Pure Dessert: True Flavors, Inspiring Ingredients, and Simple Recipes Hardcover – Sep 5 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
If vanilla is your idea of plain, Medrich will revolutionize your thinking. In her vocabulary, vanilla is a flavor; she distinguishes among the nuances of Bourbon, Mexican, and Tahitian extracts, powders, and beans. Plain means tasting the milk, butter, flour or fresh cheese that defines a cake or custard. She describes 10 different sugars, from "neutral" granulated white to slightly "smoky" dark brown piloncillo. Her three previous cookbooks (including BitterSweet) won awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and her new book is sure to attract the new generation of cooks devoted to elaborate simplicity. Readers should be aware, however, that the brevity of ingredient lists may mislead; some gardens and markets may lack such nonfungible items as lemon verbena, chestnut flour and muscovado sugar. But all will welcome the ultimate summer pudding recipe-berries, bread, sugar, whipped cream-and the liberating range of frozen desserts.
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Top Customer Reviews
The presentation is clear, clean and airy, with beautiful photography. I found many daring recipes, like quark soufflés, mexican chocolate soup or saffron and cardamom panna cotta, but there are as well lots of improved delicious classic pairings.
There is a lot of potential here for the cook who wants to impress, as well as lots of inspiration. My personal coup de coeur is the vin santo chiffon cake. Light and airy, they suggest serving it with ripe fruit splashed with the same wine, which just is perfect summer fare.
Even if the book is a little expensive in my opinion, it's hardcover and well constructed, which will make it last, and the number of recipes proposed is fair and adequate.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
First and foremost, with these recipes, there is absolutely nothing to get in the way of pure flavor. Like Lisa Yockelson's "Baking by Flavor" and Carole Bloom's "The Essential Baker", this book is organized by ingredients rather than type of dessert. Medrich begins with "The Flavors of Milk". Right off the bat, I discovered two ethereal renditions: "Sour Cream Ice Cream" and "Carmelized Crepes Filled with Fresh Cheese". Both recipes are exceedingly simple and deceptively spectacular. Medrich cautions against using even vanilla in the ice cream, letting the "rich nutty flavor and pleasant edge of the sour cream" shine. The crepes are designated as "minimalist revamped cheese blintzes" made without benefit of eggs or much sugar - so as not to interfere with the extraordinary flavor and purity of fresh artisan cheese. Both desserts will knock your socks off, providing you don't change a thing (and you'll be tempted to do so). Paging through "The Flavors of Chocolate", you'll find a serene "Chocolate Pudding" and an equally comforting "Nutella Bread Pudding". My favorite is the "Mexican Chocolate Soup with Cinnamon Toasts": hot chocolate "soup" with a scoop of coffee ice cream in the center, accompanied by fresh, hot cinnamon toast. Now there's a replacement for the usual flourless chocolate cake or lava cake on Valentine's Day! Is there anyone who doesn't like warm cinnamon and chocolate served with ice cream?
Medrich does a great service by providing 31 introductory pages of information on techniques, ingredients, and equipment. You'll learn about using chestnuts, lavender, and jasmine tea; why it's better to infuse herbs in cold cream rather than hot; and the properties of European-style versus American-style butter (you'll be surprised!). Medrich also lists 20 sources for ingredients and equipment.
Most of the recipes are simple to prepare and don't have long lists of ingredients. The ice creams (with the exception of the "Crema Ice Cream") are "Philadelphia" style - made without eggs. The "Heavenly Honey Ice Cream" has just four ingredients!
Most of all, the writing in this work is superb - fluid and informative - but always approachable. The only flaws have to do with the book design itself. Some of the pages are lavender with grey type - and I found those pages not quite as easy on the eyes. The book is also a bit heavy for its size. There are a good number of color photographs - some deliberately out of focus - but not to the point of distraction.
If you're tired of gooey sugar-laden finales, complex plated architecture that is more about pastry chef competitions than flavor, or fusion that has transformed into confusion, you'll find "Pure Dessert" a refreshing change of pace.
I had tried three items so far: iced citron vodka chocolates, the nibby buckwheat cookies and the chestnut pound cake. All of them were delicious and the nuances of each ingredient came through cleanly in your palate - hence the name of the book - "Pure Dessert".
Watching and listening to Alice during the class demos gave me an understanding as to why her recipes worked very well. She is an avid tester. She never ceases to try and figure out why and how an ingredient or the amount you use affect the outcome of your end product - she is simply a curious soul!
If you are looking for overly frosted cakes or complex dessert recipes, this book is NOT for you. Most of the recipes are made up of but a few choice ingredients and from what I can tell from what I have created, none of them are overly sweet - just refreshing, pure desserts!
There is nothing that is overly sweet in this book, a flaw of many other dessert books. Alice allows the ingredients to shine, and has created recipes that provide more than just sweetness or richness. One of the points made throughout this book that I really agree with is that richer is not always better. Many think that having tons of eggs and loading up on the heavy cream will automatically make ice cream better, but Alice correctly points out that this is not always the case, and that in many instances, eggs get in the way of flavor, as does the use of too much sugar. She has done the recipe-testing to back it up as well! All of her recipes are extensively tested, and having tried out so many of them, I can vouch that anyone can feel sure about trying out a recipe for the first time and getting excellent results. I love reading her insights into why things work, as well as her discoveries that often go against the norm (for example, how cold infusions proved superior to hot infusions).
Her lebni tart is cheesecake-smooth, but with the characteristic tang of yogurt, perfectly balanced with a sweet, buttery, vanilla-flavored crust.
The brioche is feather-light, just sweet enough, and very buttery, but without tasting at all greasy.
Then there's her quark souffles. They're just lightly sweetened, with the slight tang of the cheese not being at all lost, and indeed, just perfect with berries.
As for those recipes with whole-grain flours, Alice points out how she created them not for health reasons, but for the textural benefits, as well as the interesting flavor they provide.
Her nibby buckwheat butter cookies are among my favorite cookies ever. They have a perfectly sandy yet crunchy texture, and the cacao nibs almost make these taste like a grown-up chocolate chip cookie.
The kamut pound cake is fantastic, especially with fleur de sel and black pepper sprinkled on top.
The cornmeal-buckwheat scones are also a must.
And I can't review this book without pointing out that her lemon squares are perfection. I have been spoiled by these and nothing else will ever do. Sweet, buttery crust, tangy, perfectly smooth and velvety lemon curd. Between the lemon squares, the lebni tart, and the brioche, those are three recipes that are worth the price of the book alone!
Do yourself a favor and get this book. As simple as the content seems, you'll find this deceiving as soon as you get a taste of any of the recipes.
The recipe itself (flavor, texture, look) are excellent and the tart got rave reviews from my guests. It is quite lemon-y and the crust is very buttery. I made it a second time and cut back the butter in the crust by 1/2 tbsp and it tasted just fine, and didn't exude as much butter onto the baking sheet and didn't recklessly slide off the tart bottom as it did the first time.
I have made other Medrich recipes from her other books, Cocolat, and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, with great success. My conclusion: if it is for a special occasion, make the recipe ahead of time to be sure it works. There was one other review here by someone who made the muffin recipe with possibly too much baking powder. Maybe the copy-editing was inconsistent in this latest book, so use your baking sense!