|How A Good Dessert
Party Went Bad
2005 by Jacquelin Cangro
Every February, I host a dessert party. Theres no better way to beat the winter blues than by loading up on ooey, gooey, syrupy sweets. The idea for the party originated five years ago at a potluck supper. Four sugar-addicted friends and I each brought a dessert and we decided it would be a vast improvement if we could just skip dinner altogether. The party has taken on a life of its own and evolved into a dessert contest. Some have undertaken covert operations to ensure victorys spoils, which are bragging rights for a year. Weve had vote buying, ballot tampering, and the worst offense of all: dessert forging. At the 2002 party, we experienced a deception that almost sullied the good name of the contest.
As soon as the invitations went out that year, the quest began for the perfect recipe. I relied on my tried-and-true tiramisu. My friend Jason preferred to swirl ideas around like a fine wine until inspiration hit. It resulted in a crowd-pleasing caramel banana flambé, minus the flambé. Tracy, a dessert party enthusiast who traveled a great distance to compete, never road-tested her creation, believing spontaneity was the key to success. For that she committed dessert suicide - a tasty, but unattractive-looking dessert. And weve learned over the years that presentation is key.
No one knows that better than Ken. He arrived with a large cake cover and a box of powdered sugar. We all gathered around as he unveiled his entry chocolate soufflé, a very delicate cake that hinges upon a precise beating of egg whites, and a near stopwatch sense of timing to know when to remove it from the oven. Any variations, a little too much of this or a smidgen less of that, and the cake will cave in faster than an old lady who gave up bingo for Lent. As Ken sprinkled powdered sugar over the dark chocolate, all of us nodded and mumbled our approval. It was the ideal height, the edges were slightly rounded and the crumbs looked moist.
As the other guests displayed their desserts one by one, Kens certainly looked like it could go the distance. Peppermint ice cream, cherry cobbler, peanut butter brownies. It all looked delicious, but couldnt hold a candle to the fudgy soufflé with the sugar slowly seeping into the top. Then Debbie arrived with her Snickers pie. It was perfection in a pie plate: caramel and whipped cream swirled together over chocolate and peanuts.
Sensing it was going to be a tight race, Ken used this opportunity to tell the tale of how he came to make the soufflé.
My grandmother used to make this soufflé for special occasions. When she died, I got all of her recipes, but I never made the soufflé until tonight. I know shed be so proud of me if I won. He glanced toward the ceiling.
My attention was diverted by Louiss entry. He rolled back tin foil from a baking pan to reveal plastic cups filled with Jell-O.
You cant enter Jell-O shots, I said.
Why not? I made them.
Yes, but theyre basically shots of alcohol, I said. Theres no skill required in that.
I disagree. Louis held a plastic cup at eye level. There were three layers of different color Jell-O with a grape sunk to the bottom. The Jell-O shots were entry number fifteen.
The tasting began. In a thirty-minute feeding frenzy, everyone tried a sliver of each entry. We rushed around in a sugar-induced craze with chocolate crumbs stuck to our lips and stuffed bellies. When I stopped by the dessert table to drum up support for my tiramisu, I noticed all that remained of entry number fifteen was empty plastic cups. As expected, the group seemed to be grappling between Debbies Snickers pie and Kens soufflé. Debbie whispered to me that she decided to vote for Ken because it clearly meant more to him. Mine would be a last minute decision made at the polls.
And then came the big crash. Twenty people coming down from a sugar high wasnt a pretty sight. We laid about on couches, chairs, the floor, not caring at all about the contest, vowing to never eat another sweet for the rest of our lives. In a slightly drunken and philosophical state, Ken pondered the value of winning the contest.
He confessed that it wasnt his grandmothers recipe at all. It may have been a tear he wiped from his eye or granules of sugar. Either way, he was very sorry. We forgave him because the memory of the silky chocolate was still fresh in our minds.
But thats not all, Ken said. I didnt make the soufflé. My friend Kat made it for me. Gasps flew around the room. We had all been taken in by the beauty of the soufflé. The height. The rounded edges. I felt so used.
Needless to say, Debbie won top honors that year, but the group decided to give an honorable mention to Kat, who actually made the dessert. Ken was banned for entering the contest for one year.
Now Kens exile has passed. His most recent entry
was Saltine crackers drizzled with chocolate, a nice combination of salty
and sweet, but simple enough that we believe he made it without Kat or
divine intervention. # # #
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