Desserts from the classics to punk rock.
BROOKE HERMAN is a food writer in metropolitan New York.
Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts: Recipes From Citizen Cake
By Elizabeth Falkner
Unlike most neighborhood bakeries, you fare a much better chance of scoring a seat at Elizabeth Falkner’s Citizen Cake (self-dubbed “The Pastry Chef’s Restaurant”), with a reservation. Once there, you’ll be seated among tourists, who have long counted down their days to visit this San Franciscan jaunt, and even better, locals who continue to come for the exciting combinations that accompany regular creative menu changes. Once faced with the colorful, unusual and delectable desserts with just-as-unusual names, you’ll be impressed, amazed and a little incredulous that dessert can be taken so seriously and treated as a meal of its own.
Or, you can do what this East Coast girl was forced to do: Get a copy of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts and curl up on the couch. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, when reading the back stories of the desserts, the ingredients and techniques required to make them, plus the clear and concise game plan for recreating the treats at home, you may just feel like you’ve gotten the better end of the deal (no crowds, no airport security).
Falkner is quickly becoming a well-known name and face—a James Beard nomination, several pastry chef awards and a competition versus Cat Cora on Food Network’s Iron Chef, will do that for you. So it’s little surprise that she is featured, more than her desserts, on the cover of her newest venture. Falkner is an artist, quirky and hard-core; she makes you, the reader, believe you are just as punk-rock (as she describes in her acknowledgments) and eccentric, simply by reading her book. When thumbing through it, it’s hard not to yell aloud, “Blueberry paper? I can make blueberry paper!...A vinaigrette on desserts?...Cheddar crumbles!...Carrot cake croutons!...Oh my goodness, I can make homemade graham crackers!” As you’ll see below, this last one is way too tempting to pass up.
But if you’re a traditionalist who prefers down-home apple pie to sculptured plates, no matter: Faulkner includes recipes for her favorite-of-the-moment chocolate chip cookie and deliciously fun cupcakes. Many of her recipes are based on classics. The Real McCoy Ice Cream Sandwich (photo at right) is the ultimate chocolate-mint version of this everyday creation. The Lemon Meringue Pie = Lemon Drop is a delicate take on the diner favorite. And Waking Up In a City That Never Sleeps is a deconstructed berry cheesecake. It’s impossible not to be blown away by the energy and ideas, Frankie Frankeny’s stop-and-stare images or Faulkner’s brother Ryan’s illustrations, which appear throughout the book.
One of the best parts is her view of the reader. While many pastry chefs with immense talent and a successful background tend to forget that the home cook does not always have the time, resources or desire to spend an entire day prepping, Falkner knows who she’s talking to.
CocoShok & Shagadelic
After carefully walking you through her favorite products, brands and equipment, she quickly establishes her style. Most recipes contain several components; for each she sets up a timeline and a “Minimalist Version” that lets you complete the task easily. CocoShok is made up of Coconut Panna Cotta, Dark Chocolate Sauce, Walnut-Caramel Coconut Candy and Venezuelan-Spiced Rum-and-Lime Granita. They can all be prepared the day of, but she also breaks it down: you can make the chocolate sauce a week ahead, the granita three days in advance, the candy two and the panna cotta one, so that all you have to do the day of, is plate. She also gives you guilt-free permission to duck out of an involved dessert with the promise that both the panna cotta and the granita can stand on their own.
To round out the book, there are drinks, just as out-there and just as solid as as the sweets. Try the raspberry-based Love Letter, cardamom- and peppercorn-infused Indian Rose Milk and a tropical martini called simply, Shagadelic. The back section, Core Recipes, is provided to supply fundamentals needed for many of the desserts, like Vanilla Gelato, Wine-Soaked Cherries and Basic Caramel Sauce, but there’s no reason they can’t be used on their own or with your longtime favorite treats.
While many of the recipes are not difficult to put together, they’re the kind that will make you incredibly impressed with yourself when you pull them from the oven and even prouder to serve. Perfect example: the S’more Brownies, which are amazingly fudge-like. They’re a snap to whip together and take just about a half an hour to bake, once you’ve completed your base ingredients. Rather than settle for prepared supermarket buys, Falkner supplies you with recipes for both the graham crackers and the marshmallows. Both are worth it and neither is especially complicated. When fresh-baked, you’ll find the crackers boast of molasses and wheat. And the marshmallows—oh, the marshmallows. Vanilla-scented and so light, it will be hard to ever again sample a cardboard puff from a commercial brand again. (EDITOR’S NOTE: See Marshmallow Madness, our gourmet marshmallows article—amazing puffs made by artisan confectioners.)
The other hard-to-ignore aspect of this book is the emphasis on ingredients. The third chocolate chip cookie recipe featured is Chocolate Chip Cookies Version XS, which stands for Extreme Sugars. Here, traditional granulated and brown sugars are replaced with Muscovado and Demerara, both of which can be found in your local grocery store. The former contains a high molasses content, providing rich background flavors, while the latter is course-grained and gives the cookie an impressively welcome crystal crunch in each bite. (See THE NIBBLE’s Sugar Glossary for more information about these and other types of sugar.) Another welcome addition: Faulkner’s cookie baking guide, with a five-minute range to help you determine how long your cookies should bake for rounded and soft to chewy to flat and crisp.
One caveat in this cookbook is that many desserts call for an ice cream maker, which it can be argued, is not found in the average home. The frozen confections can be skipped, but it’s pretty hard to resist the chance to churn together flavors like sweet corn, mint julep and brown sugar-chocolate chunk, not to mention the sour cream sorbet.
Regardless, Falkner provides the perfect excuse to channel your inner mad dessert scientist, throw an all-dessert party or charm VIPs coming to dinner. Even if you’re not a San Franciscan, when Demolition Desserts is on your bookshelf, you’ll be able to visit Citizen Cake any time you feel like it.
- 230 pages
- Ten Speed Press
- October 2007
- Number of Recipes: 74
- Images: Color: throughout book
- Not to miss recipe: Suddenly Last
- Recipe Index: Front (by type); back
- Extras: Personal anecdotes, recipe
timelines, minimalist versions,
ingredient suggestions, foundation
- Price: $35.00 list, $23.10 on Amazon
(price subject to change)
- Click here to purchase