Cooking from: Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life

Cinnamon Caramel Mousse

Zuckerman, Kate (text) & Tina Rupp (photogs.). The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle. Bulfinch. Oct. 2006. 224p. photogs. index. ISBN 0821257447. $35. [AMAZON]

I’ve heard that on average, people make only two recipes out of each cookbook they own. I can’t verify this statistic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. In my own rapidly expanding collection, there are piles of cookbooks I’ve never cooked from. But for every few titles i’ve only read, there will be one whose frequent use is written upon its pages in spilled cake batter and chocolate fingerprints.

After I made this Cinnamon Caramel Mousse, I took a look through my old photographs and realized i’ve made at least twelve recipes out of The Sweet Life. It was a birthday gift from my mother, given to me a few months after its release. At the time, I didn’t have much pastry experience. I quickly grew to appreciate the book for its neat organization, sophisticated recipes, soundly explained techniques, gorgeous photographs*, and consistent results. (*Tina Rupp also photographed Poliafito & Lewis’s Baked and Baked Explorations. You can see some examples of her work on her portfolio, or this great post from DesignSponge.)

I have yet to make a recipe from it that I didn’t love, and if that’s not enough endorsement, my husband (who has next to no baking experience) managed to whip up the Chocolate Caramel Tart while I was away at a conference. Zuckerman’s emphasis on instruction is, in my opinion, one of this book’s greatest strengths.

For your enjoyment, here’s a slideshow of nearly everything i’ve made out of this book:


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François Pralus Boite de Mexicaines

Pralus Boite de Mexicaines
François Pralus is a French chocolatier whose company manufactures and sells nearly 100 tons of chocolate annually. In 2007, the only place I could find any of this chocolate was Mon Aimee Chocolat, a retailer in Pittsburgh’s Strip District that began stocking his colorfully wrapped pyramids of single-origin bars. I stared wistfully at the packaging for months, until they started selling a miniature version. At 1/10th the size of the original, it was a treat that fit within my limited student grocery budget.

The second time I encountered Pralus chocolates was a year later when I visited Paris for, among other things, the Salon du Chocolat. There, Pralus had transformed their small booth into a functioning bakery, cranking out loaves upon loaves of Praluline, a brioche studded with pink pralined almonds.

Pralus Booth, making BriochesNow, Pralus products are much more easily obtained. There’s even a Trader Joe’s copycat. Here in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s Next Door has a great selection, and they’ll let you try anything before you buy, which may or may not be a good thing- a free sample convinced me to buy the Barre Infernale Lait, a hefty brick of hazelnut cream enrobed in their exceptional 45% milk chocolate (here’s a nice review from Chocablog). At around $20, it is the single most expensive confection i’ve ever purchased.

The latest treat i’ve sampled is the above-pictured Boite de Mexicaines, which I received for Valentines Day. It’s an elegant box of roasted Valencia almonds coated in 75% chocolate and dusted with cocoa (there’s also a milk chocolate-hazelnut variety). If you enjoy chocolate coated nuts, they are a luxury that will outshine any waxy, lecithin-laced versions you’ve had in the past.

Perfect (for me) French Toast

French ToastI usually eat breakfast alone. If that sounds lonely, a quick peek at Simply Breakfast can teach you that solo breakfasts are an art form- intimate, meditative moments where coffee and toast become the stuff of ceremony. (Sometimes solo breakfast is a floppy packet of microwaveable oatmeal, but i’m not going to go there).

My normal routine is as follows: I turn on the coffee machine and make a cup of coffee, which I drink while making breakfast (oatmeal, rye toast, or yogurt, or a hybrid I like to call “toastmeal” or “toastgurt”). When I sit down to table there’s half a cup of coffee left, and just enough time to enjoy before I make the mad dash to the bus stop.

The other morning, though, I wanted something different. With two stale loaves of Zingerman’s challah on hand, it seemed a crime not to make French toast. But, I wasn’t sure where to begin, because my idea of French toast has evolved considerably since it sprang into existence on a plate in my parents’ kitchen. I didn’t want the kind of French toast that is essentially a piece of bread with an egg fried on the outside- I wanted the creme brulee French toast from my beloved (and now closed :() Cafe Mozart.

Sadly, this French toast is not that French toast*. It is, however, the perfect French toast for me right now. Made with half-and-half, it’s not quite as guilt inducing as the “Bell-less, Whistle-less Damn Good French Toast” from food52, and the recipe has enough (easy) steps that you feel like you’re actually making something special, not just dunking a slice of bread in some egg. Because the toast gets a last-minute bake in the oven, it ends up with crisp edges, which are a lovely contrast to the custardy interior. My first batch came out a little dry, so I recommend taking liberties with the soaking time, and adding plenty of maple syrup or fruit topping.

(*please tell me I did not just reference an Old Spice commercial while discussing French toast…)
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