Sweet Dreams: Authors Reinvent Classic American Desserts
Nothin’ says lovin’ like something from the oven!” And there’s nothing better than a dessert made from the new cookbook, “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented,” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.
Lewis and Poliafito, creators and owners of the nationally-acclaimed Baked, “Brooklyn’s best and hippest bakery” (Food & Wine), and Baked in Charleston, S.C., came to The Country Bookshop in February 2009, with their award-winning cookbook “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking,” along with samples of Oprah’s favorite “Baked Brownies.”
“The Country Bookshop is one of the most memorable stops of our last tour,” Matt Lewis said earlier this year. “The bookshop is amazing, and the customers were outstanding. We really want to return — it was so much fun.”
Lewis and Poliafito will make good on their promise Friday, Oct. 22, at 5 p.m., when they will again be at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in Southern Pines. As a special treat, Warren Lewis, chef and owner of Chef Warren’s Bistro, also on Broad Street, will have samples of some of the 75 recipes in the new cookbook.
Last week, Warren and his wife and partner, Marianne Lewis, along with Hannah Campbell, sous chef, and Brittany Lane, pastry chef, pored over the cookbook’s beautiful photos of tarts and pies, cookies, cakes and pastries, trying to decide what to make first.
“Almond Joy Tart,” “Peaches and Dream Pie,” “Whiskey Pear Pie” and “Burnt Sugar Bundt Cake with Caramel Rum Frosting” were just a few of the dozens of recipes they flagged.
“But I think we’ll start with ‘Orange Creamsicle Tart’ and work our way through most of the book,” Warren Lewis says laughingly. He is planning to offer some of the desserts on the menu at his restaurant in the coming days and weeks.
“All the recipes in the book are interesting and approachable,” he says. “They’re not traditional, not like those from the ‘Joy of Cooking.’ They are much more refined, but they can easily be made by the home cook. It’s great that Matt offers a practical list of supplies — they’re not geared toward a restaurant at all. They’re items people already have in their kitchen.”
“The ‘Baked’ book is not meant to be a tome or an encyclopedia,” Matt Lewis says. “It is meant to be approachable and solid and fun and beautiful.”
Beth Carpenter, a bookshop staffer, has already treated her fellow employees and some very lucky customers to samples of the desserts in the book.
“I made the easy ‘Sunday Night Cake,’” she says, “a traditional yellow cake, but instead of milk they use sour cream, and the ganache frosting recipe called for butter to be whipped into it. Need I say more? From their first cookbook I made ‘Sweet and Salty Cake,’” (the authors’ signature creation and most requested recipe). That was divine. My husband, David, said it was the best cake he had ever tasted! I mean, caramel on top of the layers, and then caramel whipped into the frosting, with fleur de sel sprinkled on top! It was over the top! If you love to bake, especially if you love to bake chocolate desserts, this cookbook is for you.”
Carpenter is considering joining an online baking group whose members are baking their way through the first “Baked” cookbook.
“Each week, it’s someone in the group’s turn to select a recipe,” she says. “On Monday, they post to the blog and let everyone know which recipe they’ve selected.”
“Nato and I have always considered ourselves to be dessert people,” Matt Lewis says. “We are those types of people that eat dessert with every meal and have no guilt about serving brownies for breakfast (do you really think pancakes are any healthier?) .
“We are always honored when people share their recipes with us, and we are happy to share in return. Our new book focuses on classic American recipes that your grandmother once brought to a church gathering or a neighborhood picnic. They’re a vivid tribute to some beloved recipes, revamped with interesting ingredients and new flavor profiles.”
Boston cream pie, Mississippi mud pie and all things grasshopper, what the authors call the “Abandoned Desserts,” never quite endured like the mainstays of American baking.
“We work daily to recreate or restore truly great baking principles,” Lewis says. “Give us your vintage recipes and we’ll — ever so lovingly — turn them on their head.” Grasshopper pie, which has been “unjustly tossed to the gutter,” has been re-imagined as “Grasshopper Bars” with a thick brownie base, light crème de menthe buttercream, and a dark ganache top. “Stump de Noel” is a witty version of a buche de Noel, chocolate cake frosted with malted buttercream, then rolled up into a super thick cylinder and covered with chocolate frosting.
“I think Christmas desserts are like Christmas music,” Lewis says. “Tradition is great, but sometimes you just have to hear something new.”
Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito met while working at the same advertising agency in New York City. After sharing their “chocolate/sugar/butter dreams,” they left — Lewis to co-found Manhattan’s Chocolate Bar in Greenwich Village, and Poliafito to manage The Blue Goose Cafe. They came back together in 2004, when the self-proclaimed “dessert experts blessed with a highly (almost holy) developed sense of taste and smell,” decided to enter the “depressing dessert landscape in New York” and open Baked in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in 2005, concentrating on American desserts. They opened a second store, Baked in Charleston, in 2008, which they sold earlier this year in order to concentrate their efforts on the flagship store in Brooklyn.
After getting a degree in micro-electronics and computer engineering, Warren Lewis attended the Culinary Institute of America. In 1988, he met Marianne, who had a degree in Chinese law but was working as a cocktail waitress, and for the next year they traveled the world. After brief stints working in Washington, D.C., Boston and Florida, the couple moved to Southern Pines, where Warren worked at CCNC and the Jefferson Inn, before they opened Chef Warren’s Bistro in 1998. Warren Lewis has been a featured lecturer for the International Association of Food Service Educators and teaches culinary arts at Sandhills Community College. They live in Southern Pines with their son, Ben.
For information about the Meet the Authors event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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