When poets set their muses to food all kinds of wonder emerge. It’s a subject that elicits a range of emotions—from joy to hope to melancholy and humor. And when Valentine’s Day rolls around everyone gets poetic. Romance thumps in the hearts of lovers and inevitably transforms to “sweets for the sweet.” A box of chocolates, a luscious cake, a creamy dessert are all foods of love.
Here are six poets with their own unique passions when it comes to dessert. The poems are from the pages of Alimentum: The Literature of Food, a literary review based in Nashville.
The sheer poetic beauty of food inspires the verse. Nancy Vienneau, the restaurant reviewer for The Tennessean and creator of the blog Good Food Matters, prepared these tempting desserts. She has let us in on her culinary secrets by revealing her recipes, which you can find at www.nashvilleartsmagazine.com. And making it all beautifully pop from the page are photographer Kyle Dreier and food stylist Teresa Blackburn. Dreier is an enthusiastic and inventive food photographer who has photographed the delicious dishes of many local restaurants. Blackburn’s food styling has been showcased in local and national magazines.
With Valentine’s Day as the happy heart in the middle of February, we all crave that little bit of sweetness to brighten the month and inspire our hearts. Roses are red, violets are blue, when dessert comes first, it’s a perfect menu!
Lemon Yogurt Bundt Cake with Lemon Sauce
Lemon Simple Syrup
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 T. limoncello (can substitute with light rum)
Dissolve sugar into simmering water in a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add lemon zest and rum. Simmer for 5 more minutes, then cool. Strain the zest from the syrup.
2 lemons—zest 2 T., juice ½ cup
3 cups flour
1½ sticks soft butter
1½ cups sugar
1 cup yogurt
2 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
Sift dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Cream butter and sugar together, add juice, yogurt, zest. Then add eggs, one at a time. Add dry ingredients. Pour into oiled Bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes. Cool, unmold and brush with simple syrup. Serve with Lemon Sauce.
2 T. cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups water
2 T. softened butter
Zest two of the lemons. In a heavy, non-reactive saucepan, mix the zest with sugar and cornstarch.
Juice the lemons: you’ll need ½ cup. Pour the lemon juice into the saucepan and stir into the sugar. Add the water. Gently heat while stirring constantly, about 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves.
Beat the eggs. Whisk into the saucepan and continue stirring. After a few minutes, the mixture will begin to bubble and thicken, becoming pudding-like. Whisk in the softened butter and cook for another minute. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and cool.
Banana–Chocolate Mousse Parfait
Crème de cacao
Chocolate mousse recipe (see below)
Pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
Your Basic Wonderful Chocolate Mousse adapted from The Cooking of Provincial France, by M. F. K. Fisher with editors of Time-Life Books, 1969
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 T. sweet butter, cut into small pieces
3 T. espresso, or strong coffee
1 T. vanilla
2 T. crème de cacao
4 eggs, separated
¼ cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream, lightly sweetened and whipped
In a heavy 1 qt. saucepan under low heat, melt the chocolate and coffee together. Whisk in the vanilla and brandy. Then, stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, until it becomes smooth and shiny. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer and balloon whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the yolks become really pale yellow and thickened, almost triple in volume. This will take several (at least 5) minutes. The yolks will cling to the whisk.
Check your chocolate mixture; it should be warm—but not hot. Beat it into the thickened egg yolks, and pour into another large mixing bowl.
Clean and dry your mixer bowl and whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Fold about ¼ of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites.
Spoon into parfait glasses, layer with sliced banana, drop of crème de cacao, repeat the layering. Chill for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream and dust with pistachios.
½ cup sugar
1 lb. mascarpone
½ cup espresso or strong brewed coffee (can substitute 4 T. instant in ½ c. water)
4 T. brandy
Mascarpone Cream Layer
3 eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
1 lb. mascarpone
Beat the egg whites until soft, stiff peaks form. Whip the mascarpone with the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and well incorporated. Fold in the beaten egg whites.
Dip ladyfingers into espresso syrup and place on the bottom of glass bowl or terrine. Spread a layer of mascarpone cream. Repeat the process, building up. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours. Dust with cocoa or garnish with chocolate shavings.
Mixed Berry Magic Cobbler
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup milk
3 cups (at least!) mixed blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, gently cooked together with a small amount of sugar (¼ cup)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in 9×13 casserole pan.
Mix sugar, flour, baking powder and milk together. Pour over melted butter in casserole pan. Do not stir.
Add fruit all over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. The magic cobbler crust will rise to the top and brown.
Bittersweet Chocolate-Berry Truffles
1 cup heavy cream
4 T. butter
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon crème de cassis
1 T. strawberry preserves
For coating the truffles:
1 cup toasted chopped almonds
1/2 cup cocoa
In a heavy-duty saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. Add the chocolates and stir until melted throughout. Turn down heat. Stir in butter, vanilla, brandy, and strawberry preserves. Stir until all ingredients are well mixed and the chocolate is thick, smooth, and shiny. Pour into a bowl and let cool. Refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
To form the truffles:
Place finely chopped almonds in a flat bowl. Put cocoa into another bowl.
Remove truffle mixture from the refrigerator. Using a melon baller, scoop out rounds of truffles and drop into either bowl of nuts or cocoa. Shake the bowl to dust the exterior of the truffle, then roll gently, quickly by hand into a firm round ball. Chill well. Makes about 36 truffles.
Sweet Pastry Crust
6 T. chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 T. sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 T. icy water
In a food processor outfitted with a pastry cutter, pulse together all the ingredients, until it forms a large mass. Form into a ball, and wrap in plastic. Let the dough rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out, cut and place into pie pan, or tart pans. Prick with a fork. Weight the pastry and “blind-bake” for 15 minutes—until crust is brown.
Orange-Scented Pastry Cream
½ cup sugar
1 T. butter
3 T. all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1½ t. orange zest
1 t. vanilla
In a medium saucepan on low heat, melt butter and mix in sugar and flour.
Add half of the milk (1 cup). Stir constantly. Add vanilla and orange zest.
Whisk the eggs with remaining milk until well homogenized—no streaks of yolk.
Pour into saucepan and stir well. Cook until thickened. Cool, cover and refrigerate.
½ cup apricot preserves
2 T. sugar
2 T. water
Heat all ingredients together in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring well. Strain the mixture and cool.
Peel and slice kiwis. Spoon pastry cream into pie shells. Lay slices of kiwi on top. Spoon apricot glaze over kiwi slices. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.