29 May 2008

Time for some R&R x2

R&R # 1:
Between this and that and this and that, I've been running a bit ragged and a teensy bit behind on things. Add a few meetings and I think I'll take a mini blogging break, but will be back sometime later next week.

At the very least, I hope to catch up on a bit of trashy reading about a gangster's moll, a disgraced politician, a million-dollar plane ride and misplaced government documents. No, not the latest Lauren Henderson plot, but the current
buzz in Ottawa. A friend thinks of it as Munsinger-like. Me, I think of Profumo.

R&R #2:
Anyway...yesterday a very, very good friend of mine (someone I think of as my surrogate sister) appeared at my office with a box of goodies from her property: wild ramps and rhubarb. Lucky me!

I spent some time last night looking at recipes and dishes, and I think I know what I'll make with them, but if you have any recipe suggestions or thoughts, please share them (with recipe links, if possible) in the comments section. And no, both ramps and rhubarb don't have to show up in the same dish...

Have a great week!

Edit: Not as long a break as I thought...wait for it...


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28 May 2008

Daring Bakers: Opéra

When I was in Secondary School, there was a somewhat decadent European coffee shop a few blocks from school where we'd sometimes hang out. Lovely cream-filled cakes, the best coffee, good hot chocolate. It was there I had my first slice of Opéra.

It seemed a very grown-up dessert--a departure from the cakes I was used to--homemade slabs or store-bought sandwich cakes. This was different: layers of joconde--not quite cake, not quite biscuit sandwiching layers of rich, sweetened cream, all in white chocolate couvertature (which I think may have had something fruity in the mix, but I could be confusing it with another of their desserts).

Fran, Ivonne, Lis, & Shea announced this month's Daring Baker challenge was the Opéra, I was immediately taken back to being 17 years old, in the café's dining room--my mind's eye has it with reddish carpeting, creamy yellow walls, and heavy, heavy dark wood furniture complete with teenaged aesthetes, Symphony patrons who never really figured out that the café was just that much too far from the hall and self-proclaimed philosphes.

I decided to make a round cake, not a rectangular one as in the instructions. I didn't take care in my calculations and wound up with not enough batter for proper-heighted jocondes, so I had very thin slabs, which I brushed with a honey-vanilla syrup. Oh well...I guess to keep everything in proportion, I just had to use less butter cream--that's not a problem. I decided to try a two-toned glaze and marbled melted white merkens with lilac ones--the lilac melted a little darker than I'd hoped so I lightened it a touch with some of the white. It's the first time I'd tried marbelling and I thought I did rather well.

Our fearless hostesses' instructions were straightforward enough and allowed some variances--the big rule, or so I read it, was not to make it too dark. It's Spring up here, so keep the colours and flavours somewhat light.

In other words: less Wagnerian and more Gilbert and Sullivan..ian.


Three Little Cakes (to the tune of "Three Little Maids" from The Mikado)
With apologies so W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan and my friend Ori.

Dedicated to Barbara of Winos and Foodies: foodblogger, fellow DBer, and founder of A Taste of Yellow.

Three little joconde cakes are we
Part of a Clichy cake can be
Filled to the brim with butter cream
Three little cakes now cooled

Everything is a sweetened fun
Nobody wants, for we all get some
Here’s a gateau that's worth the crumb
Three little cakes now cooled

Three little cakes all light and airy,
Brushed with a syrup? Yes! We swear-y
Soaked with sweetness very dare-y
Three little cakes now cooled
Three little cakes now cooled

One little cake is a treat, Yum-Yum
Two little cakes in assemblance come
Three little cakes is the total sum
Three little cakes now cooled
Three little cakes now cooled

`Tween two little cakes a sweetened cream
Ganache or mousse on top, it seems
Cover’d in choc’late glaze all smooth and clean
Three little cakes now cooled
Three little cakes now cooled

Three joconde cakes all light and airy
Swathed with butter cream? Yes! We swear-y
Made by Bakers oh so Dare-y
Three little cakes now cooled
Three little cakes now cooled

To read what the other DBs did with this challenge, take a meander through our



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26 May 2008

Milk Calendar Mondays: Faster-than-Take-Out Chicken and Veggie Chow Mein

Hmmm...this month's Milk Calendar recipe, "Faster-than-Take-Out Chicken and Veggie Chow Mein," seems to have unleashed my not-so inner snarkiness.

