Lesley Stowe, the creator of one of my favorite snacks Raincoast Crisps, is also a Paris-trained chef who has published several successful cookbooks as well as sharing her tips for cooking and entertaining on shows like Entertainment Tonight Canada and CTV Morning Live. After returning to Vancouver from cooking school in Paris, she noticed that there was a distinct lack of elegant, sophisticated desserts like those found in France and opened a catering business. Her first cookbook, “The Lesley Stowe Fine Foods Cookbook,” was published in 2006, but she had longed to do a cookbook just about desserts.
Enter 2014’s “Desserts From My Kitchen.” In addition to all of Lesley’s favorite creations, you’ll also find For Best Results pointers as well as instructional videos on Lesley’s YouTube channel. “Desserts From My Kitchen” is divided into nine chapters including baking basics to cookies, bars, tarts, cakes, dinner party desserts, frozen desserts and holiday favorites. Beginning with the cookies, I loved some of the unusual pairings such as the lime pecan thins, apricot ginger cookies, lemon clove cookies, and winterfruit drops. The stellar and bars deserve special mention, from the caramelly Carmelita bars and very Canadian butter tart bars to the chocolate pecan rum, chocolate, caramel and espresso, apricot almond with white chocolate, and hazelnut anise biscotti.
Tarts include French classics such as the tarte tatin to a tropical toasted macadamia coconut tart, papaya passion fruit tart, decadent bittersweet chocolate tart and caramel nut crunch tart with chocolate truffle pastry. Several of the showstopping cakes are also gluten-free (Cracker Queen’s chocolate macadamia nut cake, chocolate date pecan cake with bourbon crème anglaise, Beijing chocolate spice cake). I made the Beijing chocolate spice cake and loved the complex notes from the Chinese five-spice powder (a suggested variation includes cinnamon and chipotle for a Mexican flair); using whole star anise as a garnish makes for a gorgeous presentation. I also appreciated tips for freezing and refreshing cakes as oftentimes I don’t have the time to make a dessert right before the event.
The chapter on dinner party desserts will give you a wide range of cobblers, crumbles, puddings, panna cottas and pots de crème to choose from. The semifreddos and frozen desserts offered many fantastic base recipes to experiment with; as a ginger fanatic, I loved the candied ginger and macadamia nut semifreddo, and the chocolate and Gosling’s rum semifreddo. Holiday favorites include festive finales such as drinks (Mexican hot chocolate, chai), cookies (shortbread, rugelach), cheesecakes, tarts, and cakes (yule log, chocolate chestnut torte, fruitcake) that are sure wow guests.
Recipes are given in American and metric measurements (American measurements on the left, metric to the right), and I loved that some of the recipes have instructional videos on YouTube on Lesley’s channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCleB4fdPrk_NEjTN9tnIF2Q). Along the way, you’ll learn many French classics such as clafoutis, choux puffs, tarte tatin, a lovely silky lemon curd, ganache and praline. Other basic recipes include cream cheese and chocolate truffle press pastry, sweet tart dough, and almond paste.
I found Lesley’s instructions to be straightforward and approachable and appreciated the many tips and optional step-by-step instructional videos on YouTube, which is great for mastering new techniques. I also loved the layout of the recipes (and the inclusion of both metric and American measurements). The end result is restaurant-worthy desserts that combine French techniques, international influence, and nods to comfort baking.
“Desserts From My Kitchen” has given me many creative, delicious ways to inspire my baking; with cues from French pastry and technique combined with tropical and nostalgic flavors, it’s a book that is approachable by home bakers (the YouTube videos are particularly helpful for those new to baking) and the desserts will leave a lasting impression on your guests!
(Thank you to Lesley and publicist for my review copy!)