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A few weeks ago, I was asked if I might like to review Grace’s Sweet Life, a book dedicated to Italian desserts. Let me emphasize: Italian desserts. Book reviews aren’t really the sort of thing I do round here, but because I follow Grace’s blog, and she’s a fellow Canuck, I accepted. Also, IT’S ABOUT ITALIAN DESSERTS.
Grace Massa Langlois has been blogging about livin’ the sweet Italian life for a couple of years now. And now she’s got this cookbook. If you’re looking for one of those over-exposed, highly propped and styled coffee table cookbooks, this isn’t it. This book belongs in your kitchen, and the photos represent what you’ll have on your table at the end of the day. Loads of desserts, from the basics to the downright fancy. I took a lot of time to decide which recipe to try, and finally settled on éclairs. Because I’ve never made them, and because éclairs are a combination of three recipes, which is always a good test. Also, I really wanted to eat a lot of éclairs.
I began by making the choux pastry. It came together very easily, and 2.0 said that I looked like a real, live, professional baker. Without the hat. Once out of the oven, the eclairs seemed… small. But then I remembered that Europeans are terribly sophisticated, and eat proper human portions. They probably don’t supersize anything. Except art.
Now, I’m not against flipping back and forth in a book for recipes within recipes, but the recipe for the pastry cream required you to use one of three variations of the original recipe, and then there was a variation on that variation. It was a tiny adjustment, but I’m basically an idiot, and at that point I’m thinking: cut and paste. Just cut and paste the recipe onto the éclair page for me. But I got over it. I got over it because I still really wanted to eat éclairs.
So, when making the pastry cream, I was very, very careful. Because I was making that variation of a variation of a recipe that I mentioned. And if I had to nitpick, I’d say that there weren’t really any notes on texture and consistency in this recipe. Had I stopped cooking my mixture at the end of the time stated in the recipe, I would have been piping soup into my éclairs. But because I knew that the filling would need to be thicker, I continued to cook it. For way longer. Until it seemed right. The extended cooking time could be down to a temperature variation with my ancient stove. But I think a wee note regarding consistency might have been useful. Because there are so many variables in a home cook’s kitchen. Should the filling be soupish or like a pudding? Aaaaaand now I’m thinking about how I write my own recipes… I’m going to watch out for that.
But let me tell you something about the pastry cream. I would happily eat a bucket of it. It was amazing. I’m planning to make it again – to eat on its own, topped with some fruit. It was divine. So were the éclairs. They were really, really good. And I felt like a superstar when I saw them all on my counter. It was so satisfying. And a number of reviewers have stated the same thing – the end results in this book are pretty awesome.
Bottom line: this book might not be for a total newbie to baking. But for a home baker with some experience? Someone who likes a slightly more complicated recipe? I’d grab it. Dude, it’s very reasonably priced. And when you’re baking you can sing the titles of the recipes real loud so you sound Italian(ish).
My pal, Isabelle, over at Crumb (a most wicked-awesome blog), has also reviewed Grace’s Sweet Life. She did a great job of describing the contents of Grace’s book in detail, so if you’d like to know a little more about the book, you could head over there.
Also, if you click the links at the bottom of this post, you can download the recipes to make your own éclairs. The publisher of Grace’s book was kind enough to share it with you. And just above the recipes you can see a photo of Grace’s éclairs. I asked if I could show it to you, because her éclairs are really pretty. And some of mine had… horns.
Also, just so you know: I received a complimentary copy of the book for reviewing purposes, and will receive no monetary compensation for this review or any sales of the book. Any opinions expressed in this review are exclusively mine. Who else would write this way?
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Grace’s Èclairs (photo by Liana Massa Langlois):