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FESTIVE & FABULOUS DESSERT INSPIRATIONS FOR YOUR HOLIDAY TABLE.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

What would holiday tables be without decadent, irresistible desserts - those luscious, beloved finales that leave a lasting impression.

Two beautiful new cookbooks - one designed around luxurious chocolate and another featuring American inspirations - offer some new and tempting ideas.

``ChocolateChocolate,'' by Lisa Yockelson (John Wiley and Sons Inc.; $45), presents more than 200 indulgent, sinfully rich, intensely chocolate creations and 155 color photographs. With recipes like Black Bottom Fudge Torte, Coconut-chocolate Chip Streusel Cake, Chocolate Toffee Slabs, Heirloom Devil's Food Layer Cake and Chocolate Nugget Squares, it's difficult to decide which one to make first.

``The All-American Dessert Book,'' by Nancy Baggett (Houghton Mifflin Co.; $35), while sprinkled with many chocolate recipes, concentrates on irresistible American sweets. It's a treasure trove that delves into our heritage, baking roots and sweet culture. Many of the recipes were gleaned from Baggett's travels throughout the country as well as from neighbors, relatives, friends, her mother and her grandmother, along with her own recipe files and inspirations.

In Vermont, she tracked down a blueberry buckle; in Mississippi, she dug up a rich frozen chocolate mud cake. From New Orleans came a famous whiskey bread pudding; from California, lemon-filled shortbread sandwich cookies.

``Our sweet culture is vibrant, complex and uniquely American - and our repertoire more exciting than ever before. Those who say that all our desserts are borrowed from Europe are just plain wrong,'' Baggett says.

Over the years, Americans have incorporated New World ingredients like cranberries, blueberries, pumpkin and pecans to update Old World pies, tarts and puddings; modified desserts with timesaving innovations and convenience foods; and added flourishes like cookie crusts, streusels and meringues.

``Baking with chocolate is a sweet and simple art that is rewarding and immediately accessible,'' says Yockelson, adding that chocolate, in its every essence and form, dazzles and enchants.

``I consume chocolate morning, noon and night,'' adds the trim East Coast-based author of nine cookbooks, who began her love affair with chocolate at the age of 7, making her grandmother's brownies and mother's buttermilk chocolate layer cake.

``This book is a memoir of all the batters and doughs that have been a part of my personal and professional life since then.''

While most of Yockelson's recipes, designed to be ``chocolate-intense, straightforward, simple to execute and chocolate-luscious,'' appear accessible and easily doable for home cooks, the kitchen time required to make them varies.

For Thanksgiving and the holidays, Yockelson recommends desserts in the ``Flourless and Almost Flourless Chocolate Cakes'' chapter because ``they take well to making in advance, use a minimum of ingredients, have a high chocolate level, and require a short period of baking and kitchen time.''

Don't overlook recipes in the ``Chocolate and Toffee,'' ``Chocolate Coffee, Bundt and Pound Cakes'' and ``Chocolate, Caramel and Nuts - A Turtle Twist'' chapters as well.

Chocolate fanciers will appreciate Yockelson's resource guide with a list of 180 chocolates, both European and American, most worthwhile to use in baking. Also useful are the assorted notes accompanying recipes - like style (variation possibilities), accent (how to heighten the chocolate flavor), study (baking hints or suggested chocolate brands to use in the recipe) and element (using part of one recipe as a component in another dessert).

``Chocolate is its own flavor package - but it's what you do with the flavor and all the components of the recipe that builds the taste of chocolate,'' she notes.

By the time Baggett, who has written 16 cookbooks, finished this 150 American recipe volume, she says, ``I'd gone through 370 pounds of sugar, 130 pounds of butter and more than 1,100 eggs.''

Among Baggett's picks for holiday desserts are her Bourbon Pecan Fudge Cake, Pumpkin and Cranberry Bread Pudding, Coconut Cream Cheesecake With Chocolate-Coconut Glaze, Mocha Marbled Cheesecake, Fall Fruit and Cranberry Betty, Gingered Pear-Apple Cobbler, Farmstead Apple Crisp, Applesauce Spice Cake, Taste of Hawaii Pineapple Crisp and Vanilla and Chocolate Trifle With Blackberry and Apricot Sauces.

Although many of Baggett's recipes appear daunting due to the lengthy directions, she defends her position.

``Fewer people have learned basic techniques from their mothers - so I detail exactly what you are supposed to do.''

For many of her recipes, two sets of instructions - for using either an electric mixer or food processor - also take extra space.

