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Taming the Rich Dessert

March 26, 1992|SALLY SCHNEIDER | Schneider is a cookbook author

As long as I can remember, I've been crazy about food. I've also been haunted by the accompanying fate of being slightly overweight, always thinking about how to eat and how not to show it.

My passion for food led me to wander into kitchens both private and professional. Following stints in several exciting New York kitchens I was offered an opportunity to oversee the development of low-calorie recipes.

For each recipe, I started with the memory of a sumptuously satisfying dessert. Then I begin trying things, seeing what happens if I substitute an egg white for a yolk or what will heighten the flavor of a fruit in an effort to rework chemistry to produce a dessert as delicious as the one I remember.

The recipes that follow are the result of this exploration, undertaken out of need. These are desserts I love and want to eat. Some are classics, some invention, some comforting and homey, some dinner-party material. All of the recipes contain fewer than 300 calories per serving. Made by a hungry person, they stand on their own with no excuses.

This fresh-fruit gratin topped with a warm sabayon was inspired by a dessert at Le Moulin de Mougins , Roger Verge's restaurant in the south of France .

GRATIN OF FRESH FRUIT

1 medium navel orange

3 egg yolks

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons whipping cream

3 cups of any of these fresh fruits: orange sections, strawberries, raspberries, sliced kiwis, sliced fresh pineapple

Using swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, remove zest from 1/2 of orange. Cut into very fine strips. Combine zest with 1/2 cup cold water in small saucepan. Bring to boil, boil 30 seconds, then drain. Rinse under cold water, then drain again.

Squeeze juice from orange and strain to remove pulp. Measure out 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon orange juice.

Preheat broiler. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, orange juice and cream in small bowl set over pan of simmering water. Continue whisking until mixture is frothy and thick enough to coat back of spoon. Remove from heat. Stir in orange zest. Set aside to cool.

Arrange 3/4 cup fruit in each of 4 (4-inch) gratin or oven-proof dishes. Spoon about 3 tablespoons sauce evenly over each. Place dishes on baking sheet and broil about 3 inches from heat 30 seconds or until sabayon is lightly browned. Do not overcook, or sauce will separate. Makes 4 servings at 230 calories per serving.

These individual souffles look like a great deal more in terms of calories than they are. If serving with Fresh Pear Sauce, the calorie count for each serving will be 236.

BANANA SOUFFLE

2 very ripe medium bananas, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Poire William

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs, separated, at room temperature

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar

Dash cream of tartar

Fresh Pear Sauce, optional

Spray 4 (1 1/2-cup) souffle dishes with non-stick cooking spray.

Puree bananas with lemon juice, Poire William and vanilla in food processor until smooth. Add egg yolks and 1 teaspoon sugar and process to blend thoroughly. Scrape banana mixture into medium bowl.

Beat egg whites along with cream of tartar in mixer bowl at high speed until stiff peaks form. With mixer on, sprinkle in remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until whites are glossy. Fold egg whites into banana base.

Spoon into prepared dishes--mixture will mound to top. Run thumb around inside rims to form 1/4-inch groove in mixture (this will help souffles to rise evenly). Set dishes on baking sheet.

Bake at 450 degrees 7 minutes. Reduce heat to 425 degrees and bake 7 minutes longer, or until souffles are puffed and browned. Lift top of each souffle and spoon 2 tablespoons Fresh Pear Sauce into center. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings at 185 calories per serving.

Fresh Pear Sauce

2 very ripe Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/2 vanilla bean, split

1 tablespoon water

Place pears, vanilla bean and 1 tablespoon water in heavy, medium saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat until pears exude juice, 7 to 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until all but about 3 tablespoons of liquid has evaporated.

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pears. Puree pears and any liquid in processor. Serve warm or chilled. Makes about 1/2 cup at 51 calories per 2-tablespoon serving.

In this cake, I've merged flavor memories of a plain poundcake with poached pears that I had in a farmhouse in Vezelay, France, and a comforting Pear Upside-Down Cake from Lancaster County, Penn.

PEAR UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons rum, preferably White Martinique

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Armagnac

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon orange flower water, optional

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon anise extract

1 large lemon

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

3 medium pears, preferably Anjou, peeled, halved and cored

3 eggs

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sifted flour

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