Dessert Can Save the World: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes for a Stubbornly Joyful Existence
read by the author
Random House Audio, March 08, 2022
$21.44 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with a Audible credit
I found this book when the “Newly Published” column on page 4 of the New York Times Book Review mentioned it as a noteworthy new audiobook. The reviewer was spot on in saying that this book deserved attention.
Christina Tosi writes about her obsession with dessert. When she was a child she would eat her grandmother’s raw cookie dough, ignoring warnings about salmonella. Her grandmother stored baked cookies in the freezer in the basement until it was time to serve them, but Christina would sneak down there and steal the wrapped cookies. When she was in high school she delighted in developing her own creations. She was always a rebel. She writes, “I knew from a relatively young age that I was going to be uncool, which I was totally cool with.”
After high school when she realized it was time to leave home, she went to New York City where she attended culinary school by day and worked in a restaurant at night. She describes in detail the grueling work and the long hours in the restaurant business. But her rebel nature showed itself in these jobs. Head coverings were of course required in the kitchen, and there was a standard white cap the chefs expected staff to wear. Tosi one day, however, donned a colored scarf. She got away with it.
Tosi writes about how she worked in all aspects of the culinary world: on the line in the kitchen, the front of the house, and the dessert corner of the kitchen. This confirmed for her, she says, that it was the dessert part of that world she loved the most.
Tosi was working at a high-end New York restaurant as the head pastry chef when the landlord evicted the tenant next door. She took that as the opportunity to open her own bakery, Milk Bar. What she was not prepared for was the immediate success of her venture. She writes about the ridiculously long hours and the challenges she faced. She describes her stubbornness while finally realizing that: 1) she could automate the baking processes, and 2) she could rely on others and not carry the whole burden herself.
The author includes an interlude on what she calls dirty dessert secrets. These are taking snack and cookie items from the grocery store (or the gas station minimart, or even, she says, from the dollar store) and mashing them up with other items found in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. Most of those sounded unappetizing to me. She insists that everyone has a dirty dessert secret and says she wouldn’t believe you if you told her that you didn’t have one. I have to say, though, that I don’t. I’m quite happy with the chocolate chip cookies I bake from the tub of cookie dough I buy at my Winco supermarket. (For a while it was Snickers fun size, but for now I’m stuck on the cookies.) Really, I don’t need a mashup.
Fortunately, however, there are a lot of more conventional dessert recipes in the book, many of which are very appealing. If you listen to the audiobook you can also download a PDF file containing the recipes.
Tosi writes a lot about making others happy, whether it be her own customers or people in need. At the end of the book, she discusses the work that her company has done to support charities and social justice. She says:
Invite in the joy whenever, however, wherever, it comes along, be it dessert or anything else. And go all out to spread that joy to as many people in as many ways as you can. Because one act, by one person, sparks the change that, when shared, generates a revolution.
I love that Tosi narrated the book herself. Her joy in creating desserts and her enthusiasm are apparent. After listening to Dessert Can Save the World I would buy her desserts.
Some time back I wrote that sometimes it is better to follow a proven bread recipe than to go your own way (I love Fleetwood Mac). On the other hand, sometimes experiments with bread baking can be successful.
I had more sourdough starter than is optimal for maintaining a healthy batch, so I did something I rarely do. I made sourdough bread twice in a row. Wanting to do something different, I tried a sprouted wheat sourdough.
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 cup First Clear flour
- 1 cup sprouted wheat flour
- 1/3 cup vital wheat gluten
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast (my standard yeast measure)
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- Something over a cup of warm water (adding until the dough was the right consistency)
I did two risings and baked at 350 degrees convection for 45 minutes as I always do.
It turned out great. Terry loved it and I was quite happy with the result.
I was going to link to the sprouted wheat and First Clear flours on the King Arthur web site, but they both appear to have been discontinued. So I won’t be able to repeat this recipe once my existing supplies run out.
Oh, well. Experiments do sometimes pay off, and that was a good one.
As you may remember reading here, I was delighted when we got our new stove with a convection oven a little over a year ago. I immediately got back into bread baking. Once I was in the routine again I stopped following recipes and began to wing it. I knew the correct proportions, so the loaves I baked turned out anywhere from OK to really good.
Recently I had just gotten my King Arthur order, for which I had to wait an unusually long time due to our COVID-19 world. I had ordered two bags of artisanal bread flour and I wanted to do something a little special.
I pulled out my copy of Rustic European Bread from Your Bread Machine, which I believe was out of print for a while, but seems to be available again, and in fact now has a second edition. I have not used a bread machine since our Gilroy kitchen remodel in 2007, but I use the book’s ingredients and proportions and then make bread the traditional way with my KitchenAid stand mixer and convection oven. I selected the recipe for pain de mie, French street bread. I used (a bit less than) half King Arthur artisan bread flour and (a bit more than) half generic grocery store bread flour.
The loaf turned out well. Terry loved it.
Some days it works out well when you follow the rules.
It’s weird when finding a package of toilet paper in the grocery store comes close to making your day. But such are the times in which we live.
One of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (or perhaps simply one of the effects) is that people who never thought of baking before have suddenly started baking. That’s all well and good, but those of us who are long-time bakers are having to change our routines. If you bake, and if you have visited the baking aisle in the grocery store recently, you know exactly what I mean. You’re lucky to find all-purpose flour, and coming across bread flour is like unearthing a diamond.
There can be upsides to such adversity, however. I couldn’t find King Arthur bread flour either in the store or online, so when our WinCo supermarket had a small cluster of Bob’s Red Mill bread flour on the shelf, I grabbed a bag. I ended up baking the best loaf of sourdough bread that I had ever made. (Sorry, King Arthur.)
