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OUR ANNUAL COOKBOOK SPECIAL

Forgiving Some of the Sin

December 12, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yes, there are too many cookbooks being published. Too many recycled low-fat ideas, too many cute books, too many recipes and not enough real writing, too much packaging and not enough passion. Still, it wasn't easy for each writer on the Times Food staff to choose just one favorite book from the year. Many worthy cookbooks are not mentioned--though we will describe several notable ones in next week's issue. What follows on the next few pages is a highly subjective list of the cookbooks that pleased us most this year.

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When asked for seconds of the tiramisu, then for the recipe, I knew it was time to come clean.

"Low-fat," I mumbled, ready to duck under the table. With certain friends, anything low-fat ranks with carob or tofu as banned substances.

Taking a dessert to a party was the ultimate test for "Healthy Homestyle Desserts" (Viking, $24.95). And "Easy Tiramisu" from Evelyn Tribole's latest book passed the fat-lovers taste test.

No one ever eats dessert because it builds strong bones. It's a luxury, and more is better. But Tribole, a dietitian in practice in Beverly Hills, proves that rich tastes don't need to be sacrificed in the battle to be healthy. She trims the fat, sometimes up to 75%, in popular recipes. Though the results are not calorie-free, the results give hope to the dessert-mad.

She tricks the palate by manipulating and intensifying spices, flavors and textures. Flavorful ingredients, like nuts and mascarpone cheese, are used but in reduced quantity. Butter, oil, whole eggs and many high-fat dairy products are replaced, when possible, by the low-fat/no-fat wonders of the dairy case.

But any veteran baker knows that when butter, yolks or sour cream are outlawed, there's a trade-off. A buttery crisp crust doesn't come from canola oil. You can't get a tender, moist crumb with egg whites, applesauce and fat-free anything. A mouth raised on real chocolate cannot be fooled by cocoa. But for people wanting a better-for-you brownie or cookie, Tribole offers choices. Some are very good.

In her version of sour cream streusel coffeecake, the fat count is whittled down to six grams per serving as opposed to 39 grams in the original recipe. Not bad. When it was eaten fresh and warm from the oven, the coffeecake was lovely. Fat wasn't missed. When it was eaten the next day at room temperature, the texture was tough.

Comparing nutritional scorecards on each recipe--her version vs. the original--is fascinating. Coupled with tips on how she tackled the make-over, the book becomes a teaching tool, not another collection of low-fat recipes. Armed with her advice, any baker can perform surgery on most deadly desserts.

I tested the cheesecake brownies, lemon squares, tiramisu and cinnamon streusel coffee cake. Batter doesn't lie. And the batter for brownies lacked the smack of chocolate and butter. Baked, they were heavy. But the swirls of cheesecake--nonfat cottage cheese and light cream cheese whipped with sugar and whites--tasted like Italian-style ricotta cheesecake.

Lots of fresh lemon juice gave the lemon squares' filling a puckery edge. The thick texture changed my skepticism about using frozen fat-free egg substitute. But the crust--made with canola oil--needed the crispness that butter delivers.

The hands-down winner, Tribole's tiramisu, uses mascarpone for flavor. No compromises here. Fat is reduced by using low-fat/no-fat products, including frozen yellow cake. The idea of replacing whipped cream with thawed no-fat dairy topping made me cringe. But the tiramisu's overall taste, creamy texture and wallop of espresso and coffee-flavored liqueur worked.

Although I'm not a total convert, Tribole opened my eyes to low-fat possibilities in the world of high tonnage.

EASY TIRAMISU

1/2 pound mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup fat-free ricotta cheese

3/4 cup thawed frozen light nondairy whipped topping

3/4 cup freshly brewed espresso or other strong coffee

1/4 cup coffee liqueur

1 (14-ounce) loaf fat-free golden cake

2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Beat together mascarpone and powdered sugar in large bowl until just blended. Fold in ricotta cheese. Fold in whipped topping.

Combine espresso and liqueur in small bowl. Cut loaf cake horizontally with serrated knife into 8 thin slices. (Don't worry about breakage; you can easily piece crumbs and remnants into dessert).

Arrange half sliced cake pieces in 9-inch square pan, covering entire bottom. Brush half of coffee mixture evenly over bottom cake layer. Gently spoon over layer of mascarpone cheese mixture, distributing evenly. Repeat layering with remaining cake, coffee mixture, and mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle or sift the cocoa powder over top mascarpone layer. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. (Tastes even better chilled overnight.)

Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

215 calories; 174 mg sodium; 24 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.02 gram fiber.

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