Pros: large pictures, easy to read type, great ideas
Cons: flipping multiple pages for recipes, many recipes missing a picture
I must admit that whenever I eat a particularly good meal, I have a burning desire for an equally stunning dessert. Dessert is like the closing on a long letter, the perfect ending that makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Dessert can take many forms – from cakes and pies to fresh fruit and cheese – as long as it is satisfying and a little sweet, the end of a savory meal. And it doesn’t hurt if it is also beautiful to look upon, as this heightens the anticipation as the perfect serving is dished out.
Where do you find these sweet endings to a good meal? There are endless dessert cookbooks on the market, with new ones released every couple of months, but most are just a rehash of the same tired recipes. There’s something to be said for the old favorite dishes that mom used to make, but they need an update to bring them into the current swirl of food renaissance. Cool Whip just doesn’t work anymore.
The best book I’ve found for exactly this renewal and regeneration of dessert is Unforgettable Desserts. The book hits all the major varieties of sweet endings, including cakes, pies, puddings, and frozen desserts, but it goes so much beyond the expected. Many desserts in this book are real showpieces, and all require high quality ingredients, which means the resulting dishes, even on basics like brownies, are much more flavorful and satisfying than your old standby.
After ogling the picture of the Clementine Chocolate Almond Torte on the cover, I started flipping through the book looking for likely candidates for my dining table. The pictures in the book are definitely drool inducing, but many recipes are missing a photo, which seems a shame in a book that was otherwise designed so beautifully. The recipes are well laid out, with dark type against white pages. However, some recipes require flipping to basic recipes listed in the front of the book, which can be a bit of a pain.
I had to try the Caramelized Banana Cream Tart when I saw the picture. This is an updated version of the traditional banana cream pie, and it succeeds almost completely. The pecan crust gives a nice crunch that contrasts well with the creamy banana and vanilla pastry cream filling. The pillow of whipped cream on top makes it a little lighter, and the caramelized pecans are a playful decorative topping. The only downside is that the bananas on the top of the pie start to brown almost immediately, so this tart is almost a one-night-only special.
I then had a request for the ubiquitous chocolate lava cake, which makes its appearance as the Warm Chocolate Velvet in this book. The recipe was incredibly easy to whip together, but I am a little concerned by the direction that the batter can be refrigerated up to a day before baking. As basically a chocolate soufflé, I’m not sure the whipped egg whites would hold their volume for that long. I certainly didn’t tempt fate. The cakes lived up to their name, with a velvety texture and rich chocolate flavor. I guess this just goes to prove the reason some recipes stick around.
Since it’s always a good time for cookies, I also recently made the Nutella Linzer Cookies. The cookies are made with ground hazelnuts, in addition to the flour, which gives the cookies an earthy flavor. The filling is a luxurious blend of melted chocolate and Nutella, which is basically as good as it gets in my book. Additionally, the author gives you the option of adding some raspberry or apricot jam, which makes these amazing cookies even more of a guilty pleasure.
I give this book high marks for the delicious way that Dede Wilson has managed to update old classics with more modern and high quality ingredients. In some cases this can make some recipes more difficult to pull together than others, but the results are almost unanimously worth the time and effort. I’ll definitely be counting on this book in the future.
Warm Chocolate Velvet
4 large eggs
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, such as Valrhona Caraïbe (66%)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
¼ cup sugar
Vanilla or coffee premium ice cream, such as Häagen Dazs or lightly sweetened and softly whipped heavy cream, optional
Have ready six ½-cup, deep ovenproof ceramic or glass ramekins. Put the eggs, still in the shell, in a bowl of very warm tap water. Let them sit for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler or in a microwave; stir until smooth. Cool slightly.
Crack the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar, and beat using the wire whip attachment on medium-high speed until thickened, frothy, and tripled in volume. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until no streaks remain. Divide evenly between the ramekins. Cover each one with plastic wrap, taking care not to touch the wrap to the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate for up to 1 day.
Remove the puddings from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan and add hot water to come halfway up the outside of the ramekins.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the surface of the puddings is puffed and looks dull. A toothpick inserted in the center will show moist pudding clinging when removed. Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy “Unforgettable Desserts,” written by Dede Wilson, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2009