Bake It, Don’t Fake It! is a great and wonderfully descriptive title for this straightforward seminar on baking from scratch. Heather Bertinetti, a super-talented pastry pro who has worked in some of the best restaurants in New York City, has made it her mission to dispel the fear of baking that lurks in so many home kitchens and keeps otherwise competent cooks from making pies, pastries, party cakes and beyond. She starts with the basics: measuring (really important), ingredients and necessary equipment. Then you’ll move on to Baking 101, a collection of basic recipes for cakes, cookies, pies and pastries—Basic Yellow Cake, Basic Chocolate Cake, Shortcut Puff Pastry, Pâte à Choux, muffins, frostings, fillings, etc. When you graduate to the “Next Level,” you’ll find PB&J Whoopie Pies, Palmiers and Brown Butter Pizzelle—and then, the “wow!” provokers like St. Honoré Cake, Black and White Crêpe Cake or Red Velvet Macarons. Bertinetti’s insider chef tips—both practical and tactical—on how to make the bake easier to handle, vary the ingredients or posh-up the presentation are boons for beginners and veterans alike.

DOABLE DAILY DINING
Krieger’s latest foray into fighting the dinner-time blahs, Weeknight Wonders, will leave you without any excuses to eat out, order in or complain about not having enough time to put a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table. Krieger focuses on using fresh, minimally processed, additive-free, low-fat (when possible) ingredients and using smart shortcuts (e.g. prewashed greens). She promises that each of the 150 recipes included can be ready in 30 minutes or less—and to that desirable end has organized her cooking instructions to maximize the natural rhythm of a home cook. 

A bevy of satisfying salads—from small and simple to substantial, like a hearty, guy-pleasing Steak au Poivre Salad—start things off, followed by a super selection of dinner winners from Pork Chops with Pears in Port Wine, warming, spicy Rush-Hour Chili and Hawaiian Mahi Lettuce Wraps to Thai Vegetable Curry for the meatless contingent. Finish off with the likes of Amaretti-Peach Parfait, and you’ll get applause and appreciation seven days a week.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
There’s seems to be a mystical relationship between chocolate and romance. Maybe it’s the intensity, the sweetness and the sensuality. Maybe it’s the power of chocolate to make us happy and happily addicted. Maybe it’s the lingering connection to those wonderful foil-covered chocolate hearts we enjoyed as kids. Whatever it is, chocolate and Valentine’s Day are a perfect pair, and Alice Medrich’s Seriously Bitter Sweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate is the perfect love letter to this dark, dense, divinely delicious delicacy.

The world of chocolate has had a renaissance since Seriously Bitter Sweet was originally published more than 10 years ago, and Medrich has meticulously retested and retinkered all of the book’s 150 recipes to get just the right flavor and texture. She’s also added “Chocolate Notes,” essential sidebars that explain how using the many different cacao percentages now available will affect a particular recipe. So, go for it—make your Valentine a real Truffle au Chocolat, a Warm Bittersweet Mousse or some cold, creamy, seriously chocolate ice cream. It’ll be love at first bite.

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