Thursday, April 03, 2008

Book Review: The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

I am the worst kind of slacker. About a month ago, the Penguin Group sent me a copy of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and I just, this week, finally baked something from it! I sat down and read it pretty much immediately (well, skimmed it) but I didn't want to write about it until I'd actually made something.

And I'm glad I did. Because gingerbread is delicious, and it's even better when it's got Guinness in it.

The book itself is nice - tons of recipes that I will make, even though I'm not much of a baker. Everything appears approachable, from old standards like snickerdoodles to more original (and very appealing) things like sweet potato bread with connamon-rum-orange glaze. I don't think there's much I could really mess up - the recipes are clearly written and they're not terribly intimidating, even to me, and I wince at the sight of a measuring cup.

The author, Melissa Murphy, owns Sweet Melissa Patisseries in Brooklyn, though from her picture on the back cover, it's sort of hard to imagine that she really eats much of what she bakes - she's tiny. It's also kind of hard to imagine that she won't be on the Food Network soon enough, she's too cute not to be.

She starts out each section of the book with a personal note, then prefaces every recipe with a little blurb about the recipe - something from when she was a kid or when she created the recipe or something like that. I'm such a fan of backstory - the blurbs alone make the book for me.

My only real criticism of the book is that there really aren't very many pictures. There are a handful, but just not a ton. The pictures that are included are shot in a style that I can only describe as "bloggerish" - extreme close-ups, out of focus backgrounds, sort of hazy lighting. They're nice pictures, but somehow not exactly what I expected. Maybe they're just not what I'm used to seeing in a cookbook.

Overall, though, it's a really nice book and one that I'll definitely use.

Here's the gingerbread recipe that I made (all copyright Melissa Murphy, of course). I should note - it doesn't taste super Guinnessy, but there are notes of stout in the flavor. It's dark. I liked it. As Murphy recommends, I served the gingerbread warm and with homemade whipped cream. It kind of needs the cream to balance it out (especially since mine ended up a little dry, as I continually underestimate the power of my oven).

But I would definitely recommend...both the gingerbread and the book itself...

"Gingerbread! I grew up making it for my Dad, it was one of his favorites at teatime on Sunday evenings. I'd whip cream with vanilla and just a little bit of sugar till it just held itself up, then serve a dollop of cream on top of the still-warm gingerbread. It would just start to get melty by the time we took our first bites.

"Truthfully, back then the gingerbread was from abox, though it really was very good! My Guinness Gingerbread is a bit more sophisticated, with dark chocaty stout, rich cocoa powder, and lots of spices - even a bit of hot white pepper."

2/3 cup Guinness stout
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbs best-quality unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil


Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 9x9x2 inch square cake pan.

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the beer to a simmer and remove from the heat.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, ginger, white pepper and cinnamon into a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and molasses until smooth. Whisk in the oil to combine. Whisk in the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the beer. (Dry, beer, dry, beer, dry.) Mix until just combined. Do not overmix.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 50 or 60 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in to the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

The gingerbread is best when served warm from the pan with freshly whipped cream. It keeps well wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or refrigerated for up to 1 week.

(The foregoing is excerpted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy. All rights reserved. Copyright © Melissa Murphy, 2008.)


Melissa Murphy said...

Hi Kit, thanks for the beautiful review!! Funny, the first thing I made at home once I had my book in my hands, was the Guiness Gingerbread! Good news is, if you wrapped the gbread well, it will be even more moist today- some kind of cake magic. I hope you find the time to bake some more recipes. Your comments re: the ease of the recipes and their aproachability is exactly what I was shooting for. Yeah!!

Kit Pollard said...

I will, Melissa! I actually enjoy baking...when I'm not intimidated!

roopa said...

I used to love going to Sweet Melissa on Court Street when I lived in Carroll Gardens (Brooklyn) - everything there is awesome! I'm also totally envious of Melissa because she lives the life I want. Sigh.

The people over at Serious Eats posted a few recipes from the book this week; I'm going to have to try some!


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