Before he arrived at the White House, Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses was home-based in New York City, where he ran the sweet shops of some of the city's finest restaurants. Yosses' hometown literary mag, The New Yorker, has just posted a long piece on his new cookbook, The Perfect Finish, and it stands among the odder cookbook reviews ever published.
There's more ink devoted to the details of the reviewer's efforts to source almond paste--which she's never heard of--in the wilds of America's most sophisticated city than to the recipes in the book (three whole paragraphs are spent describing the hunt). And the photo of the reviewer's attempt at Yosses' Birthday Shortcake with Fresh Strawberries and Cream (top of post), which graces the cover of his book, and calls for that hard-won almond paste, may well earn a footnote on Cakewrecks, the website devoted to bad cakes.
"If it was good enough to make the cover, it was good enough for me," reviewer Meredith Blake notes of the Birthday Shortcake, while admitting her position as a novice baker. Readers are relieved to discover, by the end of the "review," that Yosses' cake, which was destined for a potluck bridal shower in a beer garden (naw, not making that up), was dee-licious despite its awkward architecture. It received kudos from gobbling bridesmaids.
"This gorgeous cookbook might just be enough to awaken the latent pastry chef within me," Blake threatens, in a thumbs-up for the book. More Crustmaster cakes for Cakewrecks?
The piece can't even rightly be called a "review," and is an insult to readers as well as to Yosses. In addition to the details of the ingredient hunt being, simply put, annoying, almond paste is widely available, and to dub it difficult to source is absurd.
The recipe for Birthday Shortcake with Fresh Strawberries and Cream is actually among the easiest in Yosses' tome, which was co-written with New York Times food writer Melissa Clark. The book is challenging enough for experienced bakers, but designed to help even inexperienced bakers achieve a high level of success. The Birthday Shortcake is a quick project for a yummy outcome. The only moderately tricky step comes when the baked cake needs to be sliced in half for assembly. A steady hand is required, and do make sure the cake is well cooled before slicing. In the photo, above, Yosses is at the Chefs Moves To Schools harvest and picnic with Cat Cora. He often uses fruit in his dessert recipes, and created another strawberry-centric recipe for the event, Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp; read it here.
Birthday Shortcake with Fresh Strawberries and CreamIngredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/3 cup almond paste
4 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 pint heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Topping and Filling
2 pints fresh strawberries, green hulls cut off
Superfine sugar to taste
For the Shortcake:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Use butter to grease an 8-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with a parchment circle cut to size, and spray lightly with nonstick food spray.
3. Sift the flour onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the confectioner’s sugar and almond paste together on low speed until the mixture becomes smooth.
5. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add the yolks in the same manner, and beat for 10 to 15 minutes until thoroughly combined, well aerated, and smooth. Sprinkle the flour over the batter and fold it in gently by hand. Fold in the melted butter.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake on the center rack until the top is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and cool on a cake rack for 15 minutes before unmolding. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and allow the cake to cool completely.
For the Whipped Cream:
1. When the cake is cool, remove it from the mold and slice it in half horizontally. Place the cake layer cut side up on the cake plate or serving platter.
2. Whip the heavy cream with the granulated sugar and vanilla extract to stiff peaks. to assemble and serve.
3. Spoon half the whipped cream onto the bottom layer of the cake. Place half the hulled strawberries, tightly spaced, over the cream.
4. Place the other cake half, cut side up again, on top of the strawberries, making sure the sides are well aligned, and press down very gently.
5. Spoon the remaining whipped cream onto this layer and top with the rest of the strawberries and a dusting of superfine sugar. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours; serve directly from the refrigerator.
Makes 8 servings.
The Smithsonian Residents Associates Program is presenting an evening with Yosses next Tuesday evening, June 22, titled Pastry Chef Bill Yosses Knows The Sweet Life. He'll reportedly be discussing life as The Crustmaster in the White House, and in private practice. Tickets are still available; more info here.
Related: More Yosses recipes: White House Apple Pie is here. White House Honey Cupcakes is here. Orange Yogurt Cake With Baked Apples is here.
Recipe reprinted from The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts For Every Occasion, by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark, copyright © 2010. Published by W.W. Norton and Company.
*Photos: Cakewreck via The New Yorker; book jacket via W.W.Norton; Yosses & Cora by Obama Foodorama.