HOME COOK : Last Things First

Imagine going to a friend's house for dinner and being served a luscious piece of chocolate cake . . . as a first course. Later would follow the meat and vegetables, and to end the meal, salad and coffee.

What would be the reaction to such a meal? Would silence and uneasy glances settle over the group? Or would everyone feel as pleased as I would to have my favorite dish served first instead of last?

I've always wanted to break tradition this way, but I've never had the courage. Now, at least, I know the perfect dessert to serve this way. It's a pear and raspberry shortcake that I first had at the French Laundry, Don and Sally Schmitt's restaurant in Yountville, in California's Napa Valley. This is not the traditional shortcake of berries, biscuit and whipped cream mounded on a plate. This is a shortcake served in a bowl with slices of pears and raspberries, and covered with a warm delicate cream that is really more of a soup than a sauce. On top of the fruit and cream is a tender, warm biscuit. It's a dish that brings smiles and sighs to all who eat it, plus it's easy to make.

To complete this unusual meal, I'd serve Salade Nicoise with a crisp white roll on the side.

SALLY SCHMITT'S PEAR AND RASPBERRY SHORTCAKES 3 cups sliced ripe pears, peaches or nectarines 2 to 3 cups fresh raspberries 1 cup Aunt Polly's Hot Cream Sauce 4 Shortcake Biscuits

Place pear slices in 4 small bowls, about 3/4 cup per bowl. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup raspberries to each bowl. Pour 1/4 cup Aunt Polly's Hot Cream Sauce on top of fruit in each bowl. Top each serving with 1 Shortcake Biscuit and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about: 726 calories; 558 mg sodium; 186 mg cholesterol; 54 grams fat; 60 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 3.63 grams fiber.

Aunt Polly's Hot Cream Sauce 1 cup butter 1/2 cup sugar 2 cups heavy whipping cream Combine butter, sugar and whipping cream in heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer cream about 30 minutes, or until slightly thickened. (Can be made in advance and warmed just before serving.) Makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce.

Shortcake Biscuits 2 cups flour 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces 1 egg, lightly beaten 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Add cold butter pieces and either rub butter quickly into dry ingredients with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal, or use pastry blender to cut butter into dry ingredients until in coarse bits.

Add egg and whipping cream. Stir dough lightly with fork to dampen mass. If dough feels moist and gathers together in rough mass, lightly sprinkle board with flour. If dough is too dry, add 1 or 2 tablespoons cream until dough can be patted into round.

On lightly floured board, pat dough into circle about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out biscuits with 2 1/2- or 3-inch round biscuit cutter. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees 12 to 14 minutes, until golden on top. Serve warm. Makes 12 (3-inch) biscuits.


When rhubarb is in season, cut some into pieces and spread in baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar to taste and cover with foil. Bake at 400 degrees until tender but still intact. Make Aunt Polly's Hot Cream Sauce but substitute 1 cup light brown sugar for 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Assemble dessert as directed above using cooked rhubarb instead of soft fruit.

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