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What do people have such low standards when it comes to dessert?

  • c

I've noticed a disturbing trend on the home cooking board. When people discuss gnocchi, they pay attention to the quality of the ricotta. Much attention is paid to the subtleties of roasting chickens. Generally, people are knowledgeable about food - and those that aren't present themselves as new cooks, eager to learn.

And then the topic turns to dessert.

Suddenly, the quality dips. Now, I'm not denying that some very good information is passed back and forth about dessert. But among the recipes for flourless chocolate cake and panna cotta, you find truly horrible recommendations. Lots of instant pudding mix (truly one of the most obscene products on the market - regular pudding is little more than milk, sugar and cornstarch and only takes about 15 minutes). Pre-made frozen pie crusts. Cake mixes. Melted Kraft caramel squares. The sort of junk that I thought people who cared about food, well, rejected. Not out of snobbery, but because these things taste really, really bad, and are loaded with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives to boot.

Why does dessert bring out the worst recipes? Is it because pastry is seen as difficult (but surely no more difficult that many of the cooking projects discussed)? Or is it because people like anything as long as it's sweet? Or is it some sort of childhood regression thing, dessert being the part of the meal you're "allowed" to be childish about?

I used to work as a pastry cook, and I've noticed this before. People who will spend a lot of money to enjoy a fine dinner don't seem to notice if the dessert is overly sweet or long-frozen or just bad. Why?

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  1. I think it's totally the childhood regression thing. As Americans, our dessert tastes (as learned in childhood) are pretty...basic. If not low. Honestly, as much as I can appreciate high quality chocolate and as much as I only eat things made out of real food, my secret favorite dessert is Jello with Lite Cool Whip. Sometimes with pretzels crumbled on the top. It's so shameful, I can only admit this via the anonymity of the internet.

    I would NEVER eat a store-bought pie crust, though. My mother taught me SOME standards.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Adrian

      I know a hound who eat Jell-O eggs!
      Who would forswear all the desserts at a buffert for the treat of various flavored jell-O's in little cups....

      :) :) :)

      1. re: galleygirl

        Oh boy...when I was cooking at a fishing lodge, my most popular, hands down, dessert was Jello...I would scoop out oranges and put the jello in the rind, then when it set, cut it in wedges. You would have thought they had magical powers. They just fascinated people, it was crazy! Ooo...look...oranges...NO...JELLLLOOOOOO!!!! How does she do that? Ooooo...munch slurp munch.


        1. re: Cyndy

          I know someone would would clearly think you were a genius...;)
          There's always room for jello...(of course, I've never understood why anyone would choose jello instead of REAL dessert...)

          1. re: galleygirl

            Dear lord, do you people know what that stuff is made out of? As soon as I found out, I stopped using all manner of jello and gelatin.....blech. (My brothers enjoyed grossing out there sensitive little sister as to what it was I was actually eating)

            Now pudding (homemade) is another issue entirely!!

            1. re: krissywats

              What, you mean hooves? I made cow's foot jelly myself in 7th grade for a history project. I don't think I cleaned the hooves as well as I should have. My poor mother. The house stank for a week. And I promise the jelly never passed anyone's lips.

              1. re: krissywats

                I, unfortunately, live near a General Foods Jello plant in Massachusetts just north of Boston...the town was formerly known for its tanneries - go figure. :-/ And when the sickeningly sweet smell of grape Jello wafts over half the town, I have to keep my windows closed. It's just horrible!

                1. re: krissywats

                  What about the jell-ing of a good, homemade chicken stock?

                  1. re: krissywats

                    Frankly, I think using every last bit of an animal we kill for food is a good thing.

                    1. re: krissywats

                      I would rather eat a horse's hoof than eat another dinner with someone who will only eat "boneless skinless white meat chicken breast."

                      To me, that is a person who doesn't show respect to an animal.

                      Using every bit of animal you've killed does show respect.

            2. As long as it has fat and sugar, how can it be bad? Dessert is not a time for subtlety. Seriously, I do not mean to downplay the tremendous skill and dedication of fine pastry chefs, but fat and sweet can't be beat.

              20 Replies
              1. re: Karl

                How sad that a Chowhound would feel this way! It's like saying "any wine will do---as long as it has alcohol in it, who cares?". I have to agree with the original poster; I too am a a former pastry cook and am saddened by the lack of standards desserts are expected to live up to. The same people who are appalled at using canned cream of chicken soup, Velveeta cheese, or fake crabmeat in an entree have no problem using over-processed, engineered food loaded with unpronounceable ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Why? Creating a fabulous dessert from REAL food is so enjoyable. And people CAN tell the difference. Last year I made the treats for a tea party at our local library. One of the things I made were "jam tarts", actually a thumbprint cookie. The cookie was made of butter, sugar, flour and a pinch of salt. The thumbprint was filled with raspberry jam (raspberries, sugar and pectin). The moms raved so over these incredibly easy-to-make cookies, you'd think I had dipped them in gold! They just recognized that they were NOT what they were used to---probably Pillsbury slice 'n bakes! I think it's just a matter of educating people---just like letting them taste REAL homemade food instead of the garbage served at McDonald's. What else can we do?

                1. re: Anne

                  I'm not disagreeing with you in any way. I share your feelings. In fact, it breaks my heart when I spend all day baking something very special only to have someone say 'Oh, is this Betty Crocker?' as inevitably happens in my family. But don't underestimate the nostalgia factor. For many people, particularly those of us of a certain age, when we were kids, dessert was about instant pudding and things with melted caramels. It all evokes a memory and cleary some very strong feelings. I don't think you can educate childhood memories out of a person. Hit the streets with a fine display of gourmet desserts and a plate of those Rocky Road Squares with the colored marshmallows. I don't think I have to tell you which one would disappear first. I will always love that stupid Kraft Pizza Mix in a box and will chase it with a Joe Louis and a coke. That's just the way it is. Doesn't stop me from trying to take it to the next level, but hey, people are gonna do what they are gonna do.

                  And for some of us, wine is just wine, as long as it has alcohol in it. I personally can't tell the diff between a merlot and a cab. Just not my thing :-)

                  1. re: Cyndy

                    I get what you're saying - but to me I think if you made those gooey bars from scratch and put them next to the one's made from a box, people would notice the difference. Of course someone that has only ever tried the chemical-laced stuff might actually find the 'newness' of a non-chemical version off putting...but that is going to be rare.

