108 of 112 people found the following review helpful
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.
118 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2007
I was a fan of Alice Medrich ever since her book "Bittersweet". All the recipes I have tried from that book worked. I was fortunate to attend a class held at the Tante Marie Cooking school this past August where Alice Medrich was doing some class demonstrations and she had the first copies of "Pure Dessert" available to the attendees. From the cover to the wonderful photography of each recipe inside, I knew I couldn't wait to try some of them at home.
I had tried three items so far: iced citron vodka chocolates, the nibby buckwheat cookies and the chestnut pound cake. All of them were delicious and the nuances of each ingredient came through cleanly in your palate - hence the name of the book - "Pure Dessert".
Watching and listening to Alice during the class demos gave me an understanding as to why her recipes worked very well. She is an avid tester. She never ceases to try and figure out why and how an ingredient or the amount you use affect the outcome of your end product - she is simply a curious soul!
If you are looking for overly frosted cakes or complex dessert recipes, this book is NOT for you. Most of the recipes are made up of but a few choice ingredients and from what I can tell from what I have created, none of them are overly sweet - just refreshing, pure desserts!
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2008
Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert is a great addition to any cookbook collection. Her ideas are interesting and inspiring but without the 'over-the-top' over-reaching, both in terms of flavor and technique, of so many high-end dessert books. I have made several of the recipes so far, including "cocoa wafers" (fabulous, pure in flavor and dangerously addictive), "my gingersnaps" (not sure I'll make anyone else's anymore unless I have to), "new bitersweet brownies" (fabulous taste and texture -- definitely make the nibby version in a round cake pan - fancy to look at but easy and "pure" at the same time). Five stars for this one is a slam-dunk, if you'll pardon the expression.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2008
After seeing recipes that included whole-grain flours in cookies and cakes, I was intrigued by this book, and decided to get it, not knowing what a master Alice Medrich is at creating perfectly balanced recipes that focus on flavor and texture. After this book, I hold Alice as the gold standard in baking. I am collecting her other books and hope that Alice will someday do an ice cream book.
There is nothing that is overly sweet in this book, a flaw of many other dessert books. Alice allows the ingredients to shine, and has created recipes that provide more than just sweetness or richness. One of the points made throughout this book that I really agree with is that richer is not always better. Many think that having tons of eggs and loading up on the heavy cream will automatically make ice cream better, but Alice correctly points out that this is not always the case, and that in many instances, eggs get in the way of flavor, as does the use of too much sugar. She has done the recipe-testing to back it up as well! All of her recipes are extensively tested, and having tried out so many of them, I can vouch that anyone can feel sure about trying out a recipe for the first time and getting excellent results. I love reading her insights into why things work, as well as her discoveries that often go against the norm (for example, how cold infusions proved superior to hot infusions).
Her lebni tart is cheesecake-smooth, but with the characteristic tang of yogurt, perfectly balanced with a sweet, buttery, vanilla-flavored crust.
The brioche is feather-light, just sweet enough, and very buttery, but without tasting at all greasy.
Then there's her quark souffles. They're just lightly sweetened, with the slight tang of the cheese not being at all lost, and indeed, just perfect with berries.
As for those recipes with whole-grain flours, Alice points out how she created them not for health reasons, but for the textural benefits, as well as the interesting flavor they provide.
Her nibby buckwheat butter cookies are among my favorite cookies ever. They have a perfectly sandy yet crunchy texture, and the cacao nibs almost make these taste like a grown-up chocolate chip cookie.
The kamut pound cake is fantastic, especially with fleur de sel and black pepper sprinkled on top.
The cornmeal-buckwheat scones are also a must.
And I can't review this book without pointing out that her lemon squares are perfection. I have been spoiled by these and nothing else will ever do. Sweet, buttery crust, tangy, perfectly smooth and velvety lemon curd. Between the lemon squares, the lebni tart, and the brioche, those are three recipes that are worth the price of the book alone!
