Dark chocolate is my weakness. Put some in cookies, brownies or croissants, and I am in heaven. However, when my every-now-and-then treat turned into a daily craving during the COVID-19 quarantine, I realized it was time to make some changes. After all, who wants their hard work in the gym to disappear because of some (very delicious) desserts?
“Just because you are trying to eat healthier doesn’t mean you should have to skip dessert.”
Lewis Butler, executive chef of Center Club Orange County in Costa Mesa, California, is a self-proclaimed “huge chocolate lover.” I talked to him about some ways to make your summer sweets a little healthier.
“I started cooking in the early ‘80s, where there were only French executive chefs,” explains Butler. “I, like most people, find French food pretty rich, which makes it hard to eat every day. So, being trained in the kitchen with a lot of French recipes, I like to push the envelope and try and make some of their dishes lighter and healthier. But just because you are trying to eat healthier doesn’t mean you should have to skip dessert. Exercise is very important in my schedule; I run almost every day. But I also love a nice lemon meringue pie or a decadent, gooey chocolate brownie.”
Butler recommends that when your sweet tooth beckons, you should build your own trail mix with yogurt raisins, mixed nuts and dried fruit or dark chocolate bark with nuts, dried fruit and sea salt. He also makes a few healthier desserts at his Club, including a berry pavlova and a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit. Here’s how to recreate these recipes at home.
FRESH OXNARD BERRY PAVLOVA WITH SKINNY LEMON CURD
For the Pavlova
- 6 ounces egg whites
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar or 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a bowl. Whip for about 3 minutes. Add ¼ cup of sugar. Once the egg whites have formed stiff peaks, fold in the remaining sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and salt. Spread or pipe onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 25 to 45 minutes, until the pavlova is firm and dry. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
For the Lemon Curd
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup honey
- Zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons)
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Mix together the eggs, honey, lemon zest and lemon juice in a medium, nonreactive (ceramic, stainless steel or nonstick) saucepan or pot. Do not use any reactive (aluminum, copper, iron or steel) utensils when making this recipe. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens (approximately 5-7 minutes). It’s ready once the curd coats the back of a spoon and a clear path is left when you run your finger through it. Do not let the curd go over 170 F. Eggs scramble around 185 F, so be careful!
Once the lemon curd is ready, spoon it in the middle of the baked pavlova. Arrange mixed berries on top and enjoy!
GREEK YOGURT PANNA COTTA WITH RASPBERRY COULIS
For the Panna Cotta
- 4 ounces milk
- 7 ounces Greek yogurt
- 2 sheets gelatin
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Heat the milk and Greek yogurt in a medium saucepan over low heat. Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water. When they are soft, squeeze the water out. Once the milk and yogurt start to boil, add the gelatin. Once the gelatin has dissolved, add vanilla and then strain the mixture and place in four dessert glasses or in a mold. Refrigerate for about 3-4 hours. Remove from the mold.
For the Raspberry Coulis
- 2 pints raspberries
- ¼ cup honey or agave syrup
- ¼ pint strawberries
Place raspberries and honey into a blender. Blend for about 1 minute, until smooth. Strain. Cut strawberries and place on top or around panna cotta. Drizzle the raspberry coulis on top and serve.
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