Dolci: Italy's Sweets Hardcover – Oct 1 2011
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About the Author
Francine Segan is a food historian and the author of four cookbooks, including The Opera Lover’s Cookbook, a James Beard and IACP award finalist. She is Food and Home editor for bettyconfidential.com. Segan lives in New York City.
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My complaint is that I feel like there are some technical flaws. I've had this book for about a week, and so far I've made the torta di mele as well as the biscotti di meliga. I was surprised that the torta di mele recipe didn't call for any salt (I tasted the batter, and it definitely needed it, so I added a pinch). The type of apples needed wasn't specified (I used Granny Smith, but I think a sweeter apple would have been better). Also, the author says to bake it in an 8-inch round cake pan. This surprised me because I've always seen it baked in a springform pan. It might just be a regional difference, but you do need a cake pan that's fairly deep (at least 2 inches). The apples just won't fit if you use a 1-inch deep cake pan. Also, unless you plan to serve the cake in the pan, I don't understand how you're supposed to flip this cake out of a regular cake pan. The biscotti di meliga recipe also had technical issues. It called for salt, but didn't specify how much (I used a big pinch, and that worked pretty well). Also, I didn't understand how you were supposed to knead that dough, or why. I tried, and all it did was warm the already-softened butter (which made my cookies spread to twice their size in the oven). In spite of these issues, both the torta di mele and biscotti di meliga turned out delicious.
Bottom line: this book is incredibly well researched. If you've been to Italy or spent much time with Italians, you can tell that these are the recipes they make. These are the sweets they love. The stories and sayings reveal the spirit of the Italian people. If you aren't already in love with the country and its people, you will be after reading this book. As a cookbook, it has some issues and is probably best for someone who knows what these desserts should look like, or is at least comfortable making adjustments to the recipes.
An added bonus of this book is the added facts, history and anecdotes from the author's travels that go along with each recipe. When I researched Segan more, I found that she is a food historian who lectures across the country on dining through different time periods and cultures. For this book, she collected recipes from the people who really use them - homemakers, chefs, bloggers and even grandmas in villages so remote that they didn't even have Internet!
The recipes are simple and easy to follow, with most ingredients available at major grocery stores in the United States. On page 203 there is an "online source for ingredients" that lists a wide range of sources for all sorts of Italian products, chocolates, cookies and more.
Some of my favorite recipes for fall: Rustic Tuscan Apple Cake (I made this two nights ago and it was a fan favorite in my house), Winter Fruit Salad, Instant Chocolate Cake and Hazelnut Chocolate Kiss Cookies.
The final chapter, "Basics" is ideal for the at home cook who seeks instructions on making dessert sauces, jams and even pie crusts. Although not a tradition in my home, there is also a chapter dedicated to "After Dinner Beverages" if you are looking for coffee liqueur drinks and espresso.
This is a great cookbook to give as a holiday gift. I plan to make some of the desserts from the "holiday chapter" at my own dinner, especially the Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake. Ciao!
Also interesting are the many dessert recipes utilizing pasta, from simple crunchy cookies, to cakes and pies with cooked pasta as in ingredient. Fascinating. Also noteworthy is the chapter of "Weird and Wonderful" desserts. I'm dying to try the Yogurt Semifreddo with Radicchio Marmalade, Chocolate Eggplant, a sweet "lasagne" with eggplant, ricotta, and chocolate, and Sweet Spinach Pie.
All the classics are here too, like versions of Tiramisu, Biscotti, and Panna Cotta. This book is a real sampling of modern Italy's desserts, and sometimes unexpected everyday treats that are new to the US. Francine collected recipes from home bakers, bloggers, chefs, and bakers and pulled together a wonderfully useful resource. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection - not only will you be able to make classic Italian recipes from the original source, but will find really interesting and fun desserts that, no doubt, your dinner guests will be talking about for years.
The photographs are truly artful and beautiful.
It's obvious that the author's heart and soul are in this book and it's a true labor of love. Can't wait to bake!