If you recall my cookbook wishlist from a few weeks ago, you’ll know that my bookcase is being threatened with imminent collapse in the next couple of months. How fortunate then that I recently received an advance copy of Sherry Yard’s upcoming Desserts by the Yard: since it was softcover and weighed less, I was still able to squeeze it into my pile of books. Better yet, it’s more comfortable to read in bed!
I’m only half joking when I say cookbooks are my bedtime reading of choice, but Sherry Yard’s new tome really is one you can sit down and read from cover to cover. It’s half memoir, half cookbook, and entirely entertaining and fascinating. Yard recounts her life as one long love affair with desserts, from her childhood in Brooklyn to her storied partnership with Wolfgang Puck at his dazzling collection of restaurants. The book is divided into sections by her various experiences around the world instead of the usual chapters on cakes, cookies, and tarts; while this may seem confusing at first, it ultimately works with Yard’s narratives to paint a complete picture of how her tastes developed and how she draws inspiration from all parts of her life.
From the early chapters recounting her days growing up in Brooklyn, we get recipes based on her mother’s homemade chocolate mousse, her favorite birthday cake from the local bakery, and her grandmother’s strawberry sodas. Moving on to her beginnings as a pastry chef in the exciting culinary scene of New York City in the 1980s, Yard shares the chocolate souffle she made at the Rainbow Room and the caramelized banana tart that was a favorite at the Tribeca Grill. We follow Yard as she travels west, first to San Francisco and Napa, and then down to Los Angeles, developing, as she says, from a pastry chef to a dessert chef. The recipes grow more sophisticated and complex, and reflect her new found love of seasonal produce and farmers’ markets: mango upside-down cake with blueberries, chocolate "purses", ginger creme brulee tart with figs and mulberries.
Yard ends with some of the showstopper desserts she’s created for the Governors Ball that Wolfgang Puck caters after every Academy Awards: chocolate boxes, twelve-layer Dobos torte, miniature Oscars made out of chocolate. By now one is completely blown away by all the Yard has experienced and done so far in her amazing career: she has worked in some of the best-known restaurants around the world, served dessert to thousands of celebrities, and yet remains sweetly down-to-earth and wonderfully enthusiastic about sharing her love of pastry with the world.
Yard’s charming, intimitable style makes this book a real standout among baking books. Not only are the recipes creative and clearly written (those who have her first book, The Secrets of Baking, will not be disappointed), but they are grounded by her storytelling, giving them a history and personality that makes them that much more appealing. It’s the difference between the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on a bag of flour and finding Grandmother’s own version of apple pie in her recipe box. All of Yard’s recipes have the most fascinating headnotes recounting how she was inspired to create this dessert, whether it was a childhood memory or newly discovered fruit at the market or a trip to Vienna. It makes, as I said, for absorbing reading outside of the kitchen, and a great motivator afterwards to get in the kitchen and start baking!
As this is an advance, unfinished copy, I don’t want to give away any of the recipes yet, since they might be revised in the final version. But I did try her nectarine cobbler, since I picked up some really pretty nectarines at the market, and the result is stellar. Nectarines are baked in a bath of champagne, honey, lemon juice and spices, topped with a cross between a biscuit and puff pastry. Such a simple, cozy hug of a dessert on a crisp, autumn-scented evening: sweet warm fruit under a crumbly buttery crust. I’m definitely putting many of the other recipes from the book on my to-make list.
Desserts by the Yard should show up in bookstores very soon – I’m looking forward to seeing the published version, even if it means further rearrangement of my bookcase! P.S. Check out Veronica’s early review too – the two of us are like little kids jumping up and down waiting for Santa to arrive with new books!