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2015 marks the 10-year anniversary of the stellar Baked: NYC bakery in Red Hook, where classic comfort bakes are given unique twists like chipotle, matcha, and other flavor pairings. This is the fourth cookbook from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the dynamic duo behind Baked: NYC. "Baked: Occasions" celebrates a year in desserts, commemorating both well-known and lesser-known holidays (including World Nutella Day, National Pistachio Day and National Wine Day) alongside other festive occasions such as celebrity birthdays (Dolly Parton, Elvis, Hunter S. Thompson, Julia Child). You'll find international influences in their brioche ice cream sandwiches, palmiers, Chinese five-spice sesame scones, brutti ma buoni, Naniamo ice cream bars, and chocolate cinnamon chipotle sugar cookies.
A strong sense of the nostalgic runs throughout, including homemade Pop Tarts, fruit crisps, buttermilk, sheet, and pound cakes, and if you think you hate tapioca pudding, wait until you've tried the chocolate espresso tapioca pudding with Kahlua whipped cream. There are also charming, witty interludes that give more insight into Matt and Renato's upbringing, culinary influences, and traumatic Halloween experiences (and mega kudos for mentioning the Sandra Lee Kwanzaa cake!).
"Baked: Occasions" also edges into "fancy" territory with several showstopping ombré cakes and a rainbow-hued icebox cake for Gay Pride ("somewhere between a semifreddo and a mousse, all chocolaty, whipped-cream heaven - only 100 percent gayer"). However, the recipes in "Baked: Occasions" are often multi-step and perhaps best suited to those who already have some prior baking experience. With the exception of one or two recipes (the purple yam cake calling for ube powder and several calling for food gels), most ingredients should be readily available at your local grocery store.
The first recipe I tried was the Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Chocolate Brownies. Now, the Baked brownie has been my go-to brownie for several years since the release of their first cookbook. I've tried variations such as the Spicy Baked brownie and caramel brownie, but I loved this autumnal variation, which is basically a half brownie recipe topped with a swirl of pumpkin cheesecake goodness. As I was making these for a Halloween potluck, I decided to go all-out and decorate with a Day of the Dead platter and edible marigolds, and the brownies were a huge hit (see photo). They also freeze well, making them a great choice for unexpected company.
The second recipe was the Nutella chip cookies, a jazzed-up chocolate chip cookie enhanced with Nutella, chopped toasted hazelnuts, and semisweet chips (I used my gold standard Ghirardelli 60% Chips here). The addition of Nutella gives an extra boost of flavor and moistness. And by all means, try sandwiching two of these beauties together with leftover Nutella as suggested in the Baked Note; you won't regret it! I have plenty of other recipes flagged to try, including the Cheesy Bastille Day Beer Bread, Orange Buttermilk Picnic Cake with Chocolate Chips, and most of the Bundt cakes.
I loved the variety on display here (especially the "12 Days of Cookies" feature for Christmas that includes traditional European cookies) and playful nature of both the stories and the recipes themselves. Recipes are also enhanced with notes, variations, and storage tips that will allow you to present and store your Baked creations to their full potential.
With 65 gorgeous photographs and 75 unique recipes, you'll have everything you need to create a wide range of sweet treats for quirky festivities and traditional holidays all year round. In the words of Matt and Renato, "Now go enjoy the holidays. Embrace the calendar. Eat Well. Be Sweet."