Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Hypothesis of Sweets

In the course of my Christmas baking, I formalized an until-then casual Hypothesis of Sweets that I have advanced several times over the years. This hypothesis is:

A. There are three kinds of sweet tastes.

  • 1. The Dry Sweet. That is, dry in texture, with little internal moisture (and often hard), but still sweet in taste. Examples: sugar cookies, shortbread, vanilla wafers, the chocolate part of an Oreo, gingerbread men, the crust of a pie or crumble, brownies, the plain digestive biscuit.
  • 2. The Creamy Sweet. Creamy in texture; the sugar level can vary. Examples: the creamy filling of an Oreo, the chocolate on a chocolate-covered graham cracker or digestive biscuit, the marshmallow in a Mallomar (also the outside), the peanut butter in Little Debbie's Nutty Bars, whipped cream or ice cream, caramel, pudding.
  • 3. The Fruity Sweet. AKA the tangy sweet, sharper in taste, but still with a sweet takeaway. Examples: the raspberry filling of a rugelach, the fruit in a crisp, pie, or cobbler.
  • 3a. The Banana Exception: Because of its texture and relative blandness, Banana shall be regarded as a creamy sweet, not a fruity one.
B. The most delicious desserts involve two, but no more than two, of these sweet tastes (but see also point C).
  • 1. Proof: Oreos, linzer tarts, Mallomars, s'mores, Moon Pies, oatmeal cream pies, McVitie's Plain Choc digestive biscuits, tiramisu, chocolate-dipped strawberries, cheesecake, caramel-covered apples, Twix, Thin Mints, those Girl Scout peanut butter sandwiches, pain au chocolate, black and white cookies, rugelach . . .
  • 2. Many desserts involving only one type of sweet can be improved by adding another: chocolate-dipped graham crackers, for instance, or the cheesecake brownie, or the brownie a la mode, or ice cream with fruit sauce, or banana pudding with vanilla wafers.
  • 3. The Jaffa Cake Exception: Jaffa Cakes are the only known dessert to successfully integrate all three sweets.
C. The Add-On Exception: Many desserts involving two of the three sweets can be improved by adding the third on top.
  • 1. This exception should be invoked with care, however, as the third can also be disastrous.
  • 1a. Examples of Positive Add-Ons: Whipped cream or ice cream on a fruit pie or crumble; strawberry shortcake; cherry cheesecake; cherries or strawberries on a hot fudge sundae; chocolate-dipping a linzer tart.
  • 1b. Examples of Negative Add-Ons: Anything fruity ever added to an Oreo.
D. Taken as a whole, the most satisfying dessert spreads will invoke all three types of sweet, and allow the diners to construct their own combinations of tastes.
  • 1. Proof: One can construct a perfectly good dessert table with berries, chocolate pastilles, and shortbread cookies. Or fondue!
The floor is now open for discussion and debate of this hypothesis. Evidence (e.g. recipe links) welcome.


  1. I wonder if we're really talking the combining of textures, here. For example, Oreos, creme brulee?

    I've never been a fan of ice cream and cake. Turns everything cloying and mushy.

  2. I am one of those disgusting people who love it all mixed up. Crunchy and smooth, sweet and salty, ice cream and cake and whip cream, cheese melted on apple pie.

    I just never dissected it. My goodness, Ms.Arden, you must have time on your hands.

  3. Great analysis!

    Personally, I'd have to agree that there's something special about a desert that has at least two of the types of sweets you outlined. However, while I adore black and white cookies, thin mints, etc., those things tend to be treats rather than staples. I'd have to say my favorite go-to deserts have always been of the plain, dry variety. Like, ginger snaps.

    Although, after reading your post again, I'll admit I often gravitate to the driest sweet taste with a hint of the creamy. And, yes, after living in Scotland, I have to say the chocolate-covered digestives are the top of the heap.

    Now, I need to go make the best ginger cookies ever (I veganize mine, cut the sugar by a quarter, and use half whole-wheat pastry flour):

  4. Sweet studies is a very serious and important subject, SAVanVleck. For a Saturday, anyway. :-)

  5. An elegant and reasoned analysis. Scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam. Heaven. I lean heavily toward the creamy -- caramel is my heart's delight -- but many of the combinations you mention are, well, swoon-worthy.
    I am not a chocolate person - slightly allergic to it, and it always tastes bitter to me -- but that frees me up for devotion to lots of other things.

  6. I agree. There is nothing in this world that can add to the glory that is the chocolate-dipped graham cracker.

    Well, except a cup of hot coffee or cold milk.

    I will pass on a recipe from my friend Andy Mitchell... "Make your own s'mores at the table."
    Ingredients = graham crackers, Hershey bars and mini-marshmallows. Toast the marshmallows on toothpicks over candles.

  7. I'd add one more kind--the Paste Sweet. Like the Creamy Sweet, the sugar level may vary, but it lacks the tang of the Fruity Sweet (and is not, additionally, made from fruit). The best examples I can think of are from traditional Japanese dessert/candy, which frequently uses sweet red bean paste and chestnut paste. There's also almond paste (a somewhat different creature than regular marzipan) and the nut paste used to fill baklava. Delicious!

  8. I feel as though there must be more than the Jaffa Cake exception, and I shall have fun working that out -- but just had to say that banana pudding made the super-rich Paula Deen way with those chessmen cookies is magically delicious.

  9. Brilliant, except I'm afraid I have never tried a Jaffa Cake. This will need to change, as it is apparently very unfortunate to be without a 3sweet snack.

  10. Can I take "The Banana Exception" as the name for my band? I don't have a band currently, but I will get one just so I can name it The Banana Exception.

  11. Thank you for explaining why I fell in love with bread pudding with white chocolate sauce!

  12. Here's probably my favorite dessert. It is a combination of the dry and creamy sweets. The name may come across as kind of creepy since I am a guy, but I think you'll forgive the name coming from me if you taste it.

    The Next Best Thing To Robert Redford desserts/10/rec1062.html

    (Sorry, I had to break the link to make it fit the post. Just remove the space after the domain name.)