One of the reviews of Alice Medrich’s latest cookbook, Pure Dessert described it as being a book about “elaborate simplicity.” It seems like a contradiction in terms, but the description is actually right on in sentiment: in the book, Medrich puts her considerable cooking/baking skills to the task of getting the most flavor out of simple, high-quality ingredients.
The cookbook is divided up by flavor, rather than by type, and include Milk, Fruit, Honey and Sugar and Flowers and Herbs, among other things. The flavor categories themselves are ingredients, but through her discussion of each one Medrich makes it clear that her recipes are about making the most of them and bringing out the best aspects of their flavors. As a result, the recipes in the book seem quite simple. The ingredient lists are relatively short because only one item is really featured by each recipe. That said, many of the recipes do call for ingredients that you can only find at a specialty grocer, such as lemon verbena and quark (a tangy, cream cheese-like product). The recipes are very clearly written and easy to follow – much like the recipes in each of Medrich’s previous cookbooks.
Overall, this is a beautiful book with fantastic visuals and equally appealing recipes. Medrich is best known for her use of chocolate and it’s great to see a book that really showcases her talents with desserts in general. I should also note here that Pure Dessert is this years’s 3rd James Beard Baking and Pastry Cookbook Nominee, along with Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads and A Baker’s Odyssey.