Monday, September 19, 2011


In my mid-20s, I conquered my fear of making dessert.  Maida Heatter lured me to the stove and astonishing things emerged--cookies of infinite varieties, bavarians full of berries and lots of rich cream. There was frozen key lime pie or coffee jelly for hot summer dinners.  I made so many pies, apple, blueberry, pear, and pecan (even Maida's chocolate pecan pie). But most of all I was obsessed with chocolate.  No dinner party seemed complete without a chocolate torte, its surface glistening with shiny mirror-like chocolate glaze. One of Jamie Oliver's early published chocolate tarts nearly wore out its welcome at my dinner parties--I prepared it that often.  I got carried away, making truffles, chocolate caramel sauce for ice cream and to give away at holidays.  And then I somehow lost my enthusiasm for chocolate. I fell back on old standbys--pies time and time again.  Meanwhile, beautiful dessert cookbooks kept appearing on my doorstep. I'd read them faithfully, admiring their skill and inventiveness and then put them on the shelf.

Recently SUGARBABY: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $29.95; ISBN: 978-1-58479-897-2) arrived to jolt me out of my sugar blues. I liked the whimsical jacket of home-made Cotton Candy juxtaposed against the pastel elegance of the Parisian Macaron.  The author, Gesine Bullock-Prado's, imposing name, was at odds with the very funny headers to the recipes, my favorite being for Bittersweet Pudding (POPS):

"When I was old enough to babysit, I didn't do it for the money; I did it for the food.  I'd get the little stinkers to bed by reading bedtime stories so fast you could hear a sonic boom, and then I'd eat that poor family out of house and home.  I only babysat at homes with a guaranteed score, and I find that I was ever asked to babysit more than once because I never left without demolishing every last edible morsel from the freezer. The Stewart family was especially hard hit, since they always carried the full line of Jell-O Pudding Pops and I had no problems polishing off every last box. I'd apologise for my foolish youthful behavior, but I cannot honestly say that I'm sorry. Or that I wouldn't do it again now that I'm full-grown." 

There is lot of this kind of whimsy in the book, but do not be fooled. Ms. Bullock-Prado (who wrote a memoir about escaping her life running a Hollywood production company--her sister is Sandra Bullock--and relocating to Vermont with her husband where she opened her own confection shop) is very serious and the book is full of wonderful stories and recipes such as this. The pudding is luscious on its own as just a pudding.  But as a frozen pop, its genius.

Let me get to the point of the book.  Most dessert cookbooks are oven-oriented--cakes, pies, cookies and similar treats.  SUGARBABY begins on the stovetop with sugar, or as Ms. Bullock-Prado describes it, "this is a book about cooking with sugar, not baking with sugar."

Once past the Introduction (all about sugar), the book is divided into chapters representing various stages of cooked sugar as seen from a candy thermometer beginning at the simple dissolving stage and through the thread stage.  As temperatures rise, SUGARBABY has the appropriate recipes, in all stages of caramelization. For the simple dissolve to thread stage (230-235° F) there are Rock Candy, Lemon Gelato, and Lemon Curd.  For the softball stage (235-240° F) there is Italian Meringue, Old School Chocolate Fudge, and something divine called Pecan Buttercrunch Tart.  Next are selections from the firm ball stage (245-250° F) with Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels and Soft Honey Nougat being but two swooning examples.  The hardball stage  (250-265° F) means Fleur de Sel Caramels and addictive Babysitting Popcorn.  The next level, the soft-crack stage (270-290° F), brings Teetoaling Butterscotch, and the delightfully creepy Barley Malt Skulls.  The final hardcrack stage 300-310° F), means Aunt Sis's Peanut Brittle, Butterfly Almond Toffee, and delightfully nostalgic Cotton Candy.

Gesine Bullock-Prado offers easy, unfussy and manageable steps to make these sweet treats.  There are many color photographs that show the steps involved in creating the recipes, with instruction techniques for making Cotton Candy.  Once you master this, it's a quick transition to a classic mound of stuffed cream puffs, with spun sugar caramel, a.k.a. French croquembouche.

I'm afraid you are simply going to have to make room for SUGAR BABIES in your dessert collections.

Bittersweet Pudding (Pops)

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups (570 g) pudding, 7 rocket pops, or 14 individual bruelees

1/2 cup (120 ml) agave nectar
12 cup (40 g) dark cocoa powder (I use Callebaut Extra Brute)
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt salt
1 cup (240 ml) coffee coffee
1 tablespoon (8 g)
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract.

A Note from the Sugar Baby: Agave nectar is a sweetener produced primarily in Mexico and 
is derived from the agave plant. Yup, the same plant that produces nature’s other sublime nectar—
tequila!—yet the nectar tastes nothing like the liquor. As a matter of fact, light agave nectar
has a rather neutral flavor, perhaps with just a hint of caramel, so it’s a perfect sweetener for
both hot and cold beverages. Its consistency is very much like honey but not as viscous; it

to be about one and a half times sweeter than table sugar, it has a much lower glycemic index.
Be aware, however, that agave nectar isn’t a sweetener that can replace sugar or corn syrup in 
every recipe; its chemical composition doesn’t lend itself well to higher-temperature sugar work, 
but it can be useful at lower temperatures in baked goods.
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the agave nectar, cocoa powder, heavy cream, and salt until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee and cornstarch. While whisking constantly
(especially if the coffee is still warm), add the egg yolks one at a time and then add the vanilla

3.  Return the pan containing the cocoa mixture to the stove. Pour the egg mixture into the cocoa
mixture, whisking constantly over medium heat. Clip on a candy thermometer and whisk whisk
whisk. In all likelihood, the temperature has already exceeded 160°F (71°C), so you’re safe,
bacteria-wise. Now keep whisking for about 5 minutes, until the pudding thickens and the
temperature reaches 200°F (93°C) to 210°F (100°C).

4. Transfer the pudding to a large bowl and serve family style, or use it in other crafty ways like a
filling for a glorious crepe cake (see page 238). Alternatively, pour the pudding into seven popsicle molds and freeze overnight for a luscious, chocolaty summertime treat. You can also pour
the pudding into fourteen individual 2-ounce (60 ml) serving cups and cover each with plastic
wrap, making sure that the wrap touches the entire surface of the pudding to prevent a skin
from forming, and refrigerate for a few hours. You can serve the pudding straight from the
fridge or with a dollop of whipped cream. However, I like to sprinkle a spoonful or two of sugar
over the top and take a kitchen torch to the sugar to caramelize it into a brulee crust.

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