Let's start with the title.

Could it be any longer?

Well, yes it could be.

It could be something like "Here's another excuse to use some perfectly good milk in a recipe which would be better off without it, but we can't admit it because this is the Milk Calendar, and we need to encourage people to cook with milk, so stirfries are fast and easy so we'll get people to use milk in their stirfries and cook at home instead of getting a greasy takeaway which actually tastes better but again, we can't admit to that either."

Like most marketing ploys, the title was more spin than fact. It took me longer than the indicated 20 minutes (prep and cooking) to get the meal on a plate. Granted, I'm not the speediest slicer or shrimp peeler and "deveiner," but I don' think I'm *that* slow.

"Wait a minute. Shrimp? I thought that was funny looking chicken." I hear you think (warning: I've gone back to reading your minds).

Yes, you are correct. That is shrimp.

Which brings me to snarkiness fodder number two:

I decided to go with the "adventurous" suggestions of using shrimp instead of chicken, and add hoisin sauce, soy sauce and Chinese cabbage to the wok.

Woo. That's really adventurous, isn't it? I mean, if I were allergic to shrimp or Chinese leaf, I suppose it would be, but I'm not allergic to those things.

The thing is...I don't know anyone who's never made a stir-fry...which is what this really is. I've always treated such edible beasties as kitchen sink suppers: slice up whatever's lying around, toss them into a hot wok with onions, garlic and ginger, stir it about and add spices and sauces before tipping onto some steaming noodles et voila! Stir-fry.

But I guess, technically, this isn't a regular stirfry. It's a chow mein. According to a non-Chinese friend it means slice up whatever's lying around, toss them into a hot wok with onions, garlic and ginger, stir it about and add spices and sauces before tipping onto some steaming noodles et voila! Chow mein.

The recipe itself wasn't too bad, and unless you're feeding a professional hockey player, the recipe provides ample portioning for six...or gargantuan portioning for the recommend four people.

Again, I didn't see the point of the milk in the saucing. I'm convinced it contributed to an odd nursery food-like smell: sort of sickly sweet and reminiscent of the smell emanating from children who are fed far too many processed foods by parents who either don't know how to properly feed their wee ones or are too self-obsessed to spend more than the minimum amount of time in the kitchen, with anything that vaguely resembled food untouched by food scientists and marketers. You know the smell.

So...the verdict? It's not a bad recipe (well, it's not a truly great one--but it's not in the running for the worst). If I were to categorise it, it would fall into the "with a few tweaks it could be more palatable" category. But then, it's a food that doesn't really need a recipe...does it?


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24 May 2008

SHF 43: Chilled lemon soufflé

Our wonderful Tartelette made an astonishing discovery prior to declaring this month's Sugar High Friday Theme: it's been three years since citrus was on our sweet menu.

THREE years? That can't be right...but
I know it is.

I remember reading somewhere that there are two types of people out there: those who like chocolate and those who like lemon (or citrus). I must admit that until this past summer, I would have put myself in the former group--automatically drawn to the dark, rich and sometimes spicy depths of chocolate. Now I seem to have lost my chocolate tooth--maybe it's with my sweet tooth as that's been MIA for more than nine months now--and I lean more towards citrus--lime, tangerine and lemon.

I think what draws me now to their flavours is what I think of as exactly opposite to why I like(d) chocolatey desserts--They are sweet, tart and their acidic nature makes them refreshing.

So, what to do? I originally wanted to do a lemon-lime ice cream, but my little freezer is so over committed with bargain chicken and ground beef, bags of veggies and rainy-day cooking, I couldn't fit the ice cream maker's in for chilling.

