Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cookbook Review: Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts

Chef and author Deborah Madison has just published another of her elegant vegetarian cookbooks, this time turning to the sweeter side of life with her new book "Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market" (NY: Broadway Books, 2010). This book is the perfect complement to her James Beard and Julia Child Award winner (and a favorite in my home kitchen library), "Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets", which concentrated on the savory flavors of the Vegetable Kingdom.

Cath over at A Blithe Palate is currently highlighting Madison's new book in her Cookbook Spotlight feature and contacted me about reviewing it for an upcoming roundup. Of course I leaped at the opportunity. While there are some apple and strawberry recipe favorites in my Crispy Cook arsenal, I have not explored the world of fruits in any great detail and since many fruit desserts are naturally gluten-free, this cookbook fills a nice gap in my cooking reference shelf.

"Seasonal Fruit Desserts" is a pleasure to leaf through with its beautifully-composed food photographs; each one is a ravishing still-life one could easily frame and hang on the wall. The recipes focus on highlighting the beauty and taste of the fruits and don't involve terribly complicated techniques or page-long lists of ingredients, so one doesn't have to be a pastry chef to achieve success in the kitchen. Rather, Madison is there to guide the reader while selecting the best seasonal fruits and in making simple crusts, creams and syrups to accompany these farm market beauties.

The book is organized into chapters that focus on certain cooking techniques: fresh fruit in syrup, roasted and sauteed fruits, pies and tarts, cooking with dried fruit and nuts, puddings and gelees, cheese and dairy desserts, cakes and fruit sauces and there are plenty of instructions and head notes about fruit history, and how to shop for and preserve seasonal fruits. This cookbook will certainly be my guide through our summer fruit season here in upstate New York, as we march through the strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and apple seasons.

In May, however, there are no fruits in season, so I turned to the recipes using dried fruit, nuts and preserves and found the perfect Spring dessert: Walnut Torte with Blackberry Preserves. This nutty torte is naturally gluten-free and relies on potato starch (Bob's Red Mill brand is now found in my local Hannaford supermarket) and eggs for its cake layers, sandwiched together with blackberry preserves and served with some coffee-flavored whipped cream on the side. A few violets plucked from the lawn served as my homegrown, edible and seasonal contribution to the dish as a garnish.

While I am often a halting cook in the kitchen when it comes to baking up cakes and pies, the instructions for making this sumptuous torte were detailed without being intimidating, and the result, with Madison by my side in spirit, was not only delicious but rather pretty. The taste of this confection was subtly nutty and sweet. When I make this recipe again, I will try toasting the walnuts first because I think that will be even more delicious and I hope to put up some blueberry jam this year, so if that is in the center rather than store-bought blackberry preserves, I know that this will only enhance the flavors.

A big thank you to A Blithe Palate and to the publisher for sending me this copy of "Seasonal Fruit Desserts" to review. It is shelved along side its predecessor, "Local Flavors" in my kitchen shelves and will be used many times for reference as I shop and cook with our local fruits. Be sure to swing by A Blithe Palate after May 15th to see what other bloggers thought about the book and what they cooked up from its pages.


Claudia said...

A very well written review Rachel, and what a good choice in the Walnut Torte. It looks beautiful as well as sounding delicious. Now I HAVE TO make that one as well.

Foodycat said...

Seasonal Fruit Desserts! Just the title has me hooked!

Debinhawaii said...

Gorgeous! Love the violets and the combination of ingredients sounds wonderful. I loved the book too.

Ruth Daniels said...

Great review...now another book to add to my wish list. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

Joanne said...

This cake looks so lovely! You definitely picked a winning recipe. I loved the review!