The Piglet2013 / First Round, 2013

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

Jake Godby, Sean Vahey, and Paolo Lucchesi

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Little Flower: Recipes from the Café

Little Flower

Christine Moore

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Judged by: Melissa Clark

Melissa Clark is a food columnist for The New York Times, and has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Every Day with Rachel Ray, and Martha Stewart, amongst others. Her acclaimed cookbook In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite was released in the fall of 2010 with essays and recipes based on her popular New York Times Dining section column A Good Appetite. Clark's most recent book Cook This Now, a personal collection of seasonally driven, inventive comfort food, came out in October 2011 from Hyperion. All told, Clark has written 32 other cookbooks, many of them in collaboration with some of New York’s most celebrated chefs, including Daniel Boulud (Braise), David Bouley (East of Paris), Claudia Fleming (The Last Course), Bruce and Eric Bromberg (The Blue Ribbon Cookbook), and White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses (The Perfect Finish). Her collaboration with chef Peter Berley, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, received both a James Beard award and Julia Child Cookbook award in 2000. Clark was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives with her husband, Daniel Gercke and their daughter Dahlia.

The Judgment

Reading the introductions to the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book and the Little Flower cookbook is an exercise in opposites. 

An excerpt from each: 

Little Flower: 

The café was born in 2007. That was a really tough year… At 44, I found myself with a premature baby, a broken marriage, a 5-year-old, a 7-year-old who had just been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a husband out of work, a cancelled health insurance, and no way to pay the mortgage.

Humphry Slocombe: 

Hey, bitches, thanks for buying our ice cream book. We worked really hard on this thing (over many drinks) and hope you have as much fun making ice cream from these recipes as we have since opening the shop in San Francisco. We can’t promise you your money back, and in fact have probably already spent it on pills and liquor, but if you don’t like the ice cream, we will eat a bug.

My first thought was that given what Little Flower author Christine Moore already went through to both open her successful café and manage to find the time to write a cookbook, her book just had to win by force of will alone. Besides, if Humphry Slocombe owners Jake Godby and Sean Vahey, and their co-author Paolo Lucchesi lost, they’d just eat a few bugs and get over it.

My directive from the Piglet folks was to “cook dinner from each book.”

For Little Flower, this was easy. My menu went like this: Ham Tart, green salad with Carrot Ginger Dressing, Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup, and Pear & Quince Crumble. Plus, because I have a sweet tooth the size of a whole body, I also planned to make Perfect White Cake (would it really be perfect?), and something called Foley Cake which had jam and almonds in the photo. And while I was at it, being the brown butter fanatic that I am, I added Brown Butter Shortbread and Ginger Molasses Cookies (also made with brown butter) to the list. 

Planning a dinner menu from Humphry Slocombe was more challenging, but fun. 

I figured I’d start with Strawberry Olive ice cream as an aperitif, make my way to Boccalone Prosciutto and Government Cheese for some protein, try the Hibiscus Beet sorbet for some vegetable matter, Elvis (The Fat Years), with banana and peanut brittle for some fruit, and finish with Here’s Your Damn Chocolate Ice Cream for dessert. Then I’d wash everything down with something called Jesus Juice sorbet made with red wine and cola...just because...I mean, how could you not? 

Then I started cooking. First, I concentrated on Little Flower. And as I tested them, I got the feeling that the recipes, which probably work wonderfully in the kitchen of Little Flower, were not tested in a home kitchen. 

The Pear & Quince Crumble took 60 minutes in my conventional oven instead of the 30 called for. And even so, while the flavor of the filling was superb, the crumble topping was still very soft and a bit too mushy in parts. 

The Perfect White Cake, which was perfect, taste-wise, also took an hour instead of half an hour (though it was worth the wait). But a testing problem here: the recipe makes two large, fat round cakes, but the glaze recipe, studded with lavender flowers, only made enough to cover one of them.  

The Foley Cake, with almonds and jam, was fabulous, moist -- a wonderful recipe, except that it needed an extra 25 minutes of baking. Still a keeper with a margin note.

