Transform ordinary desserts into exotic temptations with this cookbook

cookbookRead this cookbook: “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice: Exotic Flavors to Wake Up Your Baking” by Malika Ameen (Roost Books, $30)

 By Wendell Brock

Chicago pastry chef Malika Ameen grew up in a Pakistani-American home where the scent of spice was everywhere. Her mother even tucked cardamom pods into her beaded, silk-lined purse when she was going out for the night.

After a career in sweets that spanned the East and West coasts, from Balthazar in New York to Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, Ameen decided to write a cookbook. When she started sifting hrough her recipes, she realized that spices had insinuated themselves into nearly everything she made, from classic French pastries (masala palmiers) to homespun hand pies (with blueberry and sumac).

As she writes in the introduction: “There is an unending magic in spices, a power to change the way we experience flavors, to turn a familiar dessert into something entirely new.”

Flipping through the 78 recipes of Ameen’s debut cookbook, you can almost smell the spice wafting from the pages. “Sweet Sugar, Sultry Spice” has recipes for cooks at every level, too.

On the easy side, consider pairing her Mulled Cider with her Spiced Sweet Potato and Date Bread, both perfect for fall.

On the more ambitious side, there’s Earl Grey Pavlova with Silky Chocolate Cream; Roasted Peach and Custard Borak; and Crispy Mandarin Baklava.

Personally, I die to try Ameen’s Smoky Peanut Brittle (with pimento, Vietnamese cinnamon and cayenne) and her pretty Saffron Pistachio Tea Cake. As a lover of lavender sugar cookies, her Lavender Brown Sugar Crunchies sure do tempt.

If you are contemplating holiday baking already, why not spice things up?

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