Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Bookshelf: Big, bold recipes from Libbie Summers

"Sweet and Vicious: Baking With Attitude" by Libbie Summers, with photography by Chia Chong.
"Sweet and Vicious: Baking With Attitude" by Libbie Summers, with photography by Chia Chong.
"Sweet and Vicious: Baking With Attitude" by Libbie Summers, with photography by Chia Chong. Gallery: Bookshelf: Big, bold recipes from Libbie Summers

Sweet and Vicious

Baking With Attitude

By Libbie Summers

Rizzoli, 224 pp. $37.50

Reviewed by Robin Currie


There are baking books, and then there's Libbie Summers' new baking book, Sweet and Vicious: Baking With Attitude.

By vicious, Summers means fierce, intense, and unafraid, and her recipes show just that, with big, bold flavors. Her Habanero Carrot Cake has chiles and cayenne-spiced pecans; the Hog Heaven Chocolate Cake is topped with crispy bacon; the Bridge and Tunnel Cheesecake gets a kick from chipotle-spiced cashews and almonds.

Learn to expect the unexpected from Sweet and Vicious. There is a fantastical element to the book that adds another dimension. What birthday reveler wouldn't be charmed by the mile-high cotton candy that garnishes the Fairground Attraction Cake?

The fact that the recipes are extremely user-friendly and well-written adds to Summers' credibility. Summers, a former private chef on a yacht, learned to improvise on the fly and make the best of what she had. Clearly, she knows how to have fun, but she's also not afraid to get a little bawdy, with recipes like Looking for Mr. Goodbar Cake, Stoned Tart, and Retired Gingerbread Working Girls.

Savory recipes are given the same whimsical treatment. The Meatball Muffins were a huge hit with my family, including an improvised vegetarian version for the vegetarian among us. What's not to love about a plump meatball swaddled in mozzarella dough? The leftovers made great school lunches, too. The Pull-Apart Boy Bread, a savory dough recipe with five variations, was impressive-looking and jam-packed with flavor. We loved the Stinky Italian Boy version, with its roasted garlic, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan cheese.

The Chocolate Maniac Fire Bread, a cinnamon-laced chocolate quick bread, was one of the best quick breads I've ever had. The maniac in the bread was a finely chopped serrano chili added to the batter, making it just a little bit - vicious.


Meatball Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

For the meatballs: 

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup ricotta

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon onion salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 teaspoons each, finely chopped: fresh oregano, basil

For the muffins:

2/3 cup (plus more for dipping) marinara sauce, with lots of garlic and herbs

2 large eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs: parsley, basil, and oregano

21/2 cups all-purpose flour

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Make the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, and set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients well using your hands, and form into 12 meatballs. Place on the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes. The meatballs will not be fully cooked. (They will bake again in the muffins.) Allow the meatballs to cool on the baking sheet while you prepare the muffin batter. Leave the oven on.

3. Make the muffin batter: Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the marinara sauce, eggs, oil, mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, and the herbs. Set aside.

5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the marinara mixture into the flour until completely combined. Fill each muffin tin cup about half full with batter, then place one cooled meatball into the center of the batter with the top of the meatball sticking up. Sprinkle the muffins with the remaining Parmesan, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with warm marinara sauce for dipping.


- From Sweet and Vicious: Baking with Attitude

(Rizzoli, 2014)


Note: Wrap meatball muffins in plastic wrap or keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and they will last for up to 5 days. Bring the muffins to room temperature before eating.

Per muffin: 217 calories; 20 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 13 grams fat; 95 milligrams cholesterol; 408 milligrams sodium; trace dietary fiber.

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