I love a cookbook with a long introduction. And by introduction, I mean an introduction to cooking terms, ingredients and equipment used by the author or referenced in the book. I'm predisposed to loving baking books over many cookbooks for this reason. And when it comes to baking books, pastry luminaries such as David Lebovitz do not disappoint. The introduction of Lebovitz's latest cookbook, Ready for Dessert, includes over a dozen pages packed with advice for whipping egg whites and melting chocolate, suggestions for which cake pans to buy, and why you sometimes need to use corn syrup.
David Lebovitz is an American ex-pat living in Paris--eating, baking, shopping, and tweeting his "sweet life." He was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse for over 12 years, and previously published three other baking cookbooks and one memoir about living in France. And he can perhaps be credited with bringing the salt caramel ice cream craze to the U.S. after publishing a recipe on his blog in 2007.
In the 170 recipes in Ready for Dessert, there are simple ones like the four-ingredient chocolate orbit cake; advanced ones such as the banana cake with mocha frosting and salted candied peanuts; and lots in between, including a fruit crisp, brownies, a mixed berry pie, and chocolate chip cookies. There are classic French desserts like pots de crème, croquants and soufflés, plus variations on classics such as an apple galette with frangipane, and financiers baked in a muffin tin. And there are ice cream recipes, including Lebovitz's caramel ice cream recipe, plus recipes for various fruit sorbets.
The financier variation is one of my favorites. It shows that even though Lebovitz is committed to his craft--and the classics--he's still willing to adapt to his audience. I don't want to buy financier pans for the one or two times a year I may bake them, and I'm thankful Lebovitz has given me a suitable alternative. His advice about chocolate is similarly helpful. When asked what is "good" chocolate, his response is "If you like the taste and think it's good, then it's good chocolate."
For many recipes, Lebovitz has sprinkled in additional tips, like how to buy white chocolate, and why you should seek out Lyle's Golden Syrup, along with variations or substitutions, and advice for storing and serving. The final chapter of the book is on "basics, sauces, and preserves," and includes recipes for galette dough, crème anglaise, candied orange peel, nocino, pate a choux puffs, and more. And lastly, the appendix is dedicated to caramelization, and everything you need to know for making caramel.
Lebovitz likes fruit desserts and chocolate desserts, and there are a good number of recipes for both in Ready for Dessert. He also utilizes less-common ingredients such as persimmons and kumquats, boozy additions like Irish cream, rum and sake, and adds interesting textures by using polenta, nuts and seeds. From a simple vanilla ice cream or brownies, to a Pavlova topped with fresh fruit or an apricot-marzipan tart, this cookbook has enough baking challenges for the experienced baker, but plenty of advice and options for novice bakers.