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Dessert - EU vs. US notions of...

Biscuits's picture

In the spirit of sparking a bit more cooking discussion, I want to open a discussion about the differences between the European notion of dessert, and the American notion of dessert.  We can even add some talk about all cultural notions of dessert. 


I've been working with a newish cookbook of mine, New Irish Cookery, by Paul and Jeanne Rankin.  They own a restaurant in Ireland and have done some cooking shows in Europe and I'm a fan of their style and their food.  I have all of their books.  Anyway, last night I made one of their braised lamb dishes (fabulous) and ended the meal with a wonderful, very European style cake, made with apples and currants and toasted hazelnuts. 


As DH and I ate it, he commented that he felt like he was back in Europe with this cake.  "Why?" I asked and he said that the cake was just very European - it was simple, it wasn't very sweet, and it wasn't trying to be the STAR of dinner, but a part of the dinner as a whole.  He commented that he actually prefers European notions of dessert after a meal, rather than the American notion of an overly sweet extravaganza.


I'm going to post the recipe for this cake for you, but I hope it will start a conversation about how different Europeans see dessert than Americans do.  Most Americans would see this cake as a tea or snack cake, I think, rather than a traditional dessert, where in Europe, this cake would be the perfect dessert to a meal.


Couple of notes:  First, I've copied the recipe as written, but inserted a few notes of my own.  also, I would NOT substitute dark brown sugar or regular brown sugar for the white sugar in this recipe.  At least, try it with the white sugar first, then maybe make the change later.  I say that because it was my first thought to do that (and I know Wolverine and Glenys both prefer brown sugar, too), but then I held back to see how the cake would turn out with the white first.  I think this cake has so many things going on in it, that it wouldn't be improved much with the substitution, so try it as is, first.


******************


Apple, Cinnamon & Hazelnut Cake from Paul and Jeanne Rankin of New Irish Cookery


Serves 10



  • 85 g. (3 oz.) sultanas (I used currents)
  • 5 tbl. cognac (I had no cognac - I subbed the best bourbon I had)
  • Grated zest and juice of one lemon
  • 700 g. (1 lb. 9 oz.) Granny Smiths
  • 200 g. (8 oz.) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 300 g. (10 oz.) sugar
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla essence  (extract)
  • 375 g. (13 oz.) plain white flour (thats AP flour)
  • 1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100 g. (4 oz.) hazelnuts, roughly chopped (I toasted mine first)
  • Icing sugar, sifted, for dusting (confectioners sugar)
  • Toffee Sauce or whipped cream, to serve

Soak the sultanas (or currents) in the cognac for several hours or overnight.


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C./350 degrees F./Gas 4.


Place the lemon juice in a bowl, peel the apples and turn them in the lemon juice to prevent browning.


Liberally grease a 23 cm. (9 inch)** springform tin.  Quarter and core 1-2 apples and cut each quarter into 5-6 slices.  Arrange the slices in concentric circles in the tin.  Grate the remaining apples and toss in the lemon juice.  Leave to drain in a colander.  (**Biscuit's note - I used a 10" springform, and it was full to the top.  I highly suggest a 10-inch or 12-inch springform for this.)


Cream the butter together with the sugar until light and fluffy, a good 10 minutes.  (This is an important step - you need a good creaming to get the right texture with this cake.)  Break the eggs into a bowl, add the vanilla, stir to break up the eggs.  Beat this into the butter and sugar a little at a time, making sure each additiona is incorporated before adding the next and scraping down the bowl in between.


Sift the flour, soda, baking powder, cinnamon adn salt together.  Fold into the sugar/butter/egg mixture along with the lemon zest.  Fold in the grated apples, the sultanas, and the hazelnuts.  Carefully spread the batter over the sliced apples in the tin. (**Biscuits note:  This batter is going to fill the pan nearly to the top.  Do not panic, do not worry - the rule about "2/3-full" doesn't apply to this cake, trust me, as long as you use the 10 or 12 inch cake tin I mentioned.)


Bake for an hour, covering the edges of the cake with foil if they brown too quickly.  Lower the oven temperature to 160 degrees C./325 degrees F./Gas 3 for teh last 15 minutes of cooking.  (**Note:  I had to go an extra 10 minutes beyond that - pay attention but don't be a slave to time).  The cake is done when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes in the tin, before turning it out onto a plate.  Just lay the plate on top of the tin, and flip it over, so the apples will be on top.  Remove the springform pan.


Preheat the grill/broiler.


