Sweet! A cookbook review

October 29th, 2008 by Rosa

When I got the chance to review a free copy of Sweet!: From Agave to Turbino, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener by Mani Niall, I took it because the interest email I got from their PR said that the book contains candy recipes. And it did, including recipe for meringues, caramels, brittles, lollipops, truffles, fudge, and dulce du leche. What caught my eye, however, was the recipe for Apple-Oatmeal Triangles (Flapjacks). I fell in love with British flapjacks, a sweet, delicious, and buttery oat desert, while in Britain, and I jumped at the chance to make them again.

They came out deliciously, if a bit loosely. I think I underbaked mine, as they didn’t quite set up as sturdily as they should have. But they were still addictive. With butter and sugar and oats as your core ingredients, how could you go wrong? I got permission to reprint the recipe, which is below the cut.

I know flapjacks aren’t candy, though Snickers and Cadbury sells chocolate-covered versions of them in the U.K., but logistics prevented me from trying any of the candy recipes from the Sweet! book before deadline. I’m limited to what can be bought at the only grocery store within walking distance of my apartment, and it doesn’t carry some of the fancier sweeteners (like Sucanat) or ingredients (like cardamom pods) mentioned in the book. Nor do they carry candy thermometers.

When I go home for the holidays, however, I’ll take this book with me and use our better stocked and outfitted home kitchen to try my hand at some of the candies and other recipes from the book. Because at home, Mom and Dad will drive me to fancy food stores and pay for fancy food ingredients. Hooray!

As for the book itself, what did I think? I wish it had more pictures. In my opinion, pictures are the best part of any cookbook, and this one only has 8-pages of color photos in the middle (which are gorgeous, by the way). The recipes themselves are well described, each with its own little personal introduction from the author, list of ingredients, and bulleted steps, but seeing the finished product would make me more want to try to bake it myself.

I like the list of recipes in the front and the organization of the book into chapters based on desert types (breakfast treats, cakes, candy, savory and sweet main courses, etc.). The index in the back was great. I found the apple flapjack recipe when I looked up “apple” after I’d gone apple picking and was on a hunt for ways to bake my apples into delicious treats. And I like how the first chapter details and describes the many different sugars and sweeteners there are in the world while the second chapter gives a helpful guide to common baking ingredients. Did you know that you can make your own cake flour by sifting a tablespoon of cornstarch into 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of unbleached all-purpose flour?

At $18.95, Sweet! is a good deal as far as cookbooks go. Then again, that lowered price is probably a direct result of it not having many photos. It’s a good buy or gift for the experimental cook who wants to try out and learn about a variety of sweetener or anyone who loves baking.

  •  2 large cooking apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan - Rosa tip: butter the pan with the stick before you throw it in the recipe if you don’t want to unwrap a second stick just for buttering the pan
  •  1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup or honey
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sliced natural almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Rosa note: I used a square one. Doesn’t really matter.
  2. Combine the apples, ginger, lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, adding a little more water if the mixture seems dry, until the apples are very tender, about 10 minutes, or until soft. Mash the apples and set aside. Rosa note: I added a little brown sugar and extra water to my apples and cooked them down a bit longer to sweeten and concentrate the flavors.
  3. Warm the butter, brown sugar, and golden syrup in a medium-size saucepan over low heat, just until the butter is melted. Do not let the mixture come to a boil. Add the oats, almonds, cinnamon, and salt, and stir well. Press half the oat mixture in the oat pan. Spread the apple puree evently over the top and cover with the remaining oat mixture. Rosa note: I omitted the almonds because I don’t really like nuts. And I think the recipeshould note to take the mixture off heat once the butter melts, before you stir in the oats and things.
  4. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and mark into wedges while still warm (This will make it easier to cut and serve later.). Transfer to a wire cake rack and cool completely. Slice through the marks to cut the flapjacks into wedges and serve directly from the pan (The flapjacks can be stored at room temperature, covered for up to 3 days). Rosa note: It will be tempted to sneak a taste right out of the oven. Resist the temptation, lest you want to burn your tongue. They’re wonderful warm. I brought mine to a YPMB rehearsal, and they didn’t even last 3 hours, much less 3 days.

From the book Sweet! by Mani Niall.  Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong (www.dacapopress.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2008.

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