Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Cooking

Cookbook review: Sweeter off the Vine by Yossy Arefi serves up fruit-forward fare

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Yossy Arefi is known for the stunning and rustic pies she shares in moody photos on her food blog, Apt. 2B BakingCo., and on Instagram. She is a pie queen, the farmers market her kingdom.

In her cookbook, Sweeter off the Vine, it's apparent her unending love of seasonal fruit stems from her parents. Arefi's Iranian father, who cooked and taught her how to balance flavors in both sweet and savory contexts, built garden beds in the yard of their Pacific Northwest home. Her mother filled the garden beds with fruit and showed Arefi how to pick the bounty of berries and tuck them into dough.

Arefi took this initial love of baking to restaurants, where she sharpened her skills. In the years since, she has become a master at pairing fruit with flavors or techniques that enhance the taste. In Sweeter off the Vine, sweet summer strawberries are given depth in an ice pop with the addition of bitter Campari. cherry sorbet is spiked with rye whiskey, reminiscent of a Manhattan. Cream puffs made partly with rye flour hug sage-scented blackberries and whipped mascarpone. In her recipe for Pear Pie With Crème Fraîche Caramel, Arefi confides that pears may edge out apples, the more obvious and popular choice, for a better pie.

The book is organized by season, which makes it easy to refer to throughout the year, and you should. This summer, start with the Apricot and Berry Galette With Saffron Sugar, or bring Nectarine and Blackberry Pie Bars to a party. When fall rolls around, turn to the unexpected Butternut Squash Tea Cake or Persimmon Sorbet With Ginger and Vanilla. Seasoned bakers will appreciate that ingredients are listed both in terms of cups and grams.

Over the past couple years, I've realized I'm a pie girl who grew up in a cake world. This niche book on seasonal fruit desserts is one I'll turn to again and again for crisps, pies, pandowdies, turnovers, cobblers and galettes.

On a recent trip to the Midwest, I got my hands on some sour cherries. They ended up yielding the best pie I've ever made. When I savored the last bite, I lamented that I wouldn't easily find sour cherries again near our home in Florida. So I appreciate Arefi's recipe for Sweet Cherry and Rhubarb Slab Pie, in which she suggests using rhubarb to mimic that perfect pie fruit. Rhubarb's season spans a bit longer than that of sour cherries, and using them here is a smart way to get closer to those elusive sour cherries.

Many of the recipes are labors of love, though Arefi offers shortcuts. Take an apple tart. Three of the ingredients listed point to subrecipes in the book: a spelt puff pastry, crème fraîche and vanilla sugar. Arefi likes to up the ante where she can, and ambitious bakers will play ball here. Occasional bakers who might groan at the thought of flipping to another page for another recipe will appreciate her giving you an out to buy puff pastry and crème fraîche and use regular granulated sugar.

The food is photographed in Arefi's signature style, which is evocative and never too fussy with the food styling: Slumped, roasted fruit peeks out from under flaky, browned dough; swirls of dark blueberries ripple through pearly ice cream. The colors are deep and saturated, even more so on the matte pages of the book. Though the cookbook is a stunner, don't let this one just sit pretty. This is one cookbook that's sweeter off the shelf and in the kitchen.

Contact Ileana Morales Valentine at [email protected]

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