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton(at)dailynews.com

CHOCOLATE WALNUT SOUFFLE CAKE

2/3 cup superfine sugar

1 tablespoon bleached cake flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder

Large pinch salt

13 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to tepid

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid

5 large eggs, separated

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup ground walnuts

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Walnut halves, lightly toasted and cooled completely (optional)

Lightly butter inside of a 9-inch springform pan (2 3/4 inches deep). Sift sugar, flour, cocoa powder and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. Whisk melted chocolate and melted butter in a medium mixing bowl until smooth. In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar-cocoa powder mixture 1 minute. Blend in vanilla. Thoroughly stir in melted chocolate-butter mixture, then ground walnuts.

Whip egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until beginning to mound, add cream of tartar and continue whipping until firm (not stiff) peaks are formed. Stir 3 large spoonfuls of whipped whites into batter, then fold in remaining whites, combining 2 mixtures lightly but thoroughly.

Spoon batter evenly into prepared pan. Gently smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 30 minutes, or until gently set throughout (the center should be stable).

Cool cake completely in pan on a rack. The cake will fall somewhat on cooling. Open hinge on side of pan and remove outer ring, allowing cake to stand on circular metal base. Cut cake into thick slices, scatter a few walnuts (if using) on top and serve. Store in an airtight cake keeper. Bake and serve within 2 days. Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, 8 slices.

NOTE: Use an intense chocolate such as Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71 percent cacao or Michel Cluizel Chocolat Amer Bitter Chocolate 72 percent cacao.

From ``ChocolateChocolate,'' by Lisa Yockelson.

PUMPKIN AND CRANBERRY BREAD PUDDING

4 large eggs

1 cup packed light OR dark brown sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling on pudding

1 cup whole milk

1 cup light OR heavy whipping cream

1 (15-ounce) can 100 percent pure pumpkin

2 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice

5 1/2 cups cubed (1/3 inch) crusty French OR Italian bread, crust removed

3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

Ice cream OR lightly sweetened whipped cream for serving

Lightly grease a 7x11-inch OR 9-inch square baking dish or coat with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl using a wire whisk, beat eggs until frothy and smooth. Add 1 cup brown sugar, whisking until sugar dissolves. Whisk in milk, cream, pumpkin and spices until completely blended and smooth. Stir in bread crumbs and cranberries. Turn mixture into prepared dish, spreading to edges. Lay a sheet of baking parchment or wax paper on surface and press down to keep bread submerged. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel off and discard paper.

Bake on middle rack in a preheated 325-degree oven 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 3 tablespoons brown sugar over pudding and continue baking just until center of pudding is firm when lightly tapped, 12 to 17 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack. Let cool at least 15 minutes. Serve spooned into bowls, garnished with scoops of ice cream or dollops of whipped cream, if desired.

The pudding will keep, covered, in the refrigerator up to 4 days. Reheat to very warm but not hot just before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

From ``The All-American Dessert Book,'' by Nancy Baggett.

CHOCOLATE-ALMOND POUND CAKE

2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup bleached cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup ground almonds

2 1/4 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3 cups granulated sugar

5 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sour cream

Chocolate Liqueur and Sugar Wash

Film the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. For batter, sift all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in ground almonds. In a small bowl, toss chocolate chips with 4 teaspoons of the sifted mixture.

Cream butter in large bowl of a freestanding electric mixer on moderate speed 3 minutes. Add sugar in 3 additions, beating 1 minute after each portion is added. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 to 45 seconds after each addition. Blend in vanilla and almond extracts. On low speed, alternately add sifted mixture in 3 additions with sour cream in 2 additions, beginning and ending with sifted mixture. Scrape down sides of mixing bowl frequently to keep batter even-textured. Stir in chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes or until risen, set and a toothpick inserted in cake withdraws clean. The baked cake will pull away slightly from sides of baking pan.

Cook cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Invert onto another cooling rack. Brush Chocolate Liqueur and Sugar Wash over top and sides of cake, using a soft pastry brush. Cool completely. Store in an airtight cake keeper. Bake and serve within 2 days. Makes 1 (10-inch) cake, about 16 slices.

CHOCOLATE LIQUEUR AND SUGAR WASH: In a small, nonreactive bowl, stir together 1/3 cup chocolate liqueur, 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Let wash stand at least 10 minutes, then use as directed in recipe, for brushing over the top of cakes. The sugar will settle to the bottom of the bowl; when applying the mixture, make sure to dip, dunk and sweep pastry brush into sugary bottom. The wash can be made up to 1 hour in advance. Makes about 1/2 cup.

From ``ChocolateChocolate,'' by Lisa Yockelson.