To serve, dust the top fo the cake liberally with icing sugar and slide the cake under the grill for 1-2 minutes to glaze the apple slices.  Serve with warm toffee sauce or whipped cream.


 


Toffee Sauce makes about 250 ml. (8 fl. oz.)


A multi-purpose sauce that goes with so many things it should be in every chef's repertoire.  It can be used warm or cole.  It keeps well in the fridge for up to two weeks.



  • 140 g. (5 oz.) light soft brown sugar
  • 120 mil. (4 fl. oz.) double cream (use heavy cream)
  • 125 g. (4 1/2 oz.) unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla essence

Bring all of the ingredients to the boil together in a sacuepan over medium-high heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  The colour will change to a rich, golden hue.  Remove from teh heat and leave to cool.



Ancora Imparo -


Edited 2/20/2005 1:23 pm ET by Biscuit

Ancora Imparo -

CookiM0nster's picture

(post #63437, reply #1 of 58)

I completely agree with your notions about the differences in dessert.
In Germany, thre are simple cakes like this one (Kuchen), and fancier cakes, more like American ones, but lighter, and much less sweet (Torten). But, at least in Germany, I can't ever recall seeing cake eaten for dessert. It's eaten as a meal of it's own, in the late afternoon.

I remember discussing this once with Glenys, but as much as I adore cake, I've never been a big fan of it as the conclusion to a meal. I don't quite know why.

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #63437, reply #4 of 58)

I guess my concept of European vs American desserts was formed by my very anti - American dessert French pastry instructor.  We never made anything that he did not consider European.  Anything like pies, donuts, cobblers and their cousins and frosting were all pretty much described as nasty American food.


Most everything we made were tarts, tea cakes, and many of the classic European cakes made in ring molds.  The only cake toppings we made were either poured ganache or real buttercream.

Biscuits's picture

(post #63437, reply #5 of 58)

As Ashley said, it's hard for me to put into words, really.


One of the things I remembered last night as DH and I discussed, was that European desserts - not snacks and sweets - but the "after-a-meal" type of thing - was significantly less sweet than American desserts, and less of a production.  As I said, more like a part of the meal as a whole, rather than a seperate spectacular production.  That sort of thing seems confined to American culture.  I wonder why and how it evolved?  I've heard that Americans have a much larger taste for sugar than any other culture in the world - but I never really thought about it before, the why of it.


DH also expressed to me that he always really enjoyed having something simple like pears or grapes and some sort of fresh cheese, perhaps a few simple crackers, rather than a dessert course.  That always seemed rather refreshing to me, too.  I may have to go back to that for his desserts.  I had no idea he preferred it.


Ancora Imparo -

Ancora Imparo -

JaneRI444's picture

(post #63437, reply #46 of 58)

WHAT is 'nasty' about a cobbler?    A good cobbler is the best kind of dessert!


Actually, I don't think this is a real  "American" thing unless you call what goes on in high-end restaurants to be typically American.   I don't know anyone who eats big showy, overly-sweet, elaborate desserts after dinner.   I rarely have dessert at all (because I grew up in a non-dessert eating family) and rarely have it in restaurants.   I DO have a serious sweet tooth and will go somewhere for an elaborate dessert hours after I've eaten - I couldn't enjoy when I'm full from dinner. 

Glenys's picture

(post #63437, reply #11 of 58)

We're both on the same page on this one. We only have to look on this board and cakes are the most discussed sweet. Layer cakes with icing, even if it's buttercream, are beyond me. They just seem like over-refined starch, sugar and fat on a plate, and if you've had starch and fat in another part of the meal, it makes no sense to offer it up as a finish. Like cheesecake, I'd have to work the whole menu backward from the dessert to accommodate it.
I love anything with a complex, even if simple, mix of textures and flavours. Dense toasted nut tortes, simple cakes with cornmeal or almonds in the mix, roasted fruit, infused caramel sauces.
It's a bit like our discussion about ramekins the other day. I have two styles of French ramekins, one wider and one the traditional mini souffle style; both hold 4oz. I think that's a perfection portion of an appetizer or dessert.

CookiM0nster's picture

(post #63437, reply #16 of 58)

"I love anything with a complex, even if simple, mix of textures and flavours. Dense toasted nut tortes, simple cakes with cornmeal or almonds in the mix, roasted fruit, infused caramel sauces."

Exactly. To that I'd add mousse, fresh fruit, and, depending on the richness of the meal, some sort of custard.

And lately I've become rather fond of a single, small, bittersweet chocolate as a last bite.

