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Feature Fri Oct 23 2009
Last week I attended the book launch party for Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion by Sarah Levy. Chicago native Sarah Levy opened the original Sarah's Pastries and Candies in 2005 after making candies out of her mother's kitchen and has since expanded to a larger location at 70 E. Oak and on the 1st floor of Macy's on State. I asked Sarah why she decided to write a book and she said that she wanted to try to bridge the gap between professional bakers and normal women. She wanted to create a resource that would take away some of the fear and apprehension behind creating treats and candies. Click on for my review of the book.
Title & Publisher: Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion by Sarah Levy. Published by Agate Surrey.
First impressions: Not as thick as most cookbooks on my shelf (it is 143 pages with only 31 recipes). Slick pages with beautiful pictures. Decent range to the types of recipes presented.
How it's organized: After a brief introduction, the book contains two large parts. The first contains explanations of lots of ingredients, techniques, kitchen supplies, etc. She also includes a standard ingredient weight chart in case you like to bake with a kitchen scale, rather than a measuring cup. The second section are "The Recipes." Within the recipe sections, Sarah has grouped her treats into certain categories so that you have an idea of something to make for certain occasions. For example, if you need "just the right thing for your boss's birthday" she suggests making "Rafael's Righteous Cream Cheese Brownies." Each recipe contains a classic ingredient list but also a prep list for the ingredients and the kitchen supplies that are needed.
What I've tried so far: Mom's Almond Moon Cookies and Banana-Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
What I'm bookmarking: Rafael's Righteous Cream Cheese Brownies, Holiday Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies, Black and White Cupcakes, French Pistachio Macaroons, Decadent Chocolate-Almond Toffee
Strengths and weaknesses: Sweetness is a beautifully designed book with fantastic pictures, typeface and layouts. Some people, myself included, love cookbooks for the pictures and the stories that accompany each recipe. Sarah also includes a handy 1 to 5 measuring cup symbol that tells you how easy or difficult a certain recipe is to complete. This is a helpful tool so that a new baker doesn't flip through the book and think "Oh, I will give these macaroons a try," only to find out that something easier would have been a good place to start.
However, there are a few things that aren't perfect with the book. I like the idea of breaking the recipes into occasions but it would have also been helpful to provide a table of contents so that if I knew that I wanted to make a batch of cookies, I could see a quick list of all the recipes. (There is a classic page index at the back but I would have liked something at the beginning of the recipe section.) There is a decent amount of blank white space at the end of each recipe which could have been filled with more content since this is already a somewhat short book. The book also includes a four-page grid with all the possible ingredients and tools for every recipe so that if you buy something to use one, you can use it for another. Great idea for some of the more unusual items but it seems pointless to map out such standard ingredients like flour, eggs, sugar, etc. Also, the recipe instructions aren't always entirely clear. For example, in the "Prep" section to the Almond Moon Cookies, she suggests cleaning out space in your fridge so place the cookie dough balls on sheets in it before baking but there is no mention of this step in the actual recipe instructions. I figured it out because I have made cookies in this style before, but to a new baker this could be very confusing. Furthermore, the pound cake recipe did not have the step of "pouring the batter into the prepared pan and smoothing the top." While it might be obvious to some that you need to pour the batter into the pan to stick in the oven, to others, they might pause wondering what they need to do next. I did appreciate the range of the skills necessary for recipes that are included in the book. One of the level 1 recipes actually includes a "Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devil's Food Cake Mix" which might be the perfect first recipe to bring a non-baker into the kitchen, but to others this might be a curious addition in a pastry chef's cookbook.
Fans of Sarah's Pastries and Candies will love this book because they can finally make some of her treats at home. I would personally not purchase this book for $20 just from my experience with other baking-related cookbooks, but it could be the perfect gift for someone who loves to support local Chicago businesses and looking a book of pretty treats. There is a dessert reception at Macy's on State on Thursday, October 29th at 5:30pm if you want to pick up a copy for yourself.