The Piglet2018 / Semifinal Round, 2018

BraveTart vs. Night + Market

BraveTart

Stella Parks

Get the Book

Night + Market

Kris Yenbamroong & Garrett Snyder

Get the Book

Judged by: Kate Schelter

30ceeedd 3d24 4ebb bf32 6a267817bdc4  katie schelter shot by patrick cline crop72dpi

Kate Schelter is the author of Classic Style. She is an artist, creative director, stylist, and owner of the luxury brand consultancy that bears her name. Kate paints commercial work for brands including Dior, Toms, One Kings Lane, Bonpoint, Bulgari, and Sleepy Jones. Her work has been published in Vogue, Architectural Digest, Harper’s Bazaar, House Beautiful, and Vanity Fair, among other places. She holds a BA from Rhode Island School of Design and their European Honors Program in Rome. She lives and works in New York City and Cape Cod, MA.

The Judgment

Comparing apples to oranges is not something I anticipated when I accepted the challenge to judge two extraordinary cookbooks for The Piglet. I say “apples to oranges” because one book involves cooking and the other, baking. The way I see it, cooking is an art, and baking is a science. (Of course, there are almost too many exceptions to make this a rule, but it’s my review, so it’s my rule!)

As a creative director and an artist, I often feel more at home cooking than baking. Baking requires precision: measurement, speeds, temperatures, techniques. Cooking also has measurements, but they’re often more like suggestions, which suits me because I like to improvise and substitute. The spoon and knife are extensions of my hand the way a paintbrush is, and the ingredients are my palette.

I paint what I love and use in real life; it’s autobiographical. In fact, the edited subject matter of my work is as important as how I paint it. Below, I have painted what each book’s recipes inspired in me visually. Certain ingredients and tools leapt off the page and onto my paper; I really enjoyed digesting the recipes this way.

I lean towards recipes I find most beautiful in their simplicity, just as I paint things that inspire me in their functionality, guided by the principles “less is more” and “less, but better.”

In addition, I judge recipes on their return on investment: Are the results worth the effort and hours? It’s a venture to take your time making a recipe that, for some, could (more) easily be enjoyed out. That said, I taught myself how to cook by reading cookbooks. Some of my favorites are inspired by restaurants (e.g. The Frog Commissary Cookbook; The Union Square Café Cookbook). They’ve allowed me to recreate iconic dishes at home and learn new techniques along the way.

In deciding which recipes to test for The Piglet, I tried to cover a range of difficulty from each book, to keep things more or less even: a simple, classic dish, a slightly more finessed one, and then—because it’s occasionally fun to put in the extra effort—a labor-intensive showstopper.

In the end, I fell hard for both of these cookbooks. I initially thought the winner would be an easy pick. Instead, the more I read and cooked through each book, the more difficult it became to choose.

 

 

I cook every night and spend at least an hour in my kitchen: chopping, cutting, sizzling, dressing salads. I occasionally bake for fun, too. When I do, I opt for classic desserts: Charlotte Russe or Charlotte Chantilly (for my daughter, Charlotte’s, birthday every August!), Rice Krispies treats, banana bread when our bananas have gone brown.

My holy grail for dessert—something that transforms just a few simple ingredients into an utterly dazzling crowd-pleaser—is epitomized by Julia Childs’ Crème Caramel from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve made her recipe more than 30 times: in a studio apartment closet-kitchen; for a friend who lived a 40-minute ride away on Metro North; for Christmas dinner, hand-delivered from NYC to Massachusetts. (To manage this, I visited my local pizza joint to ask politely for 3 pizza boxes, and loaded the pans into them. The dish withstood the 4-hour car ride and unmolded beautifully onto a crystal platter.) Crème Caramel is pretty much all we need—well, besides really good ice cream, strawberry shortcake, carrot cake, cream cheese icing, homemade whipped cream, angel food cake, and Thin Mints.

So you can imagine my excitement when BraveTart appeared on my doorstep, full of classic dessert recipes. This is it, I thought. It’s like author Stella Parks has cataloged all those childhood desserts stashed in the “nostalgia” section of my brain, mastered the recipes for every single one, and given them to me here: Nutter Butters, Pop Tarts, Classic Yellow Layer Cake, and, best of all, Thin Mints. It’s like she time-traveled to Duncan Hines’ house, stopped at Keebler Village, and dashed through the Hostess and Tastykake HQs.