Next up, the gorgeous-looking ham and cheese tart. This required me to make quick puff pastry. I was tempted to substitute purchased puff pastry, but wanting to be faithful to the recipe, I didn’t. So I made the quick puff pastry, which wasn’t at all quick. The recipe made a lot of dough, too much dough for my standard home mixer, which meant I had to do the whole thing by hand. 

Growing frustrated and wishing I’d just bought the dough, I assembled the tart. I felt better as the whole kitchen became engulfed in the scent of butter and pork. The recipe said the tart would take 30 minutes. My stomach started growling at 25. At 30 minutes the tart was pale and soggy. At 45 it was less pale and still soggy. After an hour it was dark brown on top, but the puff pastry still wasn’t baked through. I ended up peeling off the topping to eat, and tossing that hard-wrought crust.

At this point I began to wonder if the chef (or recipe tester) used a convection oven for testing the recipes. Since I had enough puff pastry for another tart, I made the whole thing again and baked it on my convection setting. This time the recipe worked and the pastry cooked through (it still took 50 minutes instead of 30). It was tasty enough at the end, but not spectacular. 

Other issues: the Brown Butter Shortbread was greasy. And while the Ginger Molasses Cookies had a crisp texture and nice spicy flavor, there was so much clove in the recipe that the use of brown butter was moot. Also, the directions for that recipe were problematic. They called for rolling out the balls of dough, placing them on 2 baking sheets and freezing them on the sheets before baking. But it was impossible to fit one let alone two baking trays into my freezer. I chilled the dough in the fridge and rolled out balls of cold dough, which seemed to work nicely.  

There were more little things like that throughout the book, tiny little testing and editing errors. A skilled cook could work around them, but they would flummox a novice.

Interestingly, the recipes that worked the best were not baked goods. The Carrot Ginger Dressing was balanced and zippy and lightly sweet, a delightful foil to arugula. And the Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup was both easy to make and satisfying.

Full disclosure, before testing Humphry Slocombe, I google-stalked the place and ended up on Amazon. The reviews of the cookbook were not good. There were many complaints that the recipes had too much salt and sugar.

While not every recipe I made was something I’d make again (particularly the Hibiscus Beet and the Jesus Juice sorbets, which were icky), I loved the ice creams. Maybe they were too salty and too sugary for some people, but I adored them. Plus, the ice cream textures were lusciously smooth and not at all icy. (This might be because of the large amount of sugar used, which can help prevent ice crystals from forming.)

The first ice cream I whipped up was based on Elvis (The Fat Years). I didn’t have the time to confect the peanut brittle so ended up making the banana base and studding it with crunched up pretzel and chocolate chunks. The banana custard base was the star -- it was creamy, dense, and tasted like banana bread but cold and sticky (in a good way). 

The Here’s Your Damn Chocolate Ice Cream was apparently only created in the shop to placate the bevy of screaming children who demanded it, and it’s a very kid-friendly ice cream (read: super sweet). It starts with a caramel base to which cocoa and good chocolate are mixed in. The caramel adds flavor and also keeps the texture nice and scoopable even after it’s been sitting in my home freezer for days. Some of my friends thought this ice cream was over-the-top cloying. I agree that it’s not a sophisticated, dark, bitter flavor; it’s more like a melted, frozen Milky Way bar. Serve it for your ten-year-old’s birthday party. 

More fancy dinner-party appropriate are the Boccalone Prosciutto and Government Cheese (made with Mimolette) ice creams. These, as expected, walk the line between savory and sweet. Either would make a thrilling topping for apple pie or apple crisp.

I had my doubts about the Strawberry Olive ice cream. Before the olives are added to the strawberry ice cream base, they are candied until they resemble salty raisins. The whole thing was complex and interesting enough to make each bite a little different, which kept me eating out of the container long after I should have closed the freezer door and walked away.

Given the ups and downs of each book, deciding upon a winner was tough. The Little Flower book was problematic, but considering the strength of at least four great recipes (Perfect White Cake, Foley Cake, Carrot Ginger Dressing and Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup), it could have won. 

