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A Sweet Quartet: Sugar, Almonds, Eggs, and Butter    by Fran Gage order for
Sweet Quartet
by Fran Gage
Order:  USA  Can
North Point, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Formerly a baker, Fran Gage believes that sugar, almonds, eggs and butter - singly or all together - form the basis of most sweet recipes. And after reading A Sweet Quartet, I have to agree with her. According to Gage, a wild ancestor of sugarcane grew in the fertile valleys of New Guinea nine thousand years ago! It traveled to the Philippines and India about two thousand years later. And sugar was widely used in medicines through the ages.

The author delves into the history of sugar - an account I found fascinating, and full of facts new to me. She notes that Columbus brought sugarcane to the New World and planted it in Santo Domingo, and Milton Hershey made the first milk chocolate bar in 1900. I shall look at my sugar bowl a little differently from now on. Two wonderful recipes for modern pound cakes - one for Poppy Seed Cake with Chocolate Swirl, the other for Pumpkin Swirl Cake - sound marvelous. Ginger Scones to Molasses Spice Cake, Beaujolais and Peach Sorbet to Peppermint Lollipops, all make me grateful to the early natives of New Guinea.

The histories of almonds, eggs and butter are also explored with intriguing facts as well as legends. The recipes this knowledgeable baker suggests are as sweet as the words she uses. The Almond Butter Cookies substitute almond butter for peanut butter. What a taste thrill. For lovers of coconut, Gage gives a recipe for Coconut Souffl9. And how about the always impressive Baked Alaska? A time consuming but extremely satisfying Puff Pastry gives step-by-step instructions. Recipes using the Puff Pastry follow, such as Apricot Tart Tatin.

A Sweet Quartet would make a thoughtful gift for a culinary student. I remember my chef daughter, while attending the Culinary Institute of America, spending as much time researching her ingredients as she actually spent in the kitchen. Imagine a textbook written with love.

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