(this story appeared in the Washington Post Express a while ago)

There’s a saying, “Life is short; eat dessert first.” Though it sounds like a corny Hallmark card, that quote can inspire a great party. For your next bash, why not bypass the healthy stuff — main courses, salads — and serve sweets as the main attraction. But instead of the usual suspects — crème brulée, tiramisu, the same old brownies — try something intriguing and unexpected: Pair unusual treats with complementary drinks.

So come on, its time to give people their just desserts!

Wine and cheesecakes
Vino loves fromage, so it makes sense that it’d also get along with cheesecake. But New York’s signature cake is quite rich, so pour a fuller-bodied wine. “An ice wine would be good, or a botrytis-affected wine such as a Tokaji or Sauternes,” said Jennie Schacht, co-author of “The Wine Lovers’ Desserts Cookbook” (Chronicle, $25). In addition to such syrupy libations, a bit of bubbly also works. “A demi-sec Champagne or a sparkling Vouvray keeps a dense cheesecake from becoming overpowering,” said Schact. “They’re great palate cleansers between bites.”
The new “Wine Lovers’ Desserts cookbook” (Wiley, $35) features recipes for soiree stars like Triple Cherry Cheesecake or Toffee Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce. Or buy your queso at Heller’s Bakery (3221 Mt Pleasant St NW, 202-265-1169) or cheesecakedelivered.com, which sells both personal- and party-size sweets in varieties like pumpkin/fudge and lemon. Whatever flavor you favor, Schacht suggests pairing cheesecake with a wine that is sweeter than it is. “After biting into the dessert, a less sweet wine will taste flat or sour by comparison,” she said.

Coffee and Middle Eastern Sweets
Though most people know Middle Eastern cuisine for hummus and kebabs, the cooks of Jordan, Lebanan et al. also turn out delicious, intensely sugary meal codas: basbüssa (syrupy semolina cake), qataif (pancakes filled with clotted cream or walnuts, fried and dipped in syrup) or baklawa (sweets made with nuts and filo). And in cafes from Amman to Zahdean, Iran, folks drink dark, dark java to offset all that sweetness. London-based, Lebanese author Anissa Helou (“Mediterranean Street Food,” Morrow, $19) said rich, often grounds-filled Turkish-style coffee is beverage of choice throughout the Middle-East. “As for regular coffee, I’d suggest espresso, without sugar,” she said. “Filter coffee is too bland to serve with sweets, and cappuccino too heavy.” Her book provides recipes for easy treats like semolina cake and anise cookies. Local sources for baklawa, halawat jiben (sweet cheese desserts), etc. include Al- Nakheel (334 Maple Ave. West, Vienna; 703-938-4270) and Lebanese Taverna Marketplace (4400 Old Dominion Dr.; Arlington, 703-276-8681).

Beers and Chocolate
“If you look at brewing industry cookbooks from 50 to 60 years ago, you’ll find that grandma and grandpa were enjoying beer with chocolate long before it became fashionable,” said the former associate editor for the American Breweriana Journal, Bob Skilnik, author of the forthcoming “Beer & Food: An American History” (Jefferson Press, $24.95). He suggests pairing a rich flourless chocolate cake with stout; the brew’s bitter and somewhat acrid flavor holds up against the intense chocolate blast. More unusual combos might include a Pilsner and milk chocolate. “Craft beer advocates will probably disagree, but I’m hooked on still-warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies, washed down with a thin-tasting American Pilsner,” said Skilnik.

“The combination of beer and chocolate is very common in Belgium and Germany. Many breweries actually make chocolate as well as beer, my favorite being the Gouden Carolus Margriet Beer with a piece of their milk chocolate,” says local beer aficionado Brian Harrison, owner and general manager of the Reef in Washington DC. He suggests pairing milk chocolate with most Belgian Ales and English Milds and Brown Ales. “The best representation of these combinations most easily available in the U.S. would be any Chimay Belgian Ale with a nice quality milk chocolate. Take a bite of the chocolate hold it in your mouth til it melts, then drink the beer, mmmmmm heaven,” he adds.

For interesting international brews, try Chevy Chase Liquors (5544 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-363-4000) or World Market branches, which also stock worldly brews and chocolates.

Sweet Cocktail
Then, too, you could just combine your dessert and your drinks in one vessel. (Which, judging from the chocolate martinis on most D.C. bar menus, is what many restaurants are doing anyhow.) “Sweet cocktails are very popular right now because they seem a lot less scary to make,” says Restaurant Eve’s Thrasher. Be warned though, he adds, “They go down easy and you won’t know just how much you have had to drink!” Two recent books provide inspiration on glucose-dosed highballs. Kim Haasarud’s “101 Margaritas” (Wiley, $15) suggests a Lemon Meringue Margarita; her “101 Martinis” (Wiley, $16) also provides plans for things like a marshmallow-topped Hot Chocolate Martini. All seem destined to make your guests’ spirits — and sugar levels

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  1. Fantastic post that appeals totally to the baker side of me!

  2. Our wonderful chocolate shop Cocoa Dolce sells little plates with 3 chocolates and a flight of wines (2 oz. each of 3 different wines). We stop in now and then for this treat. They’ve also had beer and chocolate nights.

    This post also reminds me of Camp Fire Girl camp MANY years ago when we had a “backwards progressive dinner.” First course was brownies and the last course was tomato juice. I liked the idea so much that a dinner group I’m a part of had a backwards progressive dinner several years ago. We went to different homes for each course and began with dessert and ended the evening with appetizers at the last house.

  3. Great post and very useful guide! I love pairing my drinks with my dessert.

  4. Yes dessert to begin the meal sounds great. In fact like Sigrid it reminds me of college when a bottle of wine and a pound of rich chocolate cake used to be dinner on Saturday nights. It sounds impossible but there would be just two of us and we would plough through the whole lot on our own. Those were fun nights and I often recall the heart to hearts we had over chocolate cake.
    Then when I was roughing it out with my post graduation, on miserable days when everything was going wrong and the MD seemed like a distant dream, my roomate and I used to eat a whole big tub of chocolate icecream for dinner. The world would really start looking good after that.
    This is inspiring! I’m going to start baking right now.

  5. What a great article, Monica! We (of course, I’m in France) always have wine with our desserts and the best partner of a fine chocolate is wine, as well. But your beer & chocolate info is fascinating! And as for dessert before – or in place of – dinner, well my grandmother and my mom are one up on you. That’s a lifestyle in the home I grew up in 🙂

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