Sweet and savory

The humble appearance of the Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookie belies its rich, savory flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. The complimentary sweet is served sparingly during Sunday brunch at Liberty Bar & Grill. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Loosen your belt for two of Liberty Bar's eclectic desserts

"The only thing that makes fat taste better is more fat," my favorite waitress at the Liberty Bar is fond of saying, and with that in mind I often order Geranium Cream with Blackberry Sauce for dessert (or, what the hell, sometimes for brunch with coffee). A smooth, chilly blend of butter, whipping cream, and a shameful amount of cream cheese, it's as comforting as a down pillow and as decadent as a hot oil rub.

The addition of perfume-filled, grassy Rose Geranium leaves, though, gives the dessert a decidedly antique feel. As the plant's name suggests, Rose Geranium's fuzzy, intricate leaves (they are shaped a little like extra lacey maple leaves) smell strongly of spicy roses. In aromatherapy, the plant's essential oil is recommended for balancing the mood swings caused by raging hormones.

The cream, almost too rich and thick, is complemented by the tart, winey blackberry sauce, and delicate diamonds of shortbread. (The shortbread, unfortunately, is sometimes middling: too thin and crumbly, or tasting as if the butter had been sitting uncovered in the fridge.) This is not the most popular dessert on the menu. Admittedly, it looks strange: a pale buttery mound dotted with gray-green specks covered in a bright claret sauce. Not all tongues enjoy encountering the fuzzy bits of plant in their velvet surroundings, but epicureans who prefer delicate flavors and fresh herbs enjoy this deviation from the wham-bam of Virginia Green's Chocolate Cake or the perky lime chess pie.

If you do decide to have the Geranium Cream for Sunday brunch, consider ditching the accompanying shortbread for the Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies. The unassuming 1 1/2-inch rounds are served Sunday mornings in place of the usual complimentary bread. Like the chocolate cake (engineered to perfection by owner Dwight Hobart), the cookies make the best of chocolate's earthy flavor by using just enough sugar to highlight its natural bitterness rather than cover it up. The addition of cinnamon, pepper, and cayenne creates a cookie that is more savory than sweet, and that, like a true appetizer, awakens the palette for the meal to follow. Not that you won't try to cheat your tablemates out of their share (one cookie apiece is what they bring, so I always hint that I'm waiting for a four-top).

With Liberty's reasonable prices and sunny Sunday-morning bar room, we can't imagine why you'd go through the trouble of making these desserts at home (unless you just want to knock the socks off of your dinner guests). But in case you're the reinvent-the-wheel type, we've included the recipes here, in their original vernacular, with much thanks to the staff at Liberty Bar. •

Elaine Wolff's brother works at Liberty Bar and will be "pissed" if he gets rushed for chocolate cookies this Sunday.

Geranium cream

3/4 lb. butter
3 lbs. cream cheese (yes, three pounds)
1 c. sugar
2 c. whipping cream
2 oz. Rose Geranium leaves

Slice butter thin. Slice cream cheese thin. Chop Geranium leaves fine. Place all ingredients in sauce-pan. Cook over low heat. When butter begins to melt, stir until butter and cheese are completely melted and combined. Watch carefully for lumps. When all is combined and nicely smooth, remove from heat and cool uncovered in refrigerator for at least five hours. Serve with blackberry sauce.

Blackberry sauce

2 1/2 lbs. frozen blackberries
1/4 c. lemon juice
8 oz. brown sugar

Place all ingredients in a deep pan. Cover and cook on low heat for an hour. Cool and process in a cuisinart or put through a sieve to strain seeds.

Mexican chocolate icebox cookies

3 c. all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 c. Dutch cocoa
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. finely ground black pepper
1 t. cayenne
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
12 oz. unsalted butter
1 T. vanilla extract
2 c. sugar
2 large eggs

Whisk together all the dry ingredients except for the sugar, which should be mixed separately with the eggs until light yellow then creamed with firm butter until smooth. Add the whisked dry ingredients and blend until integrated but no more than that. Do all this in a food processor if available. If not, use your wits. Roll fresh dough onto floured board until about 10 to 12 inches in length then wrap in wax paper, twisting the ends to give the roll a uniform diameter. Place in freezing compartment of refrigerator overnight (at least three hours, overnight is better).

Remove from wax paper, cut in quarter-inch rounds and bake on ungreased parchment paper at 375 degreees for 12 minutes. Bake until tiny cracks appear in the surface of cookies. Total baking time may vary up to two minutes longer (14 minutes in all). Be careful not to bake cookies too long so they get hard or burn. The cookies are done when they feel amost firm to the touch but there is a matter of subjective judgement involved here. Some people like their cookies more well done than others. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes then transfer to serving plate with spatula. Be careful to leave spatula near cookies for people who like to steal them while they are still warm and soft and tender and faintly moist. •

By Elaine Wolff

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