Baking and Chocolate

puredessert.jpg I've said it before, but I'm in awe of Alice Medrich. She was an early chocolate evangelist in the Bay Area, who brought us luscious desserts and truffles, inspired by what she had tasted and learned in France. Over the past few years she has written several terrific and award-winning books on chocolate including Bittersweet, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, and Chocolate Holidays.

Her latest book is a bit of a departure, it's not just about chocolate, but an exploration into the world of high quality ingredients. The chapters in Pure Dessert are focused on the flavors of Milk, Grain, Nuts and Seeds, Fruit, Chocolate, Honey and Sugar, Herbs and Spices, Flowers and Herbs, and Wine, Beer and Spirits. Intriguing, don't you think?

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bakingbasicscover.jpgAre you pie-challenged? Does your meringue collapse after you whip it? Do you even attempt meringue? Have you ever made brownies from a box mix and claimed them as your own? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, know three things: 1) You are not alone. 2) You are still a good person. 3) There is hope.

Pat Sinclair’s Baking Basics and Beyond, 2nd edition, is here to help you. With over 25 years of experience as a cooking teacher and cookbook author, Sinclair knows what she’s talking about. In her easy-going, uncomplicated manner, she leads beginning bakers through step-by-step instructions for everything from scones, biscuits, and cookies to pies, custards, and cheesecakes.

Each of the 100+ recipes is written in clear, succinct prose, that’s easy to follow and many are accompanied by lovely color photographs. Don’t know what a “jelly roll pan” is or what is means “to cream” something. Not to worry. Sinclair explains. Indeed, she tells the novice baker everything they need to know from how to measure liquid and dry ingredients to how to dissolve yeast. Sinclair takes both the guess-work and the anxiety out of baking.

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scandinavian-classic-baking-bookcover.jpgGrowing up with an Italian grandmother, desserts usually meant full-bodied, booze-spiked, often savory treats including tiramisu, Italian pizzelle cookies, pignoli cookies, and pepper biscuits. The only thing I knew about Scandinavian desserts was, well, nothing. Thumbprint cookies didn't count since I thought Mrs. Claus invented them.

Not anymore. Thanks to Pat Sinclair's lovely new cookbook Scandinavian Classic Baking, I now know how to make Swedish Pepparkakor (spicy gingerbread cookies), Sandbakkels (miniature butter cookies shaped into a cup and filled with jam or cream), and Spritz (classic Swedish butter cookies made with a cookie press).

Sinclair organizes her 42 recipes into five chapters: Coffee Breads, Cakes, Cookies, Tarts, Fruit Desserts & Pastries, and Traditional Favorites. Recipes are highly detailed, so even a novice baker can feel confident attempting a new recipe. You'll find sublimely simple recipes such as orange bundt cake next to more sophisticated ones such as Scandinavian apricot almond bars.

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nancybaggat-bookFinding random emails in my in box, requesting a review(basically asking if I want “free” stuff) of a product, kitchen gadget, or cookbook always ignites my curiosity.

I get request quite often, but the reality is, is that between family, menu planning, my kid’s schedule, my consulting clients, and work, there is not much down time to sit in a chair and read a cookbook. I used to be able to do that regularly, but now when I do find myself stealing a few of those moments, I embrace them and hang on to them as long as possible.

However, when I saw what book I was being offered, it didn’t take me long to respond with an enthusiastic YES! Nancy Bagget’s new book; Simply Sensational Cookies is filled with many classics but with a twist.

And as I read through the book, there were several that I earmarked, knowing that I could convert them into a gluten free version. An added bonus to this book is that all of the photography is shot by the art and mastery of Todd and Diane.

Great recipes, mouth watering photography, and new inspiration.

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easy-artisan-bacon-cheese-bread-This. Bread......Wow.

This bread dough recipe is inspired from the amazing book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I have been baking their regular bread recipe for what seems like forever. If you've tried it, you know it's about the easiest, no fail recipe out there.

Their bread formula has been a life-changer for me. It allows me to bake bread several times a week that tastes delicious and looks like I've spent hours in the kitchen. No kneading or punching down is necessary. And the taste and texture are spot on.

I can highly recommend their books, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. These are some of the best recipes for those of you who are a little intimidated about making bread. You will be surprised how easy it is to achieve some gorgeous loaves.

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