Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiramisu' Turns One-Book Review

Almond Sticks from Bittersweet
for the recipe click here

A year ago I started this blog with the idea of showcasing Marin County growers and their products. I wanted to write about this rich and beautiful area where I live, in northern California, its farmers, the organic movement, and more. It was also an attempt to professionally promote my cooking and baking. Somehow I didn't manage all that, instead I got really interested in photographing food, and being part of an amazing blogging community I slowly got to know.

When I started my career as a pastry chef I made the decision of not going to culinary school so I depended heavily on books to learn techniques, styles, recipes, and more. To start this new chapter, I began working in small restaurants that hired me because of how my products tasted and looked, not on the account of my resume'. Because of schedule restrictions I was never able to work in any of the top restaurants in the City of San Francisco so I learned at a slower pace and mainly through personal quest. Three years ago exactly, I started working with a talented pastry chef, DMG, who taught me a huge amount of techniques and more. DMG also introduced me to bread making, which is something I will always be grateful for.

I love the challenges that classic French pastries bring, and I would love to be able to keep learning classic techniques, but ultimately I prefer baking rustic things, things that are not complicated by layers of sweet buttery creams. When I was growing up in Italy, we used to have lunch at my grandparents' house on Sunday. A big tray of pastries was always present, bought from the still existing shop Pasticceria Tonolo. While my family always went for the creamy items, I always ended up eating the simple pastries, and my all time favorite was a huge meringue filled with whipped cream. I would eat it slowly, first hitting the crunchy shell, then enjoying the soft center, and finally enjoying all three components together. I didn't know it then, but I believe that I was always thinking "One day I want to learn how to make this", and therefore my interest in pastries began by eating them.

Since we are close to the Holidays I thought of highlighting the books I keep using over and over, and the authors who keep inspiring me. Some books I have highlighted before, some will be new for you. I haven't had a chance to see some of the books that just came out, and I am sure someone else will write about them. I also have to limit this post somehow, so I am not able to write about many other talented people or wonderful books out there, these are by far my list. I am also limiting my selection to pastry, since that is what my true passion is and these are the books that helped me along the way.

I have met some of these authors, and I can attest that the books reflect them, they are humble, down to earth, wonderful people, all connected by their love for the art of baking. The list is in alphabetical order.

Flo Braker is a Bay Area resident, avid baker, recipe master, prolific author. I have three books by Flo, Sweet Miniatures, Baking for all Occasion, and The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. Her books are ageless, and the recipes, tested and retested, work every time. Her cakes are always wonderful, her directions easy to follow. She is one of those people you want to hug when you meet her, a beautiful soul.

David Leboviz, former pastry chef at Chez Panisse, now lives in Paris, where he teaches courses, gives tours, writes books, and leads the great life of a gourmet. I love his books Ready for Desserts, and Ripe for Desserts, and his Perfect Scoop is the ultimate inspiration when it comes to ice cream and sorbet. His recipes are bold, will kick you to attention, and I love his writing. You can find David here, his great blog. I have many recipe in my recipe book that come from him, his Chocolate Pave' is ingrained in my neurons for ever.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, is the ultimate sweet heart of the cake world, and also a prolific author, and a trove of recipes. I met her once, and she has the spirit and the laugh of a young soul, she is also hilarious. She has a blog, and many books, the Cake Bible, the Pie and Tart Bible, and the Bread Bible, which I happily own. Rose has published a more recent one, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, which I haven't had a chance of seeing, but could be as well be my next purchase. She approaches her writing the same way she started learning how to bake, down to the details, testing and re-testing, until she gets if right. If you need to know how to multiply a recipe to make a wedding cake, this is the book you want. Her recipes are also classic and work well.

Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef at Farallon, and former pastry chef of defunct Star Restaurant, is a continuous inspiration for me, lives in the Bay Area, and is the author of many books. Her dessert recipes are wonderful, easy to replicate at home, some American classic, some innovative, her book Passion for Desserts is full of them. Her taste is impeccable and I love in particular her ice cream book, Passion for Ice Cream, very classy and classic, and full of anecdotes.

Alice Medrich, is the ultimate Chocolate Guru, another Bay Area resident. She is responsible for changing the way Americans taste chocolate, starting in the 80's, in her Berkeley shop Cocolat. Her book Bittersweet is all you need if you want to learn how to work with chocolate. Her book Pure Desserts is very inspiring for the unusual use of ingredients in baking, like buckwheat or kamut flours. Her list of books is impressive, I could add a couple to my wish list.

Peter Reinhart, is the ultimate Bread Guru, a teacher, a prolific author, constantly inspiring regular people to get their hands dirty with yeast and flour. I was part of the Bread Baker Apprentice challenge, but had to stop because I was often late with the entries, and I started gaining weight eating the wonderful breads I was making. This book is full of information on how to start a wild yeast culture, how to make bread, how to shape it, proof it and bake it. I recently bought his latest book, Artisan Breads Every Day, which makes baking bread at home, with less than ideal time, a pinch. Peter can also be found in his blog. Did I mention that I tested some of the recipes before publishing and my name is among the list of more than 400 testers? Power to the cyber world!

Sherry Yard, is the executive pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck, and a force of nature. Her book The Secrets of Baking is a classic, organized by family of pastries, and impeccable. She classifies recipes under Master recipes and then shows all the variations, a must have, if you are just starting. Her book Dessert by the Yard, is a fun recollections of her career through recipes.

Last, but not least, are three books I love and keep going back for inspiration.

Baking with Julia, authored by the late Julia Child and written by Dorie Greenspan, is one of those books you keep discovering, with very rustic recipes, like the sticky buns, or the croissants.

Wild Sweets and Charlie Trotter's Desserts are two books I adore because of the photographs and the use of very unusual ingredients. If I were working in an innovative restaurant I would use their approach, incorporating savory ingredients into my dishes.


Jill said...

Congratulations on reaching a year with your blog!

I loved reading this post and getting to know more about you. It was so well written--great info about the authors and their books! I have several of them and the ones I don't have, are now on my wish list. :)

Again--an excellent and interesting post! I can't wait to read more! :)

Simona said...

Congratulations on the one-year mark. The tradition of pastries as dessert for Sunday lunch is also dear to my heart. What you describe is the pastry I would get at Pasticceria dell'Accademia in Perugia: there it is called spumone alla panna.

Y said...

This is a truly wonderful post. To a certain extent, I can also relate and I'm a huge fan of some of those cookbooks you listed. Happy 1 year to your blog!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A great collection of books! I wish I had so many ;-P...

Lovely cookies, mmhhh!

Best wishes for the New Year!




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