Pros: easy to follow recipes, great starter book
Cons: bland results, boring retreads
Reviewed by Sara Powell
With all of the current rage about tiny little appetizers and desserts, it’s not surprising that a flood of cookbooks on the subject have saturated the market. They each claim to have the cutest little treats to please your family and friends, but often there is nothing to make the particular book stand out.
Petite Sweets is different. Beatrice Ojakangas, a relative unknown to most people, has one of the most recent entries into the genre, and although it looks like the same old theme, she does bring a slightly different approach to the field.
Ojakangas was the second place winner of the 1957 Pillsbury Bake-Off, and even though she didn’t win first prize, she did embark on a career in food and cookbook writing that has spanned decades and 27 cookbooks. While not a trained professional by any means, Ojakangas has nonetheless inspired generations of cooks with her accessible and relatively simple recipes. She follows this same formula in her current cookbook.
Having tested another cookbook in this same vein, I was expecting tiny treats that were essentially downsized versions of amazingly flavored larger dishes. Downsizing the bites should not also mean downsizing the taste. Unfortunately, I felt that. Ojakangas slipped a bit in this respect, as the creations were cute, but not particularly tasty or interesting. But for someone with basic cooking skills that wants to offer something a little more interesting than a regular cake or cookie, this cookbook would probably work.
The red velvet mini cupcakes were the first things in the book to draw my attention, so I knew that I had to try them. Ojakangas follows more of a northern red velvet recipe, as she omits the red food coloring so common in southern red velvet cakes. She also goes with a vanilla icing instead of the cream cheese icing. The cupcakes were pretty easy to put together and baked up quickly. They turned out a little chewy and bland, but still passable. However, the icing was pretty much a disaster. Ojakangas calls for a mixture of milk and flour to be cooked until thickened and then added to the butter and powdered sugar to make a vanilla “flour icing”. But when I added the thickened milk and flour to the icing mixture, the icing broke and I couldn’t make it come back together until I had added double the confectioner’s sugar that the recipe called for, also a disaster. As the recipe is written, the icing is a liquid mess, more akin to a glaze, and definitely not what is pictured. Luckily I had a can of emergency frosting in the pantry.
I had read online that many of the cookbooks’ fans liked the cream puffs, so I decided to give them a taste. The dough was easy to pull together, and the puffs baked up perfectly. I decided to stuff my puffs with a more traditional whipped cream, which piped easily into the empty centers of the puffs. The puffs were good, with a buttery soft crust, but with the plain whipped cream, they were very simple. These puffs definitely need something interesting in the middle, like a flavored ice cream, and probably chocolate on top.
I’m a big fan of light chocolate desserts, so I knew I had to try the chocolate soufflés. The recipe is quick, and the soufflés can go right into the oven or store for hours in the refrigerator, which is helpful for a dinner party. They puffed up just as expected. A warm bite was good, but the chocolate flavor was pretty lackluster, especially considering the recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate. If left to cool, the soufflés collapse to a sponge about half an inch high, so they have to be served straight out of the oven, which could take some unexpected planning.
Overall Ojakangas book is a nice start for cooks with less experience, and it may be a better fit for families that aren’t quite as adventurous with their food. The desserts tend to be a little plain, and I never really had a wow moment when tasting my creations. However, Ojakangas does encourage others to try downsizing their favorite desserts. And who knows, her encouragement may be just the thing the next winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off needs to get started.
Mini Cream Puffs
1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes to evaporate some of the moisture.
Turn dough into a food processor with the steel blade in place. Turn the processor on and add the eggs, one at a time. Mix until totally incorporated and dough is glossy and smooth.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into small mounds about 1 to 1½ inches in diameter and place evenly onto the baking sheets.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 375°F and bake until puffed, golden, and dry, about 25 minutes more. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.