"Classic Home Desserts," by Richard Sax

Pros: Easy recipes; easy-to-find ingredients; zillions of recipes for all occasions
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 8/29/2000

“Staples” are common items you can’t do without, but rarely notice: flour, sugar, and eggs, for example. You buy them all the time for cooking, but you’re unlikely to say, “wow, the flour is particularly good this week.”

This cookbook is a staple. It has every common dessert recipe under the sun, particularly those that don’t require unusual equipment, difficult techniques, or hard-to-find ingredients. I can’t imagine going without it. And yet somehow it stealths in just under the cookbook radar – if you asked me to list the star cookbooks in my collection, I probably wouldn’t think to list this one.

Which is really too bad. Because when I stop to look at this cookbook, I can’t help but think about how wonderful it is. Just like when I stop to really think about the contents of my pantry, I can’t imagine trading in the King Arthur Unbleached Flour.

Style and character

This book has a whole lot of style and character. You’ll find historical details on many of the recipes, quotes from interesting people, and a lot of useful tips and hints. Perhaps the most useful and unusual thing is the “Equivalent Pan Sizes” chart. I’ve always wanted a quick-reference listing of the size and volume of all sorts of pans, so I could easily substitute one or another for something we don’t have.

Richard Sax goes into a fair amount of detail about what, for example, a cobbler really is, and how it differs from crisps, brown Bettys, crumbles, pandowdies, and shortcakes.

This book is heavy on the fruit; you’ll find a recipe for whatever is in season. There are cobblers, crisps, compotes, baked fruit, fools, jellies, fruitcakes, pies, tarts, and so on. If it’s the dead of winter and you just can’t find good fruit, you’ll still find plenty to work with. There are puddings, custards, souffles, dumplings, cookies, cakes, coffee cakes, cheesecakes, custard pies, pastries, and so on.

Quality recipes

These recipes are good. I really mean good. Here I see the huge star we put next to the Mixed Fruit Cobbler. Turn the page and you’ll see a gorgeous picture of Panna Cotta and Poached Pears in Merlot Syrup. Yet another large ball-point pen star graces the New Hampshire “Plate Cake.”

Not every recipe is perfect. The Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp with Cinnamon-Walnut Topping could have used more sugar and strawberries; it was a bit overly tart. The Apple Mush, on the other hand, was too sweet. But they’re still yummy, and these are problems that are incredibly easy to fix.

The Black and Blueberry Grunt is also quite good, if oddly named, as is the Traditional Two-Berry Buckle. I can’t wait to try Jefferson’s Tea Cream, Sherry Velvet Cream, and the Spanish Cream.

You’ll find new and old recipes here. Recipes by people you’ve never heard of and big-name chefs (on p. 163 you’ll find Jasper White’s Maple Sugar Creme Caramel). My favorite cookies can be found within the pages of this book, and I’m not normally that much of a cookie fan: food writer M.F.K. Fisher’s Ginger Hottendots. Trust me – no one can eat just five, and they travel well in the mail.


You won’t find pictures of everything, but the pictures you’ll find are gorgeous.

With this much variation of recipe you won’t like everything you find. But this book is well worth what you pay for it for the sheer volume of recipes, the quality of recipe, and the ease of production for these recipes. I predict you’ll find, like us, that this book becomes a staple in your kitchen.

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