Mmm, where to start when reviewing Christine Manfield’s latest literary extravaganza ‘Dessert Divas’? Judging a book by its cover, you would have to say it’s both incredibly beautiful and strikingly different.
The back cover does reveal all: Christine Manfield is proud to present forty-five showstopping desserts. Be Seduced, Amused and Entertained by these bold, delicious beauties. This is a coffee-table book but it is also a book for the disciplined home cook who revels in compliments from satisfied friends at their frequent dinner parties.
The foreword is ‘An Introduction to Seduction’ and explains Christine’s ethos for desserts and their importance on menus. Her take on desserts is similar to this reviewer’s – dessert should never be an afterthought when entertaining or at a restaurant. I want the dessert menu at the same time as the rest of the menu – not later. Dessert needs to be considered as part of the whole.
She writes, “Desserts are a folly, a finale that should leave you wanting more. … an essential bookend to a posh dinner, another sensual journey into the dizzying world of flavour… Dessert appeals to all the senses. It should be utterly seductive, ethereal and delicious, with aesthetics that capture your imagination. An indulgent necessity … it should leave an indelible impression …(and) should have the ability to transport you; to entice you out of the everyday”.
Dessert Divas is divided into seasons – to reflect both the fruits and the ‘mood’ of the season. Of course, there are separate sections devoted to Cheese and Chocolate desserts and a substantial Techniques and Equipment section.
These desserts are more than just whimsical confections – they are Chef Manfield’s ‘showgirls’. Each and everyone a diva – some are ingénues, some are leading ladies and some are full blown prima donnas.
The photography by Anson Smart can only be described as breathtaking. These sumptuous desserts are larger than life, just like a good diva. You can almost catch a whiff of the aroma of tempering chocolate or gently fragrant passionfruit and white peaches.
These are death-defying architectural masterpieces that require an exacting level of detail – but it is the tiniest of details which can make all the difference. These desserts are not unnatural lab experiments of cross-breeding. Many components are so good they can be prepared to fly solo or with a little fruit or cream accompaniment.
Gaytime Goes Nuts is an adult’s only riff on one of Australia’s most loved ice creams. The recipe is 3 information dense pages of incredible detail, evocative images and hints. She is a not too subtle tower of caramel ice cream, hazelnut chocolate mouse, salted hazelnut caramel and honeycomb nougat dust. She also brought the finalists of Masterchef 2012 to breaking point.
The cover girl, Carmen Meringay is an assemblage of aerated chocolate cream and meringue topped with the darkest of blackberries and cherries. She is a bombshell of contrasting textures and tastes. Chef Manfield breaks down the processes to allow home cooks the opportunity to create culinary magic.
Many of the Divas keep up the risqué vibe: Birthday Suit, Bite the Pillow, Menage a Trois, Pearl Necklace and Original Sin to name a few. These recipes are not comfort food, they are the stuff of dinner party legend. The recipes might seem intimidating but organization and attention to detail means that you too can create a creamy white Like a Virgin or cheese extravaganza like Bite Me for 8 clamouring guests.
This is not Sunday afternoon baking for the office. It’s sexy, it’s fun and requires a level of confidence and a serious sweet tooth. As a semi-professional dessert maker in a former life I can testify that this book will delight, inspire and satisfy your magnificent obsession with the sweeter things in life.
This is a book for the fearless (much like Ms Manfield herself). It is to be savoured and drooled over. Too pretty to be chocolate smeared or pomegranate stained. But follow Chef’s instructions, “start with one component at a time, build on your expanding repertoire and discover your inner talent … So, be inspired and let the seduction begin..” and you will be rewarded, again and again. Dessert Divas by Christne Manfield with Illustrations by Anson Smart. Lantern RRP $79.99