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Mar 7, 2008 04:16 PM

Gripe About Medrich' Pure Dessert

Although I've made several recipes from this book with great results, I was especially peeved about a photograph and recipe for an almond cake. The photo clearly shows sliced almonds IN the cake, i.e., not scattered on top after baking. The directions, however, make no mention of sliced almonds and call for the almonds to be pulverized in the food processor.

I know, I know, this isn't a disaster, but some people unfamiliar with ground nut "flour" cakes could worry they're supposed to just slice them. I obviously can put some sliced almonds in the batter.

It's just that things should be clear. She should also know that folks like me want to make cakes for a birthday party the next day and choose her ingredients accordingly!!!! Of ALL THE NERVE, EH?

My other gripe is that I spent several hours trying to find coconut sugar and kamut flour yesterday. I should have planned in advance and ordered them by mail, but I was so sure that my local treasure stores (and also Whole Foods) would have them..... I made the Kamut Pound Cake anyway, with spelt flour and it was really great. Husband took it to work today so we wouldn't eat more than a small piece each.

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  1. I find that rather shocking. I don't know the book, but I do know the editor and the publisher and that's the kind of rookie mistake they don't usually make. Very often the photos for a book are submitted after the text has already been delivered and no one in the publishing house has the opportunity to compare one with another. But that's no excuse. If I were you, I'd write a polite letter to the publisher saying that the photo and the picture didn't agree with one another and asking if they could clarify it for you. It could well be they'd change either the photo or the copy in the next printing. Or, then again, not, if they deem it too expensive. Nonetheless, they should know. That kind of thing annoys the hell out of me, too. I expect it from a publisher not overly familiar with cookbook publishing, but certainly not with a publisher such as Artisan.

    5 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      As a food professional who has access to tons of publications sent our way, I can tell you for sure...There are so many editorial errors and mistakes in most cookbooks, I'm sure that home cooks are making food failures that aren't their faults at all. They just didn't catch the errors in the book, because they weren't looking for errors. But believe me, they are there. For instance, I saw a recipe just this week for a dish that called for sauteing 1/2 apple, 1/2 onion and sage. In the body of the recipe it called for adding 1/2 tsp.(:!) of the sauteed apple, onion and sage to the rest of the recipe. Well, I asked myself, what was I supposed to do with the other 1 cup of sauteed apple, onion and sage? Of course what the recipe meant to say, I surmised, was to add 1/2 tsp. salt and the entire amount of apple, onion and sage.

      I come across that sort of thing regularly.

      1. re: zataar

        I once worked for a professional book indexer in NYC. It was a very interesting job, and I learned a lot about how a good book is put together. The owner of the company was an old-school kind of guy (this was the late 1980s, mind you), and NOTHING escaped his purview. A book index did not leave the place until it was perfect. If we made the smallest mistake, it caught his attention.

        I'm guessing the publishing consolidations of the 1990s lead to this kind of sloppy editing of cookbooks, among others. It's not acceptable, and it's a bummer that it's happening even with notable cookbooks like the one oakjoan was working with.

        1. re: DanaB

          That makes sense! I didn't even think about the consolidation issue. The biggest mistake I come across time and again is the instructions telling you to add something that isn't even listed in the ingredients, or conversely, an ingredient listed that isn't included in the instructions. I can figure it out, as can most dedicated home cooks, but what about someone who is a recent cook? I guess they take a chance and trust their instincts (which is what I hope people do).

        2. re: zataar

          Although I have run across some recipe errors what I see most often is errors by the food stylists and photographers who have never read the recipes or aso it seems. They just want to make it pretty and get on to the next project.

          1. re: zataar

            It's interesting that people who edited and proofread for a living find errors that some of us don't really notice. We have been using a form at work for years. One of my coworkers was doing some work at home, using the form, and his s.o. is a proofreader. She spotted five spelling and two grammar errors that nobody else has ever pointed out.

