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Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
I've been a cookbook fan and user of Karen and her husband having enjoyed cooking from their cookbook, but now to have one devoted to Karen's outstanding talents and love for desserts is neat.

She has a philosophy here that should comfort and inspire: to get us back cooking our own desserts using great recipes. That's how she and previous generations learned, at the side of someone who had a great recipe. Her styling of this collection of desserts is with the home chef in mind. So, ingredients, techniques and equipment are with us in mind, and she tells us her preferences and what she used to make these. Also, she provides info as one proceeds with the recipe on what to expect, adjust, etc.

Most of the recipes are not complex, nor simple, but all delicious and most very unique and creative. But none of them are of that category of being "over the top" that would scare most of us home dessert makers to ignore trying them, except in those unique times when we would torture ourselves and our patience to take days to make a special one. None of that here! Just great desserts!

I've tried several of the following with great results and look forward to more of the same: Lime Meringue Tart; Blackberry Slump with Sweet Potato Dumplings; Bourbon Creme Caramel with Bruleed Bananas; Summer Cherry Berry Pudding; Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake; Banana Upside Down Cakes; Pumpkin Cognac Cheesecake Brulee; Ruby Port Ice Cream; Purple Plum Rum Sorbet; Cornmeal Vanilla Bean Shortbreads; Raised Cocoa Waffles a la Mode.

There is much useful sections as well: Baker's Bookshelf; Sources; Equivalent Pan Sizes (this I find extremely useful);

All in all a most delightful and substantial dessert guide for just us home bakers. And great color photos of so many!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 8, 2004
Award-winning pastry chef Barker admonishes the reader (gently) not to skip the opening primer on techniques, tools and ingredients, and, along with the usual baking do's and don'ts, you will find useful information on the equipment and ingredients used in these American dessert recipes.
Her Basics chapter offers various pastry doughs as well as dessert sauces of all kinds, from classic chocolate to Concord Grape Syrup and Marshmallow Fluff.
All the classics are here, many with a twist (Apple Rhubarb Cardamom Crumb Pie, Goat Cheese Cheesecake in a Hazelnut Crust) and Barker offers homey tips as well as variations and serving suggestions. Notes throughout explain how to choose or handle specific ingredients, and recipes are very clearly organized and written.
Not just for bakers, there are ice creams; custards and puddings; pancakes, waffles and fritters; and numerous fruit desserts, baked and not.
With gorgeous photographs, lots of variety and clear, thorough instructions for success, this is a well-rounded book for beginners as well as experienced cooks.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2006
I love it! I used my Mom's and now have my own copy to share with my 2 little girls as we bake up a storm! This cookbook is very eary to follow with simple, yet tasty recipes. Thank you, Karen Barker, for sharing such wonderful recipes and your personal touch to each of them!
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
`sweet stuff' is subtitled `Karen Barker's American Desserts', that is, probably coincidentally, almost exactly the title of Wayne Harley Brachman's new book published a few months ago. In summary, both books are great treatments of American desserts, covering very much the same territory. Brachman's book is funnier and it may explain some basic techniques a bit more thoroughly. Ms. Barker's book is a bit longer, covers some topics in somewhat greater depth. Karen's recipes are centered in Southern desserts while Wayne's center of gravity is somewhere between Brooklyn, New York and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I suggest you get both if you are a big dessert maker. Brachman covers doughnuts and does a better job on teaching piecrusts. Brachman's volume may be better for the novice. Barker's book has more recipes overall.
I recently reviewed Gale Gand's new book `short + sweet' on fast desserts and it is quite a good book for working with kids. Karen has definitely done desserts for grown-up tastes, in spite of the large number of peanut and peanut butter recipes. The presence of rum, bourbon, and Jack Daniels as ingredients is just one indication of how this book is aimed at adult tastes.
The reciped chapters in this book are named:
The Basics: A Baker's Building Blocks
A Pie Primer
Fruit Somethings
Custards & Puddings: Low and Slow is the Way to Go
Let Them Eat Cake
We All Scream for Ice Cream
The Joy of Cookies
Pancakes, Waffles, Fritters, and other Breakfast-Like Desserts
As cheesecake is actually a type of custard pie, you may be puzzled to find it discussed in the chapter on cakes. That aside, I found the Ms. Brown's recipe, techniques, and explanations for how and why a cheesecake can go wrong is quite the best I have seen. It agreed with and went far beyond Alton Brown's `Good Eats' cheesecake episode in achieving a primo cheesecake.
As with Brachman's book, the true subject of this volume is not as centered on historical American recipes as it is on recipes which are currently popular in the United States, whether they originated on these shores or are imports from England, France, or Italy. The book gives you a fair share of Crème Broulee, Panna Cotta, and Sabayon. It balances that with lots of true American classics like apple pie, `Sally Lunn' brioche like bread, Sumps, Crumbles, Cobblers, and Shortcakes.
The most distinctive strength of the book is it's very concentration on reusable techniques and preparations. It can very much be seen as an application of Ming Tsai's `Master Recipe' technique in the book `Simply Ming'. The approach starts in the chapter entitled `The Basics', but it permeates the book. The chapter `Fruit Somethings' in particular has several techniques for compotes, shortcakes, and syrups that may be used together with ice creams, cakes, and other pastries.
Please be careful to note that this book is not a general book on baking and does not cover a lot of baking topics. Conversely, it includes ice creams, sherbets, sorbets, and granitas, which may be a classic province of the pastry chef, but it is not baking. The book contains a great little bibliography with references to important modern works on baking.
My only disappointment was that the author chose to present only `New York' style ice cream, which is a frozen custard. A truer `American' dessert may be the `Philadelphia' style, which includes cream, but no eggs.
Highly recommended if you need only one book on desserts. Not easy, but the results are more than worth the effort.
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on May 6, 2011
I am in the process of making some of the recipes in this book. There is a variety of recipes. The ones that I have tried have been fab. I will not try all of the recipes in this book, as they do not all appeal to me but I am glad to have the book and I will enjoy using it and testing the recipes.
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on May 30, 2015
I like how the book is set up and Karen's explanations. I made the Black Walnut Angel Food Cake with Sorghum and the recipe was easy to follow, and the cake is delicious. It is a recipe I will make again.
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on June 7, 2015
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