Dessert Person - Final Review
Am I a Dessert Person now? Short answer, no. Long answer, maybe eventually? Claire Saffitz’ Dessert Person is a tome of delicious looking recipes that one woman can’t get through in a month, and what I managed to try has soured me to the harder parts of dessert making such as pies. I’ve had more failures than successes, many of which are more than likely my fault. I am not a dessert person, and I haven’t ventured beyond cookies or basic cheesecake in a premade crust in my whole life.
So I admit that my failings in trying to cook from this cookbook are all my own. Claire’s instructions and diagrams are all super detailed, but I know it will take many many tries for me to get to the point that I can turn out something of a quality that I can be proud of. I’ve never made a pie until November, much less made my own crust. Never made a tart, never made sable cookies, never so much as sneezed at a custard.
I came at this cookbook looking for challenges in things that I was unfamiliar with, and I was met with those challenges. So, for me, this cookbook provided exactly what I was looking for when I ordered it. It’s also a look into what internet favorite Claire Saffitz actually wants to cook, not just what internet goblins got Conde Nast to force her to do in the Bon App test kitchen. I love that the Saint Louis Gooey Butter Cake appears. I love that her book has a section for savory baking too.
6:30 a.m., Halloween Morning
Two sticks of unsalted butter stared me dead in the face as I reached into the refrigerator for my coffee creamer. I had a task to perform, they told me wordlessly. It was time to conquer the pie anxiety. So with a hot coffee and a clean kitchen island, I set myself to the task first thing in the morning.
I am, regrettably, a morning person. The sun had yet to rise, and pie crust came together on my kitchen island while my husband continued to sleep in. The process of making a pie crust remains intimidating to me, but Dessert Person continued the strong tradition of very detailed images to display each step, just like it did in the first pages of the book for very basic techniques.
Cut the cold butter into pieces. Chill the butter in the fridge. Press it into the flour with your fingers, and then bring together with ice cold water. I still had many areas within my pie dough where you could see solid leaflets of butter inside, but I didn’t worry about it at the time. The fact that it came together as a dough at all filled me with some pride as I put it into the fridge for its first two hour chill. My husband woke up at the end to watch me roll it out and do the first letter fold.
I was as proud of that pie dough as I was when I passed my Certified Professional Coder exam earlier this month. I remained proud of it when I pulled it out and rolled it into a circle. I was proud of it when I put it into my pie plate, and a little less proud when I cut one side a little too close to the plate. The pleating process after cutting the round left one side shorter than the other, but it could have been worse. It was a pie dough.
Getting Ready to Bake
Like most cookbooks, Dessert Person opens with sections about how to use the cookbook, what hardware you’ll need, and even a chart of how hard the recipes are compared to one another. Unlike most cookbooks, the majority of this information actually appears to be useful. I’m known to skip over introductions and charts and graphs at the start of other similar cookbooks because I feel like I already know a lot of what there is to be learned before diving into it.
Dessert Person does not make these sections out to be the be all end all of information, which is lovely. Still, a novice baker can look at photographs of how to fill a pastry bag, how to line a round pan with parchment paper, and various stages of beating egg whites so that they are never in the dark while trying out new techniques and recipes. These are things I don’t know much about. I know what bread dough is supposed to look like, to always measure in grams, etc… but these aspects of baking are foreign.
Return of the Cookbook
Or, November 2020 Cookbook of the Month: Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz
When I first started cooking, I thought I would be an avid, lifetime dessert baker. I loved cookies and my pumpkin cheesecake. There was a while there where I tried to start a cookie business out of my own home (it never panned out). As soon as I was out of my parents’ house and on my own, the desire to bake sweets dwindled to complete minimum unless Thanksgiving or Christmas was right around the corner. Desserts were a vehicle through which to express my love to other people, less about loving them myself, and when my social circle shrank and outings lessened, so too did my desire for baking sweets.
Which begs the question, why in God’s Green Earth would I want a cookbook called Dessert Person when I am not, in fact, a dessert person? First of all, I love and worship Claire Saffitz. She’s a St. Louis area native, like myself, and her stint on the now tainted Bon Appetit remains one of my favorite cooking shows of all time. I have an immense amount of respect for her as a chef and as a person, and I couldn’t imagine going past this release without picking it up for myself the moment it was available.
New World Sourdough
Let’s face it. I’ve been lusting after this book like a lot of people have been since the BLM movement hit the culinary writing scene. I had no idea who Bryan Ford was until I started digging into Black food creators on the internet, and his book happened to debut right on top of the wave that was BLM. It sold out immediately, and I didn’t get my hands on it until mid-August when it finally arrived in my mailbox as a gift from my mother-in-law. I’ve used some of the author’s recipes from his blog during my lengthy wait and found them easy to follow and productive for a sourdough novice, so the book itself is already promising.
