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PUTTING A SWEET SPIN ON PIZZA Layer fruits, 'sauces' on sugary doughs--but forget the pepperoni


And for dessert," my sister said triumphantly one evening not too long ago, "we're having your favorite -- fruit pizza."

"My what?"

"Fruit pizza?" she repeated, puzzled. "Aren't you the one who loves it so much?" I wasn't, I protested. I'd never even heard of it. But that was only because I hadn't tasted it. After that introduction, I became an instant convert.

Like its savory namesake, fruit pizza consists of a crust, a "sauce," and toppings. Only in the dessert version, the crust is slightly sweet, and the sauce may be sweet, and the whole thing may be topped with preserves.

In case you think this hybrid dish -- a cross between an Italian savory pizza and a French flan or tarte -- deserves to be scorned, consider that it is a favorite of no less than opera great Luciano Pavarotti.

Baltimore restaurateurs Larry and Lorraine Denmark are absolutely sure about this, because they have made something of a career of serving the magnificent tenor his favorite fruit pizza whenever he sings in the Baltimore or Washington area. And sometimes when he doesn't.

The Denmarks founded BOP, Baltimore's first brick-oven-pizza shop, in Fells Point, some five years ago. Among the items developed for the menu was a rectangular "dessert pizza," of sweet crust, chocolate and fruit.

"I treat pizza like a piece of bread, or a plate," says Mrs. Denmark. "And I top it with turkey or soft-shelled crabs." She couldn't think of any reason to confine such a versatile dish to appetizer and entree courses. "I kept saying, what can we do to make this a dessert? . . . And I just kept playing with it."

The Denmarks are no longer actively involved in the management of BOP, and eight months ago, opened Lorraine's, a sort of avant-garde, sort of old-fashioned spot on Reisterstown Road where the philosophy is fresh ingredients, fresh ideas, and moderate prices. "We want to be a neighborhood place that's also a destination," Mr. Denmark says.

They took the chocolate dessert pizza with them, in a somewhat upscale version, round, like a regular pizza, and made with high-quality chocolate -- "I'm a Belgian chocolate lover," Mrs. Denmark says with a laugh. Then she began to wonder: "What else can we do? What about -- apple pie. Apple pie is supposed to be the great American favorite. So I came up with apple pie pizza."

The pizza has a base of Mrs. Denmark's "Dessert Pizza Crust," then is topped with cinnamon, sugar, Granny Smith Apples and a generous sprinkling of Gorgonzola cheese.

Enter Luciano Pavarotti.

The Denmarks first provided food for the famous singer in the mid-'80s -- an event the personable Pavarotti remembered in 1989, when he appeared at the Capital Center and the Denmarks provided food from BOP. The next year, Mr. Denmark engineered a public relations coup when he attended a "pizza convention" in Las Vegas and delivered 20 of the singer's favorite pizzas to his booking agent, who's based there: smoked salmon and caviar; chocolate and apple pie with Gorgonzola.

Mrs. Denmark, aided by Lorraine's head chef Jennifer Heher -- known as Chef Jen -- has also come up with a cheesecake pizza, and a fruit tart pizza.

The dessert pizzas lend themselves to many variations, Ms. Heher says. For instance the cheesecake pizza: "You could do any kind of cheesecake recipe," she says. And you needn't, as Lorraine's does, top it with fruit. "It's good plain. And the fruit tart -- Lorraine picked mascarpone [an Italian soft cheese], but it would be good with chocolate, or white chocolate ganache," a French icing-filling concoction. "And the apple pie pizza could use cheddar, if you don't like Gorgonzola."

Mrs. Denmark touches the dish of the apple pie pizza. "I've done this pizza with pineapple and Gorgonzola. And," she adds, "you can use almost any crust. If you have a favorite, just sprinkle it with sugar or cinnamon sugar."

My sister's dessert pizza recipe uses prepared sugar-cookie dough, available in the dairy counter at the supermarket, for the crust.

"Oh yes," Mrs. Denmark says, "a wonderful pizza would be sugar-cookie dough, spread with strawberry preserves and sprinkled with grated white chocolate. It would look just like a real pizza!"

Here is Mrs. Denmark's recipe for pizza crust:

Dessert pizza crust

Makes 5 1-ounce or 4 12-ounce crusts

4 cups high-gluten (bread) flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon oil

1 package instant dry yeast

2 1/4 cups cold water

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, mix flours, sugar and salt. Add oil. Add instant yeast. Add cold water and process for 3 minutes.

Remove from bowl, knead a few times. Weight into five 10-ounce dough balls or four 12-ounce dough balls. Let rest for 30 minutes. Roll dough into five 10-inch or four 12-inch pizzas. (Dough balls may be refrigerated for up to two days, wrapped tightly, or frozen up to two months, if well wrapped.)

And here are recipes for three of the dessert pizzas Lorraine's provides in its catering operations. (The chocolate pizza, Mrs. Denmark's very proprietary recipe, is on the regular menu at Lorraine's.)

Apple pie-Gorgonzola pizza

Serves six to eight.

1 10-inch dessert pizza crust

2 Granny Smith apples

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, (or Cheddar) crumbled

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put in pizza stone, if using, at this time. Stretch pizza dough to 10-inch circle on a wooden pizza platter, or "peel" or a flat tray, like a cookie sheet or pizza dish, sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Prick surface with a fork. Mix cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle surface with half the cinnamon sugar. Core, peel and thinly slice apples, arrange attractively atop pizza crust. Sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar and top with cheese. Bake 10 minutes, until sugar bubbles. Pizza can be baked on a regular pizza pan lined with foil at 375 degrees for 8-12 minutes; watch to make sure it doesn't burn.

Cheesecake pizza

Serves six to eight.

1 10-inch dessert pizza crust

2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 peaches, peeled and sliced

19 blackberries, sliced in half

1/4 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained

Heat oven to 425 degrees; add pizza stone if using. Blend cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, eggs together. Stretch 10-inch pizza crust on flat tray or pizza peel sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Form ridge around edges (about 1/2 -inch high), fill with cream cheese mixture. Slide onto heated pizza stone and bake 10 minutes, until set and lightly golden. Remove from oven, let cool completely. (Or bake on foil-lined pizza pan in 375 degree oven for 8 to 12 minutes, until set and lightly golden.) Arrange fruit attractively over cream cheese mixture, brush with melted apricot preserves. Cool to set.

Fruit tart pizza

Serves six to eight.

1 10-inch dessert pizza crust

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

2 kiwi, peeled, cut in half and sliced thin

3 strawberries, sliced

9 blackberries, sliced in half

2 tablespoons pourable strawberry fruit (Polander and Knudsen's are two brands)

1/4 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained

Stretch 10-inch pizza crust on flat tray or pizza peel sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Sprinkle top of shell with sugar. Slide onto heated pizza stone (425 degrees) and bake 7 to 10 minutes, until risen (if dough puffs apart in spots, push down while baking). Remove from oven, cool completely. Arrange sliced fruit in concentric circles (kiwis, strawberries and blackberries, with a slice of kiwi topped with a blackberry in the center), on top of mascarpone cheese. Brush with apricot preserves. Cool until set.

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