But in the end, the unmitigated joy of the ice creams coupled with the absolutely hilarious prose made Humphry Slocombe prevail.

So there you have it. Irreverent and crave-able ice cream wins over earnest but inconsistently-tested baked goods.

And I’m keeping both books. Next time I make that Perfect White Cake, I’ll serve it a la mode, with a scoop of Strawberry Olive.

And the winner is…

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book

Get the Book

Do you Agree?


Savour April 9, 2013
I love Melissa Clark, and I will fully admit I haven't tested all the recipes she tested in the Little Flower book. I will also disclose that I am a HUGE fan of the cafe - it's our neighborhood joint and I'm in there at least 1x a week. But I was paging through my cookbook this weekend, and I noticed that a couple of the items that Clark identifies are "recipe errors" are misreadings on her part. The Ham tarts (which I order often and are fantastic) are supposed to be made with pre-baked puff pastry, and it didn't seem like Ms. Clark pre-baked her dough. And the perfect white cake recipe clearly identifies that the lavender glaze is an "extra" for presentation and the glaze recipe only covers one cake. I can't speak to the timing issues, since I haven't made all these recipes (though when quinces are back in season I am SO making pear and quince crumble!) but I would hate to see people write off this cookbook based on this review, since it's clear that the recipes were not always read closely. Again, I have nothing but respect for Melissa Clark, and the Piglet is long over, but I have to stand up for the rep of Little Flower. Now if I can only reverse engineer their honey lavender scone recipe (which is not in the cookbook ...)
Bevi April 10, 2013
I love Little Flower as well, and unlike you, Savour, I can only visit twice a year. I really appreciate you following up on Melissa's review. I think it speaks to the issue of our individual experiences with any recipe.
Mickrhodes February 20, 2013
I'm just a fan of food, not a cook, taster, or writer. I can't speak to the gripes listed here about recipes, but I can testify that the cafe is full of fantastic food, prepared with love, by people who care. I know this is a cookbook competition, but I couldn't sit by and not chime in in defense of the great Little Flower, and its creator and creative force, Christine Moore. We here in LA could NOT get by without it!
GregoryBPortland February 17, 2013
I don't think there's a fairer or nice food personality than Melissa Clark. As someone who reads, reviews and cooks from a wide range of cookbooks, her points are well-stated and fair. She points out the sorts of things that make it difficult for the home cook, and as anyone who has ever failed following a cookbook recipe knows, one failure can kill a book. All too often recipes from a restaurant don't work as they are translated to the home cook in a cookbook format. Even the success of the recipe tester is completely dependent upon their skills in the home kitchen. Ms. Clark is not only a good sport, she also found things she enjoyed in both books. Other Piglet reviews have been far tougher and lacked Ms. Clark's signature upbeat tone.
mainecook61 February 11, 2013
Nice balanced review of the two books, although the result is that I wasn't inspired to rush out to obtain either one.
rroseperry February 10, 2013
Thanks for the reviews. I'm not sure why there seems to be so much pushback from The Little Flower fans, many of whom seem to have joined simply to praise the bakery.
ATG117 February 10, 2013
It seems worth noting, while truly reserving judgment, that the comments conveying offense to the review of Little Flower were all made by members who joined in the last two days.
RoyMorris February 11, 2013
Why is it worth noting? And are you truly reserving judgement?
What are you really implying?

I read few, if any comments from anyone that "conveyed offense" - odd phrasing - to Ms. Clark's review. Several of us did comment that we had in fact had better results with the recipes and/or participated in testing them at home. This led to some thoughtful comments about the rigors of prepping a cookbook for publication, what to expect when attempting a recipe for the first time, and more. All useful points of view that I would expect would be welcome in a forum of passionate cooks, professional or otherwise.
Susan2013 February 12, 2013
Yes - I did only join in the last couple of days. I'd never heard of the Piglet prior to Christian's book being nominated - hence my new initiation into the club. She was also the one to inform me that Good to the Grain - a book that I purchased at Little Flower when Christian hosted a book signing for the author (and love to cook from all the time) - won in 2011. The Tournament is awesome and the passion behind the judges - those that count (and will determine the winner) and those that don't count (but determine our own personal winner) should be embraced as a means of providing additional insight into each cookbook. When you create an open forum - which is brilliant and done here - folks are going to jump in and give their feedback and thoughts. The beauty of it - it's all subjective regardless which judge you are. You can see the same passionate responses from others throughout the tournament. And how many of us "judges" can say we've written a cookbook. I haven't. Have you? So I am in awe of all 12 authors - whether I would cook from their cookbook or not.

