Spring is a time of rejuvenation, including the kinds of food we put on our plates. The heaviness and drab of winter is out; the airy and bright is in.
The season’s much-anticipated arrival breathes new life into everything from soups to sides and desserts. And just in time for Easter gatherings, sweet finishes to a special meal turn lighter and often fruitier.
Three dessert options in recently published cookbooks pop out as ways to turn the page from winter to spring and get into the warm weather groove.
Rebecca Lang, who was in Charleston for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival early this month, is the author of Southern Living’s “Around the Southern Table” (Oxmoor House, fall 2012).
Lang, 36, also is a contributing editor to the magazine and has penned three other Southern-inspired cookbooks. She lives in Athens, Ga.
Southerners are known for their sweet tooths, and Lang says their fondness for desserts is holding firm despite a general move toward healthier eating.
“Dessert is so important in the South because it’s tied back to our history. ... It has such a long context. When we sit and enjoy our time at the table, that’s kind of another excuse to linger at the table a little bit longer.”
In her latest book, Berry Napoleons With Buttermilk Whipped Cream beckon.
“I wanted to do something tall and stacked and pretty. I wanted something not intimidating that was made with pastry but still had a Southern spin. So honestly, I really thought on this for a long time.”
The “Southern spin” is a touch of buttermilk in the whipped cream. It is something Lang’s grandmother, Tom, used to do that was part of her farm upbringing near Bishop, Ga.
“I don’t know that a lot of people did that. I think that was an unusual thing to do. It just lightened up the cream enough so it didn’t feel so heavy.”
The fruit also is Lang’s nod to things Southern. “A lot of people don’t think of berries as being Southern but we have so many wild blackberries and wild blueberries.”
As for the pastry, Lang turned to phyllo, tissue-thin sheets of pastry dough common in Greek baking. Usually found with other frozen doughs in supermarkets, phyllo (“fee-loh”) may take a little practice to get the hang of working with it, Lang says.
“It’s like a lot of things in life, you have got to try it one time before you’re comfortable with it.”
In “The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen,” authors Matt and Ted Lee make a fuss over “the creamy, flanlike lightness” of a cheesecake they first spotted in “Charleston Receipts,” the classic first published in 1950.
Esther Krawcheck’s and Agnes Jenkins’ Cheesecake, which the Lees gild with a fresh raspberry topping, is a tribute to the two women and their collaboration in the kitchen. Jenkins was a cook for Esther Bielsky Krawcheck and her husband, Jack.
While the Lee Brothers did not know the elder Krawchecks, their son, Lenny, has been a family friend since the late 1970s.
“We asked Lenny whether he remembered his mother’s cheesecake, and did he ever,” Matt Lee says. “And he said that Esther would want the family cook, Agnes Jenkins, to be credited for the recipe because it was as much her recipe as Esther’s.”
Both the Lee Brothers have lived in New York City — Ted still does — and know the city’s reputation as the gold standard of cheesecakes.
How does Esther’s and Agnes’ compare?
“This is a lighter, and to our minds, a far superior cake in both flavor and texture for adult palates,” Matt Lee says.
He says it’s more tart and less sugary, with an almost chiffon-like texture, thanks to whipped egg whites.
“We can eat two (or even three!) slices of this one happily; one slice of the NYC-style and we feel like we got punched in the stomach.”
The Lees also say, contrary to tradition, that this cake may be served warm from the oven and may even be better that way.
Diet cookbooks don’t usually come to mind when pursuing ideas for desserts. But the philosophy of “The Drop 10 Diet Cookbook” is not the denial of pleasure, it’s remaking sweets (and other dishes) with good-for-you “superfoods.” The idea is to replace high-calorie, high-fat ingredients with ones that are more nutritious and just as tasty.
Author Lucy Danziger, who is editor in chief of Self magazine, says because the Drop 10 Diet plan “focuses on the foods you can eat instead of what you can’t eat, it’s a total win-win.”
She says the plan is built around 30 superfoods that rev up the metabolism and help to burn fat, while also helping to fill up on fewer calories. The list includes traditional items such as broccoli, eggs, popcorn and steak as well as newer-age foods such as edamame, goji berries, quinoa and wild salmon.
For example, in the book’s recipe for Kiwi Lime Pie, the graham cracker crust substitutes ground pumpkin seeds and flax for the usual butter. That adds in two sources of healthy unsaturated fats while subtracting butter’s saturated fat.
Pretty green kiwi slices decorate the top of the pie. Danziger explains why kiwi makes the book’s superfoods list: “For only 42 calories, one kiwi contains more than a day’s worth of vitamin C, which has been shown to help your body burn fat. In comparison, a cup of blackberries contains less than half the vitamin C of a kiwi. Kiwi is also packed with fiber to help you feel fuller longer, plus it boasts bloat-busting potassium.”