                    I think the issue here is that if we CAN make it from scratch and if we are paying such close attention to the detail in our meals, shouldn't we be showing the same attention to our precious desserts?

                    And you might not be able to tell a cab from a merlot, but I bet you can tell both from a boxed white zin!!

                    1. re: krissywats

                      The worst compliment I ever received was when I lovingly made an apple pie only to be told, "This pie is so good. It tastes just like Entemann's."

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Not unlike the tourist viewing magnificent scenery commenting it is " so perfect, almost like Disneyworld." The modern aesthetic uses Disney and Entenmanns as its gold standard. Oy.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          That would hurt!

                          (I'm not sure they would get another invite from me--or I'd just pick up a pizza and a some donuts for dessert--no "pearls to swine"!)

                    2. re: Anne

                      I refuse to use HFCS and not long ago I wanted to have a fun night of banana splits for friends. I made all of my own toppings, including the strawberry and caramel toppings. EVERYONE was astounded at how much better it was than the jarred stuff and how easy it was to make fresh strawberries into a beautiful topping.

                      I make everything from scratch (I will admit to using one type of box mix for pudding, but the only ingredients on the box are 'sugar, cocoa, corn starch' and I add extras to make it my own). I think people have no idea how much your tastes change when all you eat is the low grade versions.

                      I'm right with you on this - dessert can be as subtle, as complex, and as layered as any other part of the meal. If you think all that is needed is 'sweet and fat' you are clearly missing out on incredible desserts.

                      1. re: krissywats

                        Tongue in cheek does not work very well on the internet. For the record, I make all my desserts and breads from scratch and agree with you in principle. Also, as I thought I had expressed in my original post I do know the serious issue raised. Personally I am not a dessert lover, but that is a matter of taste. I think the issue is similar to the discussion of the relative value of tragedy and comedy. Just because tragedy is more serious, does not mean it has less value.

                        1. re: Karl

                          Ah..yes, you are right - the subtleties (or not so?) of our language are often lost on forum speak.

                          And as an actor - I absolutely agree with you on the tragedy/comedy issue. It's believed among actors that comedy is much harder to do well than tragedy - for various reasons I won't go into here. Could the same be said for an excellent dessert?

                          Just taking the analogy a bit further....may not work even a little.

                    3. re: Karl

                      I am a cake slut.

                      I am also a cake snob. I have never made a mix cake in my life and I have a very bad attitude about people who do. I won't make red velvet cake, nothing but butter crosses my threshold, and I'm distainful of bundt cakes. I am contemptuous of powdered sugar icing and Cool Whip is an abomination.

                      However, if someone brings a "homemade" cake mix, canned icing monstrosity into the breakroom or a grocery store lard-spackeled unholy-colored birthday cake to a party, I will eat it, and possibly have seconds. I'm not saying I won't complain about it, but I will trample anyone who gets between me and the cake.

                      Any cake is better than no cake at all.

                      Thank you for hearing my confession.

                      1. re: danna
                        Caitlin McGrath

                        Disdainful of bundt cakes? Why ever so?

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          Yeah, I'd like an answer on that, too. It's a damn fine vessel in which to make scatch pound cakes, banana bread, applesauce cakes, and such - they bake much more evenly, and the presentation and service is far easier and better-looking. Plus I find Bundt cakes much easier to store, and to divvy up, as the slices are alreay defined - I split a lovely scratch almond-cream cheese pound cake with my partner in crime just last night, along with a nice little container of fresh strawberries in a light orange curacao sauce to spoon over it. Would I have tried to split a layer cake with him? Not on your tintype!

                          I guess we've encountered a new breed today: The Bundt Snob. Go figure. :o)

                          1. re: peg

                            It seems to attack a bundt pan. It is just a pan!

                            Now it true that a lot of bad mix cakes are made in a bundt pan but I think you should leave the genre only.

                            Long live the bundt pan.

                            1. re: JudiAU

                              Damn straight, Judy. They'll have to pry my Bundt® pan out of my cold, dead fingers, I'll tell you whut!

                              Now, I think I'll mosey out to my kitchen, and have a nice slice of that home-grown almond pound cake, topped with some of those curacao-laced sliced strawberries, augmented with some sliced bananas.....mmmmmm..... :o)

                          2. re: Caitlin McGrath

                            As I was typing that, I figured someone might ask about the bundt thing...and I knew I would have no good answer. I OWN a bundt pan...I just never use it.

                            I guess I just don't like the pre-formed design. It seems a little bit precious. If I want to make a pound or other non-layer cake, I use a pan with straight sides.

                            I TOLD you I had some *problems* where cake was concerned ;-)

                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                              David Leite at Leite's Culinaria has written an amusing little article about this very subject. Check it out below (the rest of the site is great too).

                              (Personally, I love bundt pans. I especially love the look of glaze-drizzled mini-bundts. I guess I need higher standards.)

                                1. re: Jujubee

                                  That piece is just fabulous. Fabulous! And the cake sounds just great, as well - chocolate and orange are a match made in heaven. Thanks so much for providing Leite's much-needed validation for a great American baking product. Vive le Bundt® Pan!

                                  1. re: peg


                                    If I didn't make it myself, I wouldn't have believed it. I've made it several more times, and it comes out just as good every time.

                                    All best,

                                    David Leite

                                    Link: http://www.leitesculinaria.com

                                2. re: Jujubee

                                  Ah, the internet! Where no matter how big a weirdo you may be, you can search out others with the same, shall we say, eccentricities.

                                  Oh, and the cake sounds great....and one day I may make it...in my straight-sided tube pan ;-)

                          3. Well, I think it's a combination of two things:

                            - The average American under the age of 40 or so grew up in a time period where convenience foods were a big exciting thing. Our mothers were thrilled to find shortcuts in the kitchen and used them. We stunted our taste buds. If you don't think this is true, go to any church or ladies' group cookbook, and the favorite recipes all have shortcut ingredients and methods.

