How was everyone’s Thanksgiving? My bird was outstanding, thank you for asking, and the stock is made and in the freezer. Huge props to my wife, who has mastered a citrus cranberry sauce that we all are happily addicted to. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled blogging on Thursday; there is a lot to talk about as we move into December, but here is a great book idea for you to think about either for yourself or as a gift.
It is that time of year—no, I’m not thinking shopping, in-laws, or little twinkling lights. I’m thinking of recipes with histories. Holidays are thick with recipes we dig out from the back of our collections, especially sweet ones that the whole family adores. Grandma’s lime Jell-O? Fruitcakes? No one really likes these, do they? And yet, they endure, feeding our hearts with warm memories. It isn’t often we stray from the particulars of our personal holiday repertoire, but this year you should start some new traditions, and you can find them in an amazing new book, Gail Monaghan’s Lost Desserts, which provides a feast of desserts.
The first thing you’ll notice is the stunning photography by Eric Boman, and if that wasn’t enough to get your sweet side cooking, Monaghan provides a story for each dessert that will easily become yet another tale in your own family history. Monaghan pulls these stories from a collective gastronomic consciousness—from the history of bananas Foster to the 1940s tale of La Pyramide’s pruneaux au pichet (prunes in a pitcher), which is a wonderful story of chef Fernand Point’s regular customer, the Aga Khan III. This book reads as well as it cooks. You can even reconstruct Ultra Violet’s chocolate and chestnut torte that had Andy Warhol addicted. Each bite you take of a dessert made from Monaghan’s book is rich with history; it will delight the taste buds of your family, and have a good story, too.
Let’s not forget the recipes. Each dessert varies in difficulty but is accessible to the home cook. True, Escoffier’s recipe for peach Melba might look a little daunting— precise plating directions of embedding a silver timbale filled with the dessert into an ice sculpture and then adding spun sugar to the top—but Monaghan provides modern suggestions that wouldn’t diminish this recipe in the eyes of the father of modern cuisine.
There are many cookbooks out there to tantalize and teach, but with the gastronomic knowledge that Monaghan imparts in this book, merely reading it will catapult any weekend cook into a food historian of the highest order.