“Sugar Rush” (Blogging for Books review)

Johnny Iuzzini, winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef and recognized as one of the 10 Most Influential Pastry Chefs in America by Forbes, delivers a home run with his second cookbook. “Sugar Rush” (with an introduction by Dorie Greenspan) is a fantastic primer for all aspiring pastry chefs and home bakers. Approachable and gorgeously photographed, each chapter opens with a mother recipe complete with step-by-step photos demonstrating the proper technique, then you are given numerous opportunities to try out your new skills on a tempting array of desserts in the same family.

Every major type of dessert base is covered in gorgeous photography and step-by-step guides, from caramel, custards and marshmallow to yeast and laminated doughs, cookie and tart doughs, and glazes, frostings, fillings and sauces. Johnny’s pastry cream flavors were particularly inspired; piña colada, coffee cardamom, tarragon vanilla and blackberry pastry creams mean that you’ll never lack inspiration for a cream puff or éclair filling. And his primer on meringue includes French, Swiss and Italian meringues as well as sabayon, semifreddo, and mousse.

His flavor combinations are appealing and inventive, including banana fritters with tahini caramel cream, chocolate sesame seed cake, and a root cake features parsnips and carrots. One of the standouts for me was his apricot custard tart, made with almond flour and pistachios. Impressive yet fairly straightforward to assemble, this is a showstopping dessert made with a few simple ingredients. Another similarly French tart is the gorgeous strawberry-tarragon tart, inspired by a fraise des bois tart while Johnny was working at Ladurée in Paris under Chef Pierre Hermé. I’m also eager to make the double-crust caramel-walnut tart for the holidays; a variation of the Swiss Engadiner, an almond-enriched tart dough surrounds a filling of caramel and walnuts.

As a diehard ginger lover (I eat candied ginger straight out of the bag), I loved the ginger-curry sugar cookies, and the play date cookies brought to mind the mamoul my Iraqi students used to bring to class. The addition of a spiced filling (cloves, cinnamon) was a welcome addition to what is traditionally a very sweet filling. Another instant favorite is the spicy malted chocolate chipotle brownies; dense and fudgy, a sprinkling of Demerara sugar lends crunch, while chipotle, smoked paprika, and cayenne provide a hit of heat and depth.

I own nearly 50 pastry and baking books, including several professional pastry textbooks, and I can say with absolute certainty that I will find myself coming back to “Sugar Rush” again and again for its winning combination of clear explanations and photographs and appealing recipes. Unlike some other pastry books I own (“The Professional Pastry Chef” and “Payard Desserts” come to mind), you will not have to seek out expensive, hard-to-find ingredients (no gold leaf/dust, powdered ube, or molecular gastronomy required!) to end up with showshopping desserts, and the solid foundation on basic pastry techniques will serve you well on your future baking forays.

If you are at all interested in baking / pastry, this is one book you need to have in your collection. Or as Johnny succinctly puts it, “Once you grasp some fundamentals, you are limited only by your imagination.” Happy baking!

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