Just because I’m a vegetarian, don’t assume I want a dessert made out of tofu. While I’m constantly trolling vegetarian cookbooks for new recipes for our bed & breakfast, I chuckle — and quickly close the book — when I hit the final dessert chapter where the writers often seem obligated, given the vegetarian nature of the cookbook, to present a collection of “healthy” desserts involving flax seeds, whole-wheat flour and tofu.
On the other front, cruise any supermarket aisle and you’ll be deluged with fat-free, chemical-laden attempts at guilt-free desserts. Neither option appealed to my dessert palette or what a dessert represents in my book: a sweet indulgence, a finale to a relished meal, something real.
Real butter, real cream cheese, real food. Ecological nutritionist Joan Gussow put it succinctly: “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.” I agree, craving direct connections to our food source, be it the cow or a crop.
This happened to me when I craved a Frozen Mocha Torte (recipe below) and bought a couple pints of heavy whipping cream from Organic Valley Family of Farms, a cooperative of organic farmers based in my home state of Wisconsin. When I opened the container, the thick cream had congealed until it looked like cream cheese. The cream had no sour odor and didn’t appear to have gone bad, so I called Organic Valley’s 800 number on the carton.
I quickly connected with a friendly customer service rep who enlightened me that when real cream sits on a shelf, unaided by a slew of preservatives, it will naturally congeal. While Organic Valley readily offered money back for those cartons, they assured me that if I just stirred the thickened cream for a couple minutes it would return to normal consistency. And so it did.
Despite my affinity for baking and all things made with whipped cream, and the fact that I proudly claim residency in America’s dairyland, the sight of real cream sent me calling customer service. Despite my efforts to eat better, I apparently needed a customer service compass to identify real whipping cream.
But good news flourishes through a surging buffet of opportunities to connect with real food by buying directly from growers or producers, largely side-stepping corporate America. From farmer’s markets to small-scale artisianal cheesemakers, from family or cooperatively run dairies to beekeepers, scratch the surface in any community and there’s a growing number of opportunities to buy real food directly from real people and companies, like I discovered with Organic Valley, who openly answer questions and help educate. Sure the aged cheddar may crumble or the whipped cream congeal — that’s a sign of real and hopefully a burgeoning reality in our food system.
Frozen Mocha Torte
The ultimate freezer weapon, I keep a Mocha Torte in the freezer to have on hand when chocolate cravings arise or company pops in. While it looks appealing to kids, with the mocha flavor, grow-ups tend to gravitate to this dessert.
1 1/2 c. chocolate wafer crumbs (about 24), divided
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2/3 c. chocolate syrup
2 T. instant coffee granules
1 T. hot water
1 c. heavy whipping cream, whipped
* Combine 1 c. water crumbs, sugar and butter. Press into the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of a heavily buttered 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
* In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, milk and chocolate syrup until smooth. Dissolve coffee granules in hot water; add to cream cheese mixture.
* Fold in whipped cream. Pour over the crust. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.
* Cover and freeze for 8 hours or overnight. Uncover and remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving. Serves 10-12.