All-star dessert flavors

Tish BoyleTish Boyle is the editor of Dessert Professional magazine and the former editor of Chocolatier. She is the author of several books on baking and pastry, including Diner Desserts, The Good Cookie, and The Cake Book. Her articles and recipes have appeared in such publications as the Fine Cooking and Food & Wine, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. An experienced pastry chef who trained at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, she frequently serves as a judge in pastry competitions. Tish has just released a new cookbook called Flavorful: 150 Irresistable Desserts in All-Time Favorite Flavors. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy - US only.) The book explores recipes based on the nine most popular flavors in desserts. We asked Tish about the inspiration for her new cookbook:

You have written many dessert cookbooks, both professional level and for home cooks.  Where does Flavorful fall on the spectrum?

Flavorful is for the home cook. I included lots of details in the recipes, such as physical cues (i.e., "Bake the brownies until they are no longer shiny on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it."), so that novices as well as accomplished bakers can make them successfully. I find these details are particularly important when you're making something for the first time and aren't really sure what it's supposed to look like at various stages.

You have organized the book by what you consider the most popular dessert flavors. What are they and what are your own favorite flavors for desserts?

The nine flavors are: Vanilla; Berries & Cherries; Apples; Citrus; Sweet Cheese (think cheesecake); Nuts; Caramel; Coffee; and Chocolate. As for my personal favorites, I love dark chocolate desserts most of all, with citrus ones falling as a close second. Give me a devil's food layer cake with lots of creamy dark chocolate frosting or a chocolate pot de crème topped with whipped cream and I'm in hog heaven. If I'm eating a lemon or lime flavored dessert, it has to be fairly tart - nothing mamby pamby for me!

What is your own professional training?

After college I went to La Varenne École de Cuisine in Paris for nine months. From there I worked as a cook on a luxury barge that traveled the canals of Burgundy. It might sound idyllic, but it was hard work! I cooked lunch and dinner for 30 people, without any help, and I had to do the shopping, too. That job convinced me that I still had a lot to learn about professional cooking, so I went to New York and worked in a few restaurants to get some experience and hone my skills.

Have you ever worked as a pastry chef?

Yes, I worked as a pastry chef at Club Med for a year, where we served up to 1000 people during the peak season. There was no time to do anything too elaborate there - we made basic cakes, pies and fruit tarts, served buffet style. There was a fabulous French boulanger there who made all the bread and croissants, so I tried to learn as much as I could from him in my free time.

Where do you get inspiration for the flavor combinations in the book?

I tried to avoid flavor combinations that were too sophisticated or strange. I wasn't looking to impress readers with avant garde desserts; I wanted to create a collection of recipes that feature flavors that people love and return to time and again. There are a few flavors in the Vanilla chapter that might not be considered mainstream (i.e., Honey vanilla chamomile ice cream or Vanilla bean panna cotta with strawberries and lavender), but that's about it. While I am inspired by the creative flavor pairings in the desserts of great pastry chefs, I am very practical about what most people really like and want to eat!

What tips you do have for home cooks who may be intimidated by the precision required in baking?

  1. Read the recipe through completely before you even grease a pan or turn the oven on. You don't want any surprises along the way, and you should make sure you understand every step in the recipe.
  2. For baking and dessert-making, don't deviate from the recipe too much. Even small changes -- like using cake flour instead of all-purpose flour or baking soda instead of powder - can wreak havoc on baked goods. (If you feel the need to be creative, do it with your meatloaf recipe.)
  3. When baking, it's always best to weigh ingredients instead of using volume measurements, particularly with flour. For example, adding too much flour can make your cake dry; too little can cause it to fall.
  4. Pay close attention to qualifiers in the ingredient list, such as "softened" butter; "melted" chocolate; or "room temperature" eggs. Prepare each ingredient as necessary before beginning the recipe steps.
  5. Don't bake when you're in a hurry - you're more likely to make a mistake and it will show in your dessert. You should enjoy the process, otherwise you might as well pick something up from the bakery.
  6. For a special event, choose a dessert that can be made well ahead of time (preferably the day before). That will free you up to focus on the rest of your prep.

Which are your own favorite desserts in the book - one for every day and one for special occasions?

My Favorite Key Lime Pie is one of the easiest recipes in the book and also (as its name suggests) one of my all-time favorites. The filling is ultra-creamy, owing to my trick of folding a softly whipped egg white into it right before baking. For special occasions I'll make the Devil's Food Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Malt Frosting (I defy you not to love this), or the Chocolate Caramel Almond Tart.

What desserts will be on your Thanksgiving table?

I'm pretty traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving. I always make the same three pies: Pecan, Pumpkin, and Lemon Meringue. I also like to make some French macarons to add to the mix - they freeze really well, so I make them the week before. Last year I made Pumpkin Macarons with Chestnut Buttercream.

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