Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey
Go ahead—eat the shortbread spoons.


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BROOKE HERMAN is a freelance food writer  in metropolitan New York.



April 2008

Product Reviews / Best Reads / Cooking

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts For The Serious Sweet Tooth

By Jill O’Connor


You’d have to have to be genetically hard-wired to ignore sweets to not be instantly smitten with Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey or the author, Jill O’Connor, herself. Delicate mugs of whipped cream-topped chocolate mascarpone pots, edible spoons made from shortbread and fruity Monte Cristos make the book irresistible—and those are just the photos shown on the cover.

Once inside, you’re greeted with an unending confectionary fairytale. While it’s an easy bet that the recipes will make you immediately preheat your oven, it’s O’Connor’s easy narrative that keeps you turning the pages. Guiding you on a winding road of chocolate, puddings, baked goods and treats, she shares the life experiences that have shaped Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. By the time you’ve thumbed through the first half of the book, you’ve reread passages from her favorite childhood novels, traveled to London for her first job as a trained chef, sent cupcakes to her husband-to-be and learned that her young daughters are an inspiration for many of the desserts.

But, lest you think this is just a sweet one-note autobiography, fear not. Along the way, she fills you in, in her it’s-just-you-and-me-here, we-can-talk-about-anything style. O’Connor explains the difference between butterscotch and caramel (with a reference to Gilligan’s Island too cute to disclose here), baking soda and baking powder (so clear you’ll wonder why you ever second guessed yourself before) and natural and Dutch-processed cocoa powder (convincing you that you need to stock your shelves the both varieties immediately). From ingredient favorites to must-have tools and in-depth glossaries covering flours, sugars and whiskeys, by the end, you feel quite equipped to head for the kitchen.
From the “gooey” department.

This book is not about precariously-plated towered finales, but instead homey crave-worthy desserts that can’t help but appeal to both children and culinary sophisticates. Every picture, whether of swirly frosting, nutty sticky buns or citrus mousse adorned with phyllo crisps, makes you want to skip the formalities, pass on the fork, forget the knife, and dig in hands first.

Most featured are classics with a modern or unexpected twist. The Rich Risotto Rice Pudding cools to a treat so thick, satiny and creamy, that just one or two spoonfuls are enough to satisfy. In fact, this Arborio rice-based sweet was so unequivocally amazing that it inspired me to dust a Tupperware’s worth with cinnamon and finally, introduce myself to my neighbor of a year and a half.

I was attracted to the Cheesecake Pops, first for the beautifully whimsical shot of three chocolate-dipped spheres complete with ribbon-wrapped sticks standing tall in their centers and secondly, for the simplicity of the actual cheesecake recipe. While I admittedly doubted my sanity midway through shaping the balls, there’s no question that these lollipops are an unexpected party pleaser. And really, when broken into stages, they can actually be as fun to make as to serve.

The easy favorite was the Gooey Caramel Butter Bars—simple, but spectacular, shortbread layered with caramel cream. They baked according to recipe, came out of the pan with ease, tasted fresh-baked after a two-week freeze and resulted in every person lucky enough to nab a rich triangle, requesting a copy of the recipe.

Many of the ideas are simple enough to whip up on your own, but fun enough that you can invite little ones or friends to help out (hint: request backup for the Butter Bars—you’ll love having someone else to unwrap the 50 caramels). If the cookies do not turn out perfect spheres, the parfait layers even lines or the cakes completely flat, that’s O.K. That’s part of the charm of these recipes. And, they’ll still taste delicious.

Bread Pudding
Bread pudding from the “sticky” department.

This is one of those cookbooks—so full of special occasions waiting to happen, fast emergency recipes and guides—that you should keep it on the easiest to reach shelf. You will undoubtedly turn to it time and time again, until a few corners are slightly chocolate smudged, a page here and there splotched with liquid droplets and when you open it, flour and sugar sporadically sprinkles out from the pages. And, those personalized enhancements, it seems, would be just that fate O’Connor would wish on her seriously playful and scrumptious celebration of sweets.


Price and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor


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