My idea was to make one recipe every other day. I planned to share some portions with friends, or give them away. Because my access to special tools and equipment was up in the air, due to a busy travel schedule, I chose recipes that I thought would be amenable to some elbow grease.

I started with Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies. Like City Bakery’s, these were mini salty-chocolate dreams. They tasted more sophisticated than any cookie I’d ever made, and were easier—and faster—than the recipe on the back of a bag of chocolate chips. No crazy ingredient-hunting or prep; chopping chocolate bars and mixing by hand was a breeze. I substituted Sucanat for white sugar, since I prefer to use unrefined ingredients when possible. No stand mixer? No problem. These mixed up easily by hand.

Next, Homemade Rice Krispies Treats, as in “make your own marshmallow creme, plus use a thermometer and gelatin” Rice Krispies treats. These failed epically for a few reasons. First, I realized that my thermometer was a meat thermometer (whoops!), which meant it couldn’t properly register the temperature needed. Again, I replaced white sugar with Sucanat, which doesn’t work so well when heated into marshmallow creme (uh oh!). Last, no amount of elbow grease could’ve helped me whip and scrape and fold the way I needed to in this recipe—made by hand, rather than with a stand mixer as suggested, the result was an oozy (but tasty) mess. My verdict? I prefer “what’s wrong with the recipe on the back of the cereal box?” Rice Krispies treats. I would try Parks’ recipe again with the proper ingredients and tools, but...it felt more complicated than I’d bargained for.

Parks’ Red (Wine) Velvet Cake, on the other hand, was my pièce de résistance—simply, the best cake I’ve ever made. It was bakery-level, as if I’d bought it somewhere fancy and not made it myself. What I loved most was that it wasn’t too sugary, and had just the right touches of bitterness from the chocolate and jammy sweetness from the namesake wine. No flavor was too predominant, which, in my book, means balance and perfection. Plus, the recipe taught me all about the cake’s provenance (the Waldorf Astoria bake-off). Its burgundy color comes not from food coloring, but the wine and some raw cacao powder, which I thought was a clever touch.

The Cream Cheese Frosting (which involved steeping milk, cooking a custard, and letting it set before finishing the buttercream) was ultra light, but almost not “homemade” enough—it was very elegant and, for my taste, lacking in tangy cream-cheesiness. So I added more lemon juice and all was well. We ate the frosted cake for dinner, breakfast, and lunch for two days, and never got tired of it.

Next time I cook from BraveTart, I will be sure to use a stand mixer for every recipe that suggests it. My arms are just not strong enough to beat the way this book’s recipes need be aerated; minutes of whipping turned into what felt like hours for my biceps and shoulders. However, the “Iconic Desserts” (per the book’s subtitle) were well worth the effort, and I plan to try more of them—they’re classics I can return to time and again.

 

 

Night + Market had me at its colorful cover: fuchsia and cerulean blue with a white sans serif typeface, and “+” instead of the word “and” or an ampersand—a typographical tendency I also lean towards. The cover’s electric colors are a signifier for both the bright flavors inside the book, and for author Kris Yenbamroong’s unique, L.A.-influenced vibe. I couldn’t wait to try my hand at these Thai classics with a modern backdrop.

That said, I also thought, “This is going to be hard.” I’ve tried making Thai food at home before; for me, it never quite turns out like at a restaurant. But ultimately, I like good art direction, so I was enticed to start flipping through Night + Market anyway. Every recipe is illustrated with a photo of a perfectly plated dish. The book (and the restaurant it’s named for) oozes hipster haute cuisine.

I thought it’d be fun to plan one big Thai feast to enjoy multiple recipes, family style, with dozens of small bowls of condiments, toppings, sauces and accoutrements for sharing. We had 7 people around the table, ranging in age from 4 to 48. This was an experiment that everyone opted in on.

Once I’d invited my brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces to join us for dinner, sourced all the ingredients, sent my husband to buy beers (a high-low mishmash of everything from Amarillo IPA to Budweiser), and got out my most colorful serving dishes, tablecloth, and enamel plates (to copy the prop styling in the pics!), I was cooking with gas. Literally: I blasted the flame as high as I could under a small wok, which I borrowed from my sister-in-law. I also used a regular old cast iron pan and a sturdy enamel skillet as wok stand-ins. They did the job.

