Mylène Bergeron Francoeur
The Master strikes back !
Reviewed in Canada on 27 November 2010
It had been a while that I was trying to get my hand on a copy of Ripe for Dessert and Room for dessert (which are currently out of print). Imagine how I was pleased when Mr Lebovitz announced on his blog he was going to release a new cookbook, basically a mix of those two books, some new recipes and that he had reworked all the old recipes ?
I must say first of all, those who dislike "chatty" books, this might not be for you. Each recipe starts with a small talk about how the recipe came to be. Or any funny fact he encountered while creating and testing it. It often contains tips on what to do / what to avoid to achieve success. I personnaly follow the blog of David, so I find this part informative and enjoyable. Others might not.
Here is a short description of what the book contains:
Page 1 to 21 includes introduction, a talk on ingredients, and equipment. You can see the man is real passionnate about what he does, as he speaks (almost lovingly) about soft and creamy lumps of butter, amazing chocolate, heavenly toasted nuts, exotic spices and so on. I know lots of people think that when an author says "use the best", they think they're acting snobby and are being turned down, or some other crazy misconception.
Let me tell you this folks, there is one basic rule in the kitchen: you cannot have an outstanding finished product if you don't use outstanding starting ingredients. It's as simple as that. There is an understanding here that not everyone can afford (or simply find !) everything, like fresh vanilla beans. I used the fake stuff for years, and I didn't die. However, once you move on to real extract, or the actual beans, you're going to understand why so much people put as much emphasis on the quality first. And in the end, when you got a quality product, you usually need less to achieve the same result. If you can splurge, do it. It's worth your while.
He does speak then about a lot of equipment. However, Lebovitz is a simple man, and he wants you to reproduce his creations in your kitchen, not only if you are a professionnal chef. However, if you'd still like to get that fancy gadget, he's most likely to provide some tips in looking for the best solution for you, but he also suggests inexpensive ways to replace something you don't have by making do with something you already own. For those interrested in ice cream and other frozen mixtures, he does have some very good insight (as David also has a wonderful book about frozen desserts, called
The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments
). I found that section just lenghty enough, I didn't feel like it was too much and was preventing me to flip to the recipes.
Now on to the core of the book: the recipes. The book is divided in 6 main sections;
Pies, tarts and fruit desserts,
Custards, soufflés and puddings,
Cookies and candies,
Basics sauces, and preserves.
Each page starting one chapter has a beautiful full page picture (usually makes you want to flip the page to dig out the recipe right away), and a two column index naming the recipes and their page. The ingredients are listed first, with weight measurements, which I love (If you don't own a kitchen scale, run to the store and get one !). The instructions are clear and they give you extra tips (for example, instead to mention "unmold" he says "to unmold, slice a knife on the side of the pan to loosen it.") Each recipe contains some suggestions on the serving, and how to garnish, often refering to others items in the book, mentionning where they can be found. I absolutely loved also the "storage" bit, which explains you the best way to keep any leftovers, so that they taste as good as the day you made it. Not all of the pages have pictures, but I didn't find it a draw back. The pictures in the book (there are still lots of them !) are all exceedingly beautiful and will make you salivate.
For me, the biggest appeal in this book are the frozen desserts section, and the basic sauces and preserves.
The frozen section is a refreshing (no pun intended !) alternative to those heavy desserts, in the middle of summer. Who wants to bake a pie at that time, even if it contains fruit ? I must admit I own The Perfect Scoop, so it didn't matter all that much to me, but for someone who has no other book on the subject, it is a very good start to initiate oneself to the art of frozen desserts. The one I MUST try, is small pink grapefruit sorbet balls, served with sparkling wine / champagne. So simple and impressive !
The section on basic sauces and preserves, to my opinion is the one in this book that will bring you to the next level. It's still recipes, but mostly part of recipes. If you try out the tart shell, then you can build your own imaginative tart afterwards. Being someone who preserves and cans, all the sauces (chocolate, raspberry, mango, blackberry, apricot, orange and rhubarb, etc) and the preserves like blueberry compote, candied cherries, candied ginger, candied orange peel, the marmelades, the jams... appealed a lot to me. It's simple, elegant, and make beautiful gifts. I made some (correction: a lot !) of candied orange peels and candied half oranges, dipped in chocolate for some friends wedding 1 year ago. It was a large success, as I've been told the box quite almost didn't survive the wedding night...
If it wasn't enough, there is one little gem left at the end of the book, in the Appendix. It's caramelization guidelines. The art of doing caramel is explained and WELL ILLUSTRATED for you. You'll simply have no more excuses for messing up caramel, and will be confident enough to take on that simple (but intimidating at first) task.
Conclusion: BUY IT ! You won't regret it. And also at 26$ for the hardcover edition, it's quite inexpensive, too. This is really a quality book.
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