Classic Stars Desserts
The most beloved recipes from Jeremiah Tower’s Stars restaurant in San Francisco, where author Emily Luchetti was the star pastry chef.


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BROOKE HERMAN is a professional food editor and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education.

February 2008

Product Reviews / Best Reads / Cooking

Classic Stars Desserts

By Emily Luchetti

Often, when one spends years in a restaurant kitchen, prepping and assembling hundreds of desserts each night, it’s easy to forget that steps as basic as tempering, folding or inverting are not part of the home baker’s vocabulary. But, not here. Whether you’re accomplished with pie dough or new to drop cookies, when thumbing through the pages of Classic Stars Desserts, you will never feel left behind. Instead, Emily Luchetti offers herself as your patient friend, promising to make every confection as straightforward as possible, while still leading you on a journey to beautiful, unusual and always scrumptious sweets.

Luchetti set out to be a chef. She attended culinary school, spent time in French restaurants as a stagiaire (a trainee) and worked at several New York City restaurants, all in hopes of excelling on the savory side. That’s why, for some odd reason, you feel a sense of promise and reassurance when you discover that she swerved off course, tried her hand at pastry and found her true calling. Baking can be intimidating, but she did it, and she makes you feel that you can do it, too.

Historic Wonders

The recipes, which come originally from Stars, an acclaimed, innovative Jeremiah Tower restaurant in San Francisco (it closed in 2004), were previously published in Stars Desserts and Four-Star Desserts. So, consider these the best of the best. Maybe they’re not the fanciest, although many certainly qualify (for a true crowd wower, look no further than the Pumpkin Soufflé With Apple Caramel Sauce on page 111). And maybe they’re not the simplest (check out the Chocolate Espresso Frozen Cream Sandwiches on page 82). But certainly, they’re the most beloved (see, all). And when you read the back-story of each confection, it’s easy to see why.

Yes, this is a book about restaurant favorites, but what makes you keep reading is the realization that these are not formulas that simply got the author through her workday. At their core, they are time stamps, marking life events, both personal and professional. For nostalgia alone, you’ll be tempted to whip up Chocolate Hazelnut Crepes, once you learn it was the last recipe Luchetti created for Stars. Same goes for the Warm Bittersweet Chocolate Tartlets With Spiced Almonds that Luchetti makes in place of the traditional birthday cake each year for her sister. If at this point, you’re worried that this book is a thinly-veiled guide  for chocolate lovers, don’t fret. Give the Goat Cheese Cake with Mixed Berries a try. Served for brunch at the first Women Chefs and Restaurateurs convention, it’s a two-bowl beauty that cannot disappoint.

Simple & Elegant

When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than cranking up the oven and letting your house fill with the scent of baking cakes. And, it’s even more special, when the cake is made with cinnamon, cloves and molasses, classic flavors that instantly remind us of autumnal apple picking, mulled cider and festive winter holidays. This simple, yet elegant, dessert is the kind that’s hard to resist baking. The gingerbread bakes up to a deep, dark, incredibly tender square that can be made a day ahead—but truthfully it’s still moist and flavorful for some time to come.

Warm sautéed apples add balance, but it’s the surprise of the incredibly apple-flavored, creamy Cider Saboyon that really makes this dessert impressive. These rich spoonfuls are almost (almost) the mayonnaise of sweet foods—you’ll find yourself looking for other items to spread the mixture on. Luckily, Luchetti supplies several other flavor options in addition to the cider, like Champagne, Riesling and Grand Marnier. There’s even a recipe for hazelnut, which is frozen to echo a machine-less ice cream.

There’s another hard-to-ignore aspect of this book. Luchetti has no time for highfalutin’ attitudes—or the desserts that go with them. She not only supports, but condones, serving coconut cream pies alongside sautéed pear napoleons and chocolate wafer cookies next to brown butter madeleines. While skimming the desserts, you can’t help but pick up on the obvious message: Be proud.

It’s easy to stand tall when presenting a confection from Classic Stars Desserts—even the cookies. The Stareos are a must for those who love (or loved) the packaged cream-filled sandwiches. These mini bites of bliss are one of the easier recipes in the book. A one-bowl chocolate shortbread dough easily rolls out and is cut into shapes (you can use stars, like Luchetti, rounds or your favorite cutter; I opted for fluted ovals) before they’re layered with a vanilla-infused mascarpone filling. Although they should be assembled just before serving, the dough can be made, shaped and frozen one week in advance and both the cookies and the cream can be made up to two days ahead of time. True, they were delicious and delicately crisp, but it should be noted that many testers loved them after an hour when the cream had slightly softened the cookies to a cake-like consistency.

Trump Card

But, if you want the dessert to trump all desserts, please whip up the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Terrine with Sugared Peanuts. There is a gorgeously impressive photo five pages before the recipe that may give you all the convincing you need, but just in case, I’ll reaffirm it—this is dinner party perfect. It’s looks like a project that requires immense skill, but it’s actually quite a simple process. Once poured into a loaf pan, it  can be chilled and forgotten about for days, then glazed and topped with peanuts—if your friends and family have not eaten them all before you can garnish (seriously, you may want to hide these; otherwise your only saving grace will be that the recipe calls for more nuts than you could possibly need). The terrine cuts into beautiful two-tone layers and is so rich, whipped cream may be the only thing that can help cut it.

This is the kind of cookbook, boasting a multi-layered French Silk mousse cake adorned with chocolate shavings on the cover, that can seem intimidating, but don’t cheat yourself out of the experience. All of these are homemade sweets, whether stirred together in one bowl and baked, rolled out into shapes or constructed from several components, are a home baker’s dream. All the desserts in this book, no matter your goal, are unmistakably beautiful: homey and rustic or structured and composed. Serve them for special occasions or as just-because beauties. Or, give yourself a gift and bake as obvious Luchetti does—for pure enjoyment.

  • 311 pages
  • Chronicle Books
  • May 2007
  • Number of Recipes: 160
  • Color images in three sections
  • Not to miss recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Terrine with Sugared Peanuts
  • Price: $19.77
  • Click here to purchase

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