Dessert by the Book

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


11/2 cups (71/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (21/4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably natural
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons finely ground espresso-roast coffee beans
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (71/4 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 (11/2 ounces by weight) large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
11/3 cups (8 ounces) semisweet, milk, or white chocolate chips, or a combination

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and ground coffee. In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and brown and granulated sugars until smooth but not overmixed. (I do this by hand, but if you use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld mixer, beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, and then scrape down the sides of the bowl before continuing.) Add the egg, vanilla, and salt and stir just until combined. Add the sifted ingredients to the butter mixture in two additions, stirring gently after each addition just until combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir just until evenly distributed throughout the dough. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Position the racks in the upper third and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop up 1-inch balls of dough for full-sized cookies or 1/2-inch balls for mini cookies with a spoon or mini scoop. Set the large scoops 2 inches apart or the small scoops 1 inch apart on the prepared pans.

Bake the mini cookies for about 5 minutes and the full-sized cookies for about 8 minutes, and then rotate the pans and bake both sizes for another 3 minutes, or until they are puffed and still look a little wet in the center. Transfer to racks and let cool. (Okay, you can sneak a couple of warm cookies, but let most of the batch cool.)
These cookies will keep for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container, but they will be at their most tender the day you bake them.

Reprinted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, Copyright 2007 Tenspeed Press