I am extremely fickle when it comes to dessert, not typically prone to laden my body with extra empty calories unless it is really worth it. And worth it to me requires the following basic principles:
- Big pastries and butter-laden shortbreads filled with fatty swaths of cream are simply not my thing. All that fluff and pomp are entirely unnecessary to fulfill me. I would much rather have something where the butter is still evident, glistening within an egg wash on some crispy, flaky yet thin and sturdy doughy concoction that offers density rather than sugary. This is why the apple and cinnamon basteeya from Terra in St. Helena is now on my top ten desserts list. It’s a savory and sweet rough nut and fruit spread bursting from within glorious Moroccan dough.
- Fruit is for a snack or for breakfast or to shove in smoothies to get your vitamins. I don’t want it in my dessert unless it’s a tiny essence of lemon or a miniscule layer of ripe raspberry between butter cream chocolate cake. Don’t muss up my sin with something super good for me.
- Dark chocolate and flourless go together in a myriad of ways that pierce my heart pleasantly. From creamy ganache to moist, rich cakes to slim slivers of various textures between tarts and tortes that also perhaps carry a complimentary daub of light hazelnut or sea salted caramel. All the milk, white and artisan flavors of chocolate aren’t for me – the bitterer then better, and maybe with a welcome dusting of cocoa truffle powder to be extreme.
- Don’t bother me with ice cream unless it is the anti-ice cream like the insanely, orgasmic and non-sweet crème fraiche version I tried on my recent 40th birthday at the Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento.
- Cheese is always going to make me happy, just like the recently exquisite picandou at The Royce, before it turned into a manly steakhouse.
- When it all comes down to it, the old chocolate chip cookie – slightly chewy, not too flat, and with a solid middle girth for soaking in milk or earl gray tea (or better yet the Earl Gray milkshake at Hatfield’s) will always be the simplest way to my gluttonous heart. Fortunately, the Cute Gardener makes the best ones to date.
- And of course, I wouldn’t be living up to my grandmother Doucette’s French heritage if I didn’t pay proper respect to a well-made macaron with rose, pistachio or strawberry flavored meringue squishing some sweet buttery frosting.
My current favorite dessert is the Salted Chevre Cheesecake at Zin American Bistro in Palm Springs. It’s held reign as my number one sweet for about half a decade now. I recently had it again on a visit to the desert and was reminded of its exquisite position in my mental culinary favorites list. After a kiss hello to the owner Mindy and a reunion with friends over white wine and oysters on a sunny afternoon, I insisted on ordering two of the small and special cheesecakes for our table of four to share.
It had simply been too long since my last bite of the creamy and perfect circular little pie for two. Only about three – four inches in diameter, the cheesecake sits an inch or two high and is made from a tangy yet mellow goat cheese. The sides of the disk are rolled in a signature rock salt that has been first drizzled with a special balsamic reduction. The combination of sweet and tart – sugar and acid and crunch of the salt – spike the taste buds just for an instant prior to the creaminess that ensues from the perfectly whipped cake of cheese. Topped with a sprig of basil or mint, it’s the perfect afterthought to an indulgent afternoon meal or an evening of pounded chicken schnitzel.