Like most bread baking cookbooks, New World Sourdough begins with the author's instructions on how to care for your starter. These instructions are often universal between bread baking books with mild variations. If you have a starter made already, keep doing what you're doing. If you do not, this section of the book is clearly important before you can move on to the recipes. I did not spend a ton of time in this section while I prepared to bake from the book. Woops.
I am already glad to have been given this book as a gift because the recipes within it are not only box standard sourdough recipes I already have from Tartine Bread. Sure, there IS an English Muffin recipe. There IS a French bread recipe, but it's not limited to traditional breads you associate with a sourdough book. It's called New World Sourdough for a reason.
I’m excited to explore new recipes in sourdough beyond what people think of as the traditional breads. My starter, Quaran-Tina, remains one of my proudest accomplishments of 2020, and getting to use her a little more often as the weather cools down up here in Wisconsin is a comforting thought when things feel as bad as they do right now.
Are there any particular recipes you’d like to hear about from this book? Instagram is loaded with people trying his Semitas de Yema and Mallorcas, both of which are already on the list. We'll try something new every weekend until the end of September, and given the first weekend is a three day weekend, maybe even two projects!
Let's explore a new world of sourdough together in the month of September after we spent the entire quarantine obsessed with the traditionals.
The Upsouth Cookbook
I impulse purchased the Up South Cookbook during a dive into online black food personalities, writers, and chefs while attempting to find my way to both learn and contribute to the ongoing cultural conversation as a white lady food blogger. I woke up during the protests about George Floyd’s murder and saw I had only one cookbook by a black chef on my shelf. I’ve more than once treated myself to cookbooks by Asian writers, but this is a place where my collection is lacking.
I made this impulse purchase at the height of BLM activity on twitter at the beginning of June. It’s now July. I made some attempt at it, but given the financial constraints upon my husband and I while unemployment wasn’t coming through the door, I couldn’t give the book its proper dues and cook it right. Now that I am working, however, it’s time to just call this book what it is. It’s our July Cookbook of the Month.
Nicole A. Taylor, the writer of this cookbook, came up in my research as a James Beard Award nominee, podcaster, and cookbook author. Her Up South Cookbook showed up beside her recipe in The Way We Ate as ways for me to begin educating myself on the cuisine of African Americans in my own country. While my means are limited during the pandemic, I could afford the about ten dollars each book was on sale for on Amazon at the time, so I clicked.
Tartine Bread Redeemed
Last year, I declared with ferocity that Tartine Bread, often described as the bread bible of cookbooks, was just too much fucking effort for a home cook and you probably shouldn’t buy it if you have minimal interest in bread baking. There are much easier, realistic methods out there for people like you and I. That much remains true. Tartine Bread is a lot of effort. There ARE easier, more realistic methods out there for people with limited time in the day.
What has changed is that I haven’t been working for two months, and I actually managed to get my sourdough starter to survive longer than a week. I finally had the tools available to me to tackle the contents of the cookbook appropriately: time and starter. Quaran-Tina thrived over the two months I spent nurturing her before I felt comfortable coming back to Tartine Bread in any way. Even so, I remained afraid.
May: Carpathia's Final Verdict
May feels like it went by at lightning speeds. The world has finally started to move again, even if it hasn’t been in the best of ways. At least it’s getting warm outside, the gardens are growing, and nature appears relatively unharmed by what’s going on out there. With a new month on the horizon, it’s time to wrap it up with our May Cookbook of the Month, Carpathia. I have included links to the other articles about this cookbook below so that you can catch up before the rest of the review.
Take a look:
I came to this book after seeing it discussed on twitter, and after an admittedly limited amount of recipe trials, I am glad that I did. This is not a cuisine we get much of in the United States, but its ingredients are familiar to most of us. We can make it in our own homes without much extra effort, and it’s a shame that we haven’t been doing it for awhile. There is so much to learn from the cuisine of other cultures, and Romanian cuisine deserves a light on it too.
Originally Posted February 9, 2020 in the Archive
A little late, I know, but I promise I have not forgotten about you, the January Cookbook of the Month, or the February Cookbook of the Month. The final review of Binging with Babish will be coming shortly, but even with the leap year, February is a short month. I don’t want to cheat you on the time to cook out of our February Cookbook of the Month with me: Overwatch, The Official Cookbook by (You guessed it) Chelsea Monroe-Cassel.
If you’ve been around awhile, you know that I usually hit up a video game cookbook at least once a year. Two of the three have now been gifts from some of my best friends and supporters, the Cox Family. Overwatch is no different. This came to me as a Christmas present, and it patiently awaited the moment that I had a free month to put it on the table and get to work. February sounded like the best time to crack it open since Overwatch league started this weekend. (I cannot tell you how excited I am for Overwatch League. I never thought I’d be into E-sports but here we are.)
I am an avid player of the game. It’s been a huge part of my gaming experience with friends from across the world, and for two years now, I’ve obsessed over the competitive gaming scene associated with it. When I heard last year that they were working on a cookbook, I have to admit that I was excited. The characters from the game hail from across the globe, so the possibilities were endless.
