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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a year of pies frontcoverWhen I received a review copy of A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English, my first thought was: Did they send it to the wrong person?

You see, the only pie I truly enjoy making is a spinach pie — no deciding between shortening or butter, no fluting of the edges, no waiting until it’s no longer jiggly in the center.

Traditional pies, in contrast, are high maintenance. I can make pie (under duress or after my husband guilts me into making one), but I don’t enjoy it. With her new cookbook, English may just convert me into someone who likes to bake pies.

English offers 60 seasonal, home-crafted recipes for all types of pie: sweet, savory, double-crust, single-crust, hand-held, galettes, tarts, and more. Winter pies include festive Minty Chocolate Cream Pie and soul-warming Spiced Meat Pie. Spring ushers in fresh Strawberry Crumble Pie with Lemon Verbena Whipped Cream and elegant Asparagus and Dill Quiche. Summer samples include Classic Blueberry Pie along with newcomer, Nectarine and Lavender Crostata. Autumn (my personal favorite) has heart-warming Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds, hearty Roasted Butternut Squash, Cheddar, and Sage Galette, and a positively charming Figgy Pudding Pie.

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littlecakesbook.jpg What is life without a little bit of the whimsical? The magical? The fanciful?

I think that is perhaps what I love most about the idea of decorating a wee cupcake: it’s an opportunity to let your creative heart out.

Call me silly, but I just can’t help but feel a bit of whimsy these days. Life is crazy as ever and the world is as strange as ever but some things never change.

I can smell spring in the air.

The other day I saw a few brave daffodils insistently pushing their way through the soil. Today I saw the most perfect pair of summer sandals.

Ah, whimsy! But whimsy also comes in other forms, namely a cookbook by the name of Little Cakes from the Whimsical Bakehouse: Cupcakes, Small Cakes, Muffins, and Other Mini Treats by Kaye and Liv Hansen.

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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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