The answer came in an email. About 10 days ago the good people at America's Test Kitchen must have been reading my mind when they sent out their enewsletter, because it included a link to their
chilled lemon soufflé.

Well...it was kind of like ice cream...and the quantity was reasonable (the recipe states enough for two).

It's very simple to make and really doesn't take much time at all--make a custard, add lemon juice and zest, fold in sweetened whipped egg whites and whipped cream and chill. The primrose treat was creamy and refreshing. I could easily see it served with fresh blueberries or raspberries, when they come into season.

To read the lovely goodness others contributed, please visit Tartelette's round-up.


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21 May 2008

One of my Holy Grails

I once knew someone who made it her life mission to make the perfect apple pie. She recorded the minutiae of her quest in a log--every apple type was graded on texture, taste, firmness, colour when cooked. She spent ages trying to come up with the perfect combination of fruit, sugars and spices. I think she recorded various pastries, but in the end settled on a family recipe. As far as I know, she's still searching for that perfect-to-her pie.

I have similar quests: finding decent shop-bought goodies -- chili pepper sauces, hot chocolate mixes, vanilla extracts; restaurant fare worth the price -- eggs Benedict, steak, Caesar salad, or creating something that pleases my palate -- cream cheese icing, creamy and fruity ice creams, hamburgers.

I never look for "perfection" as by their very nature, such Diogenes-worthy quests are Mercurial, subjective and prone to lead me round the bend. No, I simply want something that I can happily and reliably find (in shops) or put together with a degree of effort that's in keeping with the dish.

One of these Grails is cornbread.

When I was little, My Dear Little Mummy made a cornbread that I still remember. It was soft and sweet with a not-too grainy texture. A few years ago I asked her how to make it. She couldn't remember. It may have been from a clipping or one of her books (I've not found it) or it could have been one of her many made up concoctions that can't be duplicated.

Every few months I pick up the gauntlet and search for and try a new recipe. Most have been sadly disappointing--too dry, too heavy, too sour, too scungy.

I found one that was on the right track (it was a bit too wet and too sweet and had a slightly wrong aftertaste)--of all places it was the kind my office cafeteria makes when they serve chilli. I went so far as to ask for the recipe, knowing they'd given other recipes out: silence. Dead silence. That's when I decided they must have been making it from a box...

Two months ago I trawled the web and found this recipe. I rarely go into a recipe with a drudgery-induced "Recipe trial 187: well, it can't be worse than the others" mentality--that, in itself, is a recipe for disappointment.

But I now blush to say I was rather blasé about it.

It's sweet and soft and definitely not gritty...and it comes together in no time whatsoever. Um...I think I no longer have to search for a cornbread recipe that makes me happy. Very happy.

I first made it to go with ribs I made for the exbf's birthday in March, and I've since made it twice more. This latest time as muffins, with the addition of several forkfuls of pickled pepper rings, chopped. I'll probably keep playing with it--Monterey Jack cheese, basil, sun dried tomatoes...I'm going have fun with this one


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18 May 2008

Happy Victoria Day!

Or, as 'tis known around here May Two-Four.

A little background: In 1854 the Province of Canada's legislature declared 24 May an official holiday, marking Queen Victoria's birthday. Since then, 24 May became the official holiday of Canada's reigning sovereign.

I can see you flipping to your calendar and I can hear you thinking "But it isn't 24 May, silly...it's the 18th (or 19th, or...)"--yes, I can hear your thoughts...scary isn't it? You're right, it isn't the 24th, but we're celebrating anyway: in 1952 the Statutes of Canada were amended to celebrate Victoria Day on the Monday before 24 May. Hence this year we celebrate on 19 May.

Yes, the date is also a public holiday in the Cayman Islands and some parts of Scotland.

Around here most people seem to focus on familial kinda things: some head up to open up their cottages for the summer, others potter about in their gardens--clearing winter's detritus and plant seeds or plantlets, while some others (like me) use it for a spring cleaning.

