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A Sweet Quartet: Sugar, Almonds, Eggs, and Butter: A Baker's Tour, Including 33 Recipes Paperback – November 6, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (November 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476745
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,203,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of Bread and Chocolate returns with another book that combines nonfiction and recipes. Rather than the autobiographical sketches in her previous book, however, here Gage folds in essays on four of baking's primary ingredients. The four central essays each follow a similar pattern: a trip to a producer, such as a hatchery or almond farm; a discussion of artificial substitutes such as aspartame or margarine; a dollop of history and science (e.g., an investigation of bitter versus sweet almonds), often followed by folklore on the subject. The recipes, from Palmiers to Green Almond Panna Cotta to Classic Shortbread, are clearly the product of a practiced hand (Gage owned a patisserie in San Francisco for 10 years). Logically, Gage has attempted to include recipes that present these ingredients in their most elemental form, but sometimes the choices for such a limited group seem odd. The sugar chapter includes recipes for Green Tea Granita and Popcorn Balls with Cashews, as well as for two pound cakes that, as Gage notes, could also have been filed under butter or eggs. A final chapter on all four ingredients, which includes one recipe an elaborate Croquembouche blends the four to their best and communal advantage.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Former owner of San Francisco's well-known Patisserie Fran aise, Gage (Bread and Chocolate) traces the four building blocks of baking-sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter-from origin to kitchen. Dividing her book into four corresponding sections, she examines the history of sweeteners, natural and artificial; takes a behind-the-scenes look at egg and chick production; explores the circular connection among bees, honey, almonds, and humans; and chronicles the evolution of buttermaking from filling animal skins with milk and swinging them from tree branches, to a butter company where cows with computer chips embedded in their ears receive individually formulated portions of feed. Each chapter ends with a handful of recipes showcasing the featured ingredient, such as Peppermint Lollipops, Marzipan Ruffle Cake, and Meringue Triangles with Almonds. While many of the 33 recipes could easily fit under another section, the final chapter combines all four elements into one delightful recipe for a Croquembouche, a pyramid of mini cream puffs. A well-researched and fascinating look at ingredients that most bakers take for granted, this title is recommended for medium to large culinary history and bakery collections.
Pauline Baughman, Multnomah Cty. Lib., Portland, OR
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Catherine S. Vodrey on October 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Fran Gage's "A Sweet Quartet" is filled to overflowing with gorgeous writing about four basic baking ingredients: sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter. She refers to these with the charming assertion that they are "the DNA of desserts." Although I'd disagree with her here (in my book, flour would replace almonds, much as I love almonds!), this former bakery owner makes her case so winningly and with such conviction that you are swept along in her cause.
The recipes are few--just under three dozen total--which may seem like very little for a cookbook that costs over twenty bucks. But Gage isn't trying to provide you with recipes as much as she's trying to fill you in on the background, the history, the chemical properties, and the world view of these ingredients. On the task she sets for herself, she does beautifully. Did you know, for instance, that:
"The Germans have loved marzipan since it arrived in the sixteenth century from Venice. They sought out the best almonds for it, and trade guilds regulated its sale; only apothecaries were allowed to sell it, much to the chagrin of confectioners . . . Neideregger, a marzipan maker in Lübeck since 1805, still boasts two hundred varieties."
or . . .
"The rhythmic slapping of balloon whisks beating egg whites in copper bowls is more than a romantic holdover. Atoms from the copper bind with one of the white's proteins, which promotes cross-linking between the protein molecules, resulting in a foam that is creamier and not so easy to overwhip."
or . . .
"There is real butter, and there is fake butter, and they are not the same . . . Spurred on by a challenge from Napoleon III in 1869, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès came up with a cheaper substitute.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A Sweet Quartet is a charming tale about the history of sugar, almonds, butter, and eggs, and how each made its way independently into the kitchen and became the foundation of all desserts. She tells the story of each ingredient by weaving history with personal recollections in the field at a sugar mill, at a hatchery, as owner of a patisserie, and other experiences. The story is compelling, and comes complete with 33 recipes. -rkc
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Four basic elements make desserts possible: sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter. A Sweet Quartet blends a culinary history of these ingredients with a recipe guide and travelogue. No color photos, but the easy recipes don't need them, while the culinary history of dessert-making is fascinating, adding a literary touch to the results.
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