Pros: Sweets made without butter
Cons: Book is poorly organized, recipes were hit or miss.
Written by Sharyn Harding
Olive Oil Desserts is the result of high cholesterol. The author, Mikki Sannar, had elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, so started experimenting with olive oil in her baking. This cookbook is a collection of her discoveries.
From the title, I was expecting something a little different. I had thought that the use of olive oil indicated a substitution for dairy, but that is not the case. Several of the recipes use milk, cream cheese or buttermilk, though she does include instructions for non-dairy substitutions in the back. It seems that the author’s goal was simply to replace the butter with a healthier option. However, don’t expect completely healthy recipes. She does use instant pudding mix in at least one recipe and often adds butter extract to compensate for the flavor of the olive oil. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually love olive oil, though up to know I have saved it for my savory cooking.
Paging through this cookbook, I appreciate that there are many lovely color photographs of the recipes, but I also notice that the book seems a bit light. The inside flap claims over 60 recipes, but that may be a bit generous. The book seems thin and is fluffed up by pages that carry quotes or stories from her friends and family. Some of these strike me as completely random, such as the story from a friend whose husband went on a weight loss challenge by using only virgin coconut oil (what no olive oil??) to cook with or how someone’s sister apparently can’t cook pasta properly and serves her kids spaghetti bars. In other books I have truly appreciated the personal touches an author can include to explain the history of a recipe or helpful hints on ingredients, but many of these struck me simply as space fillers.
While looking for my first recipe to try, I did come across a few that didn’t seem terribly appealing. I am a great lover of peach cobbler, but when the first ingredient listed is one small can of peaches, I think I will pass. I understand that fresh, ripe peaches are not always available, but flavorless and mushy canned peaches are not my ideal base for a dessert. Frozen peaches would seem a much better alternative, if she were looking for something quicker than fresh.
Another observation I made was just how unhelpful the index was. An index is not something I usually make note of – it is just simply there and seems quite standard. But, I had remembered seeing a picture for a blueberry coffeecake and wanted to look over the ingredients to see if I had them on hand. I first looked up blueberries. There where eight pages listed. For such a small cookbook, that seems like a lot. So, instead of looking up each page number, I looked under coffee cake – nothing. Next I just paged through the Muffins & Sweet Breads section and it was the third recipe in and it was called Blueberry Streusel. Then I went back to the index to look up streusel and there were two pages listed, none of them indicating the recipe titles to show which was the blueberry streusel (the other page number was for Peach Crumble Muffins). Now for a cookbook that seemed to be trying to stretch the content, I had to wonder why not include a longer index with more useful entries. This problem crept up again while writing this review. I wanted to find the brownie recipe that I had already made, but there was no entry under brownies or under the official recipe title, Micki’s Simple Brownies. Instead, you could find the page number listed, along with many others, under such general entries as Chocolate, Chocolate Chips and Semi-Sweet. You will, however, find pages listed for such entries as Frost (4), Topping (12), Dust (7), Pain Relief (??) (2), Cancer (5), Cardiovascular Disease (3) and Omega-3 (1). That is truly bordering on useless.
Right before the index are two sections I also found questionable and fell in the category of trying to bulk up the pages. The first was a five-and-a-half page section titled Olive Oil Baking Ingredients Glossary and the second, was a four-and-a-half page section called Baking Definitions. Now these types of inserts can be helpful for beginners that perhaps don’t know the difference between a curd and custard. But these entries ranged from a failed attempt at humor to downright inaccurate information. Under the humor category, there are these entries: “EGG What comes first, the chicken or the egg?” or “EGG WHITE The white part on the inside of the egg”. Under the category of unnecessary, there are the following: “FRESH LEMON JUICE Juice that is squeezed from a fresh lemon”, “FRESH ORANGE JUICE Juice that is squeezed from a fresh orange”, or “FROZEN BLACKBERRIES Blackberries that have been frozen”. It goes on to define frozen raspberries, frozen blackberries, Orange Zest “The same as Lemon Zest, only it’s an orange” and honey as “bee barf”. Wow, if someone needs frozen blueberries defined, I don’t think they are ready to handle sharp instruments.