MadMom's picture

(post #63437, reply #17 of 58)

With your delicious chocolates, that's easy to understand.  Willie Ray and I got into the habit of finishing off a nice meal with a wee bit of wine and a couple of bites of bittersweet chocolate.  Much nicer than a heavy, overly sweet dessert.  It's been a long time since I've baked a cake.



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Risottogirl's picture

(post #63437, reply #12 of 58)

At home, we RARELY have a sweet dessert. SO has a sweet tooth and doesn't have a "stop" button so he is just as glad I din't do sweets very often.


We almost always have cheese, however, a habit I picked up here. When I do make dessert for us it is likely to be something very simple like a mango or blood orange gratin or a clafoutis.


When I have a dinner party, dessert is a source of anxiety for me because I KNOW people are expecting something spectacular and I just have zero interest in desserts. Often I order from a great pastry shop. I sometimes make flourless choclate cake variations because they are dead easy and most people LOVE a chocolate dessert.


When I do professional gigs, I make it VERY clear that I don't do desserts. Period.


My Mom was here in paris  for 6 weeks and she discoverd the molten chocolate cakes and REAL chocolate mousse (with raw eggs). She has been collecting recipes for both in hopes that I will go there and try them all out with her "assistance" (she sits at the breakfast bar with a class of wine and watches).


Obviously I didn't inherit my lack of a sweet tooth from her :)


 


 


I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate
Julia Child

Water is a great ingredient to cook with, it has such a neutral flavor - Bobby Flay

MadMom's picture

(post #63437, reply #13 of 58)

Hey, if your Mom needs help assisting you, I'll be glad to sit next to her at the breakfast bar with a glass of wine and watch you work.



Not One More Day!
Not One More Dime! Not One More Life! Not One More Lie!

End the Occupation of Iraq -- Bring the Troops Home Now!

And Take Care of Them When They Get Here!

Risottogirl's picture

(post #63437, reply #14 of 58)

LOL!

I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate
Julia Child

Water is a great ingredient to cook with, it has such a neutral flavor - Bobby Flay

MadMom's picture

(post #63437, reply #15 of 58)

Hey, it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it, and I'm always willing to be helpful, LOL!



Not One More Day!
Not One More Dime! Not One More Life! Not One More Lie!

End the Occupation of Iraq -- Bring the Troops Home Now!

And Take Care of Them When They Get Here!

evelyn's picture

(post #63437, reply #2 of 58)

Much as I used to love the idea of dessert after a meal when I was younger (and thinner), the idea of an extravagant sweet-ending to a meal no longer holds much appeal to me. That is not to say I don't like show-stopping extravaganzas, but I prefer them in the evening, with a cup of coffee, as CM mentioned, and as they're generally enjoyed here.

Dessert for me after a meal is nearly always seasonal fruit. If it is simply and artfully presented (and even if it's just a few pieces in an attractive bowl sprinkled with some nuts), it is more than enough after a regular meal. A glass of wine with the fruit is also nice.

As to your reference to tortes, Biscuit, they are almost always special occassion cakes here, to be enjoyed on a birthday, anniversary, or holiday - never on a regular day. And, to be even more precise about tortes here in Greece, 9 times out of 10 they are purchased gateaux from a fine bakery, few attempt to make them (I prefer simple home baking and buy the fancy stuff).

 

In life, learn the rules so that you know how to break them properly.
ashleyd's picture

(post #63437, reply #3 of 58)

Didn't we have a discussion about this cookbook a little while ago? Glad you're enjoying it anyway. I think I'm with CM here that this sort of cake wouldn't usually be served as a dessert in most of Europe, although Ireland may be an exception. There certainly is a huge difference between US and EU desserts, although not always easy to put into words (it's like it is very easy to recognise a dog but difficult to describe). I suppose the obvious ones are that American desserts are usually sweeter, heavier and make gratuitous use of cream (yes I know that it features in many European desserts but it usually there for a structural purpose). In the US you are likely to get a pie, in Europe a tart or flan and European pastry work tends to be more varied. This is of course to generalise immensely, I have had some fabulous desserts in the US and some dismal ones in Europe, it is just trying to work out what the differences are. I'll have a think and come back to this if I have any bright ideas.


“In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

Biscuits's picture

(post #63437, reply #6 of 58)

Yes, you and I discussed this book.  I'm enjoying it immensely, even more now that I have a scale that weighs in grams! (G)  The book does the conversion for you, but I like making it the way the book intended originally. 


Someday I'd love to eat in their restaurant.  I haven't tried anything in the book yet that we didn't enjoy thoroughly.


