My husband and I are usually healthy eaters, but we have recently been buying more cookies than usual.

We blame our current obsession – “The British Baking Show” on Netflix. The reality baking show has taught us new phrases like “chuffed” (British slang for pleased) and new desserts like a Black Forest Gateau. We gasp when a mousse melts, cheer when a contestant gets a handshake from Paul Hollywood, and I cry during every season finale.

Unfortunately, I am not a natural baker. While I love to try making new cakes or cookies, I am also prone to jumbling or skipping steps in highly technical instructions. Luckily, I spotted “Simple Desserts: the Easiest Recipes in the World” by Jean-Francois Mallet. The book contains 130 recipes in their most foolproof forms, which I felt sure would help me achieve at least a small success compared to the tiered sponges on my TV.

“True to the idea of simplicity, these recipes use only three to six ingredients and are prepared in no more than six steps; this book was created, therefore, for those who are not gifted in pastry,” Mallet wrote in his brief introduction.

He starts with a few basic recipes – easy doughs, whipped cream and lemon curd. The recipes themselves range from tarts to mousses to cookies. The author even includes a few quick ice creams that don’t require special equipment. Many desserts in the book require fresh fruit, like the mango cake or the flaky blackberry roll.

The recipes themselves follow a simple form. The instructions are all of two paragraphs printed underneath individual photographs of every ingredient. The facing page is dedicated to a photo of the finished product. More picture book than cookbook, it would be perfect for baking with children.


Some recipes require a simplified dough from the front of the book, but many others call for store-bought ingredients. The Crispy Chocolate Meringue Mousse has a preparation time of only 10 minutes, in part because one of the ingredients is premade meringue cookies. The Fresh Pineapple Tart calls for just three ingredients – fresh pineapple, unsalted butter and spiced shortbread cookies that form the base and the crumble topping. Some recipes were too dumbed down for even me, though. One of the ingredients for Amaretti Cookies and Cream was just “amaretti cookies,” and the recipe feels more like an assembly guide.

I decided to take on at least little challenge. I set out to make the Easy Puff Pastry Dough, which would be the base for my Apple-Caramel Flaky Pastry. I am sure Mary Berry would raise her eyebrows at the ricotta cheese that has a starring role in the dough recipe, but I was glad to see the directions didn’t require me to pound butter into my dough as I have seen the baking contestants do.

Regardless, I quickly felt like I was in a technical challenge on the show, trying to fill in the blanks in a recipe that doesn’t give away all its secrets. My simple directions didn’t explain what the dough should look like. I couldn’t tell if I added too much flour or if the dryness of my dough was right. For the pastries themselves, I did not know how thick the pastry should be or how much filling to put in each one. The result did not flake or even brown as described. The border I tried to make flopped, so the caramel leaked all over the pan. When my husband and I judged them, we sliced them to find raw pastry in the middle, even though we left them in the oven for an extra 10 minutes.

They were, as the Brits would say, dodgy. I am not sure if the flop was a result of my own baking ineptitude or a recipe with too many unanswered questions for a novice. I will keep trying this book because I find it approachable in a way many other books are not. But I hope I am not relegated to a life of buying cookies from the grocery store, whipping some cream and passing it off as homemade.

Maybe someday I will get star baker status. This was just not the day.



6 ounces (170 grams) ricotta cheese or 3 Petit Suisse cheese

2 cups minus a scant 1/4 cup (4 1/2 ounces or 180 grams) all-purpose flour

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (3 1/8 ounces or 90 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature

With your fingers, knead together all the ingredients to make a dough. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

You can use it as is or, for a flakier dough, make four folds: Roll the dough into a rectangle, fold it into thirds (like a letter), turn it a quarter turn. Repeat this step three times. Refrigerate for 20 minutes more before use.



One 10-inch (20-centimeter) Easy Puff Pastry Dough

4 apples

5 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (3 ounces or 80 grams) unsalted butter

8 store-bought salted-butter caramels

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Cut out four (4-inch or 10-centimeter) circles from the dough circle.

Peel, core, and dice the apples and divide them among the dough circles. Fold over the edges of the dough on each to form a border. Distribute the pieces of butter over the top. Bake for 15 minutes. Distribute the caramels over the warm pastries and bake for 10 more minutes, or until the caramels melt and the dough is puffed and golden.

Serve while hot with caramel ice cream, if desired.

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