Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition by Joseluis Flores fills a hole in my life that I didn’t even know existed. A compendium of beautiful and delicious desserts, from Goat’s Milk Caramel Flan to Peruvian Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Fritters, Dulce will open your eyes to the underappreciated world of Latin desserts and whet your appetite to explore this culinary culture.
Joseluis Flores has the necessary associations to legitimize his cookbook; according to the dust jacket, he is the most prominent Latino pastry chef in the United States; and his expertise is apparent in the detail and at times complexity (but brilliance) of his recipes. But what really makes Flores a charming cookbook author is the ample reference he makes to his childhood in Mexico, and the excellent background notes he includes on certain popular Latin flavors and desserts in the book, such as café, cajeta, and turrón. He reminds us that food not only is a delicious necessity in life, but also serves an important cultural and biographical role for individuals and societies. These elements of anthropology and biography enhance Dulce and make it an enjoyable book simply to read.
Yet, this is not your typical celebrity chef tome. Substance takes the front seat to style in this cookbook, and it is all the better for it. For those like me who can appreciate a cookbook for the photos alone, you will likely have mixed feelings about Dulce on first glance. This is not a glossy cookbook with photos on every page; however, it does contain beautiful photos after each section that provide the necessary impetus to encourage you to get out your whisk and start baking. Yet, because the book is not jam-packed with slick images, there is ample room to include a large number of recipes as well as brilliantly useful basic recipes for items from the unusual (Coffee Reduction), to the chichi (Guava Foam), to the essential (Whipped Cream, which I made to fantastic praise from those who ate it). Dulce even includes instructions for necessary but uncommon steps such as cracking a coconut, and many recipes include an Adorno Especial sauce or garnish to turn them into major showstoppers.
I feel as though I would be derelict in my review of this cookbook if I did not actually cook any of the items contained within its pages, so I opted to create, in addition to the aforementioned whipped cream, which doesn’t really count, the Catalonian Crème Brûlée and the Besos. I really wanted to bake some of the more extravagant and unusual desserts, such as the Goat Cheese and Guava Empanadas, Chocolate and Saffron “Thousand Leaves” Napoleon with Apple Compote, Papaya Soup, or Tamarind Ice Cream, because I think they are better examples of what sets this cookbook apart from the other thousands of dessert cookbooks, but time and monetary constraints prevented me. However, the day that I throw a dinner party for a Member of Parliament or the ghost of George Harrison, these are the recipes I am excitedly going to use. And when I do, the recipes are written with such detailed instruction that I will be confident of the results.
However, I did have mixed results with my first attempt at Latin-American dessert, the Besos, which are two sweet breads that are adhered together with a jam filling and coated with sugar and butter. My baking of the besos started out on the wrong note when I used a package marked poudre à lever thinking it was yeast, only to realize after I had added it to the mixture that it was baking powder. But I got most of it out, and anyway, I doubt a little extra baking power would cause tragic results. I did notice a major omission in this recipe that I did not find repeated elsewhere in the book: there was no temperature listed for the oven. I played it safe and went with a standard 350. The batter itself is unlike anything I have ever baked before: super gooey, and fun to look at.
The reason I say I had mixed results with the besos is because I did not like them at all when I followed his recipe to the letter. They were ridiculously huge with two stuck together; the jam was oozing out every which way; and the sugar-butter glaze was not only messy, but nauseatingly cloying to me. I imagine that these could have been made smaller and be very appealing to children or others who like really sweet things; I am just not one of them. However, the rest of the sweet breads I ate plain, one at a time, and they made a wonderful snack. The bread had a delicately sweet flavor, and although Flores compares them to scones, the texture was quite different, and divine.
My second recipe from Dulce was a more unambiguous success. I made the Crème Catalana for a dinner party, and everyone greatly enjoyed it. Crème catalana is basically crème brûlée, but with the addition of a cinnamon stick, the impact of which should not be underestimated. This recipe is a good example of how Flores sometimes includes additional steps in common recipes than what you would find online, but they are easy to do and really make the dessert successful. I happen to own a culinary blowtorch, so that made baking the crème catalana especially fun.
My next project will be to tackle Dulce’s cover desert: Churros with Chocolate Sauce, which, unlike many of the other recipes in the book, is not a new discovery for me, but rather a dessert that conjures up wonderful memories of winter evenings in France, eating churros from a street cart.
But of course, just flipping through this book again I have already spotted a dozen more recipes I must make as soon as possible. Flores’s pride, excitement, nostalgia, and love seep out of every page. His passion for Latin-American desserts is infectious, and I am happy to be afflicted. Ah, isn’t life dulce?