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Bite size: In treat trends, it's a small, small world

In treat trends, it's a small, small world

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 4:17 p.m. MDT

Rasperry Cheesecake from "101 Gourmet Cake Bites" by Wendy Paul and published by Cedar Fort.

Marielle Hayes

They say that less is more, and that's the theme of two dessert books recently published by two Utah authors: "101 Gourmet Cake Bites," by Wendy Paul (Cedar Fort Publishing), and "Small Sweet Treats," by Marguerite Henderson (Gibbs Smith).

The authors say the trend is treats that are small in portion but big on flavor.

"With everyone watching what they eat now, it's not a good idea to have that huge piece of chocolate cake or whatever," said Henderson. "The idea is to enjoy just a bite or two of a little something to get that sensation of sweetness, and that's all you really need."

One thing these recipes are not — and that's low-calorie or low-fat. Both Paul and Henderson use fair amounts of butter and cream. "That's what makes the recipes so delicious," said Henderson.

Paul decided that cake bites would be a fun follow-up to her successful "101 Gourmet Cupcakes" and "101 Gourmet Cookies" books. Currently "in" at weddings and bridal showers, they are crumbled bits of cake mixed with frosting and other add-ins, rolled into a bite-size ball and covered with melted chocolate. They can also be made into a "cake pop," with the addition of a candy stick.

"Watching how people react when they see and taste them, I just couldn't pass them up," she said. "It's the perfect combination of frosting and cake, all in one bite. You can keep them simple or make them into something extraordinary."

Paul went through a lot of trial and error to find some fun and unusual flavor combinations. Her family, friends neighbors and her husband's co-workers taste-tested her many experiments and offered feedback as well.

Cake bites aren't difficult to master, but the process takes longer because you bake a cake and wait for it to cool before crumbling it. You also need time to chill the balls in the refrigerator so that they're firm enough to dip in chocolate.

"I like to bake the cake one day and then assemble them the next day," Paul said.

Since they keep frozen in a sealed container for several months, they can be made well ahead of a special occasion.

"I found out that they taste real good frozen, too," she said. "When I noticed my supply in the freezer was getting smaller, I discovered my children were eating them straight out of the freezer. Now I've learned to hide them behind the bag of chicken."

A couple of tips for success: use a cookie scoop to get uniform-size balls. And use good quality melting chocolate. Paul likes to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil per 1 pound of melting chocolate or candy coating.

"It gives a smoother consistency and a thinner shell of chocolate coating," Paul said.

Her favorite chocolate coating is made by Guittard, and available at baking supply stores such as Orson Gygi and Baker's Cash and Carry.

"Merckens is also good," she said. "You can buy them in colors, or you can add a coloring especially made for chocolate if you want a certain color."

Paul said the book is doing well; as of press time it was listed No. 6 in the baking/desserts category of Amazon.com's best-seller lists.

"I beat Martha Stewart on the Amazon best-seller list!" she exclaimed. "I have been ahead of her for almost a week now."

Several other books on cake bites, cake pops and cake balls are also near the top of the list, underscoring their current popularity.

Henderson's book is a follow up in her series that includes "Small Plates" and "Small Parties." It features a wide variety of treats, from aebleskivers to zabaglione. Many, such as cookies, cupcakes and muffins, offer built-in portion control.

Some recipes may yield a whole cake or tart, "but you cut that tart into eight small pieces," she said.

"These are small sweet indulgences, so you don't feel like, 'I can't believe I ate the whole thing.' "

Many of her flavor combinations mix savory with sweet; for instance, lavender and thyme-infused panna cotta or strawberry-basil balsamic compote.

"These are unique flavors, things you can't find in your everyday bakery," she said.

She said that Bon Appetit magazine lists salt and black pepper as a hot dessert trend. That ties in perfectly with Henderson's Salt and Pepper Chocolate Cookies, featured on her book's cover. "So here in little old Utah, we're ahead of the trend," she said.

Henderson is always looking for new flavor ideas. When she goes out for lunch or dinner, she scans the menu for distinctive flavor combinations.

"The panna cotta with thyme and lavender is so easy to make," she said. "You don't have to spend $8 ordering that panna cotta dessert at a restaurant, when all the ingredients would only cost you $8, and you could make eight servings."

Some of the recipes, such as the cobblers, can be baked in individual ramekins to go along with the "small portion" idea.

"Some of the recipes are going to be seasonal, because when the fruit is in season, they taste so much better," she said. "But I tried to keep it simple so most of the ingredients are available year-round, and so the everyday home cook could do them."

Yes, perhaps it really is a small, small world.

RASPBERRY CHEESECAKE CAKE BITES

1 box white cake mix

3 eggs

1 teaspoon raspberry extract

1 cup milk

Add-ins:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup fresh raspberries, mashed (or frozen raspberries, thawed and squeezed dry)

White melting chocolate for dipping

Mix cake mix, eggs, raspberry extract and milk. Batter will be thick. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 28-31 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and cool completely. Crumble cake into small even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

With the back of a spoon, mix cake crumbles, cream cheese and raspberries until a thick dough consistency forms. Shape into evenly sized balls and cool 1-2 hours in the refrigerator, or 20 minutes in the freezer. Dip into white melting chocolate. Top with crushed graham crackers if desired. To make cake pops, insert a candy stick while bites are chilling, before dipping.

