DK Books has long been known for it’s beautifully illustrated children’s books and reference guides. One of the publishing areas I was less familiar with was the cookbook side of things. Just like their other famed guides, these cookbooks are filled with tons of full colour photographs (one for each recipe in fact). The inside of both the front and back cover list helpful cooking guidelines and measurement conversions.
The book itself is divided into two separate sections: everyday and food for friends. Everyday offers dishes designed to be pulled together quickly on weeknights, using a minimum of cooking steps; some dishes, in fact, require no cooking at all. There is also a section that addresses freezing ahead and what to keep in your cupboards to make weeknight meals easier. In Food For Friends, you will find everything from menu plans to freeze-ahead dessert. Each recipe is designed to give you more time with friends and family and enjoy the food you have taken a relatively small amount of time to prepare.
I love that this cookbook offers cook’s notes on so many recipes – ideas for even shorter short cuts or substitutions and the section on how to store and use leftovers is incredibly helpful. If any specialized equipment is necessary, it is noted at the beginning of the recipe, as well as symbols indicating length of prep time, cooking time, freezability and healthy/low fat options. Some of the terminology used in the book does take a bit of getting used to, but nothing is so strange that the average home cook can’t discern what is being discussed. Some of the ingredient listings could be divided a little more clearly. As an example, in the recipe that follows, the directions say you will need 1 1/4 cups of sugar. In the recipe, you are told to divide this in half. If a hurried cook is not paying attention (or good at math), the results could be off.
The true test, however, of any cookbook, is whether or not the recipes work. What that in mind, I set out to make the Crème Caramel recipe, found on page 500.
The ramekins I used to make this recipe hold just over a cup each (300 mL). Into each I poured about a tablespoon of caramel. My caramel was just slightly overcooked and took on a faint burned flavour. Sugar is a tricky thing – it may take a couple of times to get this just right. Better to undercook rather than burn.
Keeping an eye on the simmering milk is also very important. Again, the sugars involved will go from bubbling to boiling over in a heartbeat. If you do find your mixture as boiled over, do a quick taste to make sure it hasn’t taken on a burned flavour, then add more milk back in (equal to the amount lost) and turn the heat off.
The eggs and yolks will end up as a pale, frothy yellow mixture when they are ready. Keep the leftover egg whites in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze for use later. Switch to a hand whisk when slowly pouring in the milk and sugar mixture to avoid scrambled eggs
The easiest way to create a water bath for the crème caramels is to use a large cake or roasting pan. Place the filled ramekins in the pan, place the pan in a pre-heated oven on the middle rack that has been fully extended, carefully pour in the cool water around the ramekins, and slide the whole thing in the oven. They are fully cooked when they are solid to the touch in the centre.
The tiny flecks in the picture above are the vanilla bean. I use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla bean. My dessert chilled for about 2 hours before I served it. The over-cooked caramel had softened considerably and most of it came out of the ramekins.
This cookbook would make a great wedding present or gift for busy families needing to get meals on the table quickly. I would not necessarily recommend it for very beginning cooks, but one does not need to have graduated from Cordon Bleu to master these recipes. You can order it directly from DK books or wherever your favourite books are sold. It is also available for download through the iBookstore or AppStore.
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 3 large eggs
- 3 egg yolks
Place approximately half the sugar in a saucepan with 4 tablespoons of water. Simmer, swirling the pan (not stirring) until you have a rich golden caramel. Divide among 6 ramekins
Place milk in a second saucepan with vanilla bean or paste, along with remaining sugar. Simmer but do not allow to boil.
Place eggs and egg yolks in a bowl and beat until creamy.
Slowly pour the milk mixture in, continuously whisking, until creamy.
Remove vanilla bean pod if using.
Divide among 6 ramekins.
Place in water bath in preheated 350 F oven for 45 min to 1 hour.
Remove from water bath, allow to cool.
Chill until ready to serve.
To serve, slide a knife around the outside edge, then invert on a plate to allow the caramel to pour over the set custard.