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Stella Parks' award-winning cookbook 'BraveTart' is as classic as its desserts

Stella Parks' award-winning cookbook 'BraveTart' is as classic as its desserts
Stella Parks, author of the cookbook "BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts." (W.W. Norton & Company, left; Sarah Jane Sanders)

As we gear up for summer, with its backyard holidays and barbecues, kid-friendly vacations and baseball games, it’s helpful to have a cookbook on hand that showcases classic American desserts — a book that gathers recipes for all those homey pies and frosted cakes and cookies like one big, sugar-dusted recipe box. Stella Parks’ “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts,” published last year by Norton, is both a terrific showcase of those quintessential desserts and a case for the American dessert itself.

“BraveTart,” which won this year’s James Beard Award for a cookbook in the Baking and Desserts category, is the debut book from the Lexington, Ky.-based pastry chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a columnist for Serious Eats (J. Kenji López-Alt wrote the foreword; the photography is by Penny De Los Santos). It’s a big, beautiful book with more than 100 recipes for the kinds of desserts that have become emblematic of this country, not only in home kitchens but on grocery aisles. So there are recipes for chocolate cake and ice cream, s’mores and lemon meringue pie, but also homemade versions of brand-name products such as Oreos, Snickers Bars, Wonder Bread and Twinkies, even Girl Scout Cookies and McDonald’s apple turnovers.

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The buttercream, so to speak, that binds all this together is history. Parks layers the recipes in her 350-page book with vintage ads and short sections that give context to the desserts, brief histories of the Oreo cookie and the chiffon pie, of animal crackers and white layer cakes. Parks’ writing is as engaging as her recipes; what might seem like stunt recipes in less capable hands are here studies in reverse engineering that are fascinating in and of themselves. So we learn how to make apple powder from dried apples for the McDonald’s-style apple turnover recipe, and homemade condensed milk for soft-serve ice cream. We learn that adding coconut oil to melted chocolate can create a version of the Magic Shell for ice cream, and Assam tea helps create a blissful home version of Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

With recipes that work and writing that makes the book a baker’s version of a summertime beach read, “BraveTart” is as classic as its desserts. And it has footnotes!

Cookbook of the week: "BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts" by Stella Parks (W.W. Norton & Co., $35)

DEVIL’S FOOD CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

(Penny De Los Santos)

45 minutes, plus at least 4 hours refrigeration time. Makes 1 quart.

ICE CREAM BASE

5 egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal

1 cup milk

To make the ice cream base, in a 3-quart non-reactive saucepan, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt and milk over low heat and stir gently until warm, about 5 minutes. Increase to medium-low and stir until custard is slightly thickened and steaming hot, about 5 minutes more. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, scraping the pot as best you can (leave the sieve in place).

CHOCOLATE PASTE AND ASSEMBLY

3/4 cup sugar

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1 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, such as Cacao Barry Extra Brute

1/2 cup roughly chopped 72% dark chocolate

11/2 cups heavy cream

Prepared ice cream base

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons crème de cacao

1. To make the chocolate paste, whisk the sugar and cocoa together in the same pot, then add the chopped chocolate and cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly until the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture is bubbling hot. Strain into the ice cream base, then stir in the vanilla extract and crème de cacao. Cool to room temperature (using an ice bath, if you prefer) and refrigerate until cold and thick, at least 4 hours, or up to 1 week.

2. Churn according to the manufacturer’s directions until the ice cream is creamy and thick. If your machine has an open top, cover with an inverted cake pan to keep it cold as it churns. Meanwhile, place a flexible spatula and quart container (an empty yogurt tub works great) in the freezer.

3. Enjoy freshly churned ice cream as “soft serve,” or scrape it into the chilled container. Press a sheet of plastic against the ice cream to minimize risk of freezer burn, and seal the container. Freeze until firm enough to scoop, about 12 hours, or up to 3 weeks.

Each of 8 (1/2-cup) servings: Calories 430; Protein 7 grams; Carbohydrates 43 grams; Fiber 5 grams; Fat 28 grams; Saturated fat 16 grams; Cholesterol 170 mg; Sugar 33 grams; Sodium 109 mg

Note: Adapted from a recipe in “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts” by Stella Parks. She writes, “If you don’t have crème de cacao, use neutral vodka or add a complementary note of flavor with bourbon, triple sec, crème de menthe, or another liqueur. Omitting the alcohol altogether will cause the ice cream to freeze more quickly, so it won’t churn up to its full potential. Aside from being more dense, it will also be harder to scoop.”

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