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SWEET AS ... (article first published : 2005-03-1)

Sweet as ... is all its cover proclaims. This simply gorgeous-looking cookery book, filled with "easy to make desserts and baked treats", really does deliver.

Some hundred or so recipes are gloriously photographed in a sublime and yet accessible compilation of sweet treats. Whilst I haven't tried many of these tempting delights, my husband and I have thumbed the book fairly thoroughly. He's the dedicated cook in our household and although we both weigh in on different sides of the chef's competency scale, we (surprisingly!) agree that this would be a jolly fine addition to the cuisine section of the home library.

Many of the dessert dishes are drawn from the author's Italian childhood and family traditions. Alessandra Zecchini, who now lives in Auckland where she teaches Italian and Japanese cooking, "grew up in a small village where good culinary skills were highly regarded" according to the flyleaf. She left for London at the age of 19, then moved to Japan to become a food writer. No doubt these experiences have influenced her culinary style: the form and flavour of Italian cuisine is blended with an almost oriental minimalism.

The contents page includes gateaux, tarts and biscuits, ice creams and sorbets with an international flavour. The section on "fruit fancies" suggests some quick and delectable ways to serve fruit which invite experimentation.

Each recipe is introduced with a brief description about its origin, or an author's anecdote. Fascinating details about well-known, well-travelled delicacies abound which make this a bit of a travelogue - like biscotti which hail from Prato, a city near Florence that is famous for its textiles beside the small almond flavoured biscuits. (This one is a really good an' easy!)

There's a helpful 'difficulty' rating - which is mostly easy - the introduction of the section on Spoon Desserts reassures -"they are easier to make than they seem and they will always create a great impression" ...great comfort for apprehensive cooks.

Recipes often have a postscript with one or two "tips and variations” and while there is a wide range of fare to try out from the simple to the sophisticated, ingredients are readily obtainable or alternatives are suggested.

The 'tools' section at the back comprises a short but comprehensive glossary of terms used in the book. The glossary doesn't cover run-of-the-mill cookery terms - so this would not really be a 'my first cookery book'. It's more for a mildly experienced baker who's feeling adventurous or a wildly restless and confined cook who wants to strike out but needs a hand(le) to hold.

The conversion tables section includes a handy list of imperial and metric baking tin sizes and an index with useful dairy-free or wheat-free classification symbols.

My only (very) small issue is that a (very) small number of recipes do not have an individual photograph. I'd like to have an idea of what my creation is supposed to resemble before I begin, so I know where I'm headed. Nevertheless, the book's pictures are sublime and inspire one to pursue ones own creative path. With a book as "sweet as" this at my side, I'm going to take plunge into the realm of sublime desserts ...

Alessandra Zecchini is the author of Sweet as ... and photography is by Shaun Cato-Symonds. Published by Struik, the book retails at R129,95 and is available from all leading bookstores. ISBN 1 86966 066 8 – Christine Sole




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