A dinner party is often culinary theater, with dessert as the climax. For these special dinners, the addition of a dessert wine is the perfect final flourish.
For instance, with boule de neige, a dessert of pure chocolate covered with whipped cream, a sweet Italian muscat such as the 1995 Michele Chiarlo "Nivole" Moscato would be lovely.
Poached vanilla pears with Creme Anglaise might be served with a sweet Riesling, such as 1993 Beringer "Special Select Late Harvest" Johannisberg Riesling.
French cream cheese custard tart with raspberries, creamy and smooth, has just the right balance for its fresh raspberry topping and is wonderful with a French Sauternes, such as 1990 Chateau La Tour Blanche.
These dessert wines are available in half bottles, which often suffice because only a small amount is poured for each guest. Serve them well chilled.
POACHED VANILLA PEARS
The pears turn almost bronze as they poach in the pear nectar and look beautiful in their puddles of custard sauce.
1 quart canned pear nectar
1/2 cup sugar
1 (7-inch) vanilla bean, split open
4 firm Bosc pears, with stems
1 cup milk
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Bring nectar and sugar to boil in non-aluminum 2-quart saucepan. Scrape in vanilla seeds and drop in split bean pod. Reduce heat to simmer.
Peel pears with vegetable peeler, keeping them as smooth and round as possible. Leave stems on but remove peel to stems. Poach pears in barely simmering nectar until tender but not soft (test with toothpick on underside), rotating often and spooning syrup over occasionally, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on pears. Use slotted spoon to transfer pears to storage container.
Sauce should be thick but flowing. If not, simmer uncovered to proper consistency. Remove bean. Let nectar sauce cool, then pour over pears. Chill.
Heat milk and sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to dissolve sugar.
When milk is hot, whisk egg yolks in bowl just enough to break them up (don't create foam, you won't be able to see when custard is cooked). Whisk small amount of hot milk into yolks to warm them. Return mixture to pan and cook, stirring constantly, until custard coats spoon and is consistency of very heavy cream.
Immediately remove pan from heat and pour mixture through sieve. Stir in vanilla extract. Can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated. Serve chilled.
To serve, coat each pear with nectar sauce. Stand in shallow bowl. Spoon Creme Anglaise around base, dividing evenly. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Each serving contains about:
436 calories; 104 mg sodium; 141 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 100 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 3.10 grams fiber.
CHOCOLATE SNOWBALL (Boule de Neige)
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chilled whipping cream
To make boule, line 1 (6- to 8-cup) round oven-proof mixing bowl, preferably deep and narrow rather than wide and shallow, with foil. (To line bowl without tearing foil, invert bowl and shape foil around it. Remove foil shape, set bowl upright and gently place foil in bowl.) Set aside.
Break chocolate into pieces and combine in food processor with 1 cup sugar. Pulse 4 times to start, then let processor run until chocolate is as fine as sugar.
With processor running, add boiling water through feed tube; process until chocolate is melted. Add butter in pieces; process until smooth. With processor running, add eggs, 1 at time, then 1 tablespoon vanilla. Process until smooth, about 15 seconds.
Pour mixture into foil-lined bowl. Bake at 350 degrees until puffy with thick, cracked crust, about 55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Cover airtight and refrigerate. Can be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated up to 5 days or frozen up to 1 month.
Several hours before serving, invert boule on serving plate, round-side up, and carefully remove foil. Lightly whip cream with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Completely cover boule with whipped cream, using spatula to smooth over entire surface. (Alternatively, use pastry bag with rosette tip to pipe cream over entire surface, starting at center top by squeezing out 1 small rosette in middle, then make circle of rosettes touching one another until boule is covered.) Refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, cut into small wedges.
Makes 12 servings.
Each serving contains about:
367 calories; 181 mg sodium; 126 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 31 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0 fiber.
FRENCH CREAM CHEESE CUSTARD TART WITH RASPBERRIES
1/2 pound cream cheese
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 single pie crust, baked in 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom and cooled
2 pints fresh or frozen raspberries
1/3 cup currant jam, melted
A custard-like cream cheese mixture forms the base for the raspberries. It's a most delicious combination. A tart pan with a removable bottom gives this dessert the best presentation. You can use store-bought pie dough or make your own from any standard recipe.
Puree cream cheese and egg yolks in food processor until smooth. Add whipping cream, sugar, flour and vanilla. Mix well. Transfer to mixing bowl.
Beat egg whites in mixer until they hold their shape but are still shiny. Stir 1/4 of egg whites into cheese mixture, then fold in remaining whites.
Transfer mixture into cooled crust. Place tart pan on cookie sheet. Bake at 275 degrees until mixture is slightly puffed and completely set but not browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.
Arrange raspberries, rounded-sides up, as close together as possible on surface, starting in center and working out to edge. Lightly brush with currant jelly. Chill until serving time. Remove from tart pan and set on serving platter. Cut into wedges.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Each of 10 servings contains about:
739 calories; 185 mg sodium; 232 mg cholesterol; 64 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 2.09 grams fiber.