Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: European Cookies for Every Occasion by Krisztina Maksai

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What does Bruce Lee have to do with cookies? There is a new set of TV commercials, for some product I ignore, that says good things can come in small packages. Bruce was 135 pounds but flew thru the air, really flew. His stunts were not special effects, they were statements of his incredible power.

Most cookies in the country come from store shelves. A minority are baked at home. And of those, few, too few are exceptional. We bake cookies because, unlike other desserts, they are just supposed to be flat and simple and emit but one flavor note. Well, chocolate with maybe a walnut overtone.

All of which is wrong. If you had an old Eastern European bakery around when you were a kid, or if you happen to visit Eastern Europe, then you already know that complex, exceptional things can come in small packages. The cookies in European Cookies for Every Occasion are beautiful, layered, and cogently blend multiple flavors and textures. They are, in a word, exceptional.

Author Krisztina Maksai grew up in Romania, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Fortunately for us, she also grew up with a sweet tooth and boundless curiosity. She loves to bake and considers baking an art form of the highest order. You can see her on YouTube and be rather amazed at how someone so young could master so much so quickly.

Her talent includes more than baking. She can write, organize, and demonstrate. European Cookies has over 200 photographs showing the stages needed for “cookie construction.” Traditionally, European cookies are more like small pastries. They are sweet, layered with textures, and yet often remarkably subtle. They are a delight to bite into, sampling each layer, each texture, each flavor. In this book, layers and textures and flavors represent traditional combinations that reflect generations of perfection.

I leafed through the book, deciding which recipes Suzen and I would try. Impossible to decide. This book, this is the first book, where Suzen and I are really going to make everything. Not all at once you understand, but I swear to you I want to try everything. So will you.

I’m about to post one of her recipes, Coffee Shots, her tribute to caffeine. A delicate almond dough is rolled out and cut with cookie cutters. Sandwich cookies are made by using a coffee flavored filling, then a different coffee-flavored frosting goes on top and on the very top you place a chocolate-covered coffee drop or espresso bean. It’s so, so good. And beautiful before you even bite.

Recognizing that European cookies are works of art that take more effort than your simple chocolate chip, European Cookies is divided into four parts:

  • Quick and Easy Cookies
  • Moderately Cookies
  • Moderately Difficult
  • Challenging Cookies

“Easy” here does mean pretty easy: you can do it, I promise you. And challenging is just that but so rewarding. Like her classic Chessboard Cookie with an alternating pattern of vanilla and chocolate squares, all wrapped in a chocolate frame. If you have ever seen this cookie before, you wanted it. If you ever tasted one, you want more. There are 12 color photos here to walk you thru the construction steps.

This book can only be described as brilliant. If you love cookies and you want your next cookie experience to be meaningful and perhaps long lasting, then this is the book you need.

We can only hope that author Krisztina Maksai is deep at work on her next work of art.

 

Cookbook Review: One Bowl Baking

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This is a really bad analogy, but I’m doing it anyway.  Have you ever heard about wide spectrum antibiotics? These are drugs that can tackle an array of issues. They have benefits in many situations.

Well, One Bowl Baking by Yvonee Ruperti is a wide spectrum dessert book. It’s ideal for many of us:

  • First and foremost, anyone who wants new dessert recipes with flair
  • Small kitchen and no room or tolerance for a mess
  • Kids you want to introduce to cooking, as a fun experience
  • You have a sweet tooth, little patience and you need a fix

Just for record, that last category, that is not the reason I am in therapy.

Author Yvonne Ruperti has appeared on number television cooking shows and understand the pulse the contemporary culinary audience. We want good things, new things, exciting things, but too many of us have an attention span that is not up to that needed hour or two in the kitchen. Yes, on TV the cooking experience takes an hour. Remember, they edit the video tape.

Yvonne’s book is ideal here. After an introductory chapter on the maxims of good baking, there are nine more chapters covering many aspects of baking — no, there is no full-sized apple pie but there are tarts. Yvonne has a mission and she knows the mission limits. Here are the chapters and examples of representative recipes. You’ll see from these recipe titles that Yvonne has sought to make these one-bowl dishes rewarding, ones you’ll return to:

Muffins and Scones: Peaches and Cream Streusel Muffins, Upside Down Sticky Pecan Muffins

Cookies: Thin and Crispy Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies, Double Chocolate Espresso Cashew Cookies

Bar Cookies: Ruby Red Grapefruit Bars, Pina Colada Bars

Cupcakes: Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with Malted Milk Ganache, Mocha Valencia Cupcakes

Snack Cakes: Rocky Road Fudge Cake, Banana Bourbon Cake with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Quick Breads, Pound Cakes, Bundt Cakes and Tube Cakes: White Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Sticky Honey and Fig Cake

Party Cakes: Triple Chocolate Blackout Cake with Espresso Ganache. Mocha Buttercream

Cheesecakes and Tarts: No-Bake Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberries, Juicy Mango-Raspberry Crumble Tart

Pudding Cakes, Upside-Down Cakes, and More: Blueberry-Plum Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake, Mocaholic Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

What? You read this and nothing appealed to you? I would suggest you call 911 and mention that you are in the midst of a serious, incredibly debilitating stroke.

I had trouble just typing this list. Yvonne clearly has chocolate and caffeine issue, but there is major fruit issue to. The recipe titles here achieve what they should: they make stop and read again and wonder if you just start making things now.

Beyond the attracting titles, the ingredients lists are modest, the instructions are carefully written in just a few short paragraphs. The economy here is not just in one bowl, but in the effort that is required to satisfy your dessert cravings.

Suzen went through the book page by page, put it down, sighed, and looked at me. “There’s a lot here,” she said. “I suppose you want to begin with the Rocky Road Fudge Cake.” She was right, on both counts. One Bowl Baking is your espresso expressway to perfect endings. It’s not a miracle drug. It’s a baking book you want to own.