Book Review - Sweeter Off the Vine

Sweeter Off the Vine by Yossy Arefi is a beautiful book from cover to cover and it makes it clear even prior to page one that fruit is what it is all about.  The cover image captures the essence of the book in one photo, delicious desserts that are not too fussy.  

The book is laid out in a seasonal format starting with Spring and includes from two to nine different recipes for each of the featured fruits.  The recipes are laid out cleanly with the ingredients in the left margin and the steps in the center.  The ingredients are provided in english and metric units.  The typeface is extremely easy to read and the book is printed on a non glossy paper with full page color photographs for each recipe.  The photographs, taken by the author, are beautiful accomplish a couple of things.  They make the fruit and the dish look delicious and they also make the dishes look simple enough to actually cook at home.

Although the recipes appear simple it is obvious that the author understands how to build complexity and layers of flavor by adding small touches of vanilla sugar, citrus zest, or by relying on the nuttyness of rye flour.  Yossy also calls on her Iranian heritage by including rose and orange flower water.  Many fruit desserts become one dimensional with either overwhelming tartness or cloying sweetness but this book seems to properly adjust the amount of added sugar depending on the fruit used in each recipe.

This book is useful to me because I’m blessed with delicious farmers market fruit year round and a small group of fruit trees in my yard which result in me always having too much fruit to eat.  Both of these blessings always seem to result in me struggling to find ways to use fruit in dishes rather than just eating them unadorned.  I have a large collection of dessert and baking books and there a few that feature fruit but Sweeter Off the Vine makes fruit the star of every dish.

The highlight of the book for me is the inclusion of fruits that are mostly ignored in other cookbooks and seldom seen in desserts.  These include rhubarb (separate from strawberries), melons, persimmons, pomegranates, pears, quince and concord grapes.  The book also includes recipes for more commonly covered fruits such as cherries, berries and citrus.  The recipes range from a simple strawberry tart to a ginger-quince upside-down cake.  A second highlight for me is that the pie crusts and tart dough include whole wheat, rye, spelt or buckwheat.  I’m an avid pizza maker and love to mix rye flour into my dough and I’ve never really thought of including it in my desserts.  Yossy believes the nuttyness of the rye pairs beautifully with berries.

The one problem with a cookbook featuring fruit is that sometimes the recipe you want to cook is impossible due to availability of ingredients.  I feel like the recipes in this book are versatile enough to substitute and most could be cooked in any season using different fruit.  After reading the book I marked many recipes I wanted to try including the rhubarb and rye upside down cake and the cherry and chocolate turnovers.  A trip to farmer's market revealed neither but I ended up with some early season strawberries (we can harvest year around in California).  

We decided on making the simplest strawberry tart which includes a rye crust, mascarpone cheese, fresh strawberries and a couple more common ingredients.  The rye crust was made the night before then thawed a baked the next.  Besides making the dough the most time consuming part of the process was slicing the strawberries.  In the end my wife and I were able to produce a stunning dessert, starring a beautiful fresh fruit that was easy to make.  The rye crust added a nice complexity to the tart and the mascarpone contributed a slight tang that paired perfectly with the sweet strawberries.  Overall the dessert was a success a looked very close to the photograph except that our strawberries were a bit lighter in color.

This book does not offer any groundbreaking techniques or recipes but the way that it features lesser used fruits in desserts is refreshing.  The single recipe we prepared was a success and has really given us the desire to complete some more.  This is a beautiful book that will inspire you to cook with fresh fruit year round.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


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