The ingredients were remarkably fresh and fragrant, and most of them were easy to find in my neighborhood store’s produce aisle. However, the ingredient list also involved some sub-recipes, including one for Roasted Chile Powder, so I was on the hunt for dried Thai bird’s eye, pulla, or árbol chiles. I wasn’t able to find those varieties, but I did come across a chile jam very similar to a recipe in the book. Though the Roasted Chile Powder is a “nonnegotiable,” per Yenbamroong, we ended up using the chile jam as a substitute because we were in a pinch—both my brother and husband loved it.

I tried the Chicken Larb. This spicy minced meat salad, brimming with fresh hand-torn greens, is my new favorite go-to recipe. You get this awesome amalgamation of flavors, introduced to the dish in a particular order: seasoned ground meat, chile powder, red and green onion, mint, cilantro, and lime juice. To this, you add colorful vegetables, like crunchy cabbage leaves, green beans, and cucumbers sliced on an angle. It’s also meant to be served with sticky rice. I sprang for a package that read  “Jasmine Rice Made in Thailand,” and cooked it on the stovetop in a copper pot (that I lugged back from Paris in my suitcase a decade ago). I followed the directions Yenbamroong gives in the book, rather than the ones printed on the bag of rice. Worked perfectly.

Next up, the Stir Fried Greens with Mushrooms and Tofu, which were silky-smooth and perfumed with a bold but harmonious mix of sesame oil, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, and ginger. Stir-frying the ginormous chard and torn oyster mushrooms in the wok made me feel like I was a pro, even though my mini wok was more like a crepe pan compared to the enormous ones I saw in the book, with clouds of steam erupting above the chef.

This was followed by the Pad Thai with Shrimp, which was my nieces’ favorite. Yenbamroong’s prep notes for this dish are foolproof: He suggests using dried rice stick noodles over fresh, and calls for soaking them in warm water instead of boiling them, then draining. His instructions to toss in all of the toppings together with the noodles to taste, instead of keeping them separate, especially resonated with me, as my favorite thing to make is a big, hearty, improvised salad; the pad thai, with its pops of flavor and seemingly infinite combinations, fit the bill. 

The next day, we had a little bit of leftovers from each dish. For lunch, I fired up the wok with some sesame oil, and combined the remaining ingredients from all three recipes, including white rice, crunchy raw vegetables, mint, peanuts, lime—everything I’d bought to make said recipes. Delicious, round 2!

Looking through the book a few days later, I flagged one recipe to return to: Kung Pao Eggplant Tacos. (What? You’re taking Thai food on a parade through Mexico, Kris Yenbamroong? Yes, please.) After seeing it, I got on Instagram, found @ntmrkt, and fell down the rabbit hole. Like the book itself, @ntmrkt gave me such an incredible sense of the author’s restaurant: You might not be able to tell much from the outside, but you step inside to find it’s filled with big groups of friends, all smiling and sweating from the spiciness while they devour Mexican-Thai food on colorful enamel plates, under a 90s framed poster of Cindy Crawford in cut-off jean shorts.

Verdict: 

Both books are packed with invaluable lessons and inspiring photos. From Yenbamroong’s recipes, as well as Parks’, I learned that the order in which you add ingredients (not to mention pairs and trios of ingredients) and layer flavors makes a huge impact on the final result.

In BraveTart, I see the painstaking accuracy and pure enjoyment that go into creating these treats. With Parks’ recipes, you can make at home the classics you thought you could only get from bakery cases or supermarket shelves. Despite my preference for the art of cooking over the science of baking, I can’t deny that Parks does a fantastic job of demystifying the crumb structure of cake, the process behind marshmallow making, and the texture of a perfectly creamy custard.

From Night + Market, I learned I can be as at home improvising with a wok as I am painting in my studio. The book is direct, but the experience of reading it is deep. Plus, Yenbamroong has the personality of someone I want to hang out with (and he runs a restaurant I want to hang out in).