Ancora Imparo -

Ancora Imparo -

jacqi's picture

(post #63437, reply #7 of 58)

Way back (pre-Prospero) when I was posting a fair bit, I remember talking about a German patisserie that was proposing to open a Canadian arm of their higher-end frozen tortes.


For the first year until they got their production facilities up and running, they imported the cakes from their Black Forest parent company (Assibams and Cookimonster may recognize their Pfalzgraf name) and the going was a bit rough. 


Their wholesaler reps reported that while the up-scale restaurants loved the stunning look of the cakes, loved the all-natural ingredients, no-preservative aspect, they thought they wouldn't sell well because they weren't sweet enough. 


Initially the owners mightily resisted suggestions that the formulae be altered but economic pressure prevailed and today their sales are in the $millions range -- and they are still not even close to the sickly sweet product offered by NA companies.


Still, my absolute favourite (which has unfortunately gone by the wayside) was their original hazelnut torte which was (as intended) more of a coffee cake than what we associate with 'dessert cake' -- dense, moist and utterly delicious. 


And others are right, European cakes are generally not a dessert item -- rather an afternoon coffee and cake ritual. 

Eisje's picture

(post #63437, reply #8 of 58)

A typical Dutch weekday dessert would be something dairy: a fruit yoghurt, quark, vla (no idea what it would be called in English, hopefully Helena will help me out here), pudding or something in that line: basically bought in the store as there is lots of choice, it's all fresh and good for you, so most people don't bother making their own. And cakes (or rather tarts, flans, teacakes) are mostly served with tea, I have never had one for dessert, not that I would mind. =)


In Ukraine the typical dessert would be a crepe filled with cinnamon cream cheese or a very thin layer of black currant jam or fresh blueberries. Or thick cream cheese pancakes. Kind of heavy, but dinner is mostly quite light.


I also have to agree that I find European desserts/pastry less sweet, and I prefer it that way, most of the time when I make an American recipe I reduce sugar a little, just to suit my taste. On the other hand, I love baklava and no American recipe can beat the sugar and honey in it!

Jean's picture

(post #63437, reply #9 of 58)

I have no idea how typical we are, but we have dessert only at family gatherings, read holidays.  Otherwise dessert consists of a piece of fruit, a piece of chocolate, or very rarely, a scoop of ice cream.

Veni, vidi, velcro        I came,  I  saw,  I stuck around.


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MadMom's picture

(post #63437, reply #10 of 58)

When I grew up, we never had desserts with meals.  After the advent of television and its arrival in our house (yes, children, there are still some people who can remember the days BT - before television) my father decided we should have "TV Goodies" and these were desserts (cakes or pies) which we would eat long after the meal was over, usually while sitting mesmerized in front of Uncle Miltie or I Love Lucy.



Not One More Day!
Not One More Dime! Not One More Life! Not One More Lie!

End the Occupation of Iraq -- Bring the Troops Home Now!

And Take Care of Them When They Get Here!

SondraG's picture

(post #63437, reply #18 of 58)

We saw the differences right across the US border.  We ate homemade ice cream made with fresh fruits (mango, coconut, lime, pineapple, chocolate, hot pepper, etc.)and other sweets (even a praline type candy) in MX for three weeks, and the we knew the amount of sugar was significantly less.  So the ice cream was dense, rich, and bursting with the pure flavor of the primary flavor ingredient without the gagging taste of sugar.  We rarely have sweets at home after dinner, but did routinely there.  And never felt we'd overdone it.  Even the bakeries there (very European) made flaky partries with natural fruit, sweetened just enough to make them smooth. 


The cake recipe looks great, thanks, on my list to try.


Life is good....

 

assibams's picture

(post #63437, reply #19 of 58)

Desserts are pretty different to where in Europe you look. In Italy there is always fresh fruit, cheese, and simple desserts, no cakes. Similarly in France. In Austria desserts are a very serious topic LOL Because the Austro-Hungarian kitchen was influenced mostly by Bohemian cooking desserts can easily replace the main course. As a kid I do fondly remember the cake and torte tray that came around after the main course. Austria is pretty big on heavy, cream-laden cakes (Marie-Antoinette brought fancy food to France, btw), and those are also served by themselves during morning and afternoon Kaffeehaus sessions.


But, desserts are not huge servings, not as sweet as the average US recipe.


"...never forget that the first syllable of convenience is con."
Bill Bryson

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
Herm Albright

ashleyd's picture

(post #63437, reply #20 of 58)

I think it also depends on whether you are looking at desserts in the home and desserts when eating out or even, just possibly, bought it. I have assumed that for the purposes of this discussion we are generally talking about desserts eaten out.


