Mmm, where to start when reviewing Christine Manfield’s literary extravaganza ‘Dessert Divas’? Judging a book by its cover, you would have to say it’s both ravishing and strikingly different.
The back cover reveals all: Christine Manfield is proud to present forty-five showstopping desserts. Be Seduced, Amused and Entertained by these bold, delicious beauties. At first, this might seem like a knock-out coffee-table book. But this substantial cookbook is also for disciplined home cooks who revel in compliments from satisfied friends at their frequent and lavish dinner parties.
Celebrated chef, author and award-winning restaurateur, Christine is known for her perfectionism in pursuing culinary excellence. She has authored ten books firing the imaginations of readers who share her love of desserts and all things spice.
She steered three groundbreaking restaurants Paramount and Universal in Sydney and East@West in London.
As an inveterate traveller, she has also led gastronomic tours to India, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Bhutan and France. Christine is currently planning tours to Arkaba and the Northern Territory in 2022.
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 dining at a restaurant. I want the dessert menu at the same time as the rest of the menu – not later. Excuse the pun, in my book dessert needs to be considered as part of the whole.
Chef Manfield 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 every day”.
Dessert Divas is divided into seasons – to reflect both the fruits and the ‘mood’ of the season. There are also separate sections devoted to irresistible 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 DELICIOUS PICTURES
Lifestyle photographer Anson Smart’s evocative images are breathtaking. These sumptuous desserts are larger than life, just as all self-respecting divas should be. You can almost catch a whiff of tempering chocolate or subtly perfumed passionfruit and white peaches.
METHOD IN THE MADNESS
These are architectural masterpieces that require an exacting level of detail – but it is the tiniest of details that 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 as supporting acts.
Gaytime Goes Nuts is an adult’s only riff on one of Australia’s most loved and re-invented ice creams. The recipe is 3 information-dense pages of painstaking detail, stunning images and hints. She is a not too subtle tower of caramel ice cream, hazelnut chocolate mousse, salted hazelnut caramel and honeycomb nougat dust. She gained notoriety when she brought 2012’s Masterchef contestants 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 in steps to allow home cooks 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. Not mere comfort food, they are the stuff of dinner party legend. The recipes might seem intimidating but planning and attention to detail are key. Then, you too can create a creamy Like a Virgin or cheese extravaganza like Bite Me for 8 drooling guests.
Sunday afternoon baking for the office, this is not. It’s sexy, it’s fun and requires a level of confidence and a serious sweet tooth. As a part-time 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 Chef 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 Christine Manfield with Images by Anson Smart is available here.