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`Perfect Light Desserts' by baking teacher extraordinare, Nick Malgieri and veteran cookbook author David Joachim is a classic meld of baking technique and substitution cooking, fitting the skills of the two authors. There is probably no other baking writer's work on a `healthy' baking book I would expect more from than Malgieri, since I always go to his books first whenever there is a specific kind of recipe I wish to make. He doesn't always have what I want, but every time I use his recipe, the results exceed my expectations. I have even found better recipes in his book, especially `How to Bake' than I have in books which specialize in the subject I am searching.
David Joachim's contribution is utterly appropriate, as his latest opus was `The Food Substitutions Bible', being an encyclopedia of what ingredients, as in lower calorie for higher calorie, can be swapped for what.
The authors' introduction shows their technique is entirely in the direction I would have hoped. They use no `non-fat' ingredients and no artificial sweeteners, although they do use `lowered' fat products. Just as I am fond of Rachael Ray's take on fast cooking without relying on prepared convenience foods, these authors fill their book with low calorie and low fat recipes by concentrating on those recipes which tend to be lower in the bad stuff to begin with.
There is little mystery to how the recipe slimming is done. First, as stated above, the authors choose recipes that are not high in sugar and fat to begin with. Second, high fat ingredients such as dairy products are replaced with `moderate' fat substitutes or dairy products with extra body such as buttermilk or yogurt. Third, fat is replaced with vegetable products such as applesauce. Fourth, rich icings are removed, so bulking up with rich stuff is an option. The classic examples of all these techniques put together would be a cheesecake recipe replacing cream cheese with ricotta and a carrot cake which makes heavy use of vegetable textures to begin with. Both these examples are also classic cases of picking good recipes to begin with. The ricotta cheesecake is not a diet faddy invention, it is based on an old Neapolitan recipe.
The authors claim to have maintained reasonably sized portions. I suspect a good symptom of the Americans' inflated notion of portion size is that these portions seem just a bit on the small size. When I am not in `dieting' mode, I would not imagine getting 8 portions from a 9-inch fruit pie or even less 16 portions from a 10-inch Bundt pan cake. But, the portions all seem to be of reasonable size, and most of the time, the calorie count for the portion is actually well below the target of 300 calories per portion.
One corollary to the fourth technique above is that there are very few double crusted pie recipes in the book. And, the pie crust recipes are all for a single 9 inch piecrust or maybe a 10 inch tart crust. Virtually the only caveat I have about the book is that unlike some of Malgieri's other books, this is not a serious tutorial on baking techniques. This is not to say there are no good guidelines and lessons here. Just the opposite. It's just that you will do much better with this book if you are already a fairly adept baker. The recipes for the pastry crusts, for example, assume you know most of the tricks of the trade in making a nicely flaky crust with a food processor. I am not overly fond of using the food processor and I do fine with my old-fashioned dough cutter. But, since these recipes use less butter and even less water, I suggest you go along with the recommended food processor technique, as this will work better on the smaller quantities.
On the other side of the coin, I find things in this book that I would expect and do not find in a lot of other books. My favorite is a little table showing when many popular fruits are in season. Unless you are a strict carbophobic, it is clear to both me and the authors that fruit is one of the very best ingredients for healthy desserts.
One thing to take very seriously is that this is not a book on baking in general, but only on DESSERTS. This means there are no recipes for lower calorie biscuits, breads, muffins, or breakfast pastries. But, you do get a generous helping of recipes for vegetable bulked breads.
It is no surprise that the book starts with chocolate, as that seems to be everyone's favorite dessert ingredient (except for my mother, probably because she spent several decades working in a candy factory). The very best news about chocolate is that not only is it not, in itself, fattening, it is literally good for you, just like tea and (dare we hope) coffee. The bad side of chocolate is from the level of sugar added to cut its natural bitterness. The authors accommodate this by using sugar-free baker's chocolate plus complex sweeteners or use Dutch process cocoa power, which is less bitter than unprocessed cocoa powder. My only regret here is that while there are many fine chocolate recipes, a classic chocolate layer cake is not among them. The authors redeem themselves by giving us a `healthy' recipe for chocolate chip cookies (sorry, no nuts). Even better is the even healthier oatmeal raisin cookies. Now why didn't I get this book before Christmas!
Reading this book in December makes one regret that all the best berries and stone fruits are out of season. Just Wait!!!