It is with a heavy BraveTart that I select Night + Market to proceed to the next round. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

 

And the winner is…

Night + Market

Night + Market

Get the Book

Do you Agree? (48 comments)

user avatar 23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Are you channeling your best self with this comment?
(If you're not sure, check out our Code of Conduct.)

user avatar 23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

I pretty much only buy baking books so I was rooting for BraveTart. I have made a handful of recipes since buying it (I think the devil's food cake deserves Genius Recipe status), and felt that I had to try the rice krispy treats after reading this review. They are pretty amazing. Extremely high marshmallow to cereal ration, which is a win for me.

A92aa2f3 07ff 439d 91ae 8b33bfbf2044  64170 10103042928304220 1354796841 n

Sucanat?! For crying out loud.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

It puzzles me (okay, irritates me) when reviewers seem to "play it straight" more for one cookbook's recipes than for the other's. It's a rare cookbook that doesn't work better when you're paying attention and using the right ingredients.

Also, I think baking books often get the short end of the stick. The comment is often made, "Baking is so precise and challenging! Cooking is more about going with the flow!" but that hasn't been my experience of baking. Then again, it's been my main hobby for years, and I think part of the fun is being unsatisfied with the first attempt and tinkering to get it right. Maybe some people just don't enjoy that.

I have Alford & Duguid's "Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet" and love using it, and Night + Market looks great, too. Unfairly, though, I'm sad that Stella didn't win.

2810b86f bab8 43a7 a9fe 4b7255546d43  fb avatar

I'm torn on this review! F52 makes it pretty clear that the reviewers are expected to highlight their individual cooking habits when reviewing the books. However, it's odd that someone who doesn't bake often and doesn't have (or willfully doesn't use) the necessary tools/ingredients would pick the homemade marshmallows, and basically setting themselves up for failure.

988e2e47 f411 4dfc bd70 bec96c461692  aquaculture boot camp 4 27 15 168

I love this review - thank you for the bonus art. I have both these books and I have only cooked one recipe from Bravetart (coconut cream pie - try it!). Now I am psyched to dig into both.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

This whole competition has been a big who cares? I'd guess from the number of comments that the page views are way down. Kachka is the winner of the contest once Bravetart was knocked out. Try to act surprised when it happens.

72e906e1 2c73 4c01 9c69 aef7f1100f72  stringio

The reviews that compare cooking to baking always seem a bigger challenge. As a baker, I really want a critique of a baking books' utility, precisely because baking tends to be technical. I appreciated the reviewer's fairness in acknowledging the challenge, up front, and her diligence in actually working through recipes. I look forward to more baking on baking reviews.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

I get that home cooks are gonna futz with recipes, but cookbook reviewers should not.

B8a248c5 31d8 4546 bbe2 dc32e0a9b87a  fb avatar

Totally agree with M. You have to follow the instructions. Otherwise , it is not a fair assessment. Like the idea of the Piglet and the Tartlet.

8ff9a676 5d6e 4f83 8d3b ed94114a2052  stringio

It makes sense that an accomplished artist and creative director for high end designers would choose aesthetics and atmosphere as the deciding metric in this judgement (and that she would choose the gorgeous coffee table cookbook)... but I’d totally want to hang out with Stella Parks, too!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

What a great review! Art direction and design are legitimate criteria for judging any book, including a cookbook. I'm sad to see Bravetart go down, but different books will click with different people.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

The only thing I dislike about this review is that now I really really want to buy Night + Market. Dang it.

E9d80150 8261 482f a0c8 9d13cf648e94  fb avatar

Enjoyed this review & the artwork. If a reviewer is willing to try a recipe again (with proper ingredients & tools) that was more complicated than expected and had epically failed, BraveTart must be one outstanding book. It's on my To Buy list.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Kate may not have picked it to win but after reading the review I am ordering BraveTart asap this minute! Yum

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

This is a terrible review because it isn't a review; the reviewer clearly paid little attention to the book itself. She ignored the specific directions and warnings in the recipes. She passed by myriad recipes that would suit her equipment -- buttermilk biscuits she could cook in her cast iron, hand-mixed pastry crusts, pumpkin pies that only need a whisk, donettes, vanilla pudding -- to choose equipment-specific recipes that didn't stand a chance. Stella explains in the book how changing the sugar will "unleash all manner of unforeseen problems," and how important the stand mixer is, and that using hand beaters can take up to twice as long, let alone beating by hand.

