Tartine
by Elisabeth M. Prueitt, Chad Robertson
Publisher: Chronicle Books, Country: US
ISBN: 9780811851503, Year: 2006
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Tartine is a remarkable book that allows the home baker to recreate breakfast pastries, tarts, cakes, and puddings from the renowned California bakery. The authors didn’t hold back anything in making the book, taking from most of their entire menu, yet the recipes are mostly accessible and the skill level required ranges from beginner to intermediate. Most importantly, many of the desserts from the book have a rustic charm but are still delicious and beautiful enough to be showstoppers. The photography, taken behind the scenes at the Tartine Bakery, captures the dream-like quality of the desserts and the remarkable skill of the artisans who make them.

Full review

