Book Review: Ready for Dessert

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Bakers who already own Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert know they can trust pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz to provide reliable, delicious recipes. Those books, though, went out of print, so Lebovitz has combined them in Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed Press, April 2010) and added 12 recipes. Those who own the previous books may not want to pay $35 for a big new version, but those who don’t will find this a worthy choice for their kitchens.

In compiling the old recipes, Lebovitz has done some updating (it’s tough for any baker to stop fiddling with a recipe!). A spot check, though, suggests that most of the changes are quite minor. Many of the recipes seem to scream “1990s,” but they’re classics that still suit our palates.

The book’s standard organization makes it easy to use, with an introduction on ingredients and equipment followed by chapters on cakes, pies, puddings, frozen desserts, cookies, candies, and basic sauces and preserves. Few recipes use hard-to-find ingredients, and the straightforward directions for most stick to one page (large pages, it should be noted, as this is a tall book).

Lebovitz, who writes a popular blog, excels at frozen desserts (he also wrote The Perfect Scoop). His lemon frozen yogurt couldn’t be easier, and its pinch of citric acid spikes the flavor just as he promises. A rich chocolate-coconut sherbet shows Lebovitz’s attention to detail. After melting chocolate and liquid together and whisking well, a baker may find the sherbet mixture plenty smooth and skip the step of whirring it in a blender. But trust Lebovitz; this step removes any trace of graininess for an exquisitely smooth, five-ingredient sherbet.

Other recipes will surprise bakers with their simplicity but full flavor, such as croquants. Take a couple of egg whites left from another recipe, and mix them quickly (by hand, no equipment required) with sugar, a touch of flour and salt, and toasted almonds. Scoop and bake for crisp, crunchy, delightful cookies.

Chocolate-cherry biscotti, spiked with a teaspoon of pepper, aren’t quite that easy, but the straightforward recipe delivers depth that chocolate biscotti often lack. Melted butter and a rest period help peanut butter cookies stay chewy.

Lebovitz also makes life easier for bakers with alternatives in storage, and with variations in ingredients and techniques. He’ll tell you, for example, when you can chill and freeze cookie dough, or partially prepare souffles ahead of time. Serving suggestions stay simple; some refer to sauce recipes in the final chapter, but recipes are mostly self-contained, instead of the irritating method of sending bakers rummaging through a book for multiple base recipes.

All the recipes will produce attractive desserts without froufrou, as demonstrated in the photographs. Scoops of sorbet in champagne look gorgeous without much frill. Cakes get simple swirls of whipped cream or mocha frosting. A marmalade tart uses a log dough cut into rounds for an pretty, unfussy top.

The only tested recipe that disappointed was Bahamian Rum Cake, made with coconut milk. The flavors failed to come together, and the coconut milk and rum syrup had an unpleasant bite. Still, it’s a recipe that, with a tweak or two, a baker may want to try again. That’s because even with that disappointment, the recipe worked, producing a tender Bundt cake.

That promise of recipe success, combined with familiar, unintimidating recipes that have just enough twists to stay interesting, will keep bakers coming back to Lebovitz’s book.

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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