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Caprial Pence
cookbook reviewscaprial pence
Caprial's Desserts
by Caprial Pence & Melissa Carey
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Review by Joelle Moles

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The question at the outset is this: how does a professional chef make their methods and recipes truly accessible to the home cook? A restaurant chef, as we all know, has years of culinary training, a fully equipped kitchen at their disposal, and a myriad of tricks and secrets that can make or break even a seemingly simple recipe. The home cook, on the other hand, has a few hours of Emeril to their name, a fancy $13 spatula from Sur La Table, and a great propensity to avoid lengthy instructions altogether. What does it take to bridge this gap between professional and amateur? How does one produce a cookbook that is a tasty sampling of a chef's hard earned repertoire as well as an easy to follow instruction manual for any Joe or Jill?

James Beard award winning chef, Caprial Pence, and her pastry chef, Melissa Carey, have co-authored a book of desserts that successfully brings professional cooking into the amateur's kitchen. Although us chefs may not find Caprial's Desserts to be especially challenging, we can certainly take note of the interesting variations on old favorites and more importantly, learn a thing or two about authoring a worthy cookbook for the masses.

Perhaps the single most important point that makes Caprial's Desserts so successful, apart from the tasty fare (and how new is that in the pastry world) is the arrangement of the recipes. A task that could easily have been handled by alphabetizing or simple categorizing, the organization of the recipes has been taken quite seriously by Pence and Carey. They chose to not only separate their recipes into seven distinct pastry and baking categories, but to accentuate basic master recipes upon which numerous variations can be made. The effect of such an arrangement is that the beginning cook is not intimidated by such professional sounding recipes as Pear-Lemon Gingerbread with Pear Wine Syrup for it is apparent that they need only to make a variation on a simple gingerbread master recipe. In addition, after the beginning cook learns the basic techniques in the master recipes, which are in themselves based on professional cookery, they can move onto all sorts of restaurant quality variations as opposed to moving onto another cookbook altogether - certainly a move to be avoided when a chef is trying to achieve a long shelf life for their cookbook.

Of course organization isn't everything, but then again, with a hundred cookbooks offering perfectly acceptable recipes for apple pie and muffins, what is going to make a cookbook stand out? Caprial Pence and Melissa Careys' Caprial's Desserts is effectively arranged, includes basic recipes as well as unique variations, and has easy to understand method descriptions. There is always the argument that technique could be explained more thoroughly. (Is the home cook going to know that the flourless chocolate cake will be virtually impossible to remove from the pan bottom without a parchment circle? Or that frosting any cake isn't as easy as 'cake layering guru' Melissa Carey makes it sound?) Yet, perhaps this is just one more lesson that the home cook is taught about the professional cooking world - so much is trial and error and should you error, one can always make a variation. . .

Take a taste of Caprial's cooking, try her Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe.

March 2002

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