Thursday, November 5, 2009

Book Review: "Salty Sweets"

Finally, Sisters and Brothers, I get to write solid book review for you all.  It has taken your Chocolate Priestess some time because my personal rule for writing any type of cookbook is that I must try at least three recipes before writing anything about it.  This gives the book and it's author three opportunities to show they have written clear directions, have easy to find ingredients, and recipes that produce excellent tasting food.  Today I'm going to talk about Christie Matheson's "Salty Sweets: Delectable Desserts and Tempting Treats with a Sublime Kiss of Salt" from The Harvard Common Press, 2009.

This hardcover, 144 page, full of color photographs, book has nine chapter, three of which I tried recipes from.  It also has a section on measuring equivalents between U.S. and Metric which I found very helpful in our increasingly international world of cuisine.  While the hardcover provide protection it also repeated proved to be problematic for me while I was baking or cooking because it took up a fair amount of counter space.  I found myself placing it on the dinner room table and walking back and forth with the next line of instructions which while good exercise did get annoying.

The first recipe I tried is the one pictured on the front cover above, "dark chocolate fleur de sel cupcakes" (page 67) but without the recommended icing, I used the caramel chocolate European spread I mentioned a few weeks back instead. This recipe revealed the biggest problem with this cookbook: difficulty finding ingredients. Oh, grinder salts of all varieties, sea salts of all origins, those were easy to find, but this fleur de sel, no after visits to every grocery, whole foods, and international food store in my university town, no one had any. So I simply substituted Greek Sea Salt because I could use that in the other recipes I wanted to try in this book. The cupcakes turned out very well, wonderful balance of chocolate and salt plus the delightful spread I used on top.  Even the White Chocolate Acolyte who constantly claims he doesn't like other chocolates (but eats them anyway) loved these.

Cupcakes are no real challenge, I've made those from mixes and from scratch before so for the next recipe I tried something entirely new to me: Mousse, in this case "milk chocolate-peanut butter mousse" (page 92).  Mousse takes several steps and several pans and bowls to make plus a lot of time to let things cool between mixing and of course cool and set before consuming.  The balance here between chocolate, peanut butter, and salt was excellent, with each holding it's own on the taste buds.  I shared these with several people both in the dessert cups from Astor and simply in little plain bowls, everyone loved it.

Finally, just last night because I wanted to get this review done, I tried a mostly non-chocolate "butterscotch brownies" recipes though I took the "Sweet Idea!" found on sevearl of the recipes to add a bit of difference to the basic recipe, and put semi-sweet chips on one half with some grinder salt on the top -- in this case "Enjoy Life" chips which I'll review in the future.  This was the only recipe of the three where I thought the balance between salt and the rest of the treat was out of sync, it just tasted a bit too salty to me so if I make it in the future I'll cut the salt in the brownies down a bit to see if I can get a good balance.  In this case, the chocolate ones tasted more balanced but that might also be my bias toward the Divine Substance, Sisters and Brothers.  Also these had a texture more like cookies or bars than brownies and I followed the recipe very carefully.  When I think of brownies I think thick and chewy, these simply were not that nor were they light and fluffy as you want from a cake.  Other than a bit too much salt, they tasted fine and were a nice change from a chocolate centered treat.

The instructions in this cookbook were easy to follow, Matheson explains procedures and ingredients in a clear, straight forward fashion which is what you need in a cookbook.  She also has little vignettes about these recipes, how they were created, what her first sampling of them was like, as well as tips to change the recipes slightly for different tastes.  However, even in a large university town with no shortage of grocery and foodie shops, it was difficult to find some of the specific salts.  That required my substituting or simply foregoing trying some of the recipes.  Whether or not you like the final results will be a matter of indivudal tastes and skill in your kitchen.

If this sounds like a good book to you, Sisters and Brothers, please consider buying it.  This could be a good book for a gift, too, just make sure you give it to someone who doesn't have concerns about salt because even sea salt in too much quantity wouldn't be a great idea

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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