The Death of Dessert?

I was recently reminded that I neglected to comment on a couple of interesting articles from the Washington Post that appeared last month discussing the decline of dessert. Not the decline of sweets or pastries mind you, but the decline of dessert as a meal course. Dessert, so claims reporter Roberto Ferdman, is a happening that’s vanishing both in the restaurant and in the home. The chief culprit isn’t health or calorie concerns, but time.

Only 12 percent of dinners eaten at home in the United States ended with something sweet last year, the lowest reading in more than 30 years, according to data from market research firm NPD group. Just 10 years ago, in 2004, 15 percent of families indulged after the main course. And 28 years ago, in 1986, the number was nearly 25 percent.


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Now What?

It’s become traditional to ask for project suggestions after my late winter fishing trip. With the exception of the candies (which I have yet to tackle since I’m not very good at confectionery) I completed most of last year’s project requests, and many more besides. What shall I plan for the this coming year? Please weigh in if you’re so inclined.

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Where do amaretti come from?

That’s a tricky one. There are a couple of origin stories, one a myth and the other a probable myth. The first one goes like this: once upon a time in the early 1700′s, in the northern Italian town of Saronno, there lived a pair of newlyweds. These two loved to bake and make sweets, so when they heard that the Catholic Cardinal from the nearby city of Milan was preparing to visit, the wanted to make something special. They gathered the meager ingredients they had: almonds, sugar, egg whites and apricot kernels, and using a mysterious technique that remains a secret to this day, prepared a batch of small cookies in the Cardinal’s honor. Tasting them, the Cardinal was so delighted that he blessed their marriage — and their cookies — wishing them a long and prosperous marriage. Today of course that secret is owned by the D. Lazzaroni Company who makes the classic Amaretti di Saronno. No surprise that they are the people largely responsible for propagating this myth.


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What are amaretti?

Some people call them cookies, these days it’s hip to refer to them as “macarons”, but really they’re little almond meringues that are flavored with almond. Macaroons is probably more like it. I first tasted them as a kid when the neighbors who lived behind our house would take me into Chicago’s inner suburbs to visit their Italian grandma. In classic Old World Grandma style she’d feed us no matter what the hour, and amply. We dined crowded around the table in her cramped little apartment kitchen, since the dining room table was covered with doilies and only used for special occasions.

She was fond of serving us amaretti as soon as we walked in the door as a sort of tide-me-over until the real food hit the table: an antipasto starter, then pasta which I’d usually gorge myself on, forgetting that a meat course was coming next. By the end of the meal I’d be so engorged I practically had to be craned out the window. …

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Amaretti Recipe

For simple-but-elegant Italian preparations like these I always turn to Gina DePalma first, and she rarely disappoints. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by a Gina DePalma recipe come to think of it, which is why I recommend her book, Dolce Italiano so highly. This recipe is in The Babbo Cookbook. If the ingredient list looks an awful lot like what you’d need to make marzipan, that’s no coincidence. Amaretti are basically baked, fluffy marzipan.

6 1/4 ounces (1 1/4 cups) blanched whole almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 ounces (1/2 cup) powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
2 egg whites
2.75 ounces (1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon Amaretto
3.75 ounces (1/2 cup) turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)


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Next Up: Amaretti

These little cookies sometimes appear on little plates in Italian restaurants along with a meal-closing cup of coffee. If you’ve been to those sorts of spots, or live around many people of Italian descent, you’ve probably seen amaretti before. They’re small, puffy and round with crackled tops. They’re the sort of things which, if they not fresh or well-made, you generally won’t notice. However if they are well made and fresh they stop you in your tracks. Whoa, what the heck are these things?

Reader Sarah had that experience recently with some amaretti she bought in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I’ll see what I can do to help re-create her experience here. So off we go……

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Return from the Planet of the Apes

Back from Florida and what an interesting trip. Here I am fishing beside what looks like an old set from the late 60′s Planet of the Apes movies, put up on stilts in the Gulf of Mexico. Evidently this was a single family house that was once on land, but beach erosion did a job on the real estate. These days it’s abandoned save for the odd band of pot smoking teenagers that apparently hole up there, but the fish like it. Or more specifically the pylons beneath it. Good fishing, you just can’t let the fish run too much after you hook one. …

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Ta-Ta For Now!

Headed to Florida for a week or so then up to Wisconsin on business, so I’ll be gone the next ten days. I’ll do my best to answer questions in the comment fields when I’m not fishing for gulf trout. See you soon! – Joe

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In-Oven Bread Hearth

Cool Kickstarter project here: a miniature cast iron bread baking enclosure that fits right inside your home oven. It strikes you as kind of an odd idea at first: if I want to do bread in a cast iron pot, why not just use my dutch oven? Until you realize that boules get a little tiresome after a while. With this Forneau Bread Oven you can expand your shape and texture horizons quite a bit. Nice idea, Strand Design. Happy to help get the word out!…

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What’s the difference between “spoiled” cream and “cultured” cream?

…asks reader Adam. Great question. The difference is that one term sounds more appealing than the other. In practical terms, they mean pretty much the same thing. However I’d hasten to add that if you’re planning to make your own cultured butter it’s always better to “spoil” your own milk or cream with a culture you know is safe rather than to take a chance on a dairy product that’s inhabited by God-only-knows what. For there are quite a few types of microbes capable of growing in milk or cream and not all of them are harmless.


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