                            - This experience is a lot like what is found with immigrant families. Once they assimilate to American life, they don't always see the value in keeping up tradition through language and cooking. Some of us don't really remember authentic, good sweet rolls or cakes that weren't made from a mix. Out of sight, out of mind. And, if we want to make them, Grandma took the recipe with her when she hung her apron up for the last time.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MkeLaurie

                              I wouldn't really say it's the average American under 40... Probably under 70 is more like it. My parents are in their early 60's, grew up in the 1950's, when all kinds of convenience foods were all over the place...

                            2. By the time dessert after a meal rolls around, I'm usually too full to pay much attention to it. If I'm having dessert on its own, I'm a lot more discriminating.

                              1. I feel your pain. For me, a bad, or even just adequate dessert will negate any great food that might have preceded it. Same as substandard, watery espresso.

                                But many otherwise good restaurants DO treat dessert as an afterthought. It breaks my heart to receive, at the end of an otherwise excellent meal, some hard-crusted, sad lemon tart topped with wrinkled, bleeding berries that must have sat in the fridge for days before someone ordered it.

                                As for recipes, it seems bizarre that people would want to use redy-made mixes when so many outstanding desserts can be made with just flour, suggar, butter, and eggs. But many bakers here on CH seem quite discerning about butter, for example.

                                I would attribute the general trend to place emphasis on cooking rather than baking/dessert-making to many people's irrational fear of baking, and the fairly common notion that it's some arcane science that only a select few can master; for the rest, there's Betty Crocker.

                                1. OMG, I don't have time to read the other posts under you but this is why I love this blog!! I was thinking the exact same thing earlier reading postings for dessert requests. I have decided myself that I will not ask because I already know I will have better success searching on my own. Other arenas however have proven a phenomenal success...it is strange but I too bake (may take it to a professional level in the future) and am shocked by what people will accept for a dessert! Thanks Hounds, we are indeed kindred spirits!!!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: 4chowpups


                                    Please keep posting about baking! We need the critical mass of people. Just ignore the folks with bone-headed ideas. I've gotten lots of great feedback from baking hounds, and have learned through reading Q&A who has a wealth of baking knowledge and who doesn't. Why, there are certain hounds whose posts I always read, regardless of the subject line, simply because I like their tone/style/take on cooking/baking/restaurants/dining.

                                    I've found there are some really friendly, good bakers here who have given me great advice (and when I think I can add some, I chime in with my advice). Don't be scared away by the folks who recommend some nasty cake mix doctor confection as being the best X they ever had!


                                    1. re: Smokey

                                      Thanks for the encouragement Smokey. Frankly, I love this site and it isn't the hounds who bug me, I finally feel like I'm writing with people who love food as much as me!! Plus, what a wealth of knowledge!!! My baking response was only regarding a MIL issue that was expressed and I was chiming in!!! Don't know if I have tips to share but I'll continue to contribute and learn just the same! Thanks:)

                                      1. re: 4chowpups

                                        Okay, just realized which part of this thread you were responding to. I think I need to go to bed now (haven't caught up on sleep from LAST week on call!)!

                                  2. What I find really sad is when my kids have a school thing and the parents are asked to bring some baked goods. I usually make chocolate chip cookies or brownies from scratch -- nothing adventurous given the audience, but top quality ingredients. I expect most parents to make mixes, or cookies from those refirgerator logs. Incredibly, half the "baked goods" parents bring are Hostess or Entemanns. There isn't even an effort made to make something mediocre. And I know people work -- but so do I. So you put in an hour or two at night instead of watching the latest reality show; it's not that big a deal.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: sbp

                                      My daughter specifically asked me NOT to make birthday cupcakes to take to school this year, and my cupcakes are good! "Everyone else has the store ones, Mom!" Sad. Like homemade food is uncool.

                                    2. Curiousbaker, I appreciate your observations since I hadn't really noticed this before. Re: the HC board--I'm assuming that there are more people who cook regularly than bake regularly, such as myself. Woman cannot live on dessert alone. We all have limited time for kitchen endeavors, so I think that making a home-cooked, well-balanced dinner usually takes precedence over a homemade dessert. I rarely eat dessert at home, and if I do, it will be store-bought ice cream, a piece of chocolate, or fresh fruit.

                                      I probably cook an average of 4x/wk. but make a true dessert about 2x/mo., more during the holiday season. When I do make desserts, I don't like to take shortcuts like mixes or frozen pie crust and would rather find a more simple recipe than have to resort to those measures. Delicious desserts do not need to be complicated...flan, panna cotta, chocolate cake w/ Valrhona, apple crisp. I often overlook threads on dessert since I can't possibly read everything. So lower participation from me and other cooks may exacerbate your perception of lowered standards. Hope this doesn't sound arrogant, just trying to convey that the lower "sample size" will confound your perception. I imagine there are other websites that have more expert bakers. If you have any amazing dessert recipes or experiences to share, I say you should post them and exert your influence.

                                      I disagree w/ the notion presented by another poster that fat and sugar make us less discerning about desserts. In fact, I find that many desserts are too sweet, and I have left desserts barely eaten if I don't like them and won't risk offending someone. I'm actually more critical of desserts since my hunger has been sated and I'm wondering if it's worth the calories or feeling uncomfortably stuffed. I have had great meals at restaurants and if dessert doesn't measure up, I will balk and remember forever (last impressions are just as important as first). Another example is the horrific assembly of "desserts" at your average potluck. Has all the sugar and fat in the world, but gives me the urge to pull the tablecloth w/ the trash can underneath.

                                      I do buy the regression or familiarity theory. Reminds me, I made a homemade sweet potato pie this past Thanksgiving so that I wouldn't have to endure another Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie at my in-laws' house. Dessert rolls around and my MIL pulls out a frozen pie to heat up, as I begin to seethe inside. My husband asks her why she bought a pie when she knew I was baking something, and she simply replied, "Oh, I like it; we have it every year." I bit my tongue and got my satisfaction when my pie was polished off and the droopy Mrs. Smith's leftovers were wrapped and tucked away in the fridge. Have faith--standards are out there...

                                      1. What kills me is when people say "Oh I used low-fat (whatever) and you can't even tell!" Maybe I can tell, maybe I can't, but you'll never know - am I going to TELL you that it tastes like crap?

                                        Although to be honest, most of the people I know who bother to bake are serious enough about it that they use quality ingredients. The others, well, those are the people who have "bake sales" consisting of repackaged crap from costco!

