Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cookbook Review: "Sweet" from the editors of Food Network Magazine

Occasionally I will get incredibly excited about the idea behind a cookbook.  I consider myself a baker first and a "cook" a distant second, so when I was given the opportunity to review Sweet: Our Best Cupcakes, Cookies, Candy and More from the editors of Food Network Magazine I couldn't wait for it to arrive and to start making decadent treats for my husband and friends at work.

Once it came, a funny thing happened.  I lost interest in it.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few weeks and I wondered if I would ever get around to making anything from it.  There were a few reasons for this, and my experience is likely to vary a great deal from someone who sees this book on the shelf in a store and decides to take it home with them, but all the same I'll share my feelings on it.

I realized this was a Food Network cookbook and chose it for this reason. I have been reading the Food Network Magazine since it launched and until recently when I forgot to renew my subscription (thinking I had purchased it on auto-renew) I kept every issue and saved them in a filing cabinet.  I've been known to go hunting down a recipe on paper if I know it has been published and often use them as references for holiday baking.  I guess it was a bit of a let down to see page after page of photos and recipes I'd seen before.  I should have gathered from the "Our Best" portion of the title that it would be a compilation of recipes I had already seen, but I was really hoping for something new and exciting, and didn't find that here.

Sometimes the recipes that appear in the magazine and therefore in this cookbook seem to be a large amount of effort for little reward.  I appreciate the clear instructions and helpful tips (like substituting a mix of heavy cream and yogurt if you don't have buttermilk on hand) but the recipes that jumped off the pages and wanted me to try my hand at them were few and far between.  The photos were bright and cheery, often on a stark white background.  Their simple presentation gave a good indication of what your finished product would look like but didn't always make you long to take a bite of the treats they show.

I am admittedly intimidated by two words that appear often in this book: candy thermometer.  I've never been very successful in my attempts of swirling sugar and gauging the shade of amber necessary to make a caramel hit the perfect soft ball stage.  I get so intent on swirling, stirring and general pot-watching that I forget about the thermometer readings or I don't catch it at the perfect moment.  I've ruined my fare share of candies from the anxiety I feel over this kitchen tool, and I tend to skip things that rely on it because baking ingredients are expensive and I'd rather stick to making things I know will be delicious if I am going to fork out the cash for real butter and quality chocolate.  Also, I find boxed cake mixes to be reliable and logical swaps for several of the cakes in this book.  I've made several cakes from scratch and perhaps it is just my unrefined taste buds, but I don't notice a huge difference in flavor and while I might try an icing that sounds interesting, many of the cake recipes aren't something that spark my interest.

There are many frozen treat ideas in Sweet, but I seldom have the space to appropriately chill these items.  There are several I'd like to try but wouldn't tackle for that reason.  The stacks of ice cream sandwiches and chocolate bowls look amazing but I don't have an army of kids to hand them to, so I would have to plan incredibly far ahead of any event I would make them for just to have the space to accomplish them.

Finally, the aspect of this book I enjoy the least is probably what would make it a must have for most of the folks who would buy this book.  There is a chapter called "Fake-Out Cakes" that I just don't understand.  I have seen this kind of cake featured in the magazine many times and although I can appreciate the artistry it takes to create these sweet imposters and believe that the instructions are clear and precise enough that anyone attempting to replicate them would probably do a serviceable job, I can't imagine why you would want to.  Some of these cakes are so very realistic looking that they kind of gross me out.  I have no desire whatsoever to eat a cake that looks like a lobster roll, guacamole and chips or a sear marked steak.  I can see that they would have a wow factor if you brought them to a party but they feel like Pinterest projects more than desserts.  I want to eat a cake, not look at it, and quite honestly I think fondant is one of the most oddly textured foods I have ever come across.  I always pick it off and that kills the joy of most of these novelties.

I did try my hand at one of the recipes to share with you.  My version of the strawberry blondies was sidetracked slightly when I realized that somehow we had finished the strawberry jam.  I thought I had a full jar in my pantry, but I simply substituted my husband's homemade blackberry jam in its stead.  It was a huge hit with my husband and I thought they turned out well.  I was glad I added a few minutes to the baking time to make them a bit crisper on the edges.  I will likely make the jam shortbread recipe too since it calls for similar ingredients and this turned out well.

Blondies bubbling in the oven!
Freshly baked with walnuts, jam and butterscotch chips
A pretty plate

I would give this book a three star rating.  I enjoyed what I made, but I wish there were more new to me eats in this book.  It will be a good reference and looks great on the shelf.  Thank you Blogging For Books for providing me this copy for review!

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