Food52 Genius Desserts
by Kristen Miglore
Photos by James Ransom
Facts: Published by Ten Speed Press; 276 pages.
Photos: Most recipes include a photo.
Recipes: The book cover says 100, but I counted 129, including adaptations and other recipes that are more antidotes than formally written recipes.
Amazon (affiliate) link: Food52 Genius Desserts.
It was the cover of Food52’s Genius Desserts cookbook that did me in. Just look at that chocolate cake. I had to buy it. I’ve now spent a good deal of time with the book, testing three recipes — one of them twice — and can say that I’m pleased with my purchase, although I’ve yet to make the cake on the cover, titled “Vegan Chocolate Birthday Cake with Superfluffy Frosting.”
Kristen Miglore has the enviable position of creative director at Food52.com, the home cooking site founded in 2009 by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Ms. Miglore’s award-winning 2014 column, “Genius recipes,” led to the first “Genius” book in Food52’s growing list of cookbooks.
She’s gathered more than 100 recipes from some real heavy hitters in the dessert world, from Alice Medrich to David Lebovitz, and many renowned chefs, cooks, and teachers who are not specifically in the sugar realm, including Nancy Silverton and Nigella Lawson.
The subtitle says “100 recipes that will change the way you bake.” Even if something less dramatic happens — say you take the book into the kitchen and make a recipe — that’s a score in my book. And this book has something for you, I’m sure of it. Maybe it’s in the cookies and candy section (that’s where I found my “spark of joy”), or the cakes, or custard/puddings/frozen things, or pies and tarts, or the mostly fruit section. Each major section is further divided into subcategories. Under “cakes” it’s “lazy cakes,” “show cakes,” and “rogue cakes,” which is where that vegan chocolate cake cover recipe resides.
I don’t know what that “something” for you is, but for me it was chocolate chip cookies. The fact they are “secretly vegan” was intriguing. I didn’t have high hopes it would be a “game changing” recipe, but, as it turns out, it was. I’m not vegan, but if I were, I’d be doing backflips for this one recipe. It tastes similar to the recipe on the back of the Toll House chocolate chips, yet it contains no butter and no egg. You’ll never miss them.
I did struggle a tiny bit with one ingredient. When I measured my Scharffen Berger chocolate baking chips by the weight given (215g), it seemed like far too many chips, so I used the U.S. measurement (1-1/4 cups) instead. The second time I made the cookies, I used traditional shaped chocolate chips from Guittard and the metric and U.S. measurements were closer to the same. I also wish there was a specific weight measurement (instead of a size measurement “2-inch round”) for how much dough it takes to make the 18-cookie yield. I used a number 50-scoop and ended up with 28 instead of 18 cookies. Perhaps a 30- or 24-scoop would have been better.
The second recipe I tackled was “best cocoa brownies.” The “genius” behind these super dense, super rich, fudgy brownies is the queen of chocolate, Alice Medrich. The recipe was simple — less involved than Stella Parks‘ (Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts) glossy brownies, which I totally adore. (Ms. Parks makes an appearance in the book several times.) But I think Ms. Medrich’s brownies will be my back-pocket-brownie recipe from now on.
The third recipe I tried was “Whole Orange Cake” from Sunset Magazine and Stephanie Spencer. It turned out to be a stunning cake, but the flavor wasn’t as bold or bitter as you’d expect after grinding up two whole oranges. Letting the cake sit overnight improved the flavor, which the introduction to the recipe hints at “After mixing this pulpy orange slush into the batter, the cake that comes out is incredibly moist (and gets more so by the day)…”
I posted this orange cake on Instagram and got some helpful comments about how to “boost” the flavor for the next time (thank you for commenting!) It was such an easy cake to whip up, I’ll be making it again, with a bit more salt and either vanilla or almond extract.
Based on the three recipes I tested, I’m fairly confident that the rest of recipes will work as written. That’s a remarkable thing in the cookbook world, in my opinion, (although no doubt it is the goal of every author to have every recipe work as written). I’m considering the chocolate caramel tart from Claudia Fleming next, or maybe the “obsessive ricotta cheesecake” from the late, great pastry chef Gina DePalma, who’s book Dolce Italiano also sits on my shelf. Come summer, I want to make the strawberry shortcakes and the double blueberry tart.
You’ll get plenty of baking tips from this book, and likely learn a few things, too. For example, did you know that some non-organic sugars are made with bone char? That’s why the “Secretly Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe calls for strictly organic sugar. Who knew?
Bottom line: I have no regrets spending $24 for this book. It will live on my small-but-mighty dessert cookbook shelf along with In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley, and Abigail Dodge’s The Everyday Baker, among a handful of others.
On a more personal note, it’s been a while since Pen & Fork has published a cookbook review. My insanely funny, talented, smart-as-a-whip cookbook reviewer, Linda Avery passed away last summer unexpectedly. Although she “retired” from cookbook reviewing in 2017, I’d always hoped she’d decide she wanted to write again. I haven’t had the desire, until now, to pick up her mantle and carry on. I have so many funny stories about Linda and how she approached cookbook reviewing. It’s how she approached life, too: with humor and wonder. She loved cookbooks — adored them, actually — more than anyone else I know and I know lots of cookbook lovers. I’m one of them. I genuinely wish she was here to read my first cookbook review in her absence. I’m sure she’d have something to say. RIP my funny little elf. You are missed.