                                        I do wish more people/restaurants would do simple fruity things like strawberries in season, sour cream & brown sugar, for example.

                                        1. Two reasons: guilt and fear. Guilt that you're eating something that has been so vilified in recent years (carbohydrates, refined sugar, fat, etc., etc.). And fear of the supposed difficulty of creating a quality dessert from actual ingredients. Education factors in here too, and I don't mean in the classroom. North Americans (and probably Europeans lately too) have learned to love some pretty disgusting things: the texture of Cool Whip; the ersatz chocolate of a Hershey's Kiss; the fake fruit of jello. We continue to eat what we have learned to love. My parents were Hungarian and so they were extremely picky about dessert. It had to be wonderful or not at all. My mother either baked it herself or shopped at an excellent bakery. And believe me, if the bakery couldn't make a decent Dobos Torte, boy would I hear about it.

                                          Regular cooking has, to most peoples' minds, at least some redeeming qualities. There are vegetables and protein, it keeps you going all day, you get your calcium and vitamin C etc. You HAVE to eat something. So most of us learn to cook. But dessert is optional and reviled. Watch people eating in a restaurant. How many times do you share a dessert even though you could EASILY eat the whole thing? You share it because ordering a whole one just for you would be considered piggish. And god forbid you're a little overweight - everyone would look at you and point and laugh. We are simply not comfortable with dessert.

                                          And as for the difficulty factor - since it's not a necessity, we don't treat it with the same respect as we treat the main dish. It's an afterthought to many people and they cannot be bothered to deal with it seriously. Is making a good dessert difficult? Nope. Do we get our asses off the couch and make the effort to learn how to do it? Only some of us do.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Nyleve

                                            oh... you are reminding me of my hungarian god-mother... who starts out every sentence with "well I tell you darling... "

                                            when I went to visit her family in Budapest a few years, by american standards, even the most lowly corner coffee shop had GREAT pastry and dessert. for them dessert is part of the event. which is what I think we, in general as americans are missing.

                                            1. re: megan

                                              What you mean is "Vell, I tell you darrrling...." Omigod, nobody but a Hungarian can inject that certain note of condescending superiority to even the most mundane comment. "Vell, I tell you darrrrrling...de toilet paperr is not like ve used to use in Budapest..." Start talking desserts and it's a whole other thing altogether. My parents are both gone now, but I swear I cannot eat a torte without thinking about how my mother would have criticized it to within an inch of its existence. Nobody does pastry like a Hungarian. Unless it's a Viennnese. But that's a whole other thing altogether.

                                          2. The interesting thing is that so far the only responses to this post are from people who agree wholeheartedly with curiousbaker. Which leads me to think that possibly it says more about the home cooking board than anything else.

                                            I wrote a post on here a few months ago berating the fact that too many recipes seemed to focus on poor quality and artificial products. I think that a different type of chowhound looks at the HC board and tends not to use many (or any) of the other boards. As such they're not that interested in expanding their knowledge too far and rather stick to what they know. This lack of board-wandering explains why no-one has tried to mount a counter-argument to curiousbaker. Thankfully there's the rest of us who do take an interest in food.

                                            12 Replies
                                            1. re: londonosher

                                              Well, I would say that I use the homecooking board and rarely the other boards. That's not because of a lack of adventuresome spirit. I try new things in the kitchen all the time. I would say it's due to two things 1) Low income. Compared to what most people on these boards seem to make, I make essentially no money. I can make a little money go a lot further at home than at a restaurant. So my interest is primarily in cooking technique and in finding good ingredients, not in discussing restaurants. 2) I am very concerned about organic ingredients, local-grown ingredients, sustainably-grown and traditionally-made (raw milk cheeses, grass-fed meat) ingredients. By investing more in home cooking, I can support farmers and artisans who are creating these products, while eating very high quality food at a price that allows these foods to form the majority of my diet, rather than just an occasional indulgence (I could afford to eat out once in a while if I were willing to eat very, very cheaply day to day, but I would rather eat well daily.) But my eating has become more, not less, adventuresome as a result of this interest. I am certainly not sticking to what I know. I also just love to cook. There may be more of an interest in traditional American styles of cooking on the home food board than on the regular boards, in part because a good cook responds to her ingredients. The highest quality ingredients I can get locally are generally the sorts of things the New England cooking is built around. Why wouldn't I work with that? A cook who puts quality over exoticism is likely to end up making food which is traditional to either the part of the world s/he is from, or parts of the world with a similar climate. So that may make the home cooking board seem less adventuresome in some ways.

                                              But there are a lots of people on the home cooking board who are very adventuresome. There are also lots of people on the regular boards who are more "foodies" than "chowhounds" - they are only interested in 4 star dining, not delicious holes-in-the-wall. I haven't noticed a particular reliance on convenience products - except in the case of dessert. Hence, the question of why.

                                              1. re: curiousbaker

                                                What you said. I have an interest in food, but discussing restaurants doesn't interest me much as I rarely have the money to go out. Therefore, eating at home, and eating well, is more important.

                                                That said, I do read other boards besides home cooking.

                                                As for the original post, I think it's a combination.

                                                - The fear of weight gain, even though numbers suggest North Americans on average are at their most obese ever.

                                                - The idea that baking is difficult. It isn't necessarily.

                                                What I find odd is the people who turn down dessert at a large gathering or at a restaurant, then later eat half a box or container of some cheap cookie or cake. Is this some kind of self-delusionary behaviour?

                                                There is also the trend with low-fat and low-carb foods. In and of themselves these foods may not be bad, but people seem to get the strange idea that because the food item is low-something, entire boxes/containers can be consumed at one sitting with no adverse effects. The calorie content on many of these foods is often nearly as high as the standard version. And, if these foods are snack foods, empty calories are still empty calories. Again, some kind of self-delusionary behaviour, I think.

                                                Some of the worst desserts I've eaten in the name of politeness:

                                                A frozen, baked pie shell filled with cherry jello, and canned cherries. The whole thing topped with Cool-Whip.

                                                Something called "Sex in a Pan". It was okay, but not even close to orgasmic. Packaged chocolate pudding, cool whip, and cookies or biscuits of some kind.

                                                Because I love to bake, I have had many recipes pressed on me which use cake mixes, cool whip, or other things like that. I politely accept them and dispose of them after a suitable period of time.

