How Sweet It Is

Dessert—many believe it should be its own food group.  It is the denouement to the perfect meal and can make or break a dining experience. I believe it was Patrick Henry who exclaimed, “Give me dessert or give me death!”  That may be wrong.  That was probably me who said that.

Oh sure, there are myriad choices that involve chocolate or fruit or any variance of the everyday desserts.  But did you know that chefs and home cooks are often on the prowl for unconventional ingredients for desserts? Here in the South, we are pretty adept at using savory ingredients for desserts and jumping off the typical rail into some uncharted territory for the final stage to a great meal.

Oftentimes, desserts that take a U-turn with unique or unanticipated ingredients are whimsical, fun and sophisticated, without being overly precious.  Here are some examples of such unorthodox desserts from some talented chefs and cooks right here in our own backyard.

Chef Dion Sprenkle, Executive Chef at the Benton Convention Center, has an arsenal of recipes, and there are two of those that fit the bill as creative and delicious.  Popcorn Creme Brulee and Chocolate Pasta are standout winners in this category.  

The heavy cream mixture for the Popcorn Creme Brulee is blended with luscious, buttered popcorn and strained to give the custard a distinctly rich corn flavor.   Here Chef Sprenkle is pulling out the stops for something unique and creative for dessert.  The chocolate pasta is another take on a whimsical dessert, as cocoa powder is mixed into the flour for a unique take on homemade pasta.   Again, we see something that usually connotes a savory course being turned into something new and brilliant!

Vegetables are often thrown into desserts to create a scrumptious twist.

A huge “shout out” also can be given to Michael Hastings, who is the food editor for the Winston-Salem Journal.  He presents the example of an award-winning cake made with collard greens!

As first published in the Winston-Salem Journal, here is his recipe for a Collard Greens Cake:

Collard Greens Cake

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil, divided use

4 eggs, divided use

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups cooked fresh collards, drained and finely chopped (See note)

2 cups raw apples, cored, peeled, and finely chopped

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup raisins

¾ cup chopped pecans

Cream-cheese frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 stick (8 Tablespoons) butter, softened

2 pounds powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup pecans

Milk, as needed

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three round, 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Beat sugar and ¾ cup oil in electric mixer until well combined. Add 2 of the eggs and the vanilla; mix well. In a blender, put remaining ¼ cup oil, remaining 2 eggs and all of the collards. Blend until smooth, until tiny flecks of collards remain visible. Stir collard mixture into batter along with the apples.
  3. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Use 2 tablespoons of flour mixture to toss with raisins and pecans. Stir remaining flour mixture into egg mixture; mix well. Fold in the flour-coated raisins and pecans.
  4. Divide batter into the three prepared pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or just until done.
  5. Cool the cake in the pan 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on a wire rack.
  6. To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and pecans. Add milk, a Tablespoon at a time, to reach desired frosting consistency.
  7. Assemble and frost middle layers, sides and top of cake.

Note: To get the collards finely chopped, it may help to use a food processor.

First place by Dinah Reece in a 2008 contest at the Dixie Classic Fair

Similarly leveraging the power of vegetables or legumes in desserts, Chef John Bouley of the Koury Convention Center has been known to produce a successful take on brownies containing pureed black beans!  It sounds almost too good to be true, but one can’t even detect the earthy protein of the black beans.  The beans just give it a lift and unique texture for these one-of-a-kind brownies.

How about an offering from Chef Tim Thompson (the Executive Chef at The Wisdom Table, teaming up with owner Jeremy Stamps in Elkin , NC), who speaks fondly of how he uses bacon in a dark chocolate recipe he often pairs with bourbon tastings.  Bacon stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the sweetness of any sugars in chocolate and up against the smokiness of bourbon.  

Chef Thompson has also received high published praise for a sweet potato mousse, once again proving that vegetables can be sneaked successfully into desserts.  

I now need to convince my 12-year-old son that this is a valid practice.  Maybe collard cakes and sweet potato mousses are the answer to every parent’s often unanswered prayers.



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