"Dessert Circus at Home," by Jacques Torres

Pros: Stunning food; really amusing clowns
Cons: Can’t think of any!
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 8/9/2000

Have you ever seen the PBS cooking show entitled “Dessert Circus?” It stars Jacques Torres, the author of this cookbook, and it’s absolutely hysterical. No one could accuse Torres of being a grownup. He’s been known to toss random ingredients and cooked delicacies into the audience. He’s fun to watch and fun to listen to, and he makes the most gorgeous pastries you’ve ever seen.

Now you can make these fantastic recipes at home. This book is Jacques Torres’ tribute to American desserts (he’s French, as you might guess by his name), and oh, does he do a fabulous job with it! He studied food technology, and has a fascination for the whys and wherefores of cooking. Because of that you’ll find lots of information in here on why things should be done one way or another.

You’ll find information on equipment (including pictures!), ingredients, and cooking terms. The first chapter covers basic recipes – Pastry Cream, Creme Anglaise, Almond Cream, and various sauces, jams, and glazes.

This is followed by a tart chapter, “Practically Good for You” desserts, cakes, Kids’ recipes, sweet breads, Jacques Torres signature desserts, pastries to go with breakfast and tea, some “homey” recipes, little tiny things, and holiday recipes.

Recipes!

Each recipe comes with tips and hints from Jacques’ experience. Some come with fun stories. The pictures that come with each recipe are spectacular and WILL make you hungry. The strawberry tart…oh, it’s so hard to come up with words that do it justice. Sweet, delectable, magnifique

The “Practically Good for You” chapter won’t make you feel cheated. Try the Exotic Mint Soup or “Strawberries on a Cloud.” You’ll even find Jacques’ own Fruit Leathers.

Cakes run the gamut from the exquisite Chocolate Decadence to the deliciously tart Lemon Upside-Down Cake. Jacques’ child-like nature pops its head up for the Sunflower Ice Cream Cake, which looks like a sunflower with ice cream inch-worms crawling over it. The Mochaccino Cake, however, is my favorite: rich, sinful, and incredibly delicious.

The “Kid’s Play” chapter includes cookies, brownies, graham crackers, and yes – homemade marshmallows!

Let the breads chapter entice you into making the Sweet Pizza – raspberry jam, mascarpone cheese, lemon zest, mango, strawberries, and on and on with delicious abandon. From the signature desserts – which truly bring out Jacques’ playful nature – make “The Porcupine,” which really does look like a cute porcupine. His Chocolate Moose will make you laugh.

You won’t make it past his Strawberry Shortcake without having to get up and get something sweet to eat – it has a layer of ganache on it made with some amazing flavors that have to be tasted to believed. The Banana Trifle is out of this world – sweet and yummy. His truffles are elegant and to-die-for.

Jacques brings you professional-level pastries of great beauty and flavor, but this book was designed for the home cook, not a pastry chef. While a beginning cook probably won’t want to dive right in to the puff pastry, there’s plenty in here that even the very occasional baker will feel comfortable making.

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