                                                1. re: Geogrrl

                                                  I've had that Sex in a Pan. Only edible (and vaguely) when frozen, cause that hid some of the chemical flavour. Made by the same friend who also makes lovely homemade stuff. Brought to another friend's for dinner, leftovers then passed on to me. Me wondering who had made it and how I got stuck with it. She eventually heard that it wasn't that well received and couldn't understand why - we told her we don't like pudding.

                                                  1. re: anon

                                                    You handled that well. The person who made the dessert was there, so I ate it and did my best to look like I was enjoying it.

                                                    1. re: anon

                                                      Well she's a close enough friend that we could gently explain we don't like the chemical taste of Jello pudding and she didn't take it personally. Anybody else I just would've said "delicious!"

                                                      Doesn't mean she won't try it again on us though - she has. She just doesn't see the difference that we see.

                                                      1. re: anon

                                                        But, it sounds like it would be pretty tasty if made with scratch dark chocolate pudding, scratch whipping cream slightly sweetened, and say, lemon ginger tea biscuits. Or a scratch shortcake crust.

                                                        Which would probably not more than quadruple the preparation time.

                                                  2. re: londonosher

                                                    >>This lack of board-wandering explains why no-one has tried to mount a counter-argument to curiousbaker. Thankfully there's the rest of us who do take an interest in food.

                                                    Are you kidding? "The rest of us who do take an interest in food"??? As opposed to whom exactly?

                                                    Curiousbaker didn't get a lot of argument against what she's saying because what she's saying is true. She asked why we think things are the way they are, and that's what the thread is about.

                                                    Naturally, the people on HC are the people who *do* cook on average more often than the average poster on, say, the Manhattan board. Yeah, so? Kinda makes sense, no?

                                                    Personally I read at least 4 other boards as frequently as this one, and know the handles many other posters in this thread from other boards.

                                                    1. re: londonosher

                                                      I would equate those of us on the homecooking board to aspiring artists whereas those on the local boards the museum-goers.

                                                      We too visit the museums for understanding of what the great artists of our day are doing - but then we go home and spend the rest of our time creating, asking, learning.

                                                      We find joy, creativity, release in our art. Is that less adventurous?

                                                      I visit my museums (resaurants) often to get inspiration. Then I cloister myself and create. I only look up a new museum when needing inspiration or simply time away to get perspective.

                                                      1. re: londonosher

                                                        'I think that a different type of chowhound looks at the HC board and tends not to use many (or any) of the other boards. As such they're not that interested in expanding their knowledge too far and rather stick to what they know.'


                                                        Interesting...and you accuse others of being close-minded?! Maybe you didn't have your morning cup of coffee at that point, but making broad generalizations like this will def. provoke counterarguments.

                                                        Chowhounds (on the HC board and elsewhere) are a diverse group and can't all be put into one category. But I think that we are all here b/c we're obsessed w/ food...of all shapes and sizes. That's what I love about the forum. If you think that the suggestions aren't adequate on any board, then offer your own into the mix. If you're looking for a certain kind of recipe or idea, then be specific about what you want and don't want.

                                                        Cooking is all about taking an interest in food. Where it comes from, how it's prepped, everything that goes on behind the scenes before it gets artfully arranged on a plate. I know some people who will devour meat or seafood at a restaurant but want nothing to do w/ carving a chicken or gutting a fish, which speaks to a lack of adventure or openess to me.

                                                        Agree w/ krissywats that cooks/chefs are artists and want to be involved in the creative process, not just the eating process. In fact, some people like to cook b/c they care so much about ingredients and knowing what goes into the food they feed to themselves and their families. I cook more than dine out since I don't live in an eating out town, yet cooking has helped me to better appreciate my dining experiences and most certainly broadened my palate.

                                                        1. re: Carb Lover

                                                          That about sums it up.

                                                        2. re: londonosher

                                                          This doesn't make much sense to me. You say you recently posted a complaint about poor quality/artificial ingredients being discussed? Yet you want us to argue w/ curiousbaker when she complains about low standards for dessert? I'm missing something.

                                                          But, you are definitely missing something too. I see lots and lots of names I recognize from other boards.

                                                          Sometimes it's easy to focus on the negative, my friend, and I'm afraid that's what you're doing. When you see a post that says "Fab dessert w/ graham crackers and cool whip needed", just don't click on it. There are two dozen other posts about really, beautiful food that you can enjoy instead.

                                                          Your post really struck me as obnoxious and intentionally inflamatory. Did you really mean to imply that the folks on this board are narrow minded, ignorant buffoons with no real interest in food?

                                                          1. re: londonosher

                                                            >>I wrote a post on here a few months ago berating the fact that too many recipes seemed to focus on poor quality and artificial products. I think that a different type of chowhound looks at the HC board and tends not to use many (or any) of the other boards. As such they're not that interested in expanding their knowledge too far and rather stick to what they know. This lack of board-wandering explains why no-one has tried to mount a counter-argument to curiousbaker.>>

                                                            What, in your mind, would the "counter-argument" consist of? This makes no sense to me.

                                                          2. Ok, I'll bite. It's a slippery slope to start talking about what people "shouldn't" like. People may indeed like the "junk" you list merely because they don't know any better. However, if they've had handmade caramels as well as Kraft ones and they still enjoy(or ever prefer!) the latter, so what?

                                                            Chowhound's a place for sharing things that people like, and I get very antsy when it starts to sound as if limits should be placed on what may be allowably termed delicious.

                                                            (As a sidenote, I'd argue that a pie made with a frozen crust beats the hell out of no pie at all. It can also be a useful baby step for someone new to baking. Such crusts have their place.)

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Wisco

                                                              Totally agree with the crust notion. I recently made a fairly complicated white chocolate-banana cream pie, a two-day process which included making a white chocolate-creme de cacao custard, making white chocolate curls, making a creme de cacao chantilly cream, thinly slicing four bananas, and folding the custard, cream, and bananas together and adding to the pie shell at the last possible second, before adding the curls, slicing, and dressing the plates with white chocolate shavings and sifted ground chocolate. I unrolled and baked off a Pillsbury crust in the morning of the day of service, and I have NO guilt about doing so - the crust in this case was merely the vehicle for the complex and delicate flavors of the filling. All I wanted from that crust was a non-soggy bottom and a decorative edge, and it delivered nicely on both counts.