Many people also use this weekend to fire up their barbecues for the first time...with which they (and their friends/families/whatevers) quench their thirsts with a two-four (case of 24 bottles of beer).

Me, I don't have a barbecue...it's on my long-term list of things to buy. Beer and I aren't the best of friends...let me rephrase that. I like beer, but I value breathing more--I react to most commercially-made beers (think BIG breweries)--craft brewers are fine...and I'm very fine with Guinness (but you know that already).

So, how shall I celebrate? Well, with a Victoria Sponge, of course. As best as I can figure, a Victoria Sponge (or sandwich) is made up of two layers of sponge cake with a layer of jam between. Sometimes it's jam and cream, or cream and fresh fruit. I read somewhere that it is never, ever iced and that Queen Victoria preferred this cake with her tea.

Well, if it's good enough for Queen Victoria...and I've been looking for a reason to open the jar of apricot jam in my cupboard...

Victoria Sponge
(based on recipes in Tamasin Day-Lewis's Kitchen Bible and Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course)

155g softened butter
155g sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
155g self raising flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and prepare two 20cm/8" cake pans in the usual way.

Cream together the butter and sugar, then slowly add in the eggs. Quickly fold in the flour. Add in enough water so the batter is of a soft, dropping consistency. Divide batter between the pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cakes pull away from the sides and the top is springy. Let cool completely before assembling.

Warm the jam (three or four tablespoons) and pour on top of one of the cakes, spread with a knife (or a spoon, or whatever is most convenient) and place the second cake on top.


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15 May 2008

A little of this and a little of that and...what the?

I had a craving. Nothing really fancy or weird. Something that helped to stave off the ever so slight dip in temperatures. A nice simple bowl of chilli con carne.

I don't do anything special or unique. I think of chilli as one of those kitchen sink foods that's a great way of using up veggies that are still good, but may not be as supermarket supermodel-ish: the carrots may not be as firm as they were when purchased, the bell peppers a tad wrinkly, the tomatoes squooshier than many would like. The meat is whatever I have on hand--usually beef, but sometimes turkey or chicken. The spicing is from a packet that promises to have a steaming pot of goodness within 20 minutes.

Well, the carrots could have used Viagra, the peppers needed Botox and the tomatoes could have used alternating treatments of ice and Tylenol. I had 500 grams of ground beef and about 300 of ground pork. Add to that some garlic, onions a tin of kidney beans, and some tomato paste and well, I've got chilli.

Umm...except for the seasoning packet.

I suppose if the onions, carrots and peppers weren't sautéing, I could have run to the bigscarymegamart and bought a packet. But alas, they were sautéeing, and I didn't feel like shutting everything down.

Think think think.

My Dear Little Mummy makes a ground beef curry with beef, carrots, peas, ginger, onions and a myriad of spices...I could do that...sort of. No ginger, no peas. Nottaproblem. My chilli con carne morphs into curry con carne.

So I added a tablespoon or two of curry powder to the onion mixture and then added the beef and pork and another tablespoon of curry, along with a little tin of tomato paste and the chopped tomato and a bit of water. I cooked everything together, until the meats were no longer pink, added the rinsed kidney beans and stirred everything until the beans were heated through. Had a taste. Hmmm...something wasn't quite correct (apart from the ginger and the peas and the correct spicing).

Think think think.

Well...the fat can of puréed tomato was in the cupboard. Okay...why not?. In it went, on went the lid and I simmered everything with some salt and pepper for about 30 minutes...just like I would meat sauce for pasta, making this meal in a pot curry con bolognese.

How did it taste? Well, not like chilli, not like my Mum's curry and not like bolognese. It was a combination of all three: spicy, meaty and left me with a nice, happy feeling inside. Two days later, it tasted even better--as such dishes usually do--and colleagues were wondering what was in my bowl because they didn't see it in the caf, and they wanted some (umm...no...when will they learn?). I explained it to them, they looked confused and walked away. I guess fusion cooking doesn't translate well...well, at least not this particular dish.

