Tony Tobin on the allure of desserts

PUBLISHED: 21:09 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013

Celebrity chef and Surrey Life columnist Tony Tobin tucks into some delcicious fresh fruit

Celebrity chef and Surrey Life columnist Tony Tobin tucks into some delcicious fresh fruit

In this month's column, celebrity chef Tony Tobin whips up a treat for those of us with a sweet tooth

In this month's column, celebrity chef Tony Tobin whips up a treat for those of us with a sweet tooth

It's 9.45pm. You've just finished a delicate, moist starter followed by a perfectly-sized and exquisitely cooked main course. These two courses have been rounded off with a glass or two of a cheeky little Chianti. Life could not be better.

Actually... it could. It could because something deep down is nagging you. It's nagging your mouth, your tastebuds, your tongue, your brain. Something is missing. Something is expected. And the meal will not be complete without it. It is (hushed tones)... a dessert.

Now I'm no anthropologist, but I can tell you that the basis of that nagging feeling, which makes us long for a dessert even if we're full up - goes back to the earliest days of food gathering. In the days before supermarkets, before farming and before... well, anything really... our ancestors would have found sweet carbohydrates one of the toughest parts of their diet to get hold of. Protein and fat were not exactly on tap, but rabbits, squirrels, birds, wild pigs, wild cattle and fish were all fairly abundant whereas sweetness was very seasonal.

During winter in particular, sweetness was a fondly remembered taste of heaven. Then, summer would arrive bringing strawberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and apples, and suddenly, whoosh, the joy of sugar was there once again making the palate sing and the muscles zing.
Consequently, I think we can safely conclude that the 'pudding urge' has been around forever. We love the sensation of sweetness because our brains know that our bodies love sugar. Our palates have been educated by our genes to respond with an all-over 'yum' to ripe fruit, sweet berries and honey, because everyone functions better and faster with a good supply of glucose. As well as giving our muscles lots of easily available energy, it helps to keep you warm and gives you the edge in a fight, too!

Sweet nothings

These days, of course, the fight in question is likely to be rather more subtle. A group of diners will be sitting there licking their lips after fillets of Charolais beef and that nagging longing for something warm and chocolately will kick in. Then - horror - there's only one portion of Black Forest gateaux on the sweet trolley! I've been a restaurateur for more than 20 years and I've never seen disappointment quite like it when you tell some people that the last portion of chocolate fondant has just been consumed. I've been tempted to say that they should remember that there were ten million years of human history when anyone on the planet would have given their eye teeth for anything off the sweet menu in front of them. But, instead, I tend to suggest a fudge brownie with cream and suddenly all is well again.

Interestingly, there is another huge factor at play in the allure of the dessert: parents. Or, perhaps I should be rather more blunt: bribery! We're all guilty at some point in parenthood of using pudding as a last gasp incentive for our kids to finish their peas. As a result, we enter adulthood pre-programmed to start salivating for a sugar fix at the end of our meals.

Any readers who know their produce will have spotted my perfect timing in writing this particular article. It sits in front of you at the time of year when desserts are magical because pretty much all of the best British fruits are in season. We have the best strawberries in the world - and nature has been especially gracious in timing them perfectly to coincide with Wimbledon. You can even nip down to your local common or woodland with your punnets and pick enough blackberries to sink a battleship. The time for desserts is now!

I will leave you this month with two ideas for desserts that are very different in their approach. One is an unusual and adventurous way of turning strawberries into a 'wow' dish and one is a complete cheat! I will tell you about it only so long as you promise you'll keep it a secret between you and me... Enjoy the sun.

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