On a personal note. Those of us who were fortunate enough to watch Little Flower Recipes from the Cafe come to life - understand what went into creating this cookbook. We watched Christian pour her heart and soul into the book (like all or most authors do) - because she allowed us to all be part of the process. To us, imperfections and all, Little Flower Recipes from the Cafe is simply perfect and already a winner.

And should you be in the Pasadena area - stop by what many of us call home away home - Little Flower Cafe. It's a family of foodies and non foodies, artists and strangers walking in off the street. Sometimes you'll be sitting at a table with friends or family and Christian will come out of the kitchen with some new adventurous dish for us to sample and critic. Then you might understand better why we are so passionate about the cafe, the book and the incredible woman behind both.
bgavin February 10, 2013
Good job, Melissa. I think you were fair, and clear and respectful.
M O. February 10, 2013
A very fair judgement; not an easy task to compare such different books. Thanks Melissa, great job.
Susan2013 February 9, 2013
I am not a professional chef and I didn't test the recipes for the cookbook. However, I live around the corner from Little Flower and the cookbook, for lack of a better term, was a godsend for my bank account (since I frequent Little Flower far more than any human should). I've cooked numerous recipes from the book - as have close friends of mine who even text me pictures of their culinary adventures with the Little Flower cookbook. So far none of us ordinary folk have encountered the issues noted in the review above or in the comments below. Nor have we been stressed by the fact that a picture(s) might be chopped thyme instead of chopped chives. Instead, we've embraced and loved the culinary adventures that this cookbook provides. From really yummy soups to the "crack" (or how I would imagine crack if it were bread) pretzel rolls. If there is anything I learnt from my mother - a recipe is just a foundation to build on and even play with. I also want to note that the puff pastry recipe states that it will yield 2 - 12" x 16" sheets (I simply freeze the excess for use later). And btw - my stove sucks but I've not experienced any of the problems noted. I hope the reviews posted doesn't discourage other novice cooks from trying this cookbook - I promise you won't be disappointed. I look forward to following the rest of the Piglet adventures as the judges cook their way to a winner.
ATG117 February 9, 2013
Curious as to whether you have made any of the specific recipes that Melissa had issues with. This would be more telling, because it's still unclear whether these recipes, prepared per the recipe, might have given you issues as well.
Susan2013 February 10, 2013
I haven't made the Ham Tart since I'm a vegetarian, but have made the Tomato & Feta Tart and the Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup a number of times as well as the dressing. I've not yet attempted the Perfect White Cake.
A.Alvarez February 8, 2013
Like others who have written in about this review, I too have made Little Flower recipes in the comfort of my own home and have enjoyed every morsel. It's a little disheartening to hear such a harsh review of such a wonderful book.
ATG117 February 8, 2013
Great review that addresses the shortcomings and high points of each book. I am curious to know whether other food52ers have per chance cooked any of the recipes that flopped for Melissa. Call me naive, but I'm shocked that a random few would have such egregious baking problems.
luvcookbooks February 8, 2013
Friends gave me the Humphrey Slocombe book and I have been intimidated by the wildly unconventional recipes, although I enjoy leafing through it. Melissa Clark's review offers a nice guide through the book. I will be trying the banana ice cream and avoiding Jesus Juice (sounded so strange but you never know).
Alexandra H. February 8, 2013
Great review, Melissa!  Before reading today's review, I spent an hour reading through The Little Flower cookbook.  (Full disclosure: I am a trained chef with a culinary degree and extensive post-grad studies in food writing and recipe editing. As a former corporate trainer, I also spent years writing instructional manuals and teaching, which in theory, does not differ much from writing recipes.)  