                                                              One less step to worry about is a Good Thing. And it was one damn fine pie.

                                                            2. I have not really noticed this. But, I tend *not* to read posts which are looking for "really quick" this or that. "Really quick" foods rarely appeal to me (If I wanted quick, I'd go buy some oreos!).

                                                              Many posters have discussed Claudia Fleming's desserts, etc., and of course Galley Girl's Pear Tart. I'm thinking that people probably make savory dishes much more frequently than elegant desserts. "Special" desserts are usually associated with entertaining, which few people do anymore.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                Even in the quick and easy threads I see many replies that do not refer to overly processed and "junk" foods. A tomato salad may be quick and easy, but no less chowhoundish than an intricately prepared peking duck.

                                                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                  I think people still do a fair amount of entertaining at home, but less emphasis is placed on fancy dessert. I sort of follow the Alice Waters approach to dessert...simple, cleansing, not heavy. So I rarely make a fancy torte or do something dramatic. My favorite homemade dessert is macerated fruit w/ either homemade vanilla bean ice cream or panna cotta.

                                                                  Thinking more about this, I do think that many good dessert recipes and techniques are offered on the HC board. Many people offer links to epicurious and other sites that use good ingredients, etc. However, I have noticed that there are less tried-and-true recipes or raves relative to savory dishes. I do want to try that black pearl layer cake though...

                                                                  1. re: Funwithfood

                                                                    It's especially true for those of us cooking for one, or even two. Whilst I can easily translate a chicken dish meant for four people into a meal for one, dividing a teaspoon of baking powder by four is difficult, and many baked goods just don't work out when you're making a smaller quantity (baking times, temps, 1/2egg, etc.)

                                                                    Additionally, in today's health-obsessed society, we think we SHOULD be eating protein, veg, maybe carbs - but we're taught that it's ok, in fact recommended that we forego the keylime pie. Especially since pretty much all the best desserts are bad for you without moderation, and at the same time, not the sort of thing to encourage moderation. *sigh*

                                                                  2. I have to post that CH/Home Cooking have broadened my horizons on this front, actually. I always baked with butter, whipped my own cream, etc, even as a kid preferred my own attempts at baking to pudding & jello. But before I read CH I really did not know what a true buttercream is, for example. I did not know about The Cake Bible. And somewhere along the line I lost my taste for regular grocery store brands of cocoa and chocolate chips, which is really a pain, actually.

                                                                    1. This was a very interesting thread. Thanks you for starting it. Yes, I find the same thing to be true and I don't have an answer for why.

                                                                      I can say that as a hound, I am even more houndish about dessert. I find the vast majority of items I am served or purchase to be a waste of calories. They may be fatty and sweet but they don't really taste good. Certainly not good enough to plod through a whole dessert.

                                                                      I had a mixture of homemade and mix baking as a kid. In my parent's home, except for holidays when I always do the baking, all of the home baking has gone. Now I see a lot of gross costco purchases laying around. Too sweet, too fatty, no texture, and no flavor. Bleh.

                                                                      A friend asked me for dessert recipe because she doesn't bake and was going to a recipe exchange party. I gave her a recipe for chocolate buttermilk cake and a pre-measured amount of the cooca I like to make it with. (Valrohna- I thought that if she tried it with the good stuff she might find it worth her time to seek it out.) She said later, in a somewhat miffed tone, that mine was the only one that didn't use a mix. No one wanted to trade her.

                                                                      1. Oh yeah. This makes me CRAZY!!

                                                                        Part of it, I think, is that so many people have gotten used to eating processed and packaged foods, and are so used to "fake" taste that real food tastes...funny, somehow. I have brought desserts to various functions and had to listen to people say "oh no, I never eat stuff like that" only to see them later scarfing down some corn syrup, artificial-color-and-flavor-laden prepackaged glop that I'd think twice about eating even if I were starving. Yecch.

                                                                        I love a good dessert...it doesn't have to be a lot, just a little grace note at the end of a savory meal. If the only choice is some big slab of something that calls itself dessert because it's made with sugar, I'd rather do without.

                                                                        And one thing I've noticed about a lot of cakes and other things made with mixes is that if they are not consumed right away, their chemical/artificial origins really start to come out....

                                                                        1. Wow. Why are folks so concerned with other people's cooking or consumption? So you choose to eat/serve only your high end, organic, imported blah blah blah, that's fine. Now why is it of concern to you that someone else enjoys a frozen pie crust, some premade cookie dough or a gelatin fruit cup? Heaven forbid someone makes choice that differs from yours...
                                                                          To the woman who turned her nose up at the frozen pumpkin pie at her inlaw's and brought her own: It's great to bring something else as an addition to the meal, but it's a bit presumptious to assume that they would not serve their traditional pie at all. Moreover, to take some sort of smug satifsfaction in the fact that more people enjoyed your pie seems really childish and downright mean.

                                                                          17 Replies
                                                                          1. re: c

                                                                            Yes, ultimately taste is subjective and who's to say that a homemade pie tastes better than a frozen store-bought one. People like what they like and are entitled to that...

                                                                            My example w/ my MIL's Mrs. Smith's pie was intended to underscore the fact that some people choose convenience desserts b/c they provide comfort and familiarity and have come to represent family tradition. My husband who grew up on the Mrs. Smith's detests it BTW, so I assumed that my MIL (who does NO baking) would be happy to have a homemade pie over a frozen one. I learned that she was more attached to the Mrs. Smith's than I thought.

                                                                            Yes, I was peeved and yes I was smug, but kept it all inside and let her have her tradition. I made the turkey and probably about 75% of the meal at my MIL's house, so felt a bit entitled to set my own traditions. Incidentally, my MIL didn't touch much of the Mrs. Smith's pie either, and I wouldn't be surprised if she decides to change tradition next year.