        3. Medrich's headnote to the recipe (last line) says that the photograph shows the cake with a crunchy almond crust -- see page 74. This variation, posted at the end of the recipe, has you scatter sliced almonds in the pan before the batter goes in.

          10 Replies
          1. re: emily

            I wanted to make the cake that was shown in the photo. I read and re-read the recipe before realizing that I wanted to make the variation on the next page.

            I did make it for a potluck and people loved it. I saved one piece for myself for breakfast the next day. Oddly, it seemed sweeter to me the next day at breakfast than it had the night before. Anyway, it's a good cake.

            One that I'm looking at that calls for the coconut sugar is the coconut palm cream cake on page 191. oakjoan -- did you end up finding the coconut sugar and, if so, what kind of place?

            1. re: karykat


              No I have not found coconut sugar, after traipsing all over the East Bay (Oakland) to find it. I didn't even find kamut flour, but made the pound cake with spelt flour instead with good results.

              I ended up buying date sugar and muscovado sugar which she mentions in other places in the book.

              Today I made the Chocolate Nut Sponge cake. I baked a small amount in a tiny cake pan and it tastes great. The cake does look weird, though. I don't know if my tube pan was not tall enough or what, but the cake sort of fell on itself a bit about halfway through the cooking. After I put whipped cream on top, however, nobody will notice it's drunken stance.

              I also made the coconut layer cake (can't remember the exact name and am too lazy to get up and get the book) with toasted coconut and date sugar (instead of coconut sugar). Don't know how it turned out...looks okay, but I can't taste it without leaving a mark and it's for a birthday party tomorrow. She glazes it with a lime juice, rum and sugar mixture, but there'll be folks who don't drink (or don't like) rum/liquor. Again, I can't pre-taste, but how could lime juice and sugar be bad?

              Only 2 left: The aforementioned almond cake and a chocolate tart with orange and grapefruit zest made in the shape of a long rectangle and served with whipped cream flavored with jasmine tea! Whooeeeee.

              1. re: oakjoan

                Let us know how they turn out. I will be dying to know about the coconut cake because it is high on my list. Looks beautiful. It looks like you carmelize the glaze on the top with a blow torch. Let me know if you did or didn't do that and what you thought. I haven't used mine in eons and would have to dig it out. Sounds like a pain but it does look beautiful carmelized.

                1. re: karykat


                  I won't be carmelizing the top unless you're dropping by with the blow torch. Matches or a cigarette lighter don't seem the right tools to do the trick.

                  What about a quick spell under the broiler? Is that heat going to seep down into the cake and do something like dry it out?

                  I was actually thinking of spreading a thin coating of marmalade on the top...hmmm coconut and bitter orange? Sounds pretty good.
                  The cake looks totally boring without something and there's already whipped cream in the filling.

                  My next door neighbor is a catering chef...maybe she has a blow torch.

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    I would be afraid to broil it. Especially if the cream layer was already in there. You can put the topping on without carmelizing? Or your bitter orange marm sounds good too. Let me know, because I'm wondering how it is when you go that route.

                    Have fun. It sounds like an extravaganza!

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      oakjoan -- how did that coconut cake turn out? It's high on my list to try. Wondering what you thought of it. And your other creations for the event.

                  2. re: oakjoan

                    FWIW, I've gotten kamut flour at Rainbow in SF.

                    1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                      Karen: Almost every place I went to said they usually had it but were out. Could it be that there's a run on the stuff due to Pure Dessert? I couldn't feature driving across the bridge after all my earlier traipsing. The cake was delicious with the spelt flour. I made it as an experiment, ate one slice and gave the rest to my husband to take to his office. They loved it. I even got email and a phone message about it.

                    2. re: oakjoan

                      I'm pretty sure Alameda Natural Grocery has kamut flour in their baking section. Don't know about coconut sugar, though. What *is* coconut sugar, anyway?

