You'll want to save room for dessert



Cakes From Scratch in Half the Time

Recipes That Will Change the Way You Bake Cakes Forever

By Linda West Eckhardt

Chronicle Books / 2005 / $24.95

Cakes From Scratch in Half the Time bills itself as a "revolutionary cookbook" whose recipes will yield delectable confections in a fraction of the usual time using time-saving techniques of professional bakers.

If you're an inexperienced baker, you might want to schedule a few more minutes.

Despite the ease depicted in its title, some of the recipes in this book are best suited for bakers with some skill - and the tools that facilitate shortcuts, such as a free-standing mixer so you can cream the butter while sifting the flour or a Microplane to make grating chocolate easier.

But the Wellesley Fudge Cupcakes required nothing more sophisticated than a microwave and muffin cups and the results were delicious and brownielike. The frosting was excellent.

The recipe recommends filling the baker's cups about two-thirds full, but my batter didn't rise much, so instead of dipping the muffin tops in the icing, as suggested, I spooned it on. Filling the cups a bit more should solve this problem.

The Abraham Lincoln's Christmas Gingerbread With Orange-Chocolate Studded Whipped Cream was a bit dense and had a subtle flavor. Be sure to use fresh spices as the book suggests.

With a little practice, I'm sure I'll be able to bake cakes from scratch in half the time. But if I'm in a pinch, I might grab a box of Duncan Hines.

The Ultimate Frozen Dessert Book

By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

HarperCollins / 2005 / $16.95

Mouthwatering images are often all the inspiration a cook needs to try a new recipe. But with only two photos - on the front and back covers - The Ultimate Frozen Dessert Book leaves too much to the imagination.

The book compiles more than 500 recipes for gelato, mousse, granita, sherbet and more. The authors also approve of using store-bought ice cream, therefore not alienating frozen-treat enthusiasts who don't own ice-cream makers.

The best part of The Ultimate Frozen Dessert Book is that it provides ways to tweak each recipe to suit your own taste. For example, the authors suggest adding Armagnac, brandy or flavored extracts to their Cherry Granita. But some of the additions seem odd: Pumpkin Gelato becomes Pumpkin Pudding Gelato by throwing in some pineapple juice concentrate, mini marshmallows and chopped pecans.

The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook

Recipes and Pairings for the Perfect Glass of Wine

By Mary Cech and Jennie Schacht

Chronicle Books / 2005 / $24.95

It's OK to skip dessert during a restaurant dinner date if you have The Wine Lover's Dessert Cookbook at home. The desserts in this book are elegant and impressive, rivaling upscale restaurants' offerings.

The authors first provide a "world tour" of dessert wines and a wine primer, and go on to suggest wine pairings for each dish. Tips for making your creations even more decadent round out this collection.

Many of the desserts - none of which appears too difficult - are accompanied by stunning photos. Among the most interesting recipes are the Brown-Sugar-Glazed Bananas With Roasted Peanuts and Lime and the Jeweled Apricot Soup With Couscous Timbales.

Wellesley Fudge Cupcakes

12 cupcakes

CAKE: 2 large egg yolks

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup water

1 stick soft, unsalted butter

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING: 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 tablespoon soft, unsalted butter

1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup milk, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Arrange rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners and spritz with Baker's Joy. Place 2 unbroken eggs in a bowl of hot tap water. Place chocolate and water in a microwaveable dish or in a double boiler and melt. Stir until mixture is smooth. Set it aside.

Cream the butter with the sugar until blended, then add the egg yolks and melted chocolate and mix thoroughly. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt onto a piece of wax paper. Spoon into the butter mixture in thirds, alternately with the milk and vanilla, stirring after each addition. Transfer the batter to the muffin cups. Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

For the frosting, melt chocolate and butter together in a microwaveable bowl or double boiler until smooth. Stir in confectioners' sugar, milk and vanilla and blend until smooth. Let frosting stand until the cakes are cooled, then add milk as needed to thin the frosting. Dip each cake into frosting.

"Cakes From Scratch in Half the Time" (Chronicle Books, 2005, $24.95)

Per serving: 276 calories; 3 grams protein; 14 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 38 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fiber; 57 milligrams cholesterol; 106 milligrams sodium

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