Baking and Chocolate

nancybaggat-bookFinding random emails in my in box, requesting a review(basically asking if I want “free” stuff) of a product, kitchen gadget, or cookbook always ignites my curiosity.

I get request quite often, but the reality is, is that between family, menu planning, my kid’s schedule, my consulting clients, and work, there is not much down time to sit in a chair and read a cookbook. I used to be able to do that regularly, but now when I do find myself stealing a few of those moments, I embrace them and hang on to them as long as possible.

However, when I saw what book I was being offered, it didn’t take me long to respond with an enthusiastic YES! Nancy Bagget’s new book; Simply Sensational Cookies is filled with many classics but with a twist.

And as I read through the book, there were several that I earmarked, knowing that I could convert them into a gluten free version. An added bonus to this book is that all of the photography is shot by the art and mastery of Todd and Diane.

Great recipes, mouth watering photography, and new inspiration.

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Southern-Italian-DessertsWhen I was a little girl growing up in Italian-centric Rhode Island, I relished my Sunday morning tradition with my Dad. He and I would drive to our favorite old-school bakery in Providence, LaSalle Bakery, and buy my family’s favorite treats. Sticky pull-apart cinnamon raisin buns for my brother Chris, creamy éclairs for my brother Paul, cannoli for my Dad, and sfogliatelle for me. My mom mystifyingly always passed.

Of all the Italian pastries, the Campanian sfogliatelle, the clam-shaped flaky pastry with ricotta filling, has always been my favorite. I relished the crackle! emitted with every bite into the crisp shell and sighed with happiness when I reached the soft, creamy ricotta cheese center.

Years later as an adult I thought I’d learn to make sfogliatelle. That thought quickly passed when I realized how labor-intensive they were to make. Pastry dough must be run through a pasta machine twice to render it paper-thin. Then it must be carefully stretched, rolled, and molded by hand until a dizzying number of layers are formed. I didn’t have the constitution for it. Fortunately for me (and you), Rosetta Costantino does.

A self-taught baker who was raised in Verbicaro, Calabria, Costantino now resides in Oakland, California where she and her mother teach Americans how to make many of Italy’s most beloved desserts. In her latest book, Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily, she shares over 75 recipes for authentic regional Italian desserts that are virtually unknown in the United States making it a singular addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.

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puredessert.jpg I've said it before, but I'm in awe of Alice Medrich. She was an early chocolate evangelist in the Bay Area, who brought us luscious desserts and truffles, inspired by what she had tasted and learned in France. Over the past few years she has written several terrific and award-winning books on chocolate including Bittersweet, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, and Chocolate Holidays.

Her latest book is a bit of a departure, it's not just about chocolate, but an exploration into the world of high quality ingredients. The chapters in Pure Dessert are focused on the flavors of Milk, Grain, Nuts and Seeds, Fruit, Chocolate, Honey and Sugar, Herbs and Spices, Flowers and Herbs, and Wine, Beer and Spirits. Intriguing, don't you think?

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a year of pies frontcoverWhen I received a review copy of A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies by Ashley English, my first thought was: Did they send it to the wrong person?

You see, the only pie I truly enjoy making is a spinach pie — no deciding between shortening or butter, no fluting of the edges, no waiting until it’s no longer jiggly in the center.

Traditional pies, in contrast, are high maintenance. I can make pie (under duress or after my husband guilts me into making one), but I don’t enjoy it. With her new cookbook, English may just convert me into someone who likes to bake pies.

English offers 60 seasonal, home-crafted recipes for all types of pie: sweet, savory, double-crust, single-crust, hand-held, galettes, tarts, and more. Winter pies include festive Minty Chocolate Cream Pie and soul-warming Spiced Meat Pie. Spring ushers in fresh Strawberry Crumble Pie with Lemon Verbena Whipped Cream and elegant Asparagus and Dill Quiche. Summer samples include Classic Blueberry Pie along with newcomer, Nectarine and Lavender Crostata. Autumn (my personal favorite) has heart-warming Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie with Candied Pumpkin Seeds, hearty Roasted Butternut Squash, Cheddar, and Sage Galette, and a positively charming Figgy Pudding Pie.

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