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Cookbook Review: Bon Appétit Desserts + Barbara Fairchild's Favorite Tres Leches Cake Recipe

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Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge bon_appetit_desserts.jpg
Yes, we still dog ear those chicken and celery pot stickers recipes from our stash of old Gourmet magazines, knowing full well we're probably going to go with that weeknight friendly Bon Appétit roast chicken with lemons and green olives. Which gets us to dessert. Bon Appétit Desserts, outgoing editor Barbara Fairchild's crowning white and dark chocolate croquembouche glory (p. 618). Or something like that.

The book is overflowing (literally) with recipes for warm lemon pudding cake with marbled raspberry cream, cranberry-swirl cheesecake, linzer macaroon sandwiches (a flourless version of the traditional raspberry jam-filled cookie), banana-oatmeal bars with chocolate chunks, and pumpkin swirl ice cream pie with chocolate almond bark and toffee sauce (frozen pumpkin pie, crust and all, swirled into ice cream, garnished with chocolate bark and toffee sauce). All told in one giant 680-page recipe breath. Turn the page for more, and Fairchild's favorite tres leches cake recipe.

click to enlarge Red White and Blue Red Velvet Cake - CON POULOS
  • Con Poulos
  • Red White and Blue Red Velvet Cake
This is the sort of book that reminds you why hoarding all of those back issues was such a useless endeavor (both Bon Appétit as well as a few Gourmet recipes are included the cookbook). If you didn't make that almond-filled speculaas tart (similar to gingerbread, p. 286) when the recipe first ran (December 2001), the likelihood that it was ever going to magically appear in your kitchen grew slimmer as each month passed. By the following December, an entirely new crop of recipes (Gingerbread snowflakes, December 2002) had landed in your mailbox to start the Post-it note "must try" recipe process all over again. And then along came Epicurious.com. With every Bon Appétit recipe now a click away, we don't need printed recipes anymore. Right?

So why is it when you flip through the pages of Bon Appétit Desserts, that chocolate-whiskey soufflé tart and mascarpone cheesecake with balsamic strawberries sound so much better on the printed page? Because in a book, there are fun things like

glossaries to flip through. And step-by-step illustrations. And photos, lots and lots of photos of those 600+ recipes with "whisk ratings" for each (One whisk means that dulce de leche and chocolate chunk bread pudding is easy to make, four whisks and you can expect a more complicated maple mousse napoleon with macadamia nut brittle). Though actually, we would hardly call the four whisk recipes difficult -- they're simply more time consuming, involving multiple steps.

Our one complaint is we wish the cookbook included the dates each recipe was originally published (we added those here just for curiosity's sake). As well as any recipe tweaks that were made between the original magazine publication and this cookbook version -- something Amanda Hesser does incredibly well in The New York Times Cookbook (check back for more on that book later). Because updated nostalgia really is half the fun of baking.

Or maybe with Epicurious.com recipes that lack of a New York Times storyline is fine, just fine. As sometimes you simply, darn it, want some good old-fashioned cherry crumble pie inspiration (p. 220, June 2000), without the thirty eight "I substituted this for that" background noise comments.

Tres Leches Cake

From: Bon Appétit Desserts

Makes: 8 servings

Note: Cake and caramel milk syrup can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap cake airtight in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate milk syrup, then reheat to lukewarm before using.

Cake

1 1⁄2 cups cake flour

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3⁄4 cup canned evaporated milk

Caramel Milk Syrup

1⁄2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1⁄2 cup heavy whipping cream

1⁄2 cup canned sweetened condensed milk

1⁄4 cup canned evaporated milk

Frosting and Filling

1 3⁄4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 1-pint containers strawberries, hulled, divided

1 1⁄2-pint container blackberries

For Cake:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line pan bottom with parchment paper. Butter and flour parchment.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with evaporated milk in 3 additions each. Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top.

3. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 38 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes longer. Turn cake out onto rack; remove parchment and cool completely.

Caramel Milk Syrup:

1. Stir sugar and 2 tablespoons water in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 12 minutes.

2. Remove pan from heat. Immediately whisk in cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Whisk in sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. Cool to lukewarm.

Assembly and Frosting:

1. Using long serrated knife, cut cake horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on cake plate. Drizzle 2⁄3 cup lukewarm caramel milk syrup over. Using small offset spatula, spread syrup to cover completely. Let stand 5 minutes.

2. Whisk cream and vanilla in large bowl until medium peaks form. Spread 1 cup whipped cream mixture over syrup on cake layer. Top with second cake layer, cut side up.

3. Drizzle remaining milk syrup over second layer, spreading with spatula to cover completely. Let stand 5 minutes. Spread remaining whipped cream over top and sides of cake. Decorate top of cake with half of strawberries and all blackberries.

4. Slice remaining strawberries. Cut cake into wedges; spoon sliced strawberries alongside each wedge and serve. (Cake can be assembled 4 hours ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

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