I treat summertime as my time of exploration. In the summer, I hone up on my cooking skills, research the histories of foods, and experiment with new techniques. Baking and desserts have never been my strongest natural gifts, so I always keep a few cookbooks on these topics handy, for bursts of inspiration while I have the time.
Time is what Short and Sweet is all about—creating dishes from scratch that satisfy, without being complicated or overly time-consuming. These dishes taste and feel sophisticated, but who would think they take but 30 minutes or less to fix. I'm admittedly not the sort of person who desires dessert with every meal, but I would have desserts more often if they weren't such a bother to prepare. As desserts go, this is my type of cookbook!
I have found basically two camps in the dessert world. There are the professional white-starch chefs who consider pastries and sweets a great art, one that deserves as many bowls, beaters, syrups and sugars as their kitchen can handle to create a masterpiece. And these professionals constantly seek to outdo themselves and their brethren, dreaming up fanciful towers, sugar-spun lace and sophisticated trompe l'oeil that command a deservedly hefty price at four-star restaurants. I admire these dessert masters, but I don't aspire to be one of them.
Then there's the home cook method, which uses simple techniques, common ingredients, and no-nonsense steps.
Melanie Barnard speaks to the home chef who wants desserts to taste as good as the full four-star toque variety, but to do it less strenuously. And she succeeds. She takes what I call the 'roast-chicken approach' to desserts. That is, every major chef I've interviewed, from Jacques Pepin to Jean-Louis Palladin, has always said that his or her most satisfying meal at home is a traditional, plainly prepared roast chicken. And therein lies the secret of Melanie's sweet success: she keeps things simple. No more than seven ingredients, and no more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, including baking time.
But can such economy of scale actually taste good? You betcha! Melanie's Double-Chocolate Pudding would make Bill Cosby drop his Jell-O Pudding contract in shame—they take about the same amount of time to make, but hers is far superior, rich and elegant. The Raspberry Lemon Layer Cake would be at home on any restaurant's rolling dessert cart. And my overflowing rosemary plant has found a new use (beyond my simple rosemary roast chicken) in her delicate Tuscan Rosemary and Pine Nut Bars.
I learned from this book that certain short cuts are okay. You don't have to make puff pastry, pound cake or pie dough from scratch. Some of the premade ones (from grocery aisle or bakery) are just fine to use and free you up to focus on the fresh fillings, toppings and other elements that make the desserts so special. I also like Melanie's no-nonsense style. Instead of rolling and cutting biscuit dough for Strawberry Shortcakes, she recommends simply making drop biscuits from a spoon and patting them out with your palm. This method saves time, and it works.
Short and Sweet is packed with handy tips using fresh ingredients and in some cases, modern conveniences. But she never sacrifices taste for time. This award-winning author has her pulse on busy home cooks, and she's created these 150 recipes just for them. At my count, that's at least one new dessert every weeknight from July through Christmas. And at 30 minutes or less, I might just have the time to make them all.
Short and Sweet
150 Sophisticated Desserts in No Time At All
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created July 1999
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