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Nothing Between You and the Flavors
on October 20, 2007
There are those who may be in a "New York State of Mind" when it comes to desserts (and there are some fine east coast sweets). This is a dessert book for those in a "Northern California" state of mind. If Chez Panisse and the French Laundry sound appealing, you'll find this volume very exciting. If you'd like to forego heavy cheesecakes, frostings, three-layer cakes, and toothachingly sweet confections, this book is for you. If you appreciate elegant simplicity combined with eating seasonally and locally, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this delightful volume.
First and foremost, with these recipes, there is absolutely nothing to get in the way of pure flavor. Like Lisa Yockelson's "Baking by Flavor" and Carole Bloom's "The Essential Baker", this book is organized by ingredients rather than type of dessert. Medrich begins with "The Flavors of Milk". Right off the bat, I discovered two ethereal renditions: "Sour Cream Ice Cream" and "Carmelized Crepes Filled with Fresh Cheese". Both recipes are exceedingly simple and deceptively spectacular. Medrich cautions against using even vanilla in the ice cream, letting the "rich nutty flavor and pleasant edge of the sour cream" shine. The crepes are designated as "minimalist revamped cheese blintzes" made without benefit of eggs or much sugar - so as not to interfere with the extraordinary flavor and purity of fresh artisan cheese. Both desserts will knock your socks off, providing you don't change a thing (and you'll be tempted to do so). Paging through "The Flavors of Chocolate", you'll find a serene "Chocolate Pudding" and an equally comforting "Nutella Bread Pudding". My favorite is the "Mexican Chocolate Soup with Cinnamon Toasts": hot chocolate "soup" with a scoop of coffee ice cream in the center, accompanied by fresh, hot cinnamon toast. Now there's a replacement for the usual flourless chocolate cake or lava cake on Valentine's Day! Is there anyone who doesn't like warm cinnamon and chocolate served with ice cream?
Medrich does a great service by providing 31 introductory pages of information on techniques, ingredients, and equipment. You'll learn about using chestnuts, lavender, and jasmine tea; why it's better to infuse herbs in cold cream rather than hot; and the properties of European-style versus American-style butter (you'll be surprised!). Medrich also lists 20 sources for ingredients and equipment.
Most of the recipes are simple to prepare and don't have long lists of ingredients. The ice creams (with the exception of the "Crema Ice Cream") are "Philadelphia" style - made without eggs. The "Heavenly Honey Ice Cream" has just four ingredients!
Most of all, the writing in this work is superb - fluid and informative - but always approachable. The only flaws have to do with the book design itself. Some of the pages are lavender with grey type - and I found those pages not quite as easy on the eyes. The book is also a bit heavy for its size. There are a good number of color photographs - some deliberately out of focus - but not to the point of distraction.
If you're tired of gooey sugar-laden finales, complex plated architecture that is more about pastry chef competitions than flavor, or fusion that has transformed into confusion, you'll find "Pure Dessert" a refreshing change of pace.