Fine...more for me.


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11 May 2008

Redux: DB: Dorie's Perfect Party Cake

If you perused the Daring Baker Blogs in March, you know we were challenged to make Dorie's Perfect Party Cake. And if you perused enough of our blogs you'd have noticed a fair number of us had troubles getting our cakes to rise anything more than a galette. Dorie did hear of our troubles and passed on a note, suggesting we not try self-raising flour, use AP flour (less two tablespoons) and that her cake flour of choice was Swans Down.

Some people were able to use her advice and came up with some happy little slabs. I didn't see the note until it was too late, so
I wound up with very dense, thin cakes, not really high enough to bisect to make a quadruple layer cake. Partly because I wasn't thrilled with the result, partly because I was surprised to find a recipe in Dorie's Baking tome that didn't work, and partly because I was worried that the key to this recipe was a very specific brand, I wanted to try this cake again.

Last week I made three half-recipes--one using my usual Five Roses AP Flour, one using my usual Robin Hood Cake and Pastry Flour and the last using Swans Down. All were made the same day, with each cake baking away on its own in my mum's oven. The only changes I made from the first go-round were switching to vanilla from lemon and using milk instead of buttermilk. I also timed all the beatings so they were all made in the same way. I'd not tried anything like this before, so I was curious as to how the cakes would differ.

Here they are with heights
Top: Cake and Pastry Flour - 1.25" high
Left: AP - 1" high
Right: Swans Down - 1" high

Um...the dimples on the surface of the C&P Flour cake are not the result of a cat stepping on it--those are MY finger prints (yes, my initial doneness test is to touch the top of the cake).

Wow...look at that AP cake. All pockmarked and lumpy. In fact, by the time it totally cooled, it sank...I wound up with a bit of a crater.

Even though the C&P flour cake was the tallest, if I decided to slice off the dome, it would have been about 1" tall, the same height as the AP cake; the Swans Down domed slightly, but not enough to lose much height.

Well, there you go...none of my cakes were tall enough to slice through the middle as they were supposed to.

But this dawdle is about more than height..it's also about taste and texture....

I didn't actually get to try the C&P slab as I gave it to Dear Friend, iced with some cream cheese icing, coconut and gold dragees. Here's a picture of the original cake It tasted quite nice and the crumb was a bit denser than many other cakes, but wasn't really heavy.

The other two flours told a different story. The layer on the left is the Swans Down and the one on the right is the AP. Hands down, the Swans Down had the best texture of all three--almost velvety in its yielding crumb.

The AP Flour was much heavier and even though my cake tester came out clean it was obvious it should have been in the oven a wee bit longer, which contributed to its heavier nature.

At the end of this experiment I'm still not sure what's wrong--maybe I'm not making the cake correctly and that's why the slabs didn't rise all that much. I will say that I'm glad I tried the Swans Down Flour. My "everyday" cakes will still be made with my usual flours, but when I have a special cake on the menu, I know which flour I'll reach for...


Related Post: Daring Bakers: Perfect Party Cake

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08 May 2008

There's custard...

...and then there's custard.

I'm not going to sugar coat things or wax too nostalgic about My Darling One: the man was an unwilling cook who relied heavily on Bachelor Chow: big box frozen foods, insta this and canned that. Don't get me wrong: when he did cook from scratch, it was very good -- spaghetti, lasagne, chicken oporto, and I'm told his trifle (I never got to try any as there was never any left for me to try--he took a full bowl to the office at Christmas, and it came back disappointingly empty). Those dishes appeared every so often, but mostly, if he made me a meal, it was usually what is known as Bachelor Chow.

When time came to clean out his pantry, a bachelor friend took much of the BC, a few things were kept (rice, pasta, oatmeal) and the rest was binned. One of the few things I kept was a cannister of Bird's Custard--a staple of the aforementioned trifle.

