Just desserts: going creative, with sweet results


December 05, 2007|By Joannah Hill | Joannah Hill,Sun reporter

Pure Dessert

By Alice Medrich

Desserts by the Yard

By Sherry Yard

Houghton Mifflin / 2007 / $35.95

I was thrilled to discover Sherry Yard's new dessert book, because now I know what to serve should Hugh Grant come calling (Chocolate-Caramel Tart). And if faced with a mob of sugar-starved Academy Award winners, I know exactly what to whip up (Chocolate Truffle Tarts with Chocolate Creme Brulee Diamonds and Seven-Bean Vanilla Ice Cream).

Yard, the executive pastry chef at Spago Beverly Hills, combines cookbook and memoir in this collection of recipes that ranges from her Brooklyn beginnings to the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood.

There's a lot of silly fun along the way, such as Homemade Twix Cookies and a wicked take on the humble Rice Krispies square -- Chocolate Rice Krispies Bars Topped With Ovaltine and Milk Chocolate Bavarian Cream.

Celebrity name-dropping aside, Yard knows her stuff. The majority of recipes are geared to the home cook, and the more ambitious creations are meticulously broken down into easy-to-follow, if exceedingly time-consuming, steps. Campton Place Coffeecake is simple enough to make before breakfast and became more flavorful and moist over time. A lovely nectarine cobbler is topped with an easy version of puff-pastry squares.

The chief pleasure of this book is Yard's creativity in the kitchen. While you may not want to spend the day making Chocolate Purses, rest assured you'll know what to do if a certain ex-president with a sweet tooth shows up on your doorstep. (Oatmeal cookie, Bill?)


Sesame-Seed Cake

-- Serves 8 to 10

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 1/2 teaspoons Asian or toasted sesame oil (see note)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1/4 cup black or natural sesame seeds, toasted

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with vegetable oil spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt thoroughly in a medium bowl and sift 3 times. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together briefly with the sesame oil and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a few seconds until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until light-colored and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in a little of the egg mixture at a time, taking about 2 minutes to add it all.

Stop the mixer and add one-third of the flour mixture and beat at low speed only until no flour is visible. Stop the mixer and add half of the buttermilk, then beat only until the liquid is absorbed.

Repeat with half of the remaining flour, then all of the remaining buttermilk, and finally the remaining flour with the sesame seeds, scraping the bowl as necessary and beating only enough to incorporate the ingredients each time.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then slide a thin knife around the sides of the cake to detach it from the pan.

Invert the cake onto a rack and remove the pan and parchment liner. Turn the cake right-side up and let cool completely on the rack.

Note: If you buy a non-Asian brand of sesame oil, such as any produced by natural-food companies, be sure the label says "toasted," because untoasted oil will not deliver adequate flavor.

From "Pure Dessert"

Per serving (based on 10 servings): 272 calories, 4 grams protein, 14 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 34 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 67 milligrams cholesterol, 160 milligrams sodium

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