Do yourself a favor and get this book. As simple as the content seems, you'll find this deceiving as soon as you get a taste of any of the recipes.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2011
I made the Lemon Tart (p 114-115) ahead of time for a dinner party, and I'm glad I did. French tarts are supposed to be rich, and therefore scant in the amount of filling, but there seemed to be an error in this recipe. The filling recipe made such a small amount of lemon curd that it barely covered the 9.5" crust. I had to make a second recipe of filling in order to get the correct amount, which measured about 1/4" high in the crust (not an overly large amount and certainly not filled up to the top of the crust).
The recipe itself (flavor, texture, look) are excellent and the tart got rave reviews from my guests. It is quite lemon-y and the crust is very buttery. I made it a second time and cut back the butter in the crust by 1/2 tbsp and it tasted just fine, and didn't exude as much butter onto the baking sheet and didn't recklessly slide off the tart bottom as it did the first time.
I have made other Medrich recipes from her other books, Cocolat, and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, with great success. My conclusion: if it is for a special occasion, make the recipe ahead of time to be sure it works. There was one other review here by someone who made the muffin recipe with possibly too much baking powder. Maybe the copy-editing was inconsistent in this latest book, so use your baking sense!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2008
I love baking and making desserts and have collected lots of great recipes by Dorie Greenspan, Nigella Lawson, Maida Heatter and others. I only discovered Alice Medrich's books about six months ago but she's now become my absolute favorite. Out of all these authors, she's the only one whose recipes are absolutely reliable and always turn out perfectly. The almond cake and the Italian chocolate-almond torte in this book are amazing and I can't wait to try the rest. Inventive, well-designed recipes that taste wonderful and are not excessively complicated. Thanks, Alice!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I like the author's focus on using the best ingredients and simplifying recipes to allow the flavor of individual ingredients to shine.
Chapters include Before You Start (which includes recommendations on ingredients and equipment); the Flavors of Milk; Flavors of Grain, Nuts and Seeds; Flavors of Fruit; Flavors of Chocolate; Flavors of Honey and Sugar; Flavors of Herbs and Spices, Flowers and Leaves; and Flavors of Wine, Beer and Spirits.
The author's notes for each recipe are interesting, and directions are clear. Many recipes include possible variations, offering the cook even more options. The desserts include cookies, cakes, sherberts, ice creams, tarts, souffles, puddings, and a few more adventurous options (such as Mexican chocolate soup with cinnamon toasts).
Pure Desserts might have received five stars if it included more photos. The color photos featured in the book were beautifully staged, but I wish there had been many more.
This is similar to Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yokelson, but I would recommend Pure Dessert between the two.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2011
I have all of Alice's books (even the old out of print ones!). I love this book for it's focus on ingredients. My family LOVED the Almond Cake and I can't get enough of it! My only issue was trying to do it with the crunchy almond crust. Even though I diligently buttered the pan and followed all directions to the letter the cake stuck to the pan and ended up breaking into pieces. I still ate it, just made another without the crust to serve as a second dessert for Thanksgiving. The Chocolate Wafer cookies (with dried cherries and chocolate chuncks varation) are sublime! My major issues is that I'm trying to lose weight so cooking desserts everyday is out of the question :)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2010
My stepson gave me this cookbook for Christmas. I fell in love with the simplicity of the recipes but yet they are complex at the same time. I agree the quality of ingredients makes the difference in baking. I am the dessert maker for my in-law's family. Asians are not into desserts like the Europeans. I'm slowly converting them :-) Anyway, I made the lemon tart and tuiles for MIL birthday. She went for seconds on the tart. So far I have also made the lemon candied citrus peel, crema ice cream and raspberry chocolate chunk muffins. Yes 1T is correct for them. They came out wonderful. I look forward to trying additional recipes.
If you are new to baking and you do not want to invest in having a plethora of equipment this is for you. I use this book when I feel like baking, short on time but know I will have the ingredients in my pantry. Her introductions for each chapter are informative.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2008
Organized by flavors (milk, sugar, fruit, nuts and so on), this book creates exquisitely simple and incredibly satisfying recipes. In a nut shell, Alice Medrich rocks. I wasn;t blown away by the chapter on milk and fruit, but the nuts and grains recipe are fantastic. Particularly, the recipes for Nibby buckwheat cookies and the Italian chocolate almond torte never fail to please guests and hostess alike ;-)