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Last year I reviewed Claire Saffitz’s first cookbook Dessert Person, giving it two thumbs up. Her second collection, What’s For Dessert, is another great collection of recipes organized in a way that is super helpful to the baker, whether novice or pro. As I pointed out in that earlier review, I am not exactly handy in the kitchen but I do like baking. The biggest obstacle I run in to is that half of my household is gluten/casein/soy free, which can make baking a treat from scratch quite a challenge. Saffitz does include gluten and dairy free recipes as well as vegan recipes in her books, and her notes often indicate when and how to make substitutions. What’s For Dessert would be a great book to have on your shelf for your own baking needs and would also make a nice gift for budding bakers.
As with Dessert Person, in What’s For Dessert, Saffitz provides a “recipe matrix” at the very beginning of the book. The matrix is a grid with preparation time (from 5 minutes to over 12 hours) on the horizontal axis and amount of ease, ranked 1-3, on the vertical axis. Recipes in this book are either 1. very easy, 2. easy or 3. moderate. Her first book included recipes of greater difficulty (up to rank 5). In the introduction, Saffitz reveals that her inspiration for this collection came from the pandemic. During those early months, she felt that she spent so much time cooking, she wanted her desserts to be easier to put together, plus she needed to work more simply from ingredients in her pantry. Not a single recipe in this collection requires a stand mixer, and only half of them require a hand mixer. You could do almost all of them stirring/whisking by hand if you had to. Before diving into the recipes, Saffitz provides very useful tips on things like how to produce less waste in your kitchen; what basic tools and bakeware you need (based on whether you have what she calls a level 1, 2 or 3 kitchen with 3 being more advanced or professional; and common ingredients to have on hand plus their proper storage.
The recipes are divided into 6 sections: Chilled & Frozen Desserts; Stovetop Desserts; Easy Cakes; Bars, Cookies & Candied Things; Pies, Tarts, Cobblers & Crisps; and More Desserts From the Oven. There is also a section called Essential Recipes & Techniques that includes information such as how to make things like pie crust, marshmallow, and chocolate sauce, and techniques such as folding and piping. Each recipe takes 2-3 pages and includes gorgeous photographs of the finished product. Saffitz also has side bars for each recipe with critical information such as the number of servings, level of difficulty, and special equipment. When recipes are vegan, gluten or dairy free, it is highlighted, as are questions about substitutions and whether something can be made in advance.
This is a very user friendly cookbook, and it is clear from Saffitz’s descriptions of where she found recipes and her personal history with them that she truly loves baking and knows what she is doing! If you haven’t watched her YouTube videos, I highly recommend them. She demonstrates recipes from her books from her own home. Kitties and chickens are frequently stars of the videos. Saffitz seems like a really fun, down to earth person who understands the fears one might have in trying new things in the kitchen and wants to talk you through it. I have decided that my starting point for this book is going to be with the easiest recipe: hot chocolate with marshmallows. Not sure if I am up for the challenge of marshmallows but we shall see. From there I might try the Morning Glorious Loaf Cake, and if that goes well, maybe for the holidays I will give raspberry almond thumbprints a go. The days are getting shorter and baking sounds more fun now that the days are getting chillier. Bon Appetit!