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Cookbook Review

Brooklyn, N.Y., bakery owners write another appealing volume

Matt Lewis (left) and Renato Poliafito own Baked in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

BRIAN KENNEDY

Matt Lewis (left) and Renato Poliafito own Baked in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Since their quirky cookbook debut in 2008 with the charming, boozy “Baked,” I’ve kept half an eye out for the next opus by Brooklyn, N.Y., bakery owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. “Baked Elements: Our Ten Favorite Ingredients,” organized around 10 essential baking flavors, is not disappointing.

A few of the flavors — lemon, chocolate, cinnamon, caramel — are as essential to the baker as flour and butter. Others such as cheese and peanut butter are a little more offbeat. Lewis and Poliafito, who opened Baked in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in 2005, approach their recipes with enthusiasm and dedication. You may not consider banana bread adequately sinful on its own, but this duo remedies that with a whopping dose of crunchy peanut butter and chocolate. If you want to put your willpower through a crash course in strength training, leave this triple threat in plain view of your home office and try to work for a few hours without even looking at it once.

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Another not-necessarily-dessert comes in the form of lemon-pistachio cornmeal muffins. They’re maybe a little on the dry side, unless you grill them with a liberal schmear of butter (Lewis and Poliafito insist on it, in their over-the-top way). Pumpkin is one of the less obvious elements in “Baked Elements” and the authors use both pulp and seed. Toasted pumpkin-seed brittle is one of those things that’s hard to imagine, but once you have it, it’s hard to imagine not having had it before. Proportions are nicely calculated, so you can bite right into the brittle without shards flying.

A pumpkin almond cake turns out pleasant, but a little bland, confirming my view that pumpkin pulp is already so close to being a pure starch that it runs the risk of turning anything it’s in into something like plain bread.

If you’re not afraid of raw eggs, a milk-chocolate malt semifreddo (kind of like a frozen zabaglione) is an absolute must-try. With a bit of malted milk powder and cream, this is a dead-easy, elegant-looking treat. Equally ethereal is a lime angel food cake that’s neither too dry nor too sweet, cut with lime zest and moistened with a lime glaze — and a shot of tequila.

An orange-almond ricotta cheesecake comes with stern instructions to buy fresh ricotta. I had just ordinary supermarket ricotta, but I made it anyway, ending up with a massive wheel of a cake that we couldn’t finish in one night even with another family’s help. No matter. As good as it was the first night, it got better and better with every day.

For the most part, give or take 5 minutes in the oven, recipes work nicely as written. The one troublemaker in the lot turned out to be some caramel-coconut cluster bars. Despite careful thermometer work, the caramel hardens into a thick, glassy, tooth-defying layer (I tested my thermometer later in boiling water, and it seemed fine). Much hilarity ensued as we attempted to ply our way through the bars. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and after we popped them in the microwave for 15 seconds, the bars proved eminently, dangerously edible.

The testing of “Baked Elements” coincided, improvidently, with a weight-loss initiative in our family, so we shared almost every one of these recipes with friends. I later used a calorie counter to see what we had averted by not eating them all alone, and my calculations were jaw-dropping. I’m not going to share them with you, though. When it comes to treats this tempting, nobody has to be any the wiser.

T. Susan Chang can be reached at admin
@tsusanchang.com
.
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