As someone who's only made...um...real custard, I was curious about this white cornstarchy mix that's famous for transforming into an unnaturally yellow pudding and sauce. I mean, how difficult is it to make custard? (Answer: Not very, as is evidenced by my ability to turn out a pretty yummy vanilla ice cream.).

Well...I made some to go with some individual apple crumbly crispy things.

Would I sound terribly boastful to say my home made custard is yummier--richer, vanilla-ier and, well, oomphier than the powdered purveyance? The colour didn't help matters much--I don't think mine comes anywhere close to that particular shade (unless I dribbled in some colourant).

That's not to say that the cannister will find its way into the bin. I have a few recipes that call for a spoon of custard powder here and there to flavour fillings or cookies...and besides, sometimes truly instant pudding is what a soul needs.

The individual apple crisps were the main point of dessert, no mere vehicle for the sauce. I don't really follow any real recipes when making them: half to a whole tart apple, peeled and sliced, with a spoon of jam or maple syrup in each ramekin.

The topping is really easy (and uses pinhead oats)--this amount was fine for six individual ramekins. Please note I'm pretty free-wheeling when it comes to making this...sometimes there's more flour and less oats, sometimes put spices in sometimes there's barely any butter...it all depends on my mood...and my pantry:

25g plain flour
100g brown sugar
40g rolled oats
15g pinhead oats
50g soft butter (or more, or less, depending on your mood)

Rub the topping ingredients together and spoon over apples before baking.


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04 May 2008

On My Shelves: The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

Thanks to the kind people at Viking Studio/Penguin USA, I found a copy of Melissa Murphy's The Sweet Melissa Baking Book in my hot little hands.

The Sweet Melissa Baking Book: Recipes form the Beloved Bakery for Everyone’s Favorite Treats
By Melissa Murphy
Viking Studio (Penguin Group USA Inc)
240 pages; $27.00

I’m a bit of a sucker for baking books. Big, little, pie-centric, cake-focussed, full-colour and glossy, home made and photocopied, around the world in 400 pages, wham, bam, bake it ma’am—if I’m not careful my rickety shelves would tumble under the weight of those instructions that list piebirds, spring-form pans and recommend strips of baking parchment. They don’t have to be patisserie-perfect, but it’s usually a treat to read tips and tricks of those who’ve dedicated a part of their lives in pursuit of all things made of fat, flour and sugar (with the occasional fruit or nut tossed in for good measure). Melissa Murphy’s collection of her bakeshop’s treats, The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, gives fans—and those of us who’d like to be fans, but for want of a transporter aren’t—the ability to turn our home ovens into satellites of her famed patisserie.

A graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute, Melissa Murphy is the chef-owner of the Sweet Melissa Pâtisseries in Brooklyn, New York. Her bake shops have been featured in such publications a Food and Wine and The New Yorker, and she has contributed articles to such magazines as Bride’s Magazine, The New York Times Magazine and Pastry Arts & Design. Sweet Melissa Patisseries won the 2007 Zagat Marketplace Award for "Best Tarts and Pies" in New York.

Murphy’s 100-plus recipes are sectioned into six: breakfasts, snacks, cakes, fruits, special desserts and candies, all (I assume) from her pâtisseries. Photographs are few and far between—eight full-colour images illustrating a handful of recipes along with half a dozen black and white bakeshop shots—treats in their natural habitat, if you will. The limited illustrations may turn off some potential book owners and perhaps some of the inexperienced or even insecure home bakers, but I think the focus on text is exactly where it should be.

My proclivities lead me not to care what a food stylist does with a slice of cake or the lighting glinting off a fresh berry. I care more about the taste and ease of preparation; the latter is directly linked to the quality and clarity of written instruction. Murphy’s instructions are generally well-considered and ordered making it easy to attempt any of her sweet (and the occasionally savoury) treats. The recipes are easily adaptable to the baker’s palate as she sometimes offers variants to main recipes. Her Chocolate Orange Macaroons (p74) morph into Lemon Macaroons, while her Sweet Muffins recipe (p4) comes with four filling suggestions—Fresh Peach, Strawberry Muffins with Fresh Lemon and Rosemary, Orange Blueberry Muffins with Pecan Crumble and Pear Cranberry Muffins with Gingersnap Crumble.

