What’s after dinner? Well, dessert, duh.
I first found my way into the kitchen through baking. Back when I still needed a step stool to reach the counter, I became obsessed with the cinnamon rolls from the Gold Medal Alpha-Bakery Children’s Cookbook. Later, in high school, I volunteered regularly at a soup kitchen (ah, extracurriculars) and would usually bring along homemade sugar cookies or fudge to pass out. Towards the end of college, when I was scrambling to patch together my honors thesis, I took breaks from writing by making Pierre Hermé’s plaisir sucré from his book Chocolate Desserts. The paper I wrote wasn’t very good, but those fancy towers of hazelnut and ganache were.
Somewhere along the way, though, I realized that even if I enjoyed the artsy-craftsy nature of baking, I didn’t have much of an appetite for it. My sweet tooth is apathetic, at best, and shrinks back under the sugar-blast of hard candies or syrups. I’d much rather overload on salt or fat or the stark bitterness of my morning cup of black coffee, brewed at double strength in my French press.
I’m usually not in the mood for eating dessert after dinner, anyway, and would rather go to bed with the scent of garlic or a bloody steak still lingering in my teeth.
Even if I have a hard time getting down with sweets, fruit, in my opinion, is a perfectly legit way to end a meal. In Asian homes, it’s par for the course to have some cut up oranges, a few cubes of melon, or perhaps a couple chunks of pineapple after all the savory dishes have gone away. Not that I ever latched strongly onto my part-Japanese identity, but I suspect that some of that country’s culinary mores wound up in my DNA.
The new Lucky Peach cookbook also makes the case that dessert is a hassle and a trifle: “The deal with dessert in the scheme of easy Asian cooking is that you are NOT MAKING IT, not in the ‘easy’ French way of throwing together a last-minute clafoutis. You are serving fruit. Cut-up fruit if you’ve got the time.”
So never mind the cronuts and piecakens. The taste of in-season fruit at its ripest is all the sweetness that the world really needs.