There are few foods that invoke a cheerful sense of occasion as surely as a homemade dessert. While the average store-bought treat is simply a guilty pleasure, the dessert that’s made from scratch in a home kitchen brings with it extra sweet sentiment as well as sweet flavor. More than any other course, homemade dessert feeds our good times, as well as our appetites, with the implied message of “I made it just for you . . . enjoy.” Few of us can resist such an offering, especially if it’s also made with scrumptious ingredients like rich, crunchy Georgia pecans, premium chocolate, fresh ripe fruit, or buttery, creamy textures. As any avid baker will tell you, a homemade dessert is a powerful crowd-pleaser.
That’s one reason why interest in home baking and all its wonderful paraphernalia continues to ride a wave of popularity. Baking cookbooks, pastry equipment, dessert classes, custom-designed kitchens for baking, and special ingredients for homemade sweets are all growing sectors of the food industry. Many Americans, it seems, don’t want to simply buy tasty desserts—they want the experience of making them and sharing the results. One look at the continuing popularity and diversity of community bake sales and it’s easy to see that made-from-scratch sweets always rank higher than commercially made cakes, cookies, pies and pastries.
Another reason Americans often prefer do-it-yourself desserts is because of the reassurance they get from knowing what’s in their food. With increasing concerns about trans fats, additives, preservatives and other artificial ingredients in the food supply, consumers are growing wary of processed pre-made dishes.
Homemade sweets bring a guarantee of natural goodness when the baker starts with real ingredients. Wholesome Georgia pecans, for example, are always natural and healthy, and processed only to remove their shells. Rich in vitamin E and “good” (unsaturated) fat, pecans instantly upgrade more than the taste and texture of baked goods; the hearty southern nut also brings unique nutritional assets to the table.
"adding just a handful of pecans to the diet each day had a positive, health-protecting effect"
Research from Loma Linda University in California shows that a particular form of vitamin E—known as gamma-tocopherol—which is richly present in pecans, can inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thereby helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. The study found that adding just a handful of pecans to the diet each day had a positive, health-protecting effect.
Fortunately, Georgia pecans are such a versatile ingredient that reaching that healthy daily quota is literally “a piece of cake.” Cooks and bakers have great flexibility when using pecans since the adaptable nut can be generously added to all kinds of recipes. An easy make-ahead dessert, for example, of Sweet Potato Cake with Molasses Cream Cheese Frosting and Pecan Crunch, features Georgia pecans in the moist spiced cake layers as well as in its praline-like accompaniment. Made with just two simple ingredients—melted caramel candies and chopped pecans—the nut crunch accessory is a triumph of confection and convenience, as well as a showcase for the chewy goodness of ready-to-use pecans.
For bakers who have more enthusiasm than time, a recipe for Pecan-Crusted Blueberry Cherry Strudel uses a simple base of refrigerated crescent roll dough as the pastry for a classic fruit-filled strudel. Lined with chopped pecans and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, the ready-to-assemble dough, gilded with pecans, is a rich counterpoint to any fresh-ripe fruit filling. The berry-cherry mixture used in this version also takes a cue from convenience, employing a light cherry pie filling to sweeten and hold fresh blueberries as they bake to a tender jam-like consistency. When in season chopped fresh peaches, apricots, or tender pieces of pear can take the place of the blueberries, making this strudel an easy all-season dessert staple.
"pecans are sold year-round and can be kept handy for many months if stored properly"
No matter when the baking bug hits, Georgia pecans are abundantly available. Harvested in the fall, pecans are sold year-round and can be kept handy for many months if stored properly. The Georgia Pecan Commission reminds consumers that pecans are perishable and recommends refrigeration of shelled pecans in airtight containers for up to nine months or freeze them in a sealable plastic bag for up to two years to preserve the flavor. Unshelled pecans can be stored in airtight containers in a cool dry place for three to six months.
With such culinary safekeeping, pecans can prove to be a true prize in the pantry, according to the Georgia Pecan Commission. Pecans are ready-to-use in sweets, savories, and snacks, and everyone can feel good about eating this healthy all-American nut. For additional baking recipes and information about the nutrition in Georgia pecans, visit the Georgia Pecan Commission’s Web site at www.GeorgiaPecans.org