— "101 Gourmet Cake Bites," by Wendy Paul

CARAMEL APPLE CAKE BITES

1 box spice cake mix

3 eggs

1/4 cup oil

3/4 cup applesauce

1/2 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Add-ins:

1/2 cup Caramel Cream Frosting (see recipe below)

1/2 cup caramel sauce (Mrs. Richardson's)

Mix cake mix, eggs, oil, applesauce, half-and-half, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Batter will be thick. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and cool completely. Crumble cake into small, even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

With the back of a spoon, mix cake crumbles with frosting and caramel sauce until a thick dough consistency forms. Shape into evenly sized balls and cool 1-2 hours in the refrigerator or 20 minutes in the freezer. Drizzle with additional caramel sauce. Then sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, chopped nuts or white chocolate. To make cake pops, insert a candy stick while bites are chilling, before dipping.

CARAMEL CREAM FROSTING

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2-3 tablespoons whole milk

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place butter and brown sugars in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir and cook the mixture until it comes to a boil.

Add milk and bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat mixture with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy. Frosting will harden when cooled completely.

— "101 Gourmet Cake Bites," by Wendy Paul

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CUP

1 box dark chocolate cake mix

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (see recipe below)

3 1.5-ounce packages regular-size peanut butter cups, unwrapped and coarsely chopped

Melting chocolate

Mix cake mix, eggs, vanilla extract and half-and-half. Batter will be thick. Pour into a greased 9-by-19-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven and cool completely. Crumble cake into small even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

With the back of a spoon, mix cake crumbles with buttercream frosting and chopped peanut butter cups, until a thick dough consistency forms. Shape into evenly sized cake bites and cool 1-2 hours in the refrigerator, or 20 minutes in the freezer. Dip into melted chocolate and top with chopped peanuts.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature

33/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1/3 cup cocoa

3-4 tablespoons milk or cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer before adding the sugar and cocoa, or you will have a large mess to clean up.

Add sugar, cocoa, 3 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract. Beat frosting, starting on slow and increasing your speed until frosting is nice an creamy. Add 1 or more tablespoons of milk (or cream) if frosting is too thick.

— "101 Cake Bites,"

by Wendy Paul

SALT AND PEPPER CHOCOLATE COOKIES

11/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

11/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

3 to 31/2 cups all-purpose flour

11/2 cups cocoa

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon gray sea salt

In a mixer bowl, beat the butter and sugar until lightly yellow and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat another minute.

In a bowl, mix 3 cups flour, cocoa, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Gradually add to the butter mixture, beating until well-blended. If the dough seems to be too soft to work, add a few tablespoons of flour at a time to form a more stiff and workable dough. Divide the dough into fourths. Wrap each section in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour.

On a floured board, roll out each section of dough to 1?8 inch thickness and cut into desired shaped with cookie cutters. Place on Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle each cookie very lightly with the sea salt. Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 375-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

— "Small Sweet Treats,"

by Marguerite Henderson

LAVENDER-THYME INFUSED PANNA COTTA WITH ISLAND BERRY COMPOTE

1 tablespoon lavender buds

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 envelope unflavored Knox gelatin

1/2 cup half-and-half

2 cups sour cream

Island Berry Compote:

4 cups mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, loganberries, strawberries and marion berries)

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons lavender honey (optional)

Lavender buds, mint leaf, thyme sprig

Place the lavender and thyme leaves in a saucepan with cream and sugar. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat; allow the herbs to steep in the cream for 5-10 minutes, depending on the intensity desired.

While the cream is steeping, soften the gelatin in the half-and-half in a small bowl. Strain the cream through a sieve and place back in the saucepan. Bring heat back to low. Cream should not be brought to a simmer, just warmed through.

Add the gelatin mixture and whisk to incorporate. Remove from heat and whisk in the sour cream. Taste for seasoning. The gelatin should be incorporated and the sour cream smooth. Pour the panna cotta cream into individual serving glasses, molds, or ramekins. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until set firm. (This can be done a day ahead.)

In a saucepan, bring the berries, sugar, cornstarch and honey (if using) to a simmer over low heat, stirring often. Sauce should be thickened slightly, but not cloudy. Remove from heat and cool. Serve a small serving on top of the panna cotta and garnish with lavender buds, mint leaf or thyme. Serves 8.

— "Small Sweet Treats,"

by Marguerite Henderson

ORANGE-GLAZED APPLE TARTS

1 17.3-ounce package puff pastry sheets, thawed

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cream (for egg wash)

2-3 firm apples (granny Smith, honeycrisp, gala) or pears (D'Anjou or Bartlett), cored and peeled

1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup marmalade

Vanilla or seasonal ice cream (pumpkin, apple pie or cinnamon) or whipped cream

Place 1 sheet of the puff pastry on a work surface and roll out any creases. Cut the pastry into fourths. Place the four pieces on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place the second sheet of pastry on the work surface.

Cut the pastry into eight strips lengthwise and then cut in half horizontally to make 16 strips. Brush the edges of each of the 4 squares with the egg wash and then place a strip of pastry on each edge to make a border.

Brush the edges again with egg wash, and score the edges every 1/2 inch to decorate the border.

Thinly slice the apples or pears. Place the fruit slices on the pastry, within the border, in a decorative pattern. Sprinkle lightly with nuts, sugar and cinnamon. Bake the tarts on the middle rack of a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes, and then reduce heat to 375 degrees for an additional 10 minutes. The fruit should be cooked and the pastry golden brown and puffed. Remove from oven.

While pastry is baking, heat the marmalade in a small saucepan just until the marmalade has melted. As soon as the pastries are removed from the oven, brush the tops with the warmed marmalade to form a glaze. Cool to room temperature and serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Serves 4.

— "Small Sweet Treats,"

by Marguerite Henderson

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com Email: vphillips@desnews.com

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