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Review: A Sweet Quartet

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A Sweet Quartet
By Fran Gage
ISBN: 0865476098
Publisher: North Point Press
Publication date: Oct. 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
List price: $ 27.50 (Canada, UK)
Type: Single Subject: Baking; Ingredients: Sugar, Almonds, Eggs, Butter
Sample Recipes: Ginger SconesCoconut Soufflé
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate generous instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good very good excellent Ochef Top 100

A somewhat quirky book, that is part cookbook, part journalism, and part narrative essay. A Sweet Quartet examines four building blocks of the pastry kitchen: sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter. (Author Fran Gage, a pastry chef, acknowledges that flour and chocolate play equally large roles in the pastry kitchen, but can tend to overshadow these sometimes overlooked ingredients.) 

Gage presents the history, science, lore, manufacture, and cooking qualities of the four ingredients, and provides a modest number of recipes that spotlight each ingredient. All the recipes look good, but again, there seems to be an eclectic quirkiness to their selection. They are certainly not the 33 most fundamental baking recipes that use these four ingredients. Instead, they were apparently chosen to show the versatility of the ingredients. Sugar recipes range from pound cakes to Green Tea Granita to Peppermint Lollipops. Egg recipes include obligatory meringues and a soufflé, but also Licorice Ice Cream.

The would be a lovely gift or purchase for any reasonably serious baker who has ever given more than passing thought to the ingredients he or she uses. Everyone will learn things they didn't know about sugar, almonds, eggs, and butter.

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