Claire Clark was living in the U.K. and dazzling the British crowds with her amazing pastry talents until she was lured by Thomas Keller to come and work at his own restaurant in the U.S. From 2005-2008 she filled her impressive resume as the head pastry chef at "The French Laundry" restaurant in California. A definite upscale clientele with sophisticated tastes.
Having "been there, done that" for so many notable gastronomic places, she decided strike out on her own and head back to the U.K. for her own chance at ownership and even harder work by wearing one more hat as proprieter.
But during her employ at "The French Laundry", Ms. Clark produced this voluminous book of sweet tastes and temptations, in 2007. It has been worth the wait, to be sure. This is such a full book of information, that I have used it as a reference guide for baking details, hints, and directions; she seems to have left nothing to chance to spoil your efforts.
In my opinion, I have found that pastry books fall into two marvelous categories: "Average Joe" or "Fancy Pants"; I didn't think I could find one that fell in between, a "marriage" of sorts. This effort has, and it has done so beautifully. At the same time, I have to admit that for me, some of the desserts were a bit too sophisticated, though not a negative thing.
The physical appearance and presentation style of the book was impressive for me. Heavy and voluminous, she spared nothing in giving 100 beautiful and beckoning desserts. The pages are a dark cream-colored paired with mostly cranberry partners. A recipe ribbon is included (don't ask me why but that is such a draw for me; it seems to shout out "fancy" and I shout right back "thank you!"). As an added note, on the information page prior to the "Contents" section, there is a descriptive note about the text and its typeface; another "fancy" shout out.
The photography is pristine, clear, and styled without too many of the usual food styling props that you might see in magazines and such. You get the dessert. Period. I like that very much in my "fancy pants" books, thank you. Though I am one for as many photo's as possible in a cookbook, not all the recipes are accompanied by photos. But in defense of that, for those who enjoy this type of baking, you need to be pretty comfortable in the kitchen already. I do not feel that this is a beginners level book, but I wouldn't discourage someone if they enjoy this venue.
Which brings me to the next point: the book gives both metric and Imperial weights (U.K. measures). I have learned that scaling your ingredients makes them become far better and trusted friends when it comes to desserts. Therefore any book that gives you both, also gives you far better chances of success. Example: US = 1 teas/UK = 5ml. Though they might seem that they should be the same, when you weight them out, there can be just the slightest difference in the amounts that can produce a different taste or different texture.
Ms. Clark also includes "Claire's Notes" in most recipes which are little hints and suggestions that can add or subtract actions, alter flavors, or change steps dependent on an altered outcome, or just give generic information.
Rather than give all 100 recipes, I would like to present scattered recipes from each section, some of which I have already tried with great success. Many of the categories are short with just a handful of recipes. Each section begins with "The Secrets of Success" which is a mini-tutorial of sorts for that area.
FOREWARD: by "The French Laundry" owner/chef Thomas Keller
INTRODUCTION: This was a thoroughly enjoyable, brief autobiography of sorts detailing some of the lessons learned during her growing years in the pastry field. I particularly like her sentence. "if you're going to cry, do it in private"; basically if you're going to play with the big dogs, you gotta work on that thick skin as you become a team player.
NOTES for AMERICAN READERS: This speaks of the need for scales when baking, and a glossary of American/British terms that are used in the book; it is printed on a mustard-colored page for quick visual access .
BISCUITS and COOKIES: Oatmeal, Pecan, and Raisin Cookies (pretend that they're totally healthy while you drink these with a glass of cold milk), Frascati Biscuits (almost like Biscotti). French Macaroons (of course!), Amaretti (a great gluten-free cookie: I added pinenuts/pignoli).
CAKES: Carrot Cake (this was outstanding in that it has a very, very sophisticated, adult/grown-up taste to it, not like the usual sugar-laden carrot cakes. I noted in another review regarding the amount of baking powder used and yes, it does measure out to a scant 2 tablespoons). Frosted Banana Cake, Sachertorte, Lemon Cake, Battenburg Cake (very beautiful when served as there are 4 alternating squares of 2-color batter), Chocolate Fudge Brownies.
PASTRY: Puff Pastry, Warm Chocolate and Raspberry Tarts, Tart Tatin, Lemon Tart, Old-Fashioned Eccles Cakes, Apple/Cinnamon/Sultana Strudel (this was incredible; the raisins/sultana's were so plump and juicy and the apple just the right texture enveloped in a perfect dough), Cream Puffs, and Eclairs (I used a yellow custard and not the chocolate pastry cream; for me, eclairs HAVE to have custard).
MERINGUES: Lemon Meringue (different in presentation from the typical American version).
CUSTARDS and CREAMS: Creme Caramel,Creme Brulee (outstanding).
DESSERTS, MOUSSES, and JELLIES: Baked Vanilla Cheesecake, Baked Chocolate Mousse, Opera Cake (my next cake when I have a lot of time; an exquisite presentation).
PUDDINGS: Hot Chocolate Souffles, Apple & Cinnamon Charlotte.
ICES: Vanilla Ice Cream, Strawberry Ice Cream.
PETIT FOURS: Langues de Chat, Honey Madeleines, Verjus-Plumped Raisin Financiers, Almond Roches, Coffee & Walnut Fudge, Marshmallows & Hot Chocolate.
If you enjoy a challenge, as well as some upscale desserts, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. She placed much effort into explaining details of baking in which a solid baking foundation must be built upon. Using that knowledge will help you in presenting the same delicious offerings that are within these pages. Peace.