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Sweet Sauce Secrets


Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy. . . .

--William Shakespeare


I've come to believe that William Shakespeare may have known his way around the kitchen. Just look at that line: "sweets with sweets war not." I have to think he had dessert sauces in mind.

Though some chefs preach simplicity on the plate, I say, when it comes to dessert, you've got to gild that lily. The addition of a sweet sauce--or several--turns a humble pound cake or scoop of vanilla ice cream into a memorable experience.

Of course, as Shakespeare also knew, it's often characteristics in opposition that make for the most interesting endings. Think about it: hot and cold, creamy and crunchy, sweet and tart. The way these contrasts play off each other heightens the experience of a great dessert.

Home cooks often believe their dessert repertoire is limited to cookies, cakes and pies. And when it comes to making desserts look good, they often think a scoop of ice cream is enough. They don't aspire to that complex harmony of design, fragrance, flavor, temperature and texture of the professional pastry chef's art.

But the best secret weapon of a professional pastry chef is well within the reach of any home cook. The sauce is the thing.

We've all had the experience of scanning a dessert menu and choosing something fabulous; minutes later, as if by magic, some exquisite dish is placed on the table. Though the diner's choice may be spontaneous, the chef's "magic" is helped along by the fact that every decent dessert chef has several dessert sauces ready to go.

By keeping several dessert sauces on hand in your kitchen, you can whip up some magic of your own.

Although these recipes couldn't be easier to make, don't wait for the evening when there are suddenly half a dozen friends in your living room. Keep a few of these sauces, as well as a pound cake and some good vanilla ice cream, in the freezer, and you'll be able make dessert plates that look and taste as good as a restaurant dish.

The dessert sauces I've given here will add depth to simple classics like ice cream, cheesecake or sponge cake. But don't stop there. You may have a butter cookie or custard your family adores. Or what about seasonal fruit served with several of these sauces for dipping?

As for which sauce to use, sweet inspiration can come from anywhere. It may be a tree heavy with oranges in your backyard, the scent of a cup of cocoa being delivered to a neighboring table at a restaurant or 20 minutes of thumbing through a favorite cookbook.

My carrot sauce recipe came out of my ever-growing fascination with the relationship between vegetables and desserts. Nobody is shocked to see pumpkin pie or carrot cake on a dessert menu. But what about tomatoes, rutabagas, celery and corn? How about a sweet rhubarb-celery sauce? I'm going to work on that one, but I have included a carrot sauce that I serve with plain cheesecake in a spiced crust. It is my inverted variation on the traditional carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

I've also included a Port-boysenberry sauce, a winter fruit compote, a white chocolate caramel sauce, a peanut butter sauce and a dark bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Any of the sauces here, or those you create yourself, will add personality to a basic dessert. For me, a great dessert challenges your senses: It smells, looks and feels good and, most important, it tastes great. The bottom line is, if you like it, it works. But you will never know unless you are willing to try.

Pressman founded the Old Town Bakery in Pasadena and now consults on restaurant projects and cooks for herself and her family in Pasadena.

Port-Boysenberry Sauce

Active Work Time: 5 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes

You can substitute blackberries. This sauce is best served cold or at room temperature. I like it with the seeds, but you can strain the seeds out if you prefer.

1 (1-pound) bag frozen boysenberries or 1 pound fresh, if available

1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit

1/4 cup Port

6 black peppercorns, crushed, or 2 full rotations of freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1 navel orange

* Heat boysenberries, sugar to taste, Port and pepper in saucepan until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice and blend sauce with immersion blender or in food processor. Strain seeds if desired.

2 1/4 cups. Each tablespoon: 15 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.34 gram fiber.

Winter Fruit Compote

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes

Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

2 cups apple or pear juice

4 cups sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

12 cloves

12 cardamom pods

2 to 3 apples, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes

2 to 3 pears, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes

8 dried figs (any variety), cut in quarters

1/4 cup currants or raisins

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