I believe that one must always consider his/her audience when writing recipes or instructions.  If I were writing a chocolate chip cookie recipe, for example, for a restaurant kitchen, I might just say "cream method @ 375F," and a skilled baker would know precisely how to execute that recipe instruction.  A home cook, especially a novice cook, however, would likely be lost.  I found myself reading Little Flower's recipes only to find numerous places where instructions could have, and should have, been much clearer.  The lack of detailed instructions simply left too much room for error, which is costly and frustrating for the home cook.  Another pet peeve I noticed, and noticed more than once, were recipes that called for "chopped chives," yet the photo clearly showed chopped thyme.  That's when I lost all faith that this book had been edited carefully, if at all. From the comments, home cooks did test recipes, which is important; but, it is also critical to enlist professional recipe testers and editors to properly assess the accuracy of recipes and instructions, and I am not convinced that happened here. (For a an eye-opening view of the two-year+ process it takes to develop a successful first cookbook, see Joanne Chang's "Flour "Bakery" blog posts that discuss her adapting bakery recipes for a home kitchens, addressing fluctuations in measurements and oven temps, and recruiting 'home testers.')

I love Little Flower's backstory, and based on rave reviews of her food, I am sure Moore is a marvelous cook; however, cooking and recipe writing/editing are two very different, distinct skill sets.  After decades of cooking, writing, editing, and eating good (and bad) food, I have training  and experience that allow me to read a recipe, and without entering the kitchen, determine how it will taste, if a step is missing or inaccurate, if a seasoning is off, etcetera. A home cook, however, might not have enough experience to make that determination, or to prevent mistakes.  Unless a cookbook is specifically marketed to a professional cook, I believe it should be instructive enough to ensure that even the most novice cook succeeds, can execute a recipe flawlessly, and ideally, learn something new to make her a better cook.  Because these attributes were lacking in Little Flower, I must agree with Melissa's verdict.   

Tough round- both books are a little 'rough around the edges.' I appreciate Melissa's thoughtful review.  

