This Fall saw three dessert books by local chefs, Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts, Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich and Indulge by Claire Clark. Each of these books are masterful and exacting. When it comes to pastry, exacting is important. I'm often intimidated by the fact that you can't "fix" dessert the way you can fix something savory. You can't add more leavening or salt or sugar or cook the fruit a bit longer once your creation comes out of the oven. What you can do, is rely on recipes that work.
Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts is the first book by Elizabeth Falkner. Go ahead and skip Fisherman's Wharf, but I consider Citizen Cake a requirement for any out-of-town visitor. Falkner's creations are sophisticated and smart, never sickly sweet. She composes plated desserts the way other chefs compose main courses with multiple elements that complement and play off of each other in both unexpected and whimsical ways. The book has both complicated desserts but also more straight forward ones like chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes and brownies. It's the chapters like The Chocolate Crawl, Fruitscapes and the Construction Zone that are most likely to inspire. Fantastic creations with even more fantastic names are par for the course. The manga style illustrations add the sense of fun and pleasure that comes so naturally with dessert.
Another first time cookbook author is Clarie Clark, the head pastry chef at The French Laundry. Indulge 100 Perfect Desserts is filled with French, English and American desserts, and ingredients are given by weight. The recipes are very well-written and chapters called "The Secrets of Success" share the insider tips that can only come from years in the kitchen. A section on puff pastry has 8 tips to make sure you get it right. A bit like a class in pastry-making, this is a terrific reference book and the photographs will guide your plating and presentation as much as the instructions.
Pure Dessert is written by veteran chocolatier and cookbook author, Alice Medrich. The focus of the book is on "true flavors and inspiring ingredients" and it is a celebration of simplicity. That's not to say the recipes are easy, but certainly easy to love. In an earlier book Medrich revisited chocolate desserts using the higher quality, higher percentage cacao and this book is in some ways very similar. It's about creating desserts that celebrate ingredients. A chapter dedicated to the flavors of grain, nuts and seeds includes recipes like Buckwheat Strawberry Shortcakes, Walnut Sponge Cake and Corn Tuiles with Salt and Pepper. Some of the recipes are classics, others are innovative.
Chocolate² Chip Espresso Cookies
makes about 4 dozen standard cookies or 8 dozen mini cookies