Sweet Nothings

Preparing food without tasting it is a cardinal sin among cooks.  How can I put delicious food in front of people unless I’ve tasted it to be sure that I didn’t accidentally put peppermint extract in the Scallops in Vanilla Beurre Blanc? But because I’m minding my blood sugar I eat absolutely nothing sweet these days, not even the merest molecule, and so baking presents the greatest challenge of all.

Lots of people have asked me how I can bake treats for Shel and our friends when I don’t eat them myself.  “All that temptation,” they say, “how can you resist?”  After thinking about that a lot I have a Eureka! moment and realize that I’m very lucky to have been a personal chef for a few years.  In that gig I learned to separate the act of cooking from the act of eating.  Cooking for its own sake, just for the pleasure of working with the ingredients, and for the pleasure your efforts will bring to others, and not because you’ll be rewarded with a good meal, is an art in itself.  I’ve always said that cooking is my art, but still, as a food artist you must taste, even if you don’t actually eat.

Last night I made some frosting for Shel, to top the muffins-that-wanted-to-be-cupcakes that I’d made the day before.  He wanted mocha frosting. Easy peasey, right?  I put a small amount of instant espresso powder in a bowl, added some cocoa, some sugar, stirred it with a little cream, and added mascarpone until the texture looked right.  Except, something seemed wrong.  It didn’t seem sweet enough.  It didn’t look sweet enough, it didn’t smell sweet enough.  Since I’ve given up sugar and all forms of sweeteners I think I’m developing sugar ESP.  I’ve always been able to smell when a food needed salt, but judging the degree of sweetness by smell might be a new skill, even if it’s a skill I’d prefer not to have been forced to acquire. So I added more sugar to the frosting and called Shel to taste.  “More sugar, more cocoa, more coffee?” I queried. “Perfect as is,” he pronounced.  Now how had I managed that?

Of course, one way to handle this situation is to make a recipe that’s already perfect, that I’ve tasted many times, and that’s guaranteed to work.  And that brings me to the carrot cupcake you see floating lusciously at the top of the page.  While you were reading my story about the mocha frosting, you make have done a little double take when I added the mascarpone.  It’s not a typical frosting ingredient, but I learned it from a fantastic recipe for Carrot Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting.  I’ve never made another carrot cake recipe since I discovered that one, and possibly you’ll be equally enchanted by this recipe.  As I recently discovered, it makes admirable cupcakes, and the frosting technique has a much wider application than the original recipe envisions.

Cupcakes are perfect if you’re in “sweet for him, nothing for me” mode, but don’t hesitate to make the whole cake just as written.  I’ve wowed countless people with this cake, and there’s never much left over.  I make it exactly as written, and you shouldn’t change a thing either until you’ve made it once. And after that, I’m betting that you won’t want to change it at all.  One click and sweet bliss is within your grasp Carrot Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Frosting.

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2 Comments on “Sweet Nothings”

  1. Margaret Pilgrim Says:

    Mascarpone is an elegant way to satisfy cheese frosting addicts without resorting to “brand-x” with its many additives and gummy texture. Many thanks for this recipe which we look forward to trying soon.

    I am fascinated with your analysis of the arts of cooking and eating. For many years I have struggled with the problem of cooking for someone whose tastes differ from mine, finding it difficult to create a product that argues with my own taste or sense of probity. Even when you know that you have achieved the flavor that the other person prefers, there is at the same time a feeling of wrongdoing “A chacun son goût; à chacun son goût.”

  2. Diane Darrow Says:

    Mascarpone also makes a whipped-cream-type topping into something truly glorious. I wrote about it recently in my blog, “A Year in Recipes.” Here’s the page, if anyone’s interested: http://dianescookbooks.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/week-18-hazelnut-baby-loaves/

    But don’t expect my photos to be anything like the gorgeous ones in French Letters!


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