The format of the book confirms what I thought would be coming: recipes for every character out at the time. I don’t think I have it in me to do a recipe from every single character over the month of February, but I know that I will visit my personal favorites for a taste of their home countries and what our author believes these beautiful creations would be eating.
I have something to confess. In the modern meta, I am a Moira main. Skillless and terrible, I launch my little orbs (even the gold ones) across the screen with little aim. Its because I CANT aim. I’ve been a gamer for my entire life, and yet any computer game that requires me to aim usually ends poorly. Moira’s recipes are of keen interest to me because of this fact as well as my Irish heritage. Can you believe I have never tried to make my own serious Beef stew in my entire life? I will this month.
That said, the book is first broken down by continent and then by character. Anyone from Europe will be in the same section, etc. I appreciate this breakdown since it does appeal to fans that have even a working knowledge of the game’s lore and characters. Just from my first peak at the book, I have a few complaints.
I will admit some disappointment with Tracer’s recipes when I opened the book. I haven’t cooked anything from this yet, but know that Tracer is a British character. Her major recipes are dead ass Sticky Toffee Pudding and Beer-battered Fish and Chips. Every single human being who has ever watched a cooking show knows a recipe for either of these things. She immediately became the LEAST interesting section in the cookbook.
She isn’t the only laughable member of the crew upon first glance. Soldier 76, the Captain America of Overwatch, is literally tasked with being the man to hold the pancakes, the sugar cream pie, and the tater tot hot dish (AKA CASSEROLE). I say again: Boring. At least the more diverse characters like Lucio and Sombra have recipes that make me actually want to cook them. I’ve never in my life made Pao de queijo or Conchas.
The rest of the cast more than makes up for some of the mediocre recipe choices by bringing something unique to the table. It bares repeating that this is a cookbook surrounded by the individual characters, including the robots. There are some pretty great 'joke' recipes for Bastion, seeing as he doesn't eat. The characters from different parts of the world that often receive less culinary attention in my kitchen will come to the forefront though. These are the characters I will be focusing on as I try at least one recipe a week for the rest of February.
As I said at the beginning, your review of Binging with Babish will follow shortly. It’s been a very strange year already, but I appreciate you sticking around. Let’s make the rest of it good.
March: Japanese Home Cooking
Originally Posted February 28,2020 in the Archive
So begins a journey that I started with an impulse Amazon purchase after listening to a Bon Appetit Foodcast interview with cookbook author Sonoko Sakai. Rappaport waxed poetic about Japanese Home Cooking, and the author herself sounded like a knowledgeable and thoughtful author. I remembered the struggle to work out of the Momofuku cookbook more than a year ago, and I wanted to give Japanese food another try through another vehicle. I am hoping this will be the one that makes it easier for the average home cook.
Bon Appetit has yet to lead me down the wrong path when a cookbook recommendation has come up in their podcast, so I am trying to keep the faith while looking down the barrel of a cuisine that I am personally intimidated by. Dining In by Alison Roman, Indian-ish from Priya Krishna, and Where Cooking Begins from Carla Lalli Music have all been favorites of mine, and every single one of them came down from the internet’s premiere food media source. So I pulled the trigger on Japanese Home Cooking, and I swallowed down the fear.
Just holding the book in my hands made me think back to the same feeling I had when I first cracked the spine of Momofuku. It’s gorgeous. The artwork and photographs are all super powerful in invoking the central idea of the book- japanese home cooking. Gorgeous scenery any western person associates with the island nation is peppered in among the introductory chapters of the book, and I love them. Still, the fear remained.
Given the nature of the material, the biggest hurdle that was present with Momofuku still exists today. The ingredients are not widely available at the average supermarket, so if you decide to go down this path with me, you will need to use Amazon to fill in the gaps (or better yet, find a local Asian grocer and see if they lean Japanese or not). I live in a much larger city with a large immigrant population, though most of the Asian markets my husband has found in my stead lean Thai or Hmong more than Japanese.
While writing this article, I put in an order for wakame seaweed, mirin, yuzu juice, dried shiitake mushrooms, and dried sardines. There will probably be more orders to come. As of right now, this is probably the largest amount of money I have spent on base ingredients for a cookbook. We’re at a fifty dollar ingredient barrier, which is not present when considering cookbooks like the others we have looked at so far this year. This is before I have even chosen a recipe to begin.
The ingredient barrier leaves me concerned that this may be yet another cookbook that is for the enthusiast only, but we’ll see once we get cooking. Sonoko Sakai front loads the cookbook with a list of many of these ingredients she considers essential in her pantry, so if you do decide to try your hand at this well received book, you won’t have to flip through every recipe to figure out what you need in order to have the basics available.
Our initial order will be in before March actually begins, so we’ll be ready to cook on the first weekend and keep you updated about every recipe as they land on the table. I’m excited to share this journey with you as we tackle our first SCARY cookbook of the year.