Back-of-the-book blurb: Long before award-winning chef Michel Richard prepared his first foie gras terrine, he was a pastry chef. In Los Angeles, pastry lovers lined up outside his bakeshop on Wilshire Boulevard, waiting to enjoy the breads and treats they’d heard were the best in town. Now, in this outstanding collection, the superstar chef returns to his first love, the food that made him famous—desserts.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: Oh, this a dangerously delicious cookbook to have around the holidays. Is it just me, or is nothing off limits this month?! I’ll take any excuse to make a dessert – and if I’m baking for my family, I should bake another to share with a neighbor (or vice versa, spreading holiday cheer by bringing a treat next door … then coming home its twin cooling on the kitchen counter).
Sweet Magic is a cookbook from a renowned chef who cut his chops (so to speak) as a pastry chef. As chef/author/food critic Peter Kaminsky says in “Smiles and Delights,” the introduction to Michel Richard’s book, ” … that dessert should delight and bring forth a smile, is the guiding principle of this book.”
How does Richard do that? First, he puts a lot of himself into the pages of the book. It’s a bit of a memoir, although it’s not billed as such – each chapter begins with several pages of personal narrative (one winter during a 3-year apprenticeship, Richard and the chef/proprietor delivered cakes by sliding them down an icy road after a sleet storm!); each recipe is preceded by a shorter anecdote. Taken together, these pieces show a fair bit of Michel Richard’s and personal history. I enjoyed these reminiscences as much as I did the recipes!
Second, I smiled as I perused the sepia-toned sketches throughout the book. I’ll admit that I was at first glance disappointed that there weren’t full-color photographs of the finished dishes (remember, I am NOT a confident cook! I like the crutch of knowing what it was supposed to look like!). However, after I read Sweet Magic cover-to-cover (the personal reflections really do keep you turning pages), I re-read the jacket flap and press release that accompanied my review copy – the illustrations were drawn by the author! This added another charming element to the Renaissance man that is Michel Richard – pastry chef, restaurateur, artist. The cover illustration is his as well; you can get an idea for the style of the interior pictures.
Third, the desserts themselves strike me as delightful. Some that caught my eye – and my taste buds:
- Praline Cake with Buttercream Mousse
- Piña Colada Cake
- Quick Pecan Pie with Sorghum Molasses and Cranberry Curry Cream
You’re shocked, aren’t you, that I haven’t chosen a chocolate-infused recipe to mark as a favorite?! Don’t the flavor combinations in that fourth recipe intrigue you?! It’s a no-bake crust, and the filling is made in the microwave. Richard says “the result is all about smooth texture with nutty crunchiness and great complexity of flavor that is bold instead of fussy.”
A note of caution: The instructional text is very wordy; don’t be put off by the number of lines in a recipe’s directions. When you read them you’ll see that it’s as if Richard is talking to you – he gives a lot of descriptions, so you know that you’re creating the recipe properly. It’s clear that his goal is to show us that desserts which look intimidating are truly manageable, even simple, to create. I suspect that on a second pass with a given recipe I would be more comfortable, having learned the particular technique that he is teaching/demonstrating.
About the author: Author Michel Richard is the chef and owner of Michel Richard Citronelle and Central in Washington DC, as well as Michel at the Ritz Carlton in nearby Tysons Corner. He was one of the first chefs inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who in American Food and Wine”, has appeared on Good Morning America and the Food Network, and has been featured on the cover of Gourmet and other magazines.
This review is part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly round-up of cooking-related posts. Head over to Beth Fish Reads to find other foodie posts – cookbook reviews, novels with food as a theme, favorite recipes, etc.
FTC disclosure: review copy provided by a book publicity company.