Cookbook Review: The Perfect Finish, Baking For The Obamas (Ya, He'll Have The Pie)

For some, The Perfect Finish to summer might involve a cooler full of Bomb Pops and Good Humor bars. Bill Yosses is more the four-sesame sundae type -- homemade sesame ice cream (vanilla ice cream base flavored with sesame oil) drizzled with both tahini (sesame paste) and caramel sauces and topped with crumbled halvah (sesame nougat) and sesame-honey candies.

Not that the White House pastry chef and former executive pastry chef at Bouley in New York (among numerous other pedigreed modern French restaurants) has many weekends to hang out at the beach these days. But the self-described Francophile did manage to put together an impressive new baking book, featuring eighty of his career favorite recipes, with New York food writer Melissa Clark.

Those butter, sugar and chocolate laden desserts are even more satisfying to flip through (the photographs by Marcus Nilsson manage to make even a pound cake look like a French delicacy) when you imagine the Obama, reportedly a fruit pie kind of guy, slipping into the White House kitchen when Michelle is out of town for a chubby slice of cherry pie in Yosses' lard-laced crust.

The White House pastry chef addresses nutrition in the book's Introduction for obvious reasons. But he does so succinctly, saying that although his career was inspired by classic French baking, today "desserts and baking have changed dramatically, and the interest of health and wellness certainly is a major influence." He admits to replacing a little of the sugar in his recipes with honey or maple syrup, or occasionally substituting "some butter with a good oil such as almond, grapeseed, olive or even walnut."

Yet there is a vast difference between reducing the sugar by a few tablespoons and swapping out "some" of the butter for other fats than leeching out all of the flavor from a double chocolate cake. You get the sense Yosses is secretly really tweaking recipes simply for the challenge of it all, a seasoned pastry chef rediscovering ingredients like honey and olive oil with more flavor complexity. Thankfully, those freshly grated coconut cupcakes oozing coconut buttercream are hardly healthy (each mini cake is sliced in half horizontally, brushed with rum syrup, filled with buttercream and topped with even more buttercream).

The book is divided into seven chapters that focus on entertaining, from "Come For Brunch" to "Birthday and Celebration Cakes." And so most of the recipes are impress-the-guests types, including individual maple apple tarte tatins, butterscotch dulce de leche pudding and chocolate caramel tart with sea salt. Those banana coconut streusel muffins are built to upstage the brunch fritatta, a walnut layer cake with apple-caramel filling and calvados cream cheese icing is what Yosses calls "the ultimate expression of old-fashioned baker's pride." A handful of the recipes, like the Sicilian orange-glazed olive oil cake (Valencia oranges stewed in sugar syrup then pureed, rind and all, in an olive oil-rich batter), include step-by-step photographed instructions.

It's clear from this inspiring book that Yosses loves to bake as much as his mother did. "I am convinced she petitioned the Pope for some new holy days just so she could bring her cakes to the parties in the church basement," he says in the Introduction. And so we hope Yosses will petition the White House to include the recipes from his "Pick-Me-ups" chapter -- chocolate chunk cookies with Nutella, acacia honey madelines and blood orange bars -- as mandatory after-school homework. For those of us who could stand a few more bites of homemade, rather than ready-made (fat free or otherwise), treats.


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