                                                                            And am I the only one who's MIL brings out the worst in her? ;-)

                                                                            1. re: Carb Lover

                                                                              The short answer "NO" ("Am I the only one whos MIL brings out the worst in her). Mine is an ex but here was my frequent scenerio... every holiday I make a compulsive assortment (high count 20 varieties, low 12-13)of cookies which I would arrange in a pretty platter to bring for dinner. She would put them IN THE REFRIDGERATOR and proceed to serve Pepperidge Farm cookies!! My FIL would go into the 'fridge and eat some by himself. After several such holidays (Light dawned on marble head...)I no longer brought anything homemade, mind you I make all of my own pies and suffered through Sara Lee pies each year too. PAINFUL.

                                                                              1. re: 4chowpups

                                                                                Maybe she knew yours was the good stuff and wanted to keep it for herself ;)

                                                                                1. re: Zaheen

                                                                                  Thanks for the optimism however this is the type of woman who refridgerates everything and is a major germiphobe. I always thought she thought it was not hygenic or something!That's okay, I live and I learn...there are plenty of people who would kill for my stuff and plenty who are willing to pay for it to boot so...

                                                                              2. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                Your comments made me laugh because I often felt like I was the only one who had issues when it came to my MIL and cooking. We used to have many battles and I knew she thought I was judging her but there was just no way I could stand there raving about a layered jelly salad with tinned orange segments and bits of chopped up celery suspended in iridescent hues not found in nature. Sometimes, she would even put CoolWhip in as well. Christmas was always fun because she would pull out her cookie recipes and she could bake some pretty amazing cookies but over the years she discovered things like butter flavoured Crisco which she insisted tasted just like real butter in her cookies. My husband bought into this till I informed him that it just isn't natural and just look at the label "artificial vanilla". I am digressing from the "dessert" theme but one other meal she made was a tuna cassarole made with various tinned soups, Chinese noodles, tinned tuna, and who knows what else. Dinner came to the table and when a piece was cut for me it literally looked like it had been cut from a peat bog. I didn't know what I was going to do so I moved it around my plate and then said I was full. When we moved into our first house she insisted on bringing dinner and when I heard it was the dreaded tuna cassarole I insisted we go out for dinner and booked a table immediately.

                                                                                My MIL is no longer with us, she was a very good person but we were just very different about our opinions on food preparation. I always put it down to a difference in generations but after reading the comments in this thread I'd have to say that things haven't really changed. People are entitled to eat whatever they would like to eat be it made with pudding mix or something made from scratch. I guess my difficulty is when people say that I am a snob for preferring something homemade over something that is a hodge podge of prepared/artifical ingredients. When I first met my husband he would not eat "foreign" food like pizza or Chinese. I'm happy to say that after thirteen years he will eat almost anything or at least give it a try. We have been living in the Caribbean for eight years and via the internet and bringing back suitcases of supplies we can happily cook our way through most food cultures.

                                                                                In conclusion, the world is made up of all sorts of people but I'm the sort that likes my food truly homemade. We plan holidays around great food! At least at CH I know there are people who understand.

                                                                                1. re: IslandGirl

                                                                                  Yikes....I apologize to all of those who enjoy casseroles as it would appear that I couldn't even spell the word correctly in my previoius posting ~ must be Freudian and related to my fear of casseroles prepared with tins of soup!

                                                                                2. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                  Nah. I don't even bother offering to make something anymore cause of the insecure, "oh you're going to MAKE something. Well." reactions I get. Last time it was pie for Christmas - and I don't even make my own pie crust! The store-bought pie from the family member who made above comment was pretty much untouched. It was supposedly from some place with a good rep, but it tasted like the fat in the crust was rancid or something. At Xmas there is really no excuse for less-than-fresh baked goods... so much for rep. I did feel bad though - not smug.

                                                                                  1. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                    It's been my experience that this "not getting along" is a MIL/DIL problem and doesn't happen very often in the FIL/SIL relationship. Why that is, I don't know. Maybe men are used to territorial skirmishes.

                                                                                    1. re: Scagnetti

                                                                                      Unless the cooking is being done out-of-doors over burning wood or charcoal. NEVER even question your father-in-law's (or most other guys') grilled smoky meat food preparation.

                                                                                    2. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                      My MIL brings out the absolute worst in me, and particularly around food. I love to cook and bake and would never claim that something was home made that wasn't. I am at my happiest spending hours in the kitchen over a course of a few days making the components parts of an intricate dessert. Even if in the end the 'look' isn't quite what it's supposed to be, it's guaranteed to taste better than anything my MIL makes, because what I baked was made with real ingredients--butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, high quality chocolate, etc.

                                                                                      My MIL re-shapes pillsbury dough into the traditional forms every xmas and easter to make "Christmas bread" or "Easter bread." If you ask her, she'll say, "I made it." As though twisting open the can and rolling into ti a shape is making something. The bread stays fresh for days--go figure.

                                                                                      Once I served her a dessert from the Claudia Fleming book--a pine nut tart (basically pine nut pecan pie, in my opinion, but quite nice) with a honey-thyme sorbet. She was quite appreciative and asked for the recipe, suggesting she might make it for her 'ladies group.' It was hard not to snort at the idea.

                                                                                      I'm a total dessert snob, I'll admit it. If the desserts offered are not up to my snuff, I'll simply say thanks but no. Why waste calories on shortening, margarine and artifical flavors that coat your mouth and make you feel a bit queasy? But there's no doubt about it, my snobbery is at its worst with my MIL.

                                                                                      1. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                        I'm happy to say that I don't have that issue with my MIL. We come from two completely different backgrounds (she's a classic mid-western cook and I am Chinese American) and she doesn't veer too much from her cooking. We also live 3 plane hours apart. I remember visiting once and she served tuna noodle casserole and this noodle dish with crushed up ramen packages and cabbage. I ate it, but I didn't feel so great afterwards. She had no idea what good Chinese food was because she had never been exposed to it. But, she would try almost anything.

                                                                                        Well, as the years passed, she became more and more interested in my cooking. Every Thanksgiving, she would pepper me with questions about my turkey day menu. About 5 years ago, I started to e-mail her my menus and she would ooh and ah and share them with all her co-workers. Funny thing was, she would only cook her meal, her way because that is what she knew.

                                                                                        Two years ago, on a visit, I brought homegrown lettuce and herbs. She never really used fresh herbs (other than parsley) and would use really, really, really old dried herbs. She couldn't believe the difference. I made this rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic encrusted steak for her and she loved it (if I could only get her to switch to organic meat v. the cheapest cut around, but that's another story for another time). I also made fresh pesto, hummous (ok, no herbs, but you get the picture) and she went over the top. This year, she plans on starting a small herb garden.