Lots of cooks substitute for many necessary and/or ego-driven reasons. But in a tournament created "in the hopes of generating better, more transparent cookbook reviews," this is a disservice to the work the competition is supposed to be celebrating. If you're not willing to try the recipes as they are, you shouldn't agree to review them and be an arbiter of their worth.

This is particularly unfortunate since Stella Parks' work is great for newbie bakers, and this review paints a false picture. She is clear, detailed, and explains things thoroughly. This is a professional baker who worked hard to create recipes that followed baking fundamentals (proper creaming) in home environments. She is always working on recipes and ratios that will be the kindest to home cooks, and is absolutely transparent in her process, which gives would-be bakers all the information they need to move forward. Most of all, she is *constantly* helping her readers work through problems on social media.

Stella bends over backwards to help home bakers and make her work accessible. The least this reviewer could do -- as a professional writer herself -- is put in a little effort herself.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Well stated and I absolutely agree. The rice Krispy treat recipe was the absolute worst choice the reviewer could have picked given her preferences and constraints.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Agreed! Couldn't have said it better.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Agreed - It's too bad. I'm sure Night + Market is a great book but the reviews it has been in haven't been very fair lol

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

I too cringe when I read about people making dubious substitutions out of a misguided sense of "I prefer it this way." This is especially true with baking. I would always much rather see someone writing a review of either a recipe or a cookbook actually do what it says FIRST, then play around with substitutions and adjustments if they want to. But to review a recipe you didn't actually follow doesn't make a ton of sense. Likewise, to attempt to make recipes that clearly require a stand mixer, to be told you need a stand mixer, and then to be surprised that it's so hard to make them without a stand mixer, warrants an eye roll and maybe a facepalm. I'm definitely pleased, though, that this reviewer tried quite a few things over a period of time, and over a range of levels of difficulty, and gave us a great play by play. That is what I read Piglet for! Nicely done.

B768edc0 721f 4c8f a644 5799b95f5d93  cindy

A great review (an awesome art work). I, like the author, am more of a cook than a baker. However, I own Brave Tart and think that its collection of Americana treats is amazing! And though I thought Brave Tart would win, Kate convinced me to take a closer look at Night Market …and The Frog Commissary Cookbook...

45f55092 0b13 4b5c 92b2 4480c71a81f4  img 3967

I'm frankly surprised that anyone still cooks from the Frog Commissary Cookbook. Its recipes are quite dated; however, it is very adorably illustrated, which might be why it appeals to the author. If you do get the book, I recommend trying out the carrot cake recipe!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

This review is ridiculous. You're seriously going to test a cookbook out by making major substitutions and without the proper equipment? It seems like instead of rationally evaluating the books, you've made a choice of "..whatever fits into my life and style better...". The only problem, the only person who fits into your life and style is you!!! These reviews involve the reviewer, of course, but they also involve the authors and all of the readers.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Maybe there needs to be a separate Piglet tournament for baking? While there will still be (self identified) non-bakers judging, at least it will be baking book to baking book. Not the torture of trying to compare a cook book to a baking book. I think there's room in the universe for two Piglets. Don't ya'll??

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Great idea! Two Piglets please! Or a Piglet and a Tartlet.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Love the Tartlet idea!

Ee6e1f61 c2e2 48b1 b500 bb90cc2c5b83  itsme

They seem to be barely able to hold together a single tournament this year, I wouldn't double their workload without a better track record...

549d9fb3 53ef 4170 b68e 8bae2e055be7  dsc 0048b

This is a well done review. Some will be dissatisfied, but really, see Ronni Lundy's thoughtful comments below. We all look for something different in a cookbook. Here, unlike in the last round, Night + Market won after the judge cooked from both books and gave both a lot of thought. That her bent is artistic (love the illustrations!!), and that she found baking challenging is her baggage; we can all choose to continue to think about and purchase or not purchase both books as we wish. What is interesting to me is that many of the books that advanced in the Piglet this year are co-written or written "with" someone else, and this year, these other writers are really talented. So, Night + Market's Garrett Snyder is an exciting voice in food writing, Martha Holmberg of Six Seasons is a seasoned and talented co-author, and Deena Prichep who worked on Kachka is a excellent food writer and recipe developer (one of my favorite recipes on this site, for kale and quinoa pilaf, is hers!) as well. these books all benefited from the inspiration of a chef and a restaurant ethos, as well as a talented writer. This year, that seems to be making a difference.