Have you ever been presented with a dessert menu in an elegant restaurant and found it difficult to make a choice because there was so much to choose from? If you have, you're not alone. And now, some restaurants are offering a dessert ``sampler'' - an alluring prospect for those of us who often share our desserts with our dinner companions. Instead of having to choose a slice of cheesecake or an order of mousse from the dessert trolley, the sampler lets you feast your eyes on an attractive assortment of things like petit fours, apple tart, sorbet, lacy sugar cookies, tiny eclairs....
Such a sampler isn't that difficult to do in your own kitchen, if you plan well and prepare the treats ahead as much as possible. If the preparation is ``staggered,'' you will find it an easy way to invite guests to a dessert lover's dream come true. Nectarine Tart 1 17-ounce package frozen puff pastry 1 egg yolk 3 tablespoons milk 1 pound nectarines or peaches, peeled, if desired, and sliced thin 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 cup peach jam Whipped cream
Prepare puff pastry according to package directions. Stack both sheets of pastry and roll out on lightly floured surface to a 10-by-14-inch rectangle. Cut two 1-inch wide strips from long end. Cut two 1-inch strips from short end. This rectangle of pastry will be the base for the tart.
In small bowl, beat egg yolk with milk. Brush egg mixture along edge of base. Carefully transfer base to ungreased baking sheet. Place long strips of dough on sides of base and short strips at top and bottom to form rim. Brush top of strips with egg mixture. Pinch seams together. Prick surface of base with fork. Place in preheated 425 degrees F. oven for 18 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool.
In bowl, toss nectarines or peach slices with lemon juice. Drain. Then arrange slices in 2 rows on pastry. In small saucepan, heat peach jam until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Brush over peaches to glaze. Serve with whipped cream. Serves 6 to 8. Kiwi Fruit Sorbet 1 cup water 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup light corn syrup 3 or 4 kiwi fruit, pared 5 teaspoons lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Combine water, sugar and corn syrup in saucepan. Cook and stir 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Puree kiwi fruit in food processor or blender to equal 3/4 cup puree. Add lemon juice, lemon peel, and sugar mixture. Pour into shallow metal pan. Freeze 1 hour or until firm but not solid. Spoon into chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Return to freezer. Freeze about 2 hours or until firm enough to scoop. Serves 4. Miniature Cheesecakes Crust 21/2 cups graham cracker crumbs 12 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
Filling 1 8-ounce package cream cheese 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
Cream the cheese with sugar. Add 1 egg at a time and beat well. Add flavoring. Combine graham crackers with butter. Line tiny cupcake tins with midget-size paper liners. Put 1 rounded teaspoon graham cracker crumb mixture in bottom of paper cups and press firmly into place. Add filling slowly to 3/4 full. Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees F. Decorate each cheesecake with a piece of fruit or a berry.
Makes 34. Poached Fresh Pears 4 ripe pears, pared, halved lengthwise, and cored 2 cups cranberry juice 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon grated orange rind 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine pears, cranberry juice, sugar, rinds, and cinnamon in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat. Cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until pears are fork-tender. Turn pears over as they cook to ensure even cooking. Ladle pears and poaching liquid into glass serving bowl. Served chilled, or at room temperature, if preferred.
Serves 8. Profiteroles With Chocolate Sauce 2/3 cup flour 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 cup water 1/2 cup butter or margarine 4 eggs Chocolate or vanilla ice cream Chocolate sauce or fudge sauce (homemade or commercial)
Stir together flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside. In saucepan bring water and butter to a boil.
Reduce heat and quickly stir in flour mixture, beating vigorously with wooden spoon until mixture forms a soft ball.
Remove from heat and with wooden spoon beat in eggs one at a time, beating after each until mixture is thick, shiny, and smooth. (An electric mixer can be used at low speed.)
On ungreased cookie sheet, for each profiterole drop about 4 heaping teaspoonfuls batter in a line, to form 10 4-by-11/2-by-1-inch strips 3 inches apart. Bake in preheated 400-degree F. oven 30 minutes or until puffed and light.
Turn off heat and let eclairs dry in oven about 20 minutes. Remove to rack to cool. With kitchen shears or sharp knife cut thin slice off top. Remove any unbaked dough inside.
Fill each shell with 1/2 cup ice cream. Replace tops. Freeze in plastic bags. Remove 1/2 hour before serving. Top with sauce.
Serves 10. Florentines 1/4 cup sugar 3/4 cup whipping cream 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 cup slivered almonds, very finely chopped 8 ounces candied orange peel, very finely chopped 2 4-ounce bars sweet cooking chocolate, cut into pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Blend sugar and cream. Stir in flour, almonds, and orange peel. (Mixture will be thin.)
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto heavily greased and floured cookie sheet. Spread mixture into thin circles with knife and spatula.
Bake just until edges are light brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before removing from cookie sheet. Cool. Melt chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted.
Turn cookies upside down. Spread with chocolate. Let stand at room temperature until chocolate is firm, at least 3 hours. Store in covered container at room temperature or in refrigerator. Makes about 60 cookies. Meringue Kisses 3 egg whites 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar 1/4 cup walnut meats, broken into pieces
Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Beat in sugar a little at a time. Meringue must stand in stiff peaks. Fold in walnuts. Drop batter by the teaspoonful onto greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 300-degree-F. oven about 30 minutes, or until meringues are set.
These cookies should be crispy on the outside, and just a little chewy-soft on the inside.
Makes approximately 50.