But, truly the worst are the misleading or inaccurate entries.
Buttermilk is defined as “what’s left over after churning cream into butter”. That used to be true many decades ago, but if you buy buttermilk in the store you are getting an entirely different product. Store bought buttermilk is generally a cultured milk product made sour by lactic acid bacteria. It is much thicker than the liquid left behind after making butter, which is somewhat sweet because it retains much of the milk sugar (lactose), where store bought buttermilk is sour and, if cultured, usually has much less lactose.
I also found the entry for almond extract to be misleading. It is defined as “flavoring made from almonds macerated in alcohol.” That’s not exactly true. If you look on the ingredient list of your basic grocery store pure almond extract (such as McCormick’s) the ingredients include oil of bitter almond. Bitter almonds are not the same as the sweet almonds you buy in the store and I wonder if the resulting alcohol could possibly be as strong in flavor as the bottled variety.
For my first recipe, I decided to try Micki’s Simple Brownies to see how they would compare to others. The ingredients were fairly basic, just with olive oil substituting for the fat, but the preparation method surprised me a bit. The eggs and sugar are mixed for several minutes before adding the chocolate and flour. In the recipe description, she states that the air whipped in makes the brownie both crunchy and chewy. This method is in direct contrast to other brownie mixing techniques that limit the mixing. Since brownies have a lower ratio of flour than cookies or cake, the intense mixing creates a meringue-like layer on top of the brownie and by baking them at a slightly higher temperature (375°), the outside bakes and leaves the inside fudgy.
This was a very simple recipe to prepare, but my finished product did not look like the one pictured in the cookbook. Perhaps the mixer I have is more powerful than the one used to test the recipe, but my brownies needed an extra ten minutes of cooking before a knife inserted came out clean. Once they were cooled, the meringue-like layer on top was quite pronounced and immediately crumbled and separated from the fudgy interior when I cut them. Upon my first taste, the flavor of the olive oil was the very first thing I noticed, overpowering the chocolate. I had used extra virgin olive oil, but it was an inexpensive brand. Once I got beyond the initial olive oil taste, the brownies were nice and gooey, though not among the best I have made.
For my second recipe I had much better success. I tried the Coconut Pecan Bars, which were again difficult to locate using the index (seven entries under coconut and ten under pecan). The bars were very simple to assemble, but they did need an additional 8 minutes of baking beyond the range of 25-30 minutes listed in the recipe. The recipe had quite a bit of brown sugar (two cups for a 9x9 pan), which gave the bars a very rich flavor and a moist, chewy interior. As with the brownies, the first flavor I tasted when eating these was the olive oil. However, the bars were so good, this didn’t bother me, though I do admit to wondering how they would taste made with butter.
The last recipe I sampled was the Blueberry Streusel coffee cake and was perhaps the most disappointing. It was again a very simple, quick recipe to complete and this time baked in less time than stated. However, the end product was unremarkable. The interior of the coffee cake was sufficiently moist, but the combination of the streusel topping and the glaze was by far too sweet. I am a great lover of sweets and don’t normally object to large amounts of sugar, but there wasn’t anything to balance it and I found myself scraping some of the topping off the following pieces. The flavor of the olive oil was still noticeable, but not as pronounced as in the other two recipes.
This is not a cookbook I would recommend, except in a few instances. I appreciate that people on restrictive diets are probably quite glad to have some dessert options that replace the butter with olive oil. However, the recipes were not that interesting and unless you really need to give up butter and don’t want to experiment with making your own replacements; I don’t think you will find much use for it.
Pecan Coconut Bars
½ cup pure olive oil
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
1 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat one 9x9-inch pan with olive oil cooking spray.
2. In mixer bowl add olive oil, brown sugar, vanilla, eggs, and egg white. Blend on medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
3. Add pecans and coconut. Mix until well blended.
4. Add flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend well.
5. Spread evenly in prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.