Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Petite Treats: Adorably Delicious Versions of All Your Favorites from Scones, Donuts, and Cupcakes to Brownies, Cakes, and Pies

Petite Treats: Adorably Delicious Versions of All Your Favorites from Scones, Donuts, and Cupcakes to Brownies, Cakes, and Pies 
Authors: Morgan Greenseth Christy Beaver
Publisher: Ulysses Press (2012)

Sweets have always been a staple in the Western culture. It’s hard to imagine a BBQ without pie or ice cream, birthdays and weddings without cake, or a year without Girl Guide cookies. Children still go to school with cookies in their lunchboxes, or have an after-school snack while doing homework. But people aren’t having dinner or cocktail parties as much as they used to, and the once standard family Sunday supper is now only a few times a year at holiday time. Sometimes, though, you want that sweet end to a meal just because, and with the growing awareness and concern over the “mystery ingredients” in packaged goods, home baked is a logical option. The thing about classic desserts like pie and cake, though, is that they aren’t overly portable, or (in the case of storebought items) are too big for a child or adult watching their intake to reasonably eat. Morgan Greenseth and Christy Beaver address this sizeable issue in Petite Treats: Adorably Delicious Versions of All Your Favorites from Scones, Donuts, and Cupcakes to Brownies, Cakes, and Pies.

Petite Treats is the perfect book for both everyday and special occasion desserts, featuring miniaturized recipes for muffins and coffee cakes, brownies, cupcakes, doughnuts and whoopie pies, even cream pie, cheesecake and tiramisu! Although the desserts and snacks are full fat and use real butter, eggs, sugar and chocolate, they’re designed to be enjoyed in small amounts and are often with built in portion control, leaving guilt at the door.

While simply scaling down a recipe to make less can wreak havoc on a baking formula (at the very least sacrificing the intended flavour profile), the work is done for the reader in Petite Treats. Everything is in proper proportion, cut back enough to be relevant but not so much that measurements are impossible or require a scale and special pans. All the recipes in this book use standard Imperial units, and a good portion of them are made in “everyday” baking pans (mostly muffin, mini-muffin and 9” rounds). However, Greenseth and Beaver do call for some unusual pans – some of which I had never heard of nor ever seen in stores. These include miniature scone pans, mini whoopie pie pans (on one occasion a bunny rabbit–shaped variety), mini Bundt pans, and mini cheesecake pans. For the home baker looking for easy to do treats with a minimum of fuss, this is a frustrating (and if opting to purchase the missing pans, expensive) complication and, for me, a deal breaker on many of the recipes I was hoping to try out.

In terms of ingredients, on a few occasions, the authors also call for “1 ½ eggs”, which is almost impossible to measure and a definite oversight. I also questioned the reasoning behind calling for PET milk in one recipe and the sporadic placement of clearly “veganized” ingredients like vegan sour cream and soy milk in what is clearly not a vegan cookbook – including one case where a butter icing – topped cupcake is made with bacon, but also soy milk! This inconsistency is easily remedied by the home baker, but is still somewhat of an irritation – particularly since the “vegan” versions of the ingredients are not used for health reasons, but are simply “there. One explanation for these inclusions is that Greenseth works at a vegan bakery, but one would expect the editing process to streamline the flow of the book for practicality and ease. If a recipe in such a dairy and egg heavy book as  Petite Treats was going to be vegan, why not make it one that is “conveniently” so, without the mock ingredients?

Thankfully, the majority of the recipes (at least the ones I was able to make) turn out as well as one would expect from a pair of bakers. I used an almond-milk version of the Fall Spice Glaze (p. 136) on some pumpkin doughnuts to great acclaim, and while we agreed that the Banana-Blueberry Muffins (p. 12) were too sweet and lacking in true flavour (there isn’t even any cinnamon!), they were very moist and stayed fresh-tasting for a few days. I loved the innovative approach to pie the Apple Pie Cookies (p. 96) offered, though the pie crust they suggested was again too sweet for us – especially since our standard recipe is rather Spartan in both crust and filling. I made two of the three brownie recipes in Petite Treats – the Espresso Brownies (p. 45) and Mrs. Randall’s Brownies (p. 48). The Espresso Brownies were everything you could hope for in an “adult” styled bar – dark, intense and fudgy with definite coffee flavour in both cake and icing. There was a note in that recipe to line the pan with waxed paper – an instruction I took as an error due to wax paper’s tendency to melt and burn at oven temperatures (parchment paper is a far better medium). I took the pan to a family friend and fellow foodie’s house one afternoon and was rewarded with compliments from both she and her husband – high praise indeed. Mrs. Randall’s Brownies were decent in their own right, though I suppose by baking them in a pan rather than in the mini muffin tins called for the resulting cake would have been less dry and spongy. This particular recipe was gluten free and sugar free, a combination that can be less than delectable if done poorly... and unfortunately this version missed the mark.

Espresso Brownies (p. 45)

Petite Treats: Adorably Delicious Versions of All Your Favorites from Scones, Donuts, and Cupcakes to Brownies, Cakes, and Pies is definitely a book for the baker who has all the tools at their disposal and a taste for the whimsical. For the average cook, there are some gems in the pages which are sadly overshadowed by the inconsistent ingredients between recipes and impractical pans required for many items. Perhaps a future printing will correct these oversights, but until then Morgan Greenseth’s and Christy Beaver’s book will remain unopened.

Available December 11, 2012 on Amazon

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