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        According to Medrich, coconut sugar and palm sugar are both made from the sweet sap that drips from cut flower buds (of the coconut palm or sugar palm). Coconut/palm sugar should be easy to find in a Vietnamese or Thai market (of course, the hard part is probably having one of these markets nearby). It often comes in hard disks or tube-shaped cylinders (sort of like piloncillo). I have a large block that says "palm candy" and is from Indonesia (bought at a Vietnamese market in Garden Grove) and also some round blobs (quite unattractive since they honestly remind me of dog poop) from Vietnam. They're really hard to break up, but Medrich suggests grating the sugar in a food processor which can then be stored like brown sugar.

                        By the way, I'm currently 0 for 2 for recipes out of "Pure Dessert". The buckwheat nibby cookies were terrible imo -- I like buckwheat in pancakes and galettes and I love Medrich's regular nibby cookie recipe, but these had an unappealing flavor (and color). The walnut sponge was a waste of 10 oz of walnuts -- it, along with the cookies, went down the disposal.

                2. >>>Although I've made several recipes from this book with great results, I was especially peeved about a photograph and recipe for an almond cake. The photo clearly shows sliced almonds IN the cake, i.e., not scattered on top after baking. The directions, however, make no mention of sliced almonds and call for the almonds to be pulverized in the food processor.<<<

                  That, right there, is the difference between a good cookbook and a bad one.

                  If the pictures don't match the recipes, that's bad. Worse is if the recipes don't work. But if I see a picture that doesn't match, that's bad editing, and who knows what else is wrong with the recipes at that point?

                  I am kind of harsh on cookbooks, and am pretty selective on the ones I like. The reasons I like the ones I do, is because they don't have mistakes like that and the recipes work.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: DanaB

                    I noticed this quite a bit in Stitt's book last month - that the end result posted in the photo was not "attainable" by following the recipe. Bugged me a bit. What I don't understand is, presumably the food for the photos is prepared using the recipes? How does the food in the photo end up being different from what the recipe prepares? Thanks!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      Food stylists.

                      At least, that's my suspicion, not being an industry insider. Also, I've always assumed that the bigger the chef, the less likely that they personally prepared the food pictured, or for that matter actually wrote down the recipe themselves. Perhaps I'm being too cynical.

                      1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                        Don't the stylists (or someone) have to make the food though - you's figure they'd have to follow the recipe to start with at least. I guess maybe the stylists then want to make it "look prettier" by fussing with things etc.?

                      2. re: MMRuth

                        Very often a food stylist is working from a manuscript that has not yet been edited or copyedited, or perhaps even tested. (Each situation is different, by the way, concerning who prepares the food. Sometimes it's the stylist, sometimes it's a chef's assistant, sometimes the chef him or herself.) Somewhere along the way, for whatever reason, the recipe may change but the photo isn't reshot to accomodate that change. Ideally, a copyeditor would be checking the photos at the same time he or she is checking the manuscript, but that's an ideal situation and the timing of publishing a book rarely allows for that. Still, it is the author's and editor's final responsibility to make sure the two agree.

                        In some instances a food stylist may play around a bit to make something look better. For instance, in Carole Walter's "Great Cookies" the recipe calls for rolling a certain cookie in confectioners' sugar. The photo clearly shows the cookies sprinkled with confectioners' sugar, not just rolled in them, which makes a more attractive looking cookie--and photo. But no stylist who intends to keep working in the biz is going to intentionally change a recipe simply to make the photo look better.

                    2. I'm not sure the sliced (not slivered or chopped, right?) almonds IN the cake would be a texture that I'd enjoy. I'd just leave them out.

                      I agree that the sloppy editing is probably a result of the mergers of the publishing houses. sigh. Why has it become too "expensive" just to do things right these days?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: toodie jane

                        That's certainly true. We've discovered a great increase in typos in books we're reading these days. My husband thinks (and I agree) that it's use of Spellcheck or whatever other program is around that doesn't catch grammar or wrong word use (there/their/they're). Print media has also had to let lots of proofreaders go due to cost-cutting as electronic media takes over.

                        I've finished making all my cakes and will report on their success or lack thereof after the birthday party tonight.