Murphy’s text offers hints, tips and professional advice—things that many home bakers seek out. Some sections have dedicated pages of advice: in “It’s Somebody’s Birthday!: Special Layer Cakes” Murphy’s seven-page introduction includes words of wisdom about assembling layer cakes, both split and unsplit layer cakes, while “What Will We Do With All This Fruit?” includes four pages that discuss flour, fats, water and techniques for pastry-making. Many recipes include “Pro Tips” such as how to make your own vanilla sugar or what sort of bread to use in bread puddings.

For the most part, this is a good book but there are a few caveats. The first is a general warning about sweetness. Yes, I know this is a baking book, filled with lovely sweetie cakes, squares and pies, but I found the treats to be a bit too sweet for my liking. In each of the sweet recipes I tried, I could have very, very easily reduced the amount of sugar by about 25 per cent and not have undermined the yumminess of the final product. Related to this is my second concern: in this day and age where focus is put on childhood obesity, the rise of Type Two Diabetes and the general free-wheeling of sugar in the North American diet, I found “After-School Snacks” bordering on irresponsible—parents I know would not make these available to children between home time and supper because they’d be so wired (and yes, I know these really are treats and hopefully no parent would regularly provide these goods to their children, but to call them “after school snacks” is really too much). The final thing I didn’t care for was the lack of baking times and temps in the pie recipes. I suppose Murphy thought that as bakers would follow the pastry recipes found on other pages, they’d naturally flip back and forth—I found it annoying and would prefer to have the oven and timer info with the actual recipe. Oh, yes, add my usual displeasure about the use of volume metrics for flour, sugar etc.

And which recipes did I try? This is a book of temptation, to which I succumbed:

Butterscotch Cashew Bars (p54)
Incredibly easy but far too sweet—the butterscotch topping could be halved or quartered and attain a sweet-salty balance. Murphy suggests the quantity was sufficient for 24 bars, written—I cut it into 30 bars and still found it too sweet (even my sugar-loving colleagues thought it was sugar overload).

Carrot Cake with Fresh Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (p 114)
Moist moist moist and not heavy like many carrot cakes I’ve tried. The orange zest in the cream cheese frosting was delicious. I’ve since returned to the frosting recipe, cut down the sugar a bit and substituted extract for zest. The cake will probably be a regular star from my kitchen…probably as muffins.

Double-crusted Caramel Apple Pie (p 156) made with Flaky Pie Dough (p137)
Murphy recommends plain flour for the crust, instead of pastry flour. The crust was flaky enough and wasn’t at all chewy. I will give her full points for the caramel sauce instructions. I have never been able to make an edible caramel before, but I followed her instructions and produced a luscious caramel sauce that rivalled (and dare I say surpassed) any I’ve had from the shops or restaurants.

Savory Muffins: Bosc Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Muffins (p8)
This is a variant of the only savoury recipe in the book—which is why I made them. Oh my word these were good—the flavour combination is classic and just ever-so elegant.

The Sweet Melissa’s Baking Book is a good general-purpose sweetie baking book. The flavour combinations are fresh and inspired and will make anyone who follows her instructions a favoured baker.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.75/5

The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Ease of use: 3.5/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test*: Pretty much lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Novice-intermediate
Pro: Good kitchen tips make these sweet tips accessible to even neophyte bakers.
Con: A little heavy handed with the sugar, but easily fixable.

* I was reminded that a cookbook writer friend judged a cookbook partially on its ability to lie flat on a table, without without (eek!!) cracking the spine. Hey…who really wants to fight to keep a book open while trying to sort out its instructions?


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