According to David Lebovitz, "Each year, hundreds of cookbooks are released, which means that inevitably, many must go to make room for the new."
One look through his latest book Ready for Dessert (his original title idea was David's Greatest Hits) is enough to make me want to do just that-- clear my shelf of all the pretty, rarely-used dessert tomes that do little else than collect dust and take up space in my kitchen.
My copy of Lebovitz's book is already stained (with coffee) from just looking at it. It's the best type of food porn available: high production values (great recipes and gorgeous photography by Maren Caruso); a cast of stars (Chocolate Orbit Cake, Kumquat Sticky Toffee Pudding, Apple-Quince Tarte Tatin) that are hot, but not out of reach; and a writer who supplies, if not a story line, then enough anecdotes to keep me interested (The Racine's Cake recipe was, after all, found written on a men's room wall). It's one sexy book.
The first time I met David Lebovitz, one of the first things out of his mouth was "I'm not a nice person," which I found interesting, since the impression I got from him was the exact opposite. If he is, in fact, not a nice person at all, he's hidden his misanthropy entirely in what is a very friendly, approachable cookbook. The Caramelization guidelines for both wet and dry caramel, with their step-by-step photos, careful instruction, and simple explanation are worth the price of admission alone. And the overall tone is warm, funny and, with the exception of crowing over his chocolate chip cookies (page 188)), modest. I've made those cookies. He can crow all he wants.
Unfussy, straightforward desserts that rely more upon the complexity or impact of flavor than frills are Lebovitz's hallmark. From the subtlety of his Black Currant Tea Crème Brûlée (page 129) to the luciously rich Chocolate Pavé (page 25), Ready for Dessert offers a wide range of recipes that are within the grasp of all but the most inept cooks. And, even then, there's always that Chocolate Orbit (née Idiot) cake (page 26).
And one look at his Orange-Almond Bread Pudding (page 136) drizzled with Tangerine Butterscotch Sauce (page 242) is enough to make me Crème Anglais (page 237) my pants. Rarely has a cookbook inspired me to roll up my sleeves and get baking.
I highly recommend this book.
David Lebovitz's Chocolate Chip Cookies (excerpt from Ready for Dessert, page 188. Published with permission.)
2 1/2 cups (350g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (215 g) packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (about 225 g) nuts, such as walnuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
14 ounces (400 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into 1/2-to 1-inch (1.5- to 3-cm) chunks or 3 cups (340 g) chocolate drops (see Tip)
1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla on medium speed just until smooth. Beat in the eggs on at a time until thoroughly incorporated, then stir in the flour mixer followed by the nuts and chocolate chunks.
3. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into quarters. Shape each quarter into a log about 9 inches (23 cm) long. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, preferably for 24 hours.
4. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
5. Slice logs into disks 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick and place the disks 3 inches (8 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. If the nuts or chips crumble out, simply push them back in.
6. Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway through the baking, until the cookies are very lightly browned in the centers, about 10 minutes. If you like soft cookies, as I do, err on the side of underbaking.
7. Let cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack.
Storage: The dough logs can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for up to 1 month. The baked cookies will keep well in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Tip: Many chocolate makers now produce chocolate "drops" or "chunks" that are suitable for use in this recipe. Regular chocolate chips are designed to resist melting, so I don't use them in my chocolate chip cookies.