Baking and Chocolate

ImageWhat would the holiday season be without desserts? And booze? Fortunately, the sassy ladies behind the spirited cookbook Booze Cakes have got ya covered. Authors Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone have created the ultimate fun baking book with over 100 bodacious, boozy confections.

The book is divided into four sections:
1. Classic Booze Cakes such as English Trifle and Tipsy Tiramisu.
2. Cocktail Cakes such as Pumpkin Martini Cakes and Tequila Sunrise Cake.
3. Cake Shots including Rum & Coke and Screwdriver Shots.
4. Cakes with a Twist such as Black Jack Praline Cake and Rosemary Limoncello Cake.

Castella and Stone are girls who want to have fun, and they want you to have fun too. That's why they include helpful icons for special occasion cakes and a cheeky "Booze Meter" that rates cakes as "Lightweight," "Feeling It," or "Totally Tipsy." (In case you're wondering, I picked a "Totally Tipsy" cake.)

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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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Southern-Italian-DessertsWhen I was a little girl growing up in Italian-centric Rhode Island, I relished my Sunday morning tradition with my Dad. He and I would drive to our favorite old-school bakery in Providence, LaSalle Bakery, and buy my family’s favorite treats. Sticky pull-apart cinnamon raisin buns for my brother Chris, creamy éclairs for my brother Paul, cannoli for my Dad, and sfogliatelle for me. My mom mystifyingly always passed.

Of all the Italian pastries, the Campanian sfogliatelle, the clam-shaped flaky pastry with ricotta filling, has always been my favorite. I relished the crackle! emitted with every bite into the crisp shell and sighed with happiness when I reached the soft, creamy ricotta cheese center.

Years later as an adult I thought I’d learn to make sfogliatelle. That thought quickly passed when I realized how labor-intensive they were to make. Pastry dough must be run through a pasta machine twice to render it paper-thin. Then it must be carefully stretched, rolled, and molded by hand until a dizzying number of layers are formed. I didn’t have the constitution for it. Fortunately for me (and you), Rosetta Costantino does.

A self-taught baker who was raised in Verbicaro, Calabria, Costantino now resides in Oakland, California where she and her mother teach Americans how to make many of Italy’s most beloved desserts. In her latest book, Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily, she shares over 75 recipes for authentic regional Italian desserts that are virtually unknown in the United States making it a singular addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.

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greenmarketLaura C. Martin wants you to have your cake and eat it, too. That is, only if it's baked with all-natural, preferably locally sourced ingredients. Think it can't be done? Martin proves it can in her new book, Green Market Baking Book: 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats

The recipes, some created by Martin and others by influential chefs and food writers including Alice Waters and Dan Barber, are made with all-natural, organic, sustainable ingredients. Refined sugar is out. Brown rice syrup, agave nectar, and barley malt syrup are in. White flour is used, but many recipes suggest substituting at least part of the flour with whole-grain alternatives such as rye or spelt.

This is the type of the cookbook that you really must peruse first before delving right into a recipe. Otherwise, you'll likely find that you don't have many of the listed ingredients in your pantry. Here's where Martin helps: In the book's opening, she explains unfamiliar ingredients, suggests sugar substitutions, provides guidelines for using oils and dairy in baked goods and even tells you how to stock your pantry.

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small-batch-baking.jpgThe best things come in small packages. In the case of “Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers,” the best chocolate things come in small packages. Author Debby Maugans perfected the art of baking for one or two people in her first book, “Small Batch Baking.”

Realizing that the average recipe produced a larger quantity of the end product than a single person, or couple may want to eat, or be able to finish she revised recipes so that the serving sizes were more appropriate for one or two people. A pretty smart idea in and of itself.

Being the professed chocoholic she is, Maugans saw a need for a small-batch cookbook for chocolate lovers. And thank goodness she did!

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