“In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

assibams's picture

(post #63437, reply #26 of 58)

I have assumed that for the purposes of this discussion we are generally talking about desserts eaten out.


My assumption as well. At home we rarely have dessert, unless there is a special occasion.


In a restaurant more often than not I prefer having an appetizer over ordering dessert. If I have one it is either fruity or dairy.


And I agree with you about the custards. Another difference I have noticed is the US affinity to chocolate both in desserts and cakes. Except for the ubiquitous Mousse au chocolat you don't see too many chocolate items on European menus (generally speaking).


"...never forget that the first syllable of convenience is con."
Bill Bryson

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
Herm Albright

Risottogirl's picture

(post #63437, reply #27 of 58)

Except for the ubiquitous Mousse au chocolat you don't see too many chocolate items on European menus (generally speaking).


As far as France goes, I disagree. There is AT LEAST one chocolate item on nearly every restaurant (all price ranges) dessert menu I have seen here in Paris. Usually, it is a "moelleux" or a "fondant" or a "pave" or even something more original.


Fruit "crumbles" are very big here as well.


I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate
Julia Child

Water is a great ingredient to cook with, it has such a neutral flavor - Bobby Flay

assibams's picture

(post #63437, reply #28 of 58)

Interesting! Maybe that is an Austrian or German thing, then - or maybe I haven't been going out enough lately LOL

"...never forget that the first syllable of convenience is con."
Bill Bryson

"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
Herm Albright

Marcia's picture

(post #63437, reply #33 of 58)

I agree with your observations about American restaurant desserts. In recent years most of the offerings seem to be something chocolate or with chocolate, and there will be a token offering of something lighter. My favorite is a sorbet after a nice meal.


At home we only have dessert after a special meal, but I make simple cakes, pies, tarts or cookies for the family to eat in the morning with coffee(husband's favorite), or as an afternoon snack.

Lword's picture

(post #63437, reply #21 of 58)

Nice topic Biscuit. I vote for the European style and think it's healthier but I don't have a consistent sweet tooth, maybe because the cakes and cookies and pies only appeared on special occasions as did the expensive cheese which was supposed to be for the grownups.


When I crave sweets baklava is my first choice but the lemon interiors of anything are a close second, vanilla ice cream third topped with espresso, and fourth crispy flour tortilla wedges toasted with butter, sugar and sometimes cinnamon - I guess I like a lot more sweets than I thought, it's just that I don't eat them daily. There is something else with butter and sugar but I don't remember the name. Not caramel. Maybe some type of ganache. Butter cream?


I tend to look to Europe or older civilizations for trends - they've lived longer than we have.   


L.
L.
"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." Mother Teresa
ashleyd's picture

(post #63437, reply #22 of 58)

After further musing I realised I had forgotten the almost ubiquitous "flan" which pops up as a simple dessert in most places in Europe. Depending on where you find it it can vary from a fairly sophisticated creme caramel to a basic baked custard, but is is always some form of set custard. Nice, simple, reasonably light, slips down a treat after a meal. Does this feature much on US menus? Can't recollect that it does.


“In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

Risottogirl's picture

(post #63437, reply #24 of 58)

Custard type desserts are pretty popular in the US - creme caramel, creme brulee, pot de creme, panna cotta. Most mid to upscale independent restaurants feature at least one version on the dessert menu these days.


When was your last trip to the US?



I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate
Julia Child


Edited 2/21/2005 6:40 am ET by RISOTTOGIRL

Water is a great ingredient to cook with, it has such a neutral flavor - Bobby Flay

ashleyd's picture

(post #63437, reply #29 of 58)

All of those mid-to-upscale ones I know about (and the fact they mess them about a little too much for my tastes!), but I'm talking simple "flan", no pretentions to being upscale.


“In victory you deserve Champagne, in defeat you need it.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Age is unimportant unless you’re a cheese.

Risottogirl's picture

(post #63437, reply #30 of 58)

Maybe it is the word LOL, but true enough "flan" is rarely an offering.


Maybe it just doesn't seem to sound "fancy" enough. I don't see flan too often in the US and if it is offered, it isn't called flan.


When I have suggested "flan" to others as a simple dessert possibility, I am often met with a wrinkled nose as in yuck.  Oh well. Of course I like it, because at its best it isn't very sweet.


I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate
Julia Child

Water is a great ingredient to cook with, it has such a neutral flavor - Bobby Flay