowl, combine yogurt, ginger, honey and lemon juice; mix thoroughly.
Pour mixture over fruits and cover. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to marry flavors. To serve, spoon salad into small dessert dishes or parfait glasses. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Adapted from "Low-Calorie Dishes," Barron's IMPRESSIVE APPLE PIE (8 servings)
FOR THE CRUST: 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold butter, cut into cubes 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup ice water
FOR THE FILLING: 3 cups apples, peeled and sliced 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt
FOR THE GLAZE: 1 egg white 1 tablespoon sugar
For the crust, put all the ingredients in a food processor bowl except the ice water. Process with a steel knife until a coarse meal is formed. With machine running, gradually pour in the ice water until mixture rolls itself into a ball. Remove and split the dough into two balls. Chill until filling is ready.
For the filling, toss apples with sugar, cinnamon and salt. Roll out half the dough and press into bottom of ceramic quiche dish, letting it climb the sides. Put the apples in. Roll out the second half of the dough in an oblong shape, cut in strips about 3/4-inch wide and lay them over the apples lattice-style, crimping ends of strips to bottom crust. Brush lattice with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 for 20 minutes or until crust is golden.