Pros: good photography, traditional treats represented
Cons: some recipes a little too complicated for home chefs
One of the great things about living in or visiting New York City is the stunning collection of great restaurants. But the traditional dinner spots don't have a corner on the spotlight. More and more, the continually growing number of neighborhood bakeries are starting to get the attention they have long deserved. It seems like every area of the city has its favorite, and people visiting the city will make pilgrimages to these tiny bakeries for a taste of their specialty items. One of these growing bakeries is Amy's Bread, a Hell's Kitchen staple, that churns out not only great bread, but a growing list of sweet treats to entice passersby.
Now Amy's Bread has released a cookbook with recipes for the tempting sugary confections that the bakery carries. Those who live too far from any of Amy's three locations in New York City will find the cookbook a welcome addition to the kitchen shelf. The cookbook is divided into several sections, including bars, cookies, and cakes, and all of the usual Amy's favorites make an appearance. Amy even includes sections with savory items, like biscuits, and more traditional bakery goods, like muffins.
For this review, I first chose the Zesty Lemon Bars. These bars seem to be ubiquitous, with versions making an appearance everywhere from the boxed cake mix aisle of the supermarket to the corner bakery of any large city. I was concerned that the bars would be good, but not quite what you would get from the actual bakery. This seems to be a growing concern from bakeries that release cookbooks; the recipes are good, but not exactly bakery standard. I shouldn't have worried. The bars were bright yellow and tart, like sunshine in sugar form. The instructions point out that Amy prefers her lemon bars on the tart side, but I thought the acid/sugar balance was perfect.
The second recipe I tried was for Monkey Cake, a take on the traditional Hummingbird Cake. While the list of ingredients was a little long, the cake was extremely easy to pull together, and it turned out a moist product with a tender crumb. The little bits of pineapple and banana were a pleasant surprise in each bite. My only complaint about the recipe was the icing. True, the poured fondant icing (which takes more that 24 hours to complete) is the icing used in the bakery, but for most home bakers, it's a very technical and long process for what is essentially cream cheese frosting. Most non-professionals will not notice the difference in smoothness that Amy points out between poured fondant and traditional confectioner's sugar icing, making this icing recipe a bit of overkill.
The last recipe I tested was the Kitchen Sink Cookies. These also had a relatively long laundry list of ingredients, but the end result was worth the work. The cookies are delightfully chewy and not too sweet. With only modest amounts of chocolate, the cookies almost feel like a contender for a quick breakfast with all of the oats included in the batter. The recipe also satisfies with its instructions on turning out large 3- to 4-inch bakery style cookies that are perfectly cooked, without the centers still being doughy.
Overall I would highly recommend The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread. The recipes all turn out delicious treats that mimic what is on offer at the NY stores, without, in most cases, special equipment and techniques. The photography is bright, and the pictures are large. This book will definitely appeal to cooks of all levels.
Recipe: Zesty Lemon Bars