Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker

Baking for All Occasions

Yesterday’s post was for a lovely Red Velvet Cake Roll or Roulade from Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker.

Today, I just want to emphasize why you should consider Baking for All Occasions for your kitchen bookshelves, sagging though they may be. There are many baking books and, truthfully, many of those are interesting and have some recipes that you want to try. Baking is different for two reasons.

First, Baking is simply dense with recipes that do catch your eye and that compel you to utter the dessert lovers’ mantra: “Make me. Make me.”

Second, because this is a book by Flo, you know that there is substance beyond her seductive titles. You know that each recipe is real, has been tested, is ready for the home cook, and will — if carefully followed — give you exactly the results you desire.

For me, the first sign of a great cookbook is the title information in those recipes. If it says “Chocolate Cake with White Frosting” I’m interested, as any chocoholic might be, but not convinced. When Flo says “All American Chocolate Cake with Divinity Frosting” then I have to pause. Yes, “All American” can mean anything but this is Flo’s book so I know it represents research, testing, and a “best of breed” development.

And “Divinity Frosting?” Well, I remember being eight years old and making divinity for Christmas presents. It’s been a long time. I liked that divinity. I’m sure I’d like it on top of rich chocolate cake. So sure, that the next time Suzen is not around, I fully intend to …

On the list of Flo’s recipes goes, for example:

  • Banana Streusel Snack Cake
  • Black Bottom Praline Chiffon Pie
  • Caramel Chocolate Cream Pie
  • Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookes [that's them in the picture below!]
  • Cinnamon Bubbles with Sour Cream Dough
  • Heirloom Banana Cake with Prune Plum Filling and Seafoam Frosting
  • Strawberry Mango Shortcake with Basil Syrup

Take that last recipe, which Suzen and I will be testing for you later this summer. We’ve all had strawberry shortcake. It’s classic, it’s a delight. But Flo adds dimension and flavor here. Mangos are married with the strawberries. And that basil syrup is sure to enrich the experience.

This is typical Flo: more flavors for a deeper flavor profile. New ideas are matched up, and yet adroitly balanced so that they complement rather than compete. You’ll know, in that first bite, that before you is something quite special.

Baking for All Occasions is surely a book you’ll enjoy. Just reading it is fun. Sampling your way through, one treat at a time, can be your personal journey to dessert nirvana. Don’t wait for reincarnation. Bake now. Bake with Flo.




Cookbook Review: Vodka Distilled by Tony Abou-Garmin + The Sgroppino [vokda + limoncello + prosecco + serbert!]

vodka distilled

Vokda. The things I did not know, or suspect and was wrong.

In 2010, after 30 years of mixology experience, Tony Abou-Garmin wrote the hit book The Modern Mixologist [no, I haven’t reviewed it here, but I will].

Tony has worked everywhere perfecting his craft. At Po with Mario Batali in that shoe-box sized spot in the West Village. In the enormous and palatial Bellagio in Las Vegas. Tony is a well-traveled expert who ridden — actually he’s help create — the modern tidal wave of cocktail concepts.

Now, when you are an expert, that first book can be too long for the editors. Modern Mixologist fit in that category. So, out came material. And, now we see the fruits of those remnants. Vodka Distilled is all about vodka, just about vodka, teaching us, enticing us, assisting us.

This book has history, recipes and vodka reviews. The information, and I read it cover to cover, really changes your perspective on what vodka is. I know the definition from the US Government: “A neutral spirit, so distilled, or treated after distillation with charcoal and other materials as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.”

Well, that’s just not true. Not actually for US vodkas and most certainly for vodkas from the rest of the world. And so not true for the lands of origin of vodka: Russia and Poland. Whether it was Russia or Poland where vodka first came into being is disputed. Lord, Poland is disputed. It’s vanished from the map three times and the borders of Poland now are not what they were 700 years ago. Today, Poland is home to 1000 different vodkas. Russia is home to many, and so too the Baltic and Scandinavian states — the so-called vodka homeland.

Tony distinguishes between those Old World vodkas and the New World ones. I had thought that all the flavored vodkas we see now were a new idea, the results of internet marketing and focus groups. Vodka has been flavored all along. Sometimes intentionally to have flavor and sometimes necessarily to literally cover up the results of poor ingredients and bad distilling.

Vodka is the best selling spirit in the United States, in large part because that “almost” neutral flavor makes it ideal for cocktails. There are 30 cocktails in this book. One, the Ruby, I posted about yesterday. The Sgroppino is described below.

But the fact is, that vodkas do have subtle flavor, certainly nose, and different viscosities engendered by ingredients and by temperature. Vodka is water plus something else: rye, wheat, potato, mixed grains, corn, or other things. Even molasses. For tasting purposes, Tony recommends the vodka be neat and cold. As it warms in the mouth, your senses are active. The book has a review of 58 vodkas from around the world and tasting notes covering every aspect of the sensory experience: nose, palate, mouth feel and finish. Plus recommendation s on what cocktails and what foods each of these 58 would best be served with. It’s an astonishing amount of detail and an indispensable guidebook for truly enjoying vodka.

There are times when you see a recipe, and you don’t have to test it to know that it will be idea. The Sgroppino here was perfected with Mario Batali. It’s from Northeast Italy, the home of Prosecco. The name means “little un-knotter” and it’s the beverage to serve after a heavy and rich meal. It’s dessert in a glass. And, perhaps, it might inspire you to a second round of dining.

It’s Easter Sunday as I write this. A rich and heavy meal is on our agenda. And I am headed out to a grocery store for the lemon sherbet I will need to un-knot myself.

Vokda Distilled was written with Mary Elizabeth Faulkner. The many photographs by Tim Turner are key factors in making this book you will enjoy, bottle after bottle.

Toby Abou-Ganim



Yield: serves 4


  • 1 pint lemon sorbet, slightly softened
  • 4 ounces vodka, from the freezer
  • 1 ounce limoncello, from the freezer
  • 8 ounces chilled Prosecco
  • Lemon zest, optional


In a mixing glass bowl whisk together the sorbet, vodka and limoncello until smooth. Add the chilled Prosecco and stir to blend. Transfer to a pitch and serve in well-chilled champagne flutes. Optionally garnish with fresh lemon zest.

Source: Vodka Distilled by Tony Abou-Garmin