Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose



The term “profiling” is not politically correct. I realize that. I also know it is pretty silly because every time you visit the doctor, he does just that: he listens to you, learns your symptoms, and uses profiling techniques to make the most likely deduction about what is causing your headache. Without profiling, a doctor might start by looking at your toes. It’s far, in distance and time, from toenails to your sinuses.

So, let’s profile Amber Rose, author of Love Bake Nourish. Her father became New Zealand’s leading pioneer of sustainable organic agriculture and heritage seed saving. Her mother maintained an organic garden of largely rare 800 species of fruits and vegetables. What was Amber’s most likely destiny? To be a physicist doing quantum mechanics? Or to be a chef, teacher and author?

Her realized destiny is our gain. Love Bake Nourish is a baking book devoted to changing when and how you pursue you baking through the year. The season’s available fruit, flowers, and nuts are blended with honey and different flours [chestnut flour!] to take you on a culinary journey to a different time, if not a different planet.

There’s charm in just the titles of the desserts Amber invites you to try:

  • Apple and Rose Geranium Compote
  • Apricot and Pistachio Crumble
  • Blood Orange and Rosemary Tart
  • Citrus Honey and Pistachio Drizzle Cake
  • Lavender Lemon and Honey Cake
  • Maple Syrup Meringues with Caramelized Pears
  • Pear and Almond Tart with Orange-Scented Crust

With Amber, processed white sugar is out. Honey is in, which gives your flavor spectrum a new dimension. White sugar taste like white sugar, pound after pound. Honey comes in all those flower-based flavors which you can now match to the fruit and herb ingredients central to Amber’s recipes. I look at these recipes and wonder: is this how we all should and perhaps will cook in the future or is this how the Downton Abbey folks relished on country life desserts in that paneled tea room of theirs. There is something comfortingly old and yet forwardly challenging about these recipes.

Ah, challenging? Just in the context of being so different. The recipes themselves are within your reach, I assure you. One page long, maybe a dozen ingredients — and that includes the honey, herbs, and fruits. These are not complicated recipes. They are well written, easily followed.

If you happen to need gluten free dishes, you will find them here in abundance. The Simple Nut Flour Cake is just that, simple: eggs, nut flour, butter, honey and salt. Like many of her recipes, Amber here suggests extensions and options. The cake on its own is lovely but can be adorned with cocoa powder or partnered with fruit. The cake batter can be extended with rosemary or pine nuts or both.

You get the sense that each of these recipes is alive. There are always ways to extend and adorn. And certainly every one of these paths will lead you to enjoyment.

Love Bake Nourish is charming different and worth your deep consideration.

Cookbook Review: Sweet by Valerie Gordon


Blum Cake


Author Valerie Gordon’s earliest memories include taking baked goods on a family visit to business associates. By the time she was in the third grade, she had developed what she bravely admits was a “serious baking habit.” Today, she oversees a Los Angeles empire of sweet shops devoted to pleasing those who dine in. And pleasing those who carry her sweet goods out for visits to family or business or whomever is lucky enough to be showered with her exceptional creations. Some people just buy for themselves.

Her book, Sweet, is filled with ideas for gifts and for that personal enjoyment. The cover, as you can see, is black and gold. And this book is just that, gold. Well, more exactly, it is the perfect goldilocks book. You remember the fairy tale? Some things were not quite enough, some were too much, and then there was the one thing that was just right.

Sweet is the just right baking book for you. That makes it an important book for you to consider. Baking books come in three categories:

  • The good but low key type where the “high end” dessert is an exotic brownie
  • The exceptional but high end book, typically by someone from Paris, whose creations are astonishing and quite beyond your reach [and mine]
  • The rare but wonderful goldilocks book, one that will raise your skills and let you succeed in fashioning something exceptional.

Sweet is just that book. Valerie begins with a series of her historic recreations, dessert recipes from now shuttered institutions that offered American baking classics. That smaller picture above is for one of the gem recipes in Sweet: Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake. A chiffon cake — like angel food but made with oil, an historical marker on its own — is layered and frosted with coffee whipped cream. The ensemble is then studded with fragments of coffee crunch candy. The cake is legendary. And you have to make it and then eat it. Right now.

The Blum’s cake is one of the first recipes in Sweet. The last recipe in the book is Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake, one of Valerie’s creations, not yet listed as historic but perhaps destined to be. In between the first and last recipes, the book is divided into sections for celebration desserts like Blum’s, every day cakes, pies and tarts, chocolates and confections, spoon able desserts, cookies and bars, and jams and marmalades.

While my first tendency would be to call this a baking book, that would be wrong. Those candy and jam chapters make this a comprehensive dessert resource. Brownies are included here, I should acknowledge, but why would you settle for mere browniedom when you can select from seriously wonderful concepts like:

  • Apple and Caramel Aged Gouda Crostata
  • Apricot Basil cream Galettes
  • Blueberry Vanilla Cream Hand Pies
  • Bullocks Wilshire Coconut Cream Pie
  • Chasen’s Banana Shortcake
  • Cucumber Lime and Mint Sorbet
  • Single Malt Scotch Truffles
  • White Nectarine and Lemon Verbena Jam

Sweet has been published in an over-sized format which makes the full page photos by Peden + Munk even more gallantly compelling. There is a Hazelnut Cake covered in shiny dark chocolate ganache that seems ready to ooze out of the page and onto my waiting fingertips. It makes me want to say, “Suzen, there’s something I have to show you.” I can pretty much assume that the picture will convince my wife this must be the dessert for our next dinner party.

Although, I should counter myself, Nora Ephron has called that Blum’s Cake the “greatest cake in history.” That may be the one modest drawback to Sweet: where do you begin? The answer is that with this book, any page you select is a gateway to success and enjoyment. Extravagant enjoyment.

Sweet is a book that will entertain and educate you. It was written for you, the typical cook. You don’t have to be a Parisian trained pastry chef to use this book. But you’ll have fantasies of being one.