Eleven months out of the year, my friends are the most die-hard healthful-cooking enthusiasts, but during the holidays, they whip up decadent desserts loaded with butter, cream and sugar.
No one wants to be a party spoil-sport, but I knew low-fat desserts can be delicious. It just takes the perfect recipe -- one with evocative flavors, rich colors and the right amount of sweetness. So I made a cranberry-pear tart and surreptitiously placed it on the buffet table.
When I checked back an hour later, the tart pan was completely clean except for a few loose crumbs. People were even asking me for the recipe. No one realized that a lot of calories and fat had been whittled away to make this tasty tart.
Part of the secret was the phyllo pastry shell. Phyllo is crispy, buttery, delicious -- and not as hard to prepare as you might think. Traditionally, phyllo recipes call for plenty of melted butter, but I've found that you can reduce butter to a minimal amount by dotting it on the phyllo sheets instead of brushing it on.
Cranberry-pear tart Makes 10 servings
3 ripe but firm large winter pears
juice from 1 large lemon
4 sheets phyllo pastry
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 tablespoon honey, heated
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed, or date sugar
1/4 cup fresh cranberries, very coarsely chopped
Peel, core and thinly slice pears. Place in bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Set aside. Lightly coat 8-inch round, removable-bottom tart pan with nonstick vegetable spray.
Stack 4 sheets of phyllo on dry, clean counter. Using 2-inch pastry brush, lightly dot top sheet all over with about 1 teaspoon butter. Fold sheet in half over buttered side, then place into tart pan (edges may overlap sides of pan). Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo and butter, arranging it in layers in pan to form crust.
Tuck any overlapping edges into center.
Brush crust with warm honey. Sprinkle with half of brown sugar. Arrange a layer of pears on crust, overlapping them in circular pattern. Repeat if needed, then scatter cranberries over top. Sprinkle with remaining brown sugar.
Bake tart at 425 degrees 20 to 30 minutes (check midway through -- if edges are browning too quickly, cover them with foil).
Let cool slightly, then slice into thin wedges.
Tangerine velvet in orange cups can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time and served straight from the refrigerator.
Tangerine velvet in orange cups
Makes 8 servings
4 medium navel oranges
1/2 cup orange juice
2 ( 1/4 -ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups unsweetened frozen tangerine juice concentrate, thawed
3/4 to 1 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons lemon juice
12 ounces nonfat cottage cheese
12 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
mint leaves for garnish
Slice oranges in half widthwise. Scoop out flesh and reserve for another use. Refrigerate shells on baking sheet until ready to use.
Combine orange juice and gelatin in small bowl. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes.
Combine tangerine juice concentrate, 3/4 cup maple syrup and lemon juice in saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer. Add softened gelatin and cook, stirring, 5 minutes, to dissolve gelatin completely.
Pour mixture into bowl and place in freezer 15 to 20 minutes, or until cool. Puree with cottage and ricotta cheeses until very smooth. Add remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup if needed. Evenly divide among orange shells. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Serve chilled, garnished with cranberries and mint leaves.
Mary Carroll is the author of the "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook," Rodale Press.