                                                                                        I think part of her hesitation of veering from her cooking is that she doesn't know what to do with fresh herbs. She grew up with meat and dried herbs. She never had authentic chinese food, never tried many asian cuisines and doesn't want to venture out on her own. Bringing this back to desserts. For some people, it could be what they know, it could give them comfort or whatever. But, if they are exposed to desserts (or food) with better ingredients and they can taste the difference, their tastes may also change.

                                                                                        1. re: beetlebug

                                                                                          Thanks for yours and others' responses. My last question was intended to be more rhetorical than a real inquiry since I didn't want to derail this thread too much, but this topic of MILs and food def. seems to strike a chord w/ DIL hounds in particular.

                                                                                          It sounds like your MIL is open to learning from you and I'm sure you can learn some things from her. In fact, my MIL does love my cooking and will often ask me questions on how I made something. She always complains that strawberries, tomatoes, and other produce are "tasteless," and I keep on telling her to shop for those things at farmer's markets. She still hasn't gone, but notices the difference when I bring something w/ farmer's market produce in it.

                                                                                          Bringing this back to desserts, I think she noticed and appreciated the difference btwn. my homemade pie and her frozen store-bought one. Honestly, I find it hard to accept that frozen pie is a "tradition" since I associate tradition w/ significance, care, pride, heritage, etc. I guess my "smugness" came from feeling like I may have converted my MIL over to a different (and IMHO better) tradition of homemade pie and shutting out the Mrs. Smith's for good. If that makes me a pie snob or a bad DIL, then so be it.

                                                                                          1. re: Carb Lover

                                                                                            By no means did I mean to imply that you were a pie snob or a bad DIL. But, aren't all of us "pie" snobs in one respect or another? Isn't that why we are chowhounds? I was really just trying to comment that I feel fortunate in having a MIL that takes my quirks in stride (and I have a lot of them. I am the jello fiend referred to below).

                                                                                            Bringing this back to desserts (again). My MIL will always buy the least expensive ingredient period. If margerine is on sale, that's what she'll use to bake the cookies. Of course it effects the taste. I won't ever be able to change this with her baking because I don't really have the opportunity to bake at her house. Plus, I don't have MY stuff to get the results that I want. But, for her, the bottom line is cost. To her, the taste differential is negligible and not worth the extra cost. To me, the opposite.

                                                                                            As for your pie situation, hey, looks like a new tradition has started. Homemade over store bought. How about that them apples?

                                                                                            1. re: beetlebug

                                                                                              Oops, looks like a typical board case of miscommunication/misunderstanding. I in no way meant that YOU were accusing me of those things. In fact, your post was very non-judgmental. I sort of wrote it in general, like I was talking to myself or something. I needed to be reminded that I'm not just talking to myself here :-)

                                                                                          2. re: beetlebug

                                                                                            Good for you.

                                                                                            Very few people in my neck of the woods have much sophistication when it comes to food. Saturday we're throwing a party for my Dad and I'm driving up to the next state to buy bread from an arisan w/ a brick oven. I used Scharfenberger in the cake filing. Last year for a party I had the olives and the ricotta overnighted from Manhattan.

                                                                                            My husband and mother have both comment on how silly I am, saying "these people don't know the difference". Well, how the hell are they ever supposed to know the difference? Maybe after my party they will know the difference (not that it will do them much good around here). I was born into a cake snob family, but other than that we ate plain, plain stuff. Dried herbs? we should be so lucky. we had salt and paprika. We stood in line at Red Lobster. I was lucky enough to discover good food through a little travel and other lucky breaks, why not give other people the benefit of the doubt that they are burgeoning Chowhounds waiting to be set free from the chains of ....chains?

                                                                                            1. re: danna

                                                                                              Good point. A lot of people just aren't aware of the difference between mass-produced dreck and high-quality ingredients because they haven't experienced it.

                                                                                              I have a cookbook I keep purely for the entertainment value of the introduction: "Herbs for the Kitchen" by Irma Goodrich Mazza, which was written in 1939. She talks about the impact of marrying an Italian on her previously WASP cooking, and it's hysterical (it's intentionally humerous, but is even funnier from the modern perspective). For example, she describes her dinner guests as gathering in her kitchen (or at least the women -- the men, knowing their place, are hanging in the doorway) peppering her with questions like "what are those green things you're sprinkling on the food?"

                                                                                              So be like Irma and help lead these people out of the chow desert.

                                                                                        2. re: c

                                                                                          I think, respectfully, that you missed the point. The point of the original post was that on the homecooking board, specifically, a trend had been noticed: people spend a lot of time paying attention to extreme detail in the rest of the meal and it seemed to the original poster, not so much to the dessert.

                                                                                          No one ever said that you can't eat all the pre-made pie crust and melted caramels your heart desires but on that particular board it seems like a contradiction from the "don't you dare use canned diced tomatoes" attitude we have all come to know and respect - even if we don't always follow such advice.

                                                                                          I can always be sure when I ask about making any entree I will be given the utmost of advice on using the very freshest ingredients on the homecooking board - the same cannot always be said for advice on desserts. I can imagine that for a former pastry chef (as the original poster is) that could make one wonder.

                                                                                        3. n
                                                                                          N Tocus@rcn.com

                                                                                          Maybe because there are different kinds of standards? I was reading somewhere recently a man's memory of making "chocolate eclairs" with his grandma when he was four. She would make instant vanilla pudding and spread it in a Pyrex dish, then his job was to lay graham crackers on top of the pudding, then she would spread on more pudding, then he would do more graham crackers, then she would top the whole thing with more crackers, chocolate icing, and Cool Whip. Now when we read this, most of us will have two reactions: 1) that's not chocolate eclairs and 2) how disgusting that dessert sounds. But he was four. Four, and this is exactly the kind of slop a four year-old would think was heavenly manna. And how about the lovely scene of the little boy making this concoction with his grandma? I don't know whether he still eats it, but in England they call certain sweets "nursery desserts" because when we eat them we remember the good old days. Can this not also be true of frozen pies and Jell-O Pudding? It's not only true that we are what we eat: sometimes what we choose to eat is about who we were.