Good Enough to Read: Perfect Light Desserts

Every month, food writer Irene Sax reviews a new cookbook and shares delicious recipes. This month's book is Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri with David Joachim.
Perfect Light DessertsGood Enough to Read

Man – and, of course, woman – cannot live by chicken breast and salad alone. Nick Malgieri, world-class baking teacher and the author, with David Joachim, of Perfect Light Desserts: Fabulous Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and More Made with Real Butter, Sugar, Flour and Eggs, All Under 300 Calories Per Generous Serving recommends eating dessert. Yes, dessert.

"Most people think that desserts have 1,000 calories, so they have to give them up," said Malgieri. "It just isn't true. It's okay to have dessert as long as you know when to stop. And it's easier to stop when you've had something really good."

How good are they? Malgieri has been promoting the book as he travels around the country to teach baking. At the end of each class he brings out two desserts: one regular and one of his I-can't-believe-this-is-'light' sweets. So far, nobody has been able to tell the difference.

Some of the recipes are just naturally light, like the Crisp Chocolate Biscotti. Some are classic fruit desserts, like Peaches in Red Wine. Some benefit from using low-fat instead of full-fat dairy products, like Italian Orange Gelato. And a few substitute applesauce for part of the butter, like Easy Spice Cake. All deliver under 300 calories – sometimes way under – and are meant to be served in normal-sized portions: no slivers of this or quarter-cups of that.

All are made with things you probably already have in the kitchen: milk, sugar, eggs, butter and flour, even an occasional splash of cream.

No-Apologies Chocolate Biscotti
These cookies are twice-baked, once in a loaf and again after the loaf has been sliced. A few handfuls of walnuts add richness.

Crisp Chocolate Biscotti

Makes about 60 biscotti


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 2/3 cup alkalized (Dutch-process) cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup (about 3 oz) walnut pieces, coarsely chopped
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Line 2 cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans with parchment or foil. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350° F.
  2. Sift the flour and cocoa into a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the baking powder, salt, sugar and nuts.
  3. Whisk the egg whites and vanilla together and add to the dry ingredients. Use a large rubber spatula to stir the dough together. At first the dough may seem dry, but as the sugar continues to melt, the dough will be come softer and eventually quite sticky.
  4. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it together. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and roll each into a log the approximate length of the pan you are using. Arrange the two logs of dough on one pan (the other will be used later for toasting the biscotti). Make sure the logs of dough aren't too close to each other or to the side of the pan. Flatten each log with the palm of your hand.
  5. Bake the logs of dough for about 30 minutes, or until they are well risen and firm when pressed with a fingertip. Leave the oven on and place racks in the upper and lower thirds.
  6. Cool the baked logs on the pan on a rack.
  7. After the logs of dough have cooled completely, place them on a cutting board and use a sharp serrated knife to cut them into straight or diagonal slices ½ inch thick.
  8. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the prepared pans and return them to the oven to toast for about 15 minutes.
  9. Cool the toasted biscotti on the pans on racks.

  10. Serving: Very good on their own or dunked into coffee, these cookies also dress up a plain sherbet or ice milk

Easily Improved Indian Pudding
We didn't think we could improve recipes in this book, since most of them are as slimmed down as possible. Then we came on this traditional New England dessert, which Malgieri says to serve drizzled with half-and-half. Aha! We decided that you could leave off the creamy finish and still enjoy the sweetness of corn and molasses if you wanted to lower the PointsPlus™ value even more.

Baked Indian Pudding

Makes 8 servings


  • 4 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2/3 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup half-and-half for serving


  1. Spray a 1 ½- to 2-quart gratin dish or other baking dish, with vegetable cooking spray. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 325° F.
  2. Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk and the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan, such an enameled-iron Dutch oven. Place over low heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the cornmeal into the remaining 1 cup milk in a small bowl.
  4. Whisk the diluted cornmeal into the hot milk a quarter at a time.
  5. Continue cooking the cornmeal over very low heat, stirring often, for about 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, molasses, salt, and cinnamon.
  7. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake the pudding for about 1 hour, or until it is set but still soft.
  8. Cool the pudding briefly on a rack and serve immediately.

  9. Serving: Spoon the warm pudding onto plates or dessert bowls and top each serving with 2 tablespoons of half-and-half.

    An old-fashioned New England favorite, Indian pudding is a classic American dessert that just happens to be low in calories. I remember tasting it for the first time at the original Durgin Park restaurant in Boston back in the 1960s. As with many other starch-based puddings, success with this recipe depends on long, slow cooking. Some modern interpretations add a couple of eggs to help the pudding set quickly, but the real thing is made without eggs.
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