Sent from my iPad
nancy O. February 8, 2013
This kind of problem seems pretty common with bakery-to-home cookbooks. I was so frustrated with the errors in "Flour" that I gave it away.
Mei C. February 8, 2013
I think that the thread about baking times being off is really interesting, and really important. Since everyone else is talking about disclosure, I will say that I am a professional pastry chef who still bakes a lot at home--and I get very, very frustrated with "baking times" that are more than half way off the mark. Experience, I have found, is one of the most fool-proof ways to know how to troubleshoot/be patient/look for problems, but not everyone has that and relies on a recipe! My home oven is also off 25 degrees, but that generally doesn't have an impact on how I bake, since it's easily adjustable. But it DOES bother me when I'm testing a recipe and the oven should actually be a convection rather than a still, or... when baking times are egregiously off. That IS the job of the editor, not the cook, to decipher and reveal.
Jenn G. February 8, 2013
[Disclosure: I am not a home cook but a professional recipe tester and cookbook reviewer. I reviewed Christine's book for LA Weekly.] I came across a handful of copy edit errors in the recipe/book text, as did Melissa. But this is far from uncommon -- a book I just reviewed that was quite lovely had a half dozen copy edit errors on my run-through (and a printer run problem with 10 pages stuck so tightly together, you couldn't open them). I still found much value - heck, fantastic pastries!- in the book. I tested a few of the pastry recipes and they came out great in my kitchen. For one, I even substituted inexpensive grocery store caramels - lovely. Note: I did not try many of the recipes Melissa mentions. For other readers who struggled, who knows. Do any of us know? Maybe it's an oven issue, maybe it's ingredient disparities (heck, I find the number of chocolate chips overwhelming at the grocery store), but regardless, I agree with Melissa's last comment -- Little Flower is valuable book worth keeping, and one with which I didn't have such problems. The beauty of cooking, testing recipes, of it all, really -- that we can come here and share together, learn from one another's experiences, and know that we are all going to think differently about that Little Flower pumpkin bread pudding (stellar for my family's Thanksgiving this year).
anntruelove February 8, 2013
Reading the comments from the home testers of this cookbook makes me feel better that the only recipes I have confidence in the very first time I try them are the ones from America's Test Kitchen. I really cannot wait to find out the winner of The Piglet because I am going to buy it and try a boatload of recipes from it and see how my experiences compare with the judges. I have a feeling I won't be dissapointed.
Sahsileeah February 8, 2013
Full disclosure, I am a home cook and tested the recipes in my home kitchen for Little Flower. The baking recipes were scaled from accurate weight measurements back down to volume measurements for the home cook. The white cake recipe actually works, but yes the batter needs to be divided evenly into 2 cake rounds. I've made puff pastry the classical way with the detrempe and beurrage and the quick puff is "quicker." Extra puff? my answer to that is make some lovely palmiers! I can eat through 2 dozen in a sitting. As for baking times, my own oven isn't calibrated and is 25 degrees off, so I have to readjust when baking. I'm convinced that every oven has hot spots and are not 100% fool proof. It is unfortunate to write off Little Flower Cafe cookbook and hastily say that it contains restaurant recipes when they have been tested in homes. Possibly in homes of more experienced cooks and bakers who knows how to cook with all their senses and intuition and not literally by what a cookbook says.
hardlikearmour February 8, 2013
This was a beautifully written review. It fairly assessed the merits and problems with each book, was thoughtful, and not snarky. Thank you Melissa Clark!
garlic&lemon February 8, 2013
I really enjoyed this review. Melissa was respectful and thorough. I especially like her assessment that Little Flower was not tested in a home kitchen. Wow, cookbooks being written for restaurant kitchens but marketed to a general audience? The editor is to blame for that one. I, too, would have been resentful if I had bought the book and had to tweak the recipes that much.
AntoniaJames February 8, 2013
I wholeheartedly agree that the editors are at fault for failing to test the "Little Flower" recipes properly in a home kitchen. What on earth were they thinking? The author -- as does anyone else who invests the time and energy to create recipes used in a cookbook -- deserves better than that. ;o)
RoyMorris February 8, 2013
Like Sahsileeah, I'm a home cook who tested a number of recipes in my home kitchen for Little Flower. My old/funky uncalibrated non-convection oven is also 25 degrees off, and in addition I have minimal experience as a baker (although I do roast an excellent chicken). Both garlic&lemon and AntoniaJames take Melissa Clark's frustration/speculation with a few of the recipes and embrace it as "fact", when in reality all the recipes were tested - and retested - by a number of home cooks. I have the utmost respect for Melissa Clark's culinary expertise and always enjoy reading her in the NYTimes. However, I have to say that not only did my Foley Cake, like hers, come out "fabulous and moist", but my (non-greasy) Brown Butter Shortbread got rave reviews from the professors and grad students at my wife's university, and my Ginger Molasses Cookies were a HUGE hit with the students and teachers at my sons' school.

In my experience, tweaking and adjusting is the norm when following any recipe for the first time. Everything - from which method you use to measure your flour, if the liquid ingredients are room temperature or straight from the refrigerator, how fresh your dry ingredients are - it all has an impact. To me, it's that bit of uncertainty, and the need to be totally present during the cooking process, that makes cooking so expressive and enjoyable.

I highly recommend Christine's book - and if you're in the LA area, a visit to her amazing neighborhood bakery/cafe, where you can have a great meal and pick up a copy.
anntruelove February 8, 2013
Despite some negative comments about this competition, I think the judges are providing their assessment of what they like about each book in terms of inspiration and then explaining what worked and didn’t work based on their personal experiences testing recipes from the book. If I had tried a recipe from Little Flower at home and had the same problems with baking times and amounts as Melissa did, I would have been really frustrated (actually probably really pissed off). So thanks Melissa for two great reviews of two totally different cookbooks!