Adding wow factor to your holiday table
New Year’s Eve isn’t about cooking. It’s about dazzling.
Although most people are focused on champagne or hors d’oeuvres, it could be more fun to focus on dessert. Whipping up impressive desserts needn’t consume your day, either.
Two simple ingredients — fire and ice (cream) — can add serious class to any dessert, including those you purchase.
First, the fire. So long as they are intended, flames add panache to just about any dish. They also can add flavor (usually thanks to the alcohol that provide the flame) and texture.
For liquor to burn well, it needs a high alcohol content. To avoid having to heat the alcohol before igniting it (necessary with most liquors) use 151-proof rum, which ignites easily at any temperature. In fact, it is so flammable, don’t cook with it.
Use it for dramatic effect around a plated dessert. For example, use biscuit cutters to cut round pieces of sliced pound cake, brownies or other purchased cakelike dessert.
Next, use a melon baller or other scoop to remove a small section from the center of the cake or brownie, then fill that section with ice cream of a contrasting color (vanilla for brownies and chocolate for pound cake).
Place the dessert in the center of a small serving plate with enough of a lip to contain a small amount of liquid. Garnish as desired, then carefully pour about one-half ounce of 151 proof rum around the cake.
After they are put on the plates, arrange the desserts on the table. You do not want to carry flaming liquid, nor are these appropriate for your guests to hold cocktail party-style.
After everything is set (warn guests to keep hair and clothing clear) use a match or lighter to ignite the rum. It should burn off in about a minute. It will be a dazzling display that heats the brownie and softens the ice cream — a wonderful hot-cold contrast.
If you prefer your desserts to be less of a fire hazard, consider using unusual ingredients to create doctored ice cream sundaes. Simply soften vanilla ice cream in the microwave, mix in the ingredients of your choice, then freeze again for several hours.
Good choices this time of year include fig jam, crumbled baklava, crushed gingerbread cookies and smashed hard mint candies or candy canes. Whatever you mix in, reserve extra for drizzling over the top of the ice cream.
For added garnish, melt dark chocolate (or dark chocolate “melts,” which are rounds of chocolate intended for these sorts of projects and are available at craft and cake supply stores), then spread it in a thin layer over waxed paper.
While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle it with the same ingredient you mixed into the ice cream. Crushed candy canes are especially nice. Let it harden, then break into large chunks. These chunks then can be wedged into the whipped cream on top of your sundae for garnish.
Or try chocolate transfer paper, an easy way to decorate melted chocolate. These are sheets of plastic (available at craft and baking supply stores) coated with an edible print (such as snowflakes) on one side.
To use, simply melt chocolate and spread it thinly over the sheet. Let the chocolate harden, then break into chunks. Or, when the chocolate is nearly hard, use cookie cutters to cut shapes from the chocolate.
When you peel the chocolate away from the transfer paper, the underside will be decorated with the pattern that was on the paper.