In recent months I have made a variety of heartier, sandwich-friendly breads (while including my sourdough in the rotation, of course), using 10-grain, whole grain, and sprouted wheat blends from King Arthur. None of those are available these days. Nor does King Arthur have regular bread flour or organic bread flour. They are even selling their all-purpose flour in 3-pound rather that 5-pound bags, but I’m fine on the A/P flour right now thanks to stumbling across it on a trip to Grocery Outlet in search of milk (which, fortunately, no longer seems to be in short supply).
What I found available when I went to the King Arthur web site on Friday was artisan bread flour, French bread flour, and vital wheat gluten, that last being something essential when standard bread flour is in short supply. They also let me order pizza flour, which is due in three or four weeks.
I must therefore change the varieties of bread that I bake and put aside the whole grain/multi-grain blends in favor of French, rustic, and sourdough breads.
That will be all right. It’s a change, and it is far better than not baking at all.
I had a revelation the other day. I can bake healthy bread that I enjoy without using whole wheat flour, which I don’t like all that much.
As part of my bread baking routine I have always had a bag of whole wheat flour on hand. Not because I like it, but because it’s healthier than white flour and I felt that I “should” bake a whole wheat loaf periodically. The fact is, however, that I can and do make tasty, healthy bread without whole wheat flour. It’s all about using a some form of multi-grain blend.
King Arthur Flour has had a variety of multi-grain flours over the years, depending on what ingredients were available to them. Most recently I bought their Super 10 Blend, which I really liked. It makes for a marvelous sandwich bread when mixed with King Arthur unbleached bread flour. I was down to the end of my package of Super 10, so I added some whole wheat flour to a recent loaf. It was still good, but not as good as the Super 10 on its own.
When I reordered the Super 10 I also ordered a bag of Sprouted Wheat Flour and Whole Grain Flour Blend. I made a loaf with the Sprouted Wheat Flour (not exactly multi-grain, but a similar concept) this week and it has been excellent. I’m looking forward to trying the Whole Grain Flour Blend.
I will use up the whole wheat flour that I have on hand, but (by golly, I coulda had a V8!) from now on I will use the tastier multigrain blends for my healthy bread loaves.
By the time we left Gilroy in May of 2015 I was a pretty confident bread baker. I didn’t need to follow a recipe: I knew the proportions required for a decent loaf and could play it by ear.
When we moved down here I stopped baking bread. In part I wasn’t confident that the oven that came with the house could produce a decent loaf. And part of it, if I’m being honest with myself, was sour grapes at having to give up my beloved convection oven in Gilroy.
This spring here in Hemet we bought a new stove with convection oven. We had to. The old oven was dead and the cost of repairing it was half the cost of buying a whole new unit. But the purchase made me a happy guy and all of a sudden King Arthur Flour had my business again.
I love sourdough bread, but Terry enjoys whole wheat and multi-grain breads, so I mix it up. King Arthur changes their multi-grain flour mixtures depending on what ingredients are available to them. The most recent formulation that I bought was their Super 10 Blend. Last week I made a loaf with 25% Super 10, 25% whole wheat, and 50% bread flour (along with a good measure of vital wheat gluten). It turned out quite well. That’s the loaf pictured here. I like the Super 10 blend; next time I’ll make a loaf with 50% Super 10.
This week, however, it’s sourdough French bread.
The journey continues.
I have been baking sourdough bread for many years. When I lived in Gilroy and was getting serious about baking bread Terry met a former boss of hers on one of her business trips so he could give her some sourdough starter that he had been maintaining for several decades.
I was very religious about maintaining it, and kept it going for several years. The starter made the move south with us when we left Gilroy. However, once we got here and I didn’t get back into baking bread I failed to keep it going and it died. I felt bad about that.
With the recent demise of our oven and the purchase of a new stove with a convection oven and a proof setting, I got back into bread baking mode. I placed an order with King Arthur flower for some ingredients not available locally, and that included sourdough starter. As soon as the order arrived I gave the starter a lot of loving attention and made sure to carefully feed it, which involves adding flour and water. I did so for a week and then baked a loaf of bread using the French bread flour I had also ordered from King Arthur.
The result: delicious.
I’m delighted to be baking sourdough bread once again.
When we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy in 2007 we bought a stove with a convection oven and a proof setting. Before that time I made bread using a bread machine. After our remodel the bread machine was retired and I regularly made bread using the proof setting for the rising phase and the convection setting to bake the bread. Not only was the bread fresh and not only did it taste great, but it was great therapy for me.
After moving here to Hemet I did not take up baking bread. We had a perfectly fine oven and I no doubt could have, but without the convection oven and the proof setting I simply did not have the motivation. I suppose there was an element of sour grapes in all of that, but that’s how it was.
Earlier this year our oven quit working. The cost to repair it would have been $250. We thought that was hardly worth the cost, especially since earlier in the winter a power bobble caused the clock display to stop working.
Terry and I found a stove with a convection oven that we liked at Lowe’s. The white version was not immediately available, but we were promised that it would be along in two to three weeks, and it was nearly half the cost as the same stove in stainless steel. As it happened it was seven weeks, but that all was forgiven when the stove arrived. Especially since by that time I was past my surgery and well on the way to recovery from that ugly complication which arose. I was more than ready to jump in and made good use of our new appliance.
So here I am baking bread once again. I purchased the basics locally and placed an order with King Arthur Flour for the more specialized items that I needed. I am up and running, and am delighted about that.