APPLE AND CRANBERRY GALETTE

PASTRY:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons white cornmeal

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

6 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 cup ice water

FILLING:

8 large Granny Smith apples, about 4 pounds total weight

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

To make Pastry, combine flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor. Scatter chunks of butter over top and pulse for a few seconds until butter pieces are the size of small peas. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream and ice water. Drizzle mixture over dough and pulse for a few seconds until dough is smooth and clings together. Pat dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make fruit Filling, peel, core and slice apples. In a large skillet over medium heat, combine granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water, honey, lemon juice and cinnamon and heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Stir in apple slices and simmer until opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apple slices to bowl and let cool slightly. Add cranberries to juices in pan and simmer until they start to pop, about 2 minutes. Transfer cranberries to bowl of apples. Boil juices over medium-high heat until reduced slightly and spoon over fruit.

Divide ball of chilled pastry dough in half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each half into a round about 12 inches in diameter. Fold each pastry round in half, transfer each to an ungreased baking sheet or pizza pan and unfold. Divide fruit filling equally between pastry rounds and spread in an even layer, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border uncovered. Fold border over fruit, pleating edges to form a broad rim. Lay thin slices of butter over exposed fruit.

Bake galettes in a preheated 400-degree oven, switching pans between racks positioned in middle of oven and rotating them 180 degrees at midway point, until pastry is golden brown and apples are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely on pans on wire racks. Cover and store at room temperature until serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Makes 2 (9-inch) galettes, 10 to 12 servings.

From ``Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving Entertaining,'' recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas.

Sweet tips

Experts share the following for successful dessert making:

--Be careful with substitutions. For example, if you substitute brown sugar for white in a recipe, be aware that it is grainier, heavier, more moist and slightly more acidic, and will affect the chemical balance and texture of the recipe.

--If a recipe specifies corn syrup, don't leave out even a small amount, as it prevents crystallization and a sugary end result.

--Whenever a pastry cream, pudding or custard mixture contains eggs yolks and a starch thickener, boil it if the recipe instructs you to do so; it eliminates the enzyme alpha amylase in the yolks. If you don't, the enzyme will break down the thickening action of the starch as it stands, and you will end up with a soupy mixture the next day.

--Don't refrigerate chocolate. Store large quantities between 57 and 64 degrees F in an area devoid of excess humidity, sudden temperature changes and heat.

--Unopened, unsweetened and bittersweet chocolates will keep 12 to 18 months; milk chocolate and white chocolates are best used within seven to nine months. Once opened, wrap excess chocolate in plastic wrap, then plastic bags. Use sweetened and bittersweet within four to six weeks; milk or white within one to two weeks.

--Liquid is chocolate's enemy; even a small amount can cause it to seize as it melts. Use 5 teaspoons of liquid for every ounce of chocolate.

--When a recipe specifies cake flour, use it - it yields more-tender, finer-textured results.

--When it comes to using different size eggs, figure one large egg, lightly beaten, is a generous 3 tablespoons. One large egg also contains 2 tablespoons of white and a generous 1 tablespoon of yolk.

--Measure ingredients carefully, as most desserts depend on specific amounts of flour, sugar, fat and liquid. Use the dip (using a graduated measuring cup) and sweep (scooping up enough of the dry ingredient to overfill the cup, then gently sweeping across the top using a straight- edge knife or spatula to remove excess) method. For liquids, use clear marked measuring cups, and check amounts at eye level.

--Overflouring tends to make doughs dry and tough, so don't rush to add extra flour to firm up overly soft doughs. Doughs may stiffen up after standing a few minutes, as flour absorbs moisture gradually.

--Preheat the oven 15 minutes before baking.

--Invest in an oven thermometer to check oven temperature.

--Use baking times in recipes as guides, checking baked items several minutes before the minimum times specified in recipes.

--Avoid using American and Dutch-process cocoa interchangeably. American cocoa contains its natural acidity while Dutch-process has been treated with alkali to remove its acid (making it darker and milder).

- N.H.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Chocolate Walnut Souffle Cake

(2 -- color) Chocolate-Almond Pound Cake

Photo by Ben Fink from ``ChocolateChocolate,'' John Wiley and Sons Inc.

(3 -- color) Pumpkin and Cranberry Bread Pudding

Photo by Alan Richardson from ``The All-American Dessert Book,'' Houghton Mifflin Co.

(4 -- color) Apple and Cranberry Galette

Photo by Quentin Bacon from ``Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving Entertaining,'' Free Press

(5 -- 8 -- color) no caption (cooking utensils)

Box:

Sweet tips (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
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Date:Nov 15, 2005
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