My meal planning often starts with a consideration of what to serve for dessert. So, a cookbook that offers a range of French desserts by region, type of dessert (cake, cookie, etc) and by ease of making in the home kitchen seemed like a dream come true. The photographs by Steven Rothfeld are evocative of food, enjoying food with family and the scenery of France. Some of the pictures are almost edible themselves.
In the front of the volume, Davis tells what ingredients will be needed for most of the recipes. There are just a few ingredients, that really matter, flour, butter, milk egges and fresh fruit and berries. In her listing of other ingredients, such as xream of tartar, gelatin and even honey, she not only defines the item, but also explains its role in pastries and desserts.
The book is divided into chapters focusing on specific types of desserts. You will find chapters that cover cakes, cookies, tarts, candies, puff pastry, waffles, crêpes, and more. She not only lays out the chapters by type of dessert but within each chapter starts off with the quicker to make recipes and then goes on to the longer ones. Davis She notes that it is her desire to de-mystify, even simplify, difficult recipes
Her recipes include some of what is considered classic French, for instance, puff pastry creations and those delectable madelines that are the heart of literary cookie times. However, Davis also includes some discoveries that you may not have tasted even on multiple trips to France. Davis' focus is on recipes for creating the sort of homey comfort food, in the dessert category, that French people make for themselves. Even when she has obtained a recipe form a shop , she stresses that our creations are not suppose to be uniformly perfect, just uniformly delicious. She notes that the French treasure simple good food at home and that this applies to their pastries as well.
For the recipes she mined the patisserie shops in tiny villages, tasted special desserts at festivals, and shared desserts (evidently) in home all over France. Tough research, but we are glad she did it because she shares with us, not only the recipes, but also the stories and traditions of some of the more unusual offerings. I loved the story of the Giant Break and Share cookie that comes from a small region called Poitou-Charentes. She tells that this one single cookie is made and shared after town meetings, weddings, baptisms, and other large gatherings. Each guest breaks off a piece and everyone present enjoys this sweet together.
Another legend and sweet refers to a triangular anise cookie from the west of France. This cookie, (Anise Cookies with Pistachios and Dried Cherries) is made on Palm Sunday. Key to the identity of this treat, each cookie is made into a triangle form. It's three sides are said to represent the three members of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Other delights include cream filled pastry cups (she allows for the use of bought puff pastry) and orange marmalade hearts, crepes and so much more.
However, all of that said, don't let the beauty of this book fool you into thinking this is a tome for beginners or the casual baker. Without having been in the kitchen with someone who has actually made these yummy looking creations, I will hesitate to tackle them. Even some of the easier recipes seemed a challenge to me. Baking is more than an art. It involves patience, precise measuring and fresh wonderful ingredients. Although the photographs are lush and lovely, I would have given up some of the scenery for step by step photos to illustrate a difficult part of a recipe with.
However, if you know someone who is already a practiced baker, then this book would make a wonderful gift for that friend.
Giant Break and Share Cookie
Le Broye du Poitou
Recipe reprinted courtesy of Gibbs Smith from French Desserts by Hillary Davis
(Makes one cookie)
3 ¾ cups sifted all purpose flour
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons salted chilled butter, cut into small cubes
1 large egg
3 Tablespoons dark rum
1 large egg yolk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the four, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse six times
Add the butter and process until the mixture is granular in texture.
Whisk the egg and rum together in a small bowl.
Add to the food processor and process until a ball forms, If it is still too dry to form a ball, add one tablespoon of ice water at a time until it comes together into a ball.
Place the dough on a large piece of plastic wrap. Press it down into a circle with the palms of your hands.
Transfer to the baking sheet, removing and discarding the plastic wrap and continue shaping and pressing the disk until it is ½ inch thick and approximately 10-11 inches across. Pinch all the way around the edges to create a decorative wave patter.
Beat the egg yolk and brush it across the top and down the sides of the cookie. Drag the tines of a fork from one end of the top of the cookie to the other several times to form a criss-cross pattern.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool for at least twenty minutes on the baking sheet and then carefully slip it off onto a large round plate.
To serve, present the whole cookie and let people break off pieces like they do in Poitiers.
Tip Some people scatter slivered almonds over the top before baking,. You can form this dough into minis or individual half inch cookies if you wish.
At A Glance
Title | French Desserts
Author | Hillary Davis
Publisher | Gibbs-Smith Publisher
Price | $30.00