Saturday, April 19, 2014

If I could only have one book on desserts...this may be it*

Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes from Around the World
By Richard Sax
Houghton Mifflin 1994

Where to begin with this wonderful book? It is a trove of solid recipes, historical information, and useful tips. It is huge--nearly 700 pages and over 350 recipes. Everything I have tried has been good. It won multiple awards, including IACP and James Beard awards. And it's as good to read as it is to cook from.

When I need to bake something for a group, I turn here. When I need a comfort dessert, I turn here. When I need a basic dessert formula, I turn here. The flavors are always spot on, the instructions clear, and I usually find some inspiration just by turning the pages

Sax wrote several cookbooks as well as writing for Bon Appétit. His voice is friendly, assured, and calm. The word "classic" in the title is telling--very little fusion or forced pairings are present. This is not competitive cooking, but practical and joyous cooking.

Although the subtitle references world cuisine, my experience with the book is that it is dominated by American and British cookery, followed by French and European. And that's ok--it's big enough as it is.

One of the fun extras is the use of sidebars highlighting historic recipes and accounts of traditional foodways. Another plus is how many recipes can be converted into breakfast items!

Sax died way too young. I would have enjoyed more from him. But at least we have this great book. Here's what I have made from this:

Coffee Coffee Cake with Espresso Glaze--it's like a cappuccino flavored sour cream coffee cake!

New York-Style Sour Cream Cheesecake--I am not a huge cheesecake fan, but I have family members who are, so I make this for them. It not only has the right flavor (not too sweet) and texture (dense), it also one of the simpler recipes, with no fussing about with a water bath. Sax says it is based on Lindy's original recipe.

Double Chocolate Pudding--Pudding for grownups, this uses both cocoa and chocolate. The result is actually a tad closer to a mousse than a pudding, but it has excellent flavor.

Reuben's Legendary Apple Pancake--a kind of Dutch baby with apples. The whole thing is repeatedly flipped and caramelized with butter and sugar. I'm sure the original at Reuben's was fantastic, and Sax's is also delicious, but over the years, my tinkering has resulted in something different from halving the recipe, ditching the raisins, wanting a higher apple percentage, and trying to make the flipping go more easily--no matter how hard I tried the sheer volume of the original recipe in the 8 inch pan just didn’t work for me. Here’s where I am so far, but this is one that always comes out a little differently. Feel free to make it your own.

Caramelized Apple Pancake
1 large apple
3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs brandy or bourbon
2 eggs
¼ c. milk
½ tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
¼ c. flour

Peel and slice the apple. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet sauté apple slices in 1 Tbs of butter until tender and golden. Add 1 Tbs of sugar and toss. Let the apples caramelize a little then, carefully, add the brandy. Let the alcohol cook off.

While apples cook, mix the eggs with the milk, vanilla and salt. Whisk in flour to make a smooth batter.

Crank up the sauté pan with the apples and add a Tbs of butter, when foamy, pour the batter over the apples and cook over medium high heat, pulling the set sides away from the pan with a spatula to allow the runny batter to flow under and cook. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent sticking.

When the pancake starts to firm up (about 3 mins) it's time to flip it. Since this is pretty big I cheat, and use a plate like so:  Take a dinner plate and place over the pan. With potholders, grab the sides of the pan and the plate and flip the whole thing over in one movement--don't falter or you will have a mess.

Now, in the newly emptied pan, place another Tbs butter. Let melt and sprinkle evenly with 1 Tbs of sugar. Then slide the pancake back in with the cooked side up.

Let this cook another 3 minutes or so until lightly caramelized--you need to be careful now that the sugar doesn't burn. Check it frequently. Flip it again onto the plate and repeat the butter and sugar treatment at least one more time--though you could go longer. I always get too hungry by this point.

When I serve it, I like to add one more shake of a crunchy sugar, like raw sugar or a flavored one like Chicago Old Town Spiced sugar, which has cardamom and cinnamon.

Serves one, heh. What can I say, I like a big breakfast. Favorite beverage with this is a pot of Lapsang Souchong tea.

Note: If you want to serve two like Sax's original, I suggest using 3 eggs as he does, and take the flour and milk each up to a ½ cup. Splitting eggs is always a bit tricky and it is probably why this recipe didn't split so well for me.
*Choosing just one would actually be hard. But this is definitely a contender for a book I would want with me on a desert island.

1 comment:

  1. It made me happy just to read this, like wandering through a shiny kitchen store when one needed a boost :) (and, naturally the Peter Rabbit post was like coming home).