Baking 101

For nearly 25 years, former White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier has astonished dignitaries and heads of state with his creations. Never having repeated a dish unless requested to do so, Mesnier’s desserts combine Old World elegance and charm with his own New World style. White House guests marveled at his delicate touch and show-stopping desserts that celebrate both America and the foreign lands from whence they came. And with the release of his new cookbook, Dessert University (Simon & Schuster, 2004), you can experience a taste of presidential cuisine.

%!editor_image name="book" /!%Mesnier brings the same precision and attention to detail to the desserts in his cookbook, in which he schools readers in all aspects of dessert making from the simple soufflé to the all-important all-American pie crust. The book includes a glossary of commonly used food terminology, making it easy for the first-timer to navigate the sometimes intimidating realm of fine pastry, and even features a chapter dedicated to the art of sugar pulling with detailed instructions and helpful diagrams. Recipes are organized from simple to complex with Mesnier’s expert instructions and tips. His more intricate desserts build from numerous recipes. However, if you adhere to his simple rules, “Learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice!” you’ll graduate from ‘Dessert University’ with honors.

%!editor_image name="book_three" /!%Lori Longbotham confesses in her new book, Luscious Chocolate Desserts (Chronicle Books, 2004), “I am still a chocoholic. Still.” Longbotham, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked as a chef, caterer and food writer before turning her passion for chocolate into a cookbook. Her book focuses on all things chocolate, from a concise history of chocolate to a description of the chocolate-making process, and provides answers to gastronomic enigmas like “How to taste chocolate” or “How to make chocolate using nibs.”

Illustrated with more than 35 full-color photographs, Luscious Chocolate Desserts both inspires and tempts the reader to enter the kitchen. Longbotham’s easy-to-follow recipes list ingredients in bold and list each step separately, making recipes practically foolproof. Readers are indulged with tantalizing twists on classic dessert recipes like Chocolate Pecan Turtle Tart. Her recipe collection includes a number of her own creations like Chocolate, Dried Cherry and Pistachio Bread and Butter Pudding, as well as recipes from celebrity chef Jean-George Vongerichten, and the famed New York City restaurant Chanterelle.

%!editor_image name="next_book" /!%David Lebovitz attempts to unwrap the mysteries of chocolate in The Great Book of Chocolate (Ten Speed Press, 2004). Lebovitz, a former pastry chef at Alice Waters’ legendary Chez Panisse, has written the quintessential connoisseur’s guide to chocolate. Educated at Callebaut College in Wieze, Belgium and L’Ecole Lenôtre in Paris, Lebovitz was named one of the "Top Five Pastry Chefs in the Bay Area" by The San Francisco Chronicle.  His recipes are fresh, and creative, and he stresses the importance of using the highest quality seasonal ingredients throughout the book.

Sampling classic American chocolates from companies like Guittard and Scharffen Berger, Lebovitz scours the globe to learn about the art of chocolate making.  His travels have taken him from the Catalan region of Spain to Brussels, where he had the unique opportunity to work in Belgium’s renowned Wittamer’s Chocolate shop, savoring chocolates along the way.

The Great Book of Chocolate provides the reader with a basic understanding of chocolate, from what type to buy, how to store it, and where to buy the chocolate that fits your specific tastes, from the flakiest pain au chocolat to the world’s best chocolate ice cream. Lebovitz is a chocolate enthusiast whose recipes reflect his genuine desire for others to enjoy chocolate as much as he does. His Black-Bottom Cupcakes and Mocha Pudding Cake are easy, flavorful recipes that round off his guide to the world’s best chocolate.

Any of these books would be a good addition to a pre-existing cookbook collection, or a good first book for anyone who wants to learn how to bake. Avid bakers can brush up on their pastry fundamentals and try some of the more advanced recipes, while first-timers will learn that baking can be easy, enjoyable and rewarding, all without having to pay for an expensive cooking class.

Recipes courtesy of Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press, and Simon & Schuster.

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