I don’t think anyone can argue that there is far too much sugar in our diets. When I was growing up, a rich, sweet dessert was not on the table every day, all portions were smaller, we didn’t drink gallons of sugared sodas instead of milk or water, and we ate fewer processed foods (most of which contain added sugar). What’s a pastry chef to do?
You might say: “Just eliminate sugar in the rest of your diet and keep your hands off my dessert!” That’s one completely legit way to go. But I’m also intrigued and by the idea of creating new desserts with less refined sugar—relying instead on a thoughtful play of naturally sweet ingredients to satisfy my mid-day or after dinner craving for something sweet. My own palate craves these new desserts—and the pastry chef side of me adores (craves!) the challenge!
Every bite is a little celebration of contrasts—sweet, tangy, smooth, crunchy, chewy, nutty, fruity—tied together with spice.
So I decided to give my favorite Yogurt Tart a not-quite-sugarless makeover. The dessert wasn’t wildly sweet to begin with, but I was sure that a little sleight-of-hand could make it crave-ably yummy in a whole new way—not to mention seasonal and pretty—with much less refined sugar.
I cut all of the sugar from the filling and reduced the amount in the crust by half (to just 2 tablespoons). Cardamom and orange zest made the crust more flavorful and extra vanilla added a subtle sweetness and rich flavor to the filling. The rich tangy yogurt custard is now garnished with a scattering of naturally sweet ingredients: slivers of dates, nuts, fruit, and a drizzle of honey with top-notes of grated orange peel and/or cinnamon. It’s lovely to look at and every bite is a little celebration of contrasting flavors and textures—sweet, tangy, smooth, crunchy, chewy, nutty, fruity—tied together with fragrance and spice. The result is festive, more sophisticated than the original, and easier to eat after a rich meal. You can play with the toppings too—try adding little wedges of ripe figs or Fuyu persimmons, or slices of kumquat. Switch up the nuts, use different types of honey or swap in some date syrup. Make it your own.
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).