I should know better by now not to underestimate
Chef Johnny Iuzzini.
Johnny and I met a few years ago at a baking competition I had entered on a last-minute whim for a good cause, which he was judging and where I won two of four awards for a gluten-free, savory hand pie. After that night he’d share things he was working on at Jean-Georges Restaurant (which blew my mind time and time again), occasionally he’d ask me for advice about a gluten-free something or other, and I’d pick his brain for experts to use in various articles. In my years of seeing him cooking at or hosting events, on television competing or teaching or judging, or generally guiding professionals and home cooks alike as to how to work better with food, I’ve continually re-met a consummate professional sharing his many gifts.
And yet, this book is somehow even better than I’d expected.
I’m not a critic and yet I don’t lavish false praise, so please trust me that, despite the above relationship, I’m not just blowing smoke here.
The book is extremely smartly put together. The slogan, “Master tips, techniques and recipes for sweet baking”, is spot on. These are master tips for home bakers. Yes, some recipes are for those of us completely comfortable with multitasking things to specific stages of time, texture or temperature. But other recipes are extremely friendly and relatable. And the process of getting from one to another–from making a simple pastry cream to a creme brûlée to a glazed eclair filled with creamy custard–happens in gentle stages and with such guidance that a novice can work his or her way through and become somewhat of a serious pastry player by the end.
Altogether, the book boasts 150 recipes and 250 photos. Custards and creamy desserts move into eggs and meringues, then caramels follow with cakes, cupcakes, brownies and muffins not far behind. Cookies, tea cakes and biscuits build into tarts, cobblers and crisps. Then the yeast doughnuts I’ve never successfully overcome in book adaptations prior (here’s hoping) are closed out by glazes, frostings, filling and sauces, and an entire chapter on how to put all of that sweetness together in a balanced, show-stopping dessert.
I had known of Johnny working away at this book for a long while, but I still didn’t expect the wealth of knowledge contained within. His proficiency; skill at combining flavors, textures and slightly exciting ingredients; and the precision with which he teaches how to execute all those things successfully is where Sugar Rush flies.
On top of that, the book is a subtle nod of support to friends he’s worked with over the years. In her introduction, the much-loved Dorie Greenspan praises both Johnny’s skills and the generous support he lends to friends who need it, which concluded in him helping her once with a cookies-by-the-thousands order. The recipe for Gluten-Free Chocolate Oatmeal Chunkers comes from Loren Brill, a friend of ours who owns the incredible ready-to-bake dessert line, Sweet Lorens. He gives shoutouts to Sean Brock via buttermilk biscuits, Renata Ameni-Belknap via a root cake, and various chefs who have mentored him over the years. And he included a gluten-free vanilla birthday cake adaptation of one of my recipes, complete with an intro of how he met a little weird baker at a pastry competition many years ago now.
Flipping through, there are many things I plan on making in the coming weeks: crunchy meringue cookies that remind me of being home in Portugal; creams and custards of all sorts, since I get really excited by what sugar, eggs and coconut milk can do to replace dairy in things I’ve missed since childhood; an Apricot Custard Tart that makes my heart skip a beat just by looking at it; every single tart and every single tart dough; macarons, just since it’s been a few years; and Kouign-Amann, because that will probably be the most complicated thing I’ve attempted to adapt to date.
But until those happen–and they will be happening, my watering mouth insists upon it–I’m starting simple. A page after the gluten-free birthday cake is a spicy malted chocolate chipotle brownie that made my roommate swoon. Sure, it’s not the most showy recipe in the book by far. But it’s definitely a professional take on a classic, and the ones that came out of my kitchen were the best fucking brownies I’ve ever made. Head on over to my other site to get my gluten-free adaptation of his Spicy Malted Chocolate Chipotle Brownies.
But first, watch the badass trailer for the book and then get thee to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and buy Sugar Rush. If you don’t bake, this book will show you how. If you do bake, it will show you how to do so farther and with a deeper understanding of technique and ingredients that will make you more of a superhero baker and a super-sweet human being.
Not blowing smoke. Just baking brownies.