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Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts Hardcover – Bargain Price, December 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
An award-winning pastry chef, Barkerâ"coauthor (with her husband) of Not Afraid of Flavor, a cookbook from their restaurant, Magnolia Grill, in Durham, N.C.â"presents a diverse and balanced selection of her favorite American desserts. She enthusiastically introduces home cooks to the basics of pies, fruit desserts, custards, ice cream, cookies, cakes, waffles and other breakfastlike desserts with clear, unintimidating directions and copious suggestions for variations. Every recipe includes a personal introduction, succinct directions, elaborate baker's notes with additional hints and advice, and serving suggestions that sometimes refer to other recipes in the book. By altering just a few ingredients or adding an unusual spice, Barker creates out-of-the-ordinary twists on classics, such as Apple Rhubarb Cardamom Crumb Pie, Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Custard Pie and Coffee Anise Creme Caramel, as well as more obscure tastes like Blackberry Slump with Sweet Potato Dumplings or Peanut Butter Cheesecake. Full-page photographs illustrate the dishes in mouth-watering detail. Although the book will satisfy any sweet tooth, lovers of fruit desserts will especially appreciate the abundance of recipes for pies, cobblers, crumbles, crunches, crisps, buckles, grunts, slumps and betties, as well as Barker's tutorial on how to tell the difference between them.
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"Try Barker's chocolate shortcake. . . . Oh, man, it's good." -- Candy Sagan, Washington Post, June 2004
"Unpretentious, deceptively simple-sounding, unfailingly delectable desserts." -- New York Times, May 23, 2004
Clear and concise recipes that are also mouthwateringly tempting. . . . This lovely book [has] . . . a warm, friendly tone. -- Cookbook Digest, February 2005
Karen Barker is one of the country's best working bakers. -- The New York Times Food Review, December 5, 2004
This new collection of [Barker's] delicious desserts is sure to bring joy to any home baker. . . . For all baking collections. -- Library Journal, March 15, 2004
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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
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.
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!
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.