Miniature sweets are a perfectly pleasant treat


Have you ever noticed how much more appealing small things are than large-scale equivalents? A rosebud shows more tenderness than the full-blown flower. Puppies and kittens are infinitely more irresistible than their adult counterparts. Cherry tomatoes prove far more decorative than the swollen tennis ball-shape versions. Diamonds, now, might present a bit of a dilemma.

A career can even be founded on miniatures. First there was Faberge. Now there is Flo Braker. When this master baker began selling her diminutive cookies, tartlets, cakes and pastries, clients were immediately converted to these tasty tidbits.

Now Flo Braker makes it possible for you to create these tiny gems. "Sweet Miniatures -- The Art of Making Bite-Size Desserts" (William Morrow) arrives just as we feel the urge to go back into the kitchen after summer's sultry respite.

A few delectable miniatures served with coffee after a dinner proves much more elegant than a slice of cake. No matter how luscious the cake is, a slice is still a slice and can never have the eye appeal of the complete little jewel.

Ms. Braker has worked as a baking teacher, caterer, food columnist and cookbook author. Throughout her career, her gemlike miniature sweets have been a trademark. She feels that "good things come in small packages," and teaches us why.

Eye appeal is uppermost. Each morsel is a small piece of perfection. And each one is for you and you alone. There is no neat way of sharing a sweetmeat that measures a mere inch or so across. And best of all, we can delude ourselves into thinking that we're only taking on a handful of calories. True, if you can stop at one or two.

Baking is an art, but one based on chemistry. When Ms. Braker explains that technical chemistry it is made so clear and easy to understand that you mentally say, "Of course." That is great teaching.

Every one of the near 120 recipes is first described in mouth-watering terms to give you a sense of the sweet's taste and texture. Texture is discussed a lot and accounts for Ms. Braker's use of rice flour and cornstarch in some batters. Ingredients are explained and, if not on supermarket shelves, where to find the items.

Finally, there are baking notes at the end of the recipe detailing how to alter the recipe for newer taste sensations. In fact, Ms. Braker urges the reader to create desserts of your own.

"The best reward for me would be if this book inspired you to

invent your own memorable miniatures."

Here is a sample of the sage advice strewn throughout the book. Have you ever wondered how to judge how large a quantity of whole nuts to use when they are to be ground? Wonder no more.

"Strange as it may seem, because you do not pack the nuts, a given volume of whole or large pieces of nuts will yield what appears to be the same volume of chopped nuts."

Try it and you'll see that Flo Braker is always right. As right on as these wonderful rich little cakes with the taste and texture of chewy brownies.

Dutch minicakes Makes 30 miniature cakes.

1/3 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsifted cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 ounces (1 scant cup) toasted hazelnuts (coarsely chopped to yield 1 cup)

Decoration: 1/4 cup unsifted powdered sugar

Adjust rack to lower third of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line 2 1/2 dozen miniature muffin cups that measure 1 1/2 -by- 3/4 inches with miniature cupcake liners.

Sift flour, cocoa powder and baking powder on sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In small saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over very low heat. Remove from heat; stir in sugar. Pour into 3-quart mixing bowl; set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, stirring just until blended. Stir in flour mixture, then nuts.

Fill each paper-lined muffin cup 3/4 full. Bake 10 minutes. Don't overbake. Remove pans to wire racks to cool 5 minutes to allow cakes to firm a bit. Carefully remove cakes to other racks to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

These are best eaten the same day they are baked; or freeze in airtight, sturdy plastic containers up to 1 month.

Serving note: I think these are prettier without the muffin papers. If the minicakes are not already frozen, freeze them for 30 minutes. Then papers can be lifted quickly and easily from the rich sticky surfaces without altering the shape of the cakes.

Carol Cutler is the award-winning author of eight cookbooks, including "Catch of the Day."

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