Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes
Author: Alice Medrich
Publisher: Artisan Publishing (2012)

Now that the school year is in full swing once more, many PTAs and fundraising groups are going to be pushing bake sale participation onto parents and children alike. Unfortunately, the story of the child who comes home from school claiming they "need something for the bakesale... tomorrow" is all too real and parents are hesitant to use a packaged mix or swing by the bakery the next morning can find themselves up till 2AM mixing and decorating something sellable. Even if bake sales are not an issue, impromptu dinner guests and holiday parties tax the already busy individual looking to impress, and sometimes simply having a sweet treat after a Saturday night dinner is desired! Dessert guru Alice Medrich has compiled a book of recipes that are just what the doctor ordered for the harried sweet tooth. From packable, individual cookies and cupcakes to standout pies and bread puddings, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes has something to savour.

Medrich follows the philosophy of keeping things simple in the sweet kitchen, and like her previous Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies the square book is easy to read, clear and concise, with full colour photos of many recipes. Beginning with an incredibly useful listing of "basic dessert pantry" items and helpful kitchen tools (p. 9-13), novice bakers are given a perfect go-to guide for their first shopping trip, including a list of treats in the book that can be made with bare-bones essentials. An extra glossary of both ingredients (p. 270) and equipment (p. 274) prefaces the American resource listing (p. 277) and a well-organized complete index. The recipes in Sinfully Easy are also interspersed with "un-recipes" for basics like meringue (both crunchy and crisp-chewy, my personal favourite) (p. 160), yogurt cheese (p. 114), crostini (p. 16), vanilla sugar (p. 53) and toasted nuts (p. 256). Medrich ups the approachability factor of this book by including "generalized" tutorials as well. Whether the occasion calls for cake (p. 170), chocolate and cocoa (p. 97), cookies (p. 236) or nuts (p. 256), help is offered in a simple to understand and apply format that doesn't preach to nor bore the reader.

True to it's title, offerings in Sinfully Easy are fairly quick and uncomplicated which makes it a boon for parents with fledgling cooks in the kitchen. While I question the need for actual recipes like Cinnamon Toast (p. 28), Lightly Sweetened Whipped Cream (p. 130), Chocolate Shards (p. 232), Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches (p. 254) and Chocolate-Dipped Fruit (p. 264) rather than simply including them as "ideas" in one of the many other sections, most are gems that are simple without being inane. Go-to items like the The Best One-Bowl Chocolate Cake (p. 174) and Bill's Food Processor Chocolate Mousse (p. 90) can be prepared by older children or used as measurement and preparation teaching opportunities for parents, and with the options for many frostings, compotes, and other garnish recipes Medrich includes even the most basic of items can be made into a showstopping dessert. For those with a posher palate, items such as Carrot Almond Torte (p. 206) and custards (including a decadent Bittersweet Cocoa Souffle (p. 126) and French Chocolate Mousse (p. 93)) are more complex alternatives to the Classic Carrot Cake (p. 209) and Chocolate Pudding (p. 88).

I had the pleasure of making several of the items in Sinfully Easy over the Summer, and not a single one disappointed in the flavour department. While the cupcakes I made using the One-Bowl Vanilla Cake (p. 222) recipe sunk horribly in the middle (despite being cooked through), I used it as an opportunity to fill them with thick, rich Mocha Fudge Frosting (p. 180) and cap things off with the lighter but still indulgent Extra-Good Vanilla Bean Frosting (p. 181, sidebar). The result was incredibly well received by those I served them to and no one ever suspected the cake portion had a problem at all. For my bread-pudding (and banana) loving dad, I made a variation of the Salted Caramel Banana Bread Puddings (p. 118) in coffee mugs (as I did not have, nor could I find, any 6-ounce ramekins) using Medrich's Butterscotch Toffee Sauce (p. 25). A word to the wise regarding the toffee sauce: ensure the cream (or coconut milk in my case) is warm before stirring into the sugar, or it will separate and curdle. I found that this step allowed me to use even a lower-fat dairy product (whole milk) than the heavy cream called for without separation problems.

Probably the two most valuable portions of Sinfully Easy are Medrich's "[T]hings to do with..." sections and her wealth of variations for a set basic recipe. Not only does the book include the chapters Starting with Ice Cream (p. 15) and Starting with Fruit (p. 47), but ideas for using vanilla ice cream, ripe strawberries, yogurt, gingerbread, and chocolate bars are included as well - allowing even the most rushed person to enjoy a sweet treat. Almost every recipe includes variations for flavour, texture or application, from 10 Ways to Flavour Whipped Cream (p. 131) to turning the dense mousse of the Chocolate Marquise (p. 95) into a pie. These variations raise the economic value of this book immensely while keeping the reader interested by providing several recipes in one, and in times where budgets are tight it can be an excuse to justify an otherwise frivolous sounding dessert cookbook.

Whether you are baking for your family, a special occasion or those sudden fundraisers, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes can fit the bill. It is a good first "sweet kitchen" book for teenagers and adult baking neophytes alike and is so rich in variety that it is virtually impossible to make the same thing twice in a year. Even if you normally take a pass on the sweet table, this book by Alice Medrich will convert you at first taste.

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