Baking and Chocolate

sweetcover1There are a lot of elements to writing a cookbook. There are the obvious ones, like creating over 200 recipes, getting beautiful photos of your food and writing the text. There are the really hard ones, like finding a first-class publisher to actually publish and market your book. There are the ones that you might not have known about, like finding a friend to test all of your recipes in a home kitchen as required by your first-class publisher. And finally there are the ones that are completely unnecessary, like being married to the home tester, and thereby getting to sample all of the goods. That's where I come in.

Valerie Gordon, a dear family friend, has written a cookbook, entitled Sweet, which will be in book stores in early October and available on the Valerie Confections' website. Valerie is the co-owner of Valerie Confections, one of the top artisanal candy makers in the country and she has been expanding into baked goods, teas and jams. Since 2004, when she first opened Valerie Confections, Valerie's toffees and candies consistently have won wide critical acclaim. More recently her baked goods, in particular, her petit fours, have been featured by major food media, including the Food Networks' Best Thing I Ever Ate.

(My high personal journalistic ethics do not allow me to actually review the cookbook or even let you know that it is a truly gorgeous book filled with amazing sweets; nor will they let me tell you that the book is a must have for anyone who has ever wanted to learn baking or jam making or candy making or ice cream and sorbet making or anything at all about the wonderful world of sugar. I cannot and will not shamelessly plug THIS MUST BUY COOKBOOK.)

When Valerie first told us about her cookbook, she explained that she needed a home cook to test her recipes as her publisher, Artisan, would not publish until she confirmed that everything had been reproduced successfully in a home kitchen. My wife, Peggy, mostly because she really had no idea what she was getting into, agreed to take the job – though her payment, and by extension mine, came in the form of calories.

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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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xmascookies.jpgA great book for entertaining and gift giving ideas. The recipes are broken down into type of cookie (drop, rolled, slice and bake, no-bake) with easy instructions and everyday ingredients that make baking these wonderful classic holiday treats a snap for regular bakers and newbies alike. The storing and shipping instructions are helpful as well for those who want to send their efforts to others as gifts. A holiday cookbook that’s sure to please.

As recommended by Lisa Dinsmore

Buy Christmas Cookies


No, really, oh. Oh as in “Oh my, these brownies”  and “Oh damn, these brownies.”  Oh as “Oh I can’t believe this recipe is so amazing” and “Oh there goes any bit of self control I had.”

Get the picture?

You can roll your eyes a bit when you say “Oh”.  It helps.

Even though I don’t claim to have the world’s largest sweet tooth and go for salty over sweet most days, I can’t help but claim this brownie recipe as one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Because to me, brownies seem like the perfect treat in theory. Chocolately, studded with fun things like nuts or fruit, small and compact and enough to satisfy thanks to their rich nature. But sometimes, well, you can’t help but feel let down sometimes when you bite into a brownie that’s dry, too moist or not moist enough, tastes like a mix or worse, doesn’t resemble a brownie at all.

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