This valuable little book will be of absolutely no help to the average home cook. To the sophisticated amateur pastry chef or newly formed professional, it provides an invaluable lesson: turning out plated desserts good enough to be served at restaurants. Here is the art of turning a piece of cake into something a customer will be happy to pay $15 for.
The book is divided into 2 sections: the first one has 44 recipes for components, and the second part has 23 complete dessert presentations (however, not all of them are formal plate presentations). This latter section is extremely valuable. There are complete instructions for assembling the plate, including all of the decorating details and components; many include variations. It demonstrates the entire process from beginning to end, and there are few if any books I can think of that show this. It is probably the equivalent of several professional-caliber classes at a cooking school.
The recipes are definitely not for the uninitiated. The Genoise, for example, is the first cake most professionals learn how to do. The recipe for the chocolate version of this standard is not sufficiently detailed for the beginner to do successfully; many key steps are not sufficiently explained. For the advanced baker, however, this recipe is more than sufficient; he will know how to fill in the blank spots. Others, like chocolate mosaic tiles, will require practice even for experienced professionals.
The recipes themselves are models of clarity and usefulness. Some have notes where the author answers those questions that are common, viz: pastry cream should never be strained, the proper method of preparing a raspberry sauce, that apricots are the only fruits worth buying canned, and when folding chocolate mousse it is better to live with a few white streaks than to risk deflating the batter. They also have a complete list of equipment, including those irritating little things that one is always forgetting, such as cooling racks, wax paper, or measuring spoons. All recipes also have information about storage and keeping.
Here is a dirty, little cookbook secret: the beautiful, graphic pictures in most cookbooks on your bookshelf were actually baked, prepared, and photographed by a professional food stylist who may or may not have used the recipes in that cookbook. So, in most instances, the pictures have nothing to do with the recipes in the book or the author. This book is a happy exception. The chef author is the stylist, and all the photos are of actual production samples baked by him using the recipes in the book. This alone qualifies it for the cookbook hall of fame.
There is one caveat, however: this book is nearly 15 years old. In the years since this book was published in 1988, restaurant desserts have moved away from the type of dessert in this book: an architectural structure that could easily qualify for the cover of a crafts magazine. The author is from the San Francisco area, and most of the restaurants in this area no longer serve this sort of dessert styling.
My main complaint is about the ostentatious title: it masks the solid, professional nature of the book. The table of contents could have been more detailed; since there are not that many recipes, they could have been included in the TOC itself.