Two Brown Girls

Two brown girls, two countries, and two kitchens in which to play!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

And Now Presenting... CCR: The Cracker Cookbook Review!

Long in planning and production, TwoBrownGirls is pleased to announce the advent of the much-anticipated Cracker Cookbook Review. Concieved, we believe, over several glasses of wine and/or loaves of LaBrea Bakery bread, the CCR is the lovechild of our favourite Cracker-in-chief, Katie.

Now, I personally like to think of Katie as our Cracked-out-Martha-stewart-wannabe-of-joy but that gets a little long, and so in the grand spirit of political correctness that embodies TwoBrownGirls we often refer to her simply as our Resident Cracker. In any case, CrackerKatie has decided to honor us with some words of wisdom on food and fabulousness. What follows is entirely her own creation, for which the TwoBrownGirls (sadly) take no (or very little) credit.

Cracker Cookbook Review
The Last Course: Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, Claudia Fleming

I live obscenely close to Campanile and La Brea Bakery, and eat at both frequently, so I am naturally a little biased towards Nancy Silverton when it comes to the Pastry Chef Death Match. Both have been going downhill since Nancy left them (Campanile in particular is really suffering) but I still have very fond memories of one particular lunch when everything on the dessert menu was so appealing that we ordered it all.

However, I think she may have been unseated (although I will reserve final judgment until I eat at the restaurant she is opening with Mario Batali) by the author of this book, Claudia Fleming. Reading The Last Course made me want to fly to New York and eat at Gramercy Tavern so badly that I was twitching. The beautiful pictures featured throughout the book definitely helped, but her recipes had a good dose of imagination that I have found lacking in many others. She is also not afraid to share (which is one complaint I have about Nancy Silverton, who has yet to publish anything that even hints at the recipes behind her brilliant composed desserts – Desserts by Nancy Silverton was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever purchased).

I happen to love the organization and format of the book – it is ordered by ingredient under sections like berries, stone fruits, and spices. Each recipe also includes suggestions of other recipes in the book to serve it with for a more complex or composed dessert. For example, with Banana Sorbet she recommends Pecan Sandies to serve; Caramel Blood Oranges for a complex dessert, or Extra Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet and Milk Chocolate Malted ice cream for a composed dessert.

While many of the recipes are not for a beginning cook, they are for the most part clear and not overly complex. The most forbidding thing to a home pastry chef would probably be time – the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Rose Gelee (which I then served with her strawberry sorbet) required several hours of resting and chilling as well as a full hour spent over the stove watching the wine and strawberries reduce for the gelee. While this may not be an issue for a restaurant cook (who is simply glancing at it while preparing other desserts) it is mildly annoying for the home cook.

Gelee and panna cottas before unmolding (in the final presentation, which I don't have a picture of because we scarfed them
down, the panna cotta is unmolded on top of the gelee with a scoop of
strawberry sorbet to top it off)

Despite the small difficulties, I still recommend The Last Course as one of the most outstanding dessert cookbooks I have ever used, owned, or looked at (and I have a ton. No, really). Looking at pictures of Orange Cardamom Shakes, Blackberry Napoleons with Orange Shortbread Wafers, Passion Fruit-Pineapple Sorbet, Sugar and Spice Doughnuts, and Gingersnap Ice Cream made me get off my butt and get on the treadmill so I could start making and eating them.

Strawberry Sorbet from Desserts of Gramercy Tavern
As Ms. Fleming points out, this is absolutely not worth your time unless you have flavorful, ripe, juicy strawberries from your farmer’s market. If you do have them, however, the result is sublime. I recommend Gaviota strawberries, as they are sweet, juicy, and make delicious sorbet.

Gaviota strawberries

1 quart hulled fresh strawberries
_ cup sugar
1 _ cups simple syrup
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar. Let the mixture rest for 2 hours.

2. Transfer the berries to a food processor or blender and puree with _ cup water until very smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids to extract all their juice, then discard the solids.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the strawberry puree, simple syrup, and lemon juice. Cover and chill until cold, at least three hours, or overnight. Freeze in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Yield: 1 quart

Simple Syrup: in a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 _ cups water. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Let the syrup simmer for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and allow to cool. Simple syrup will keep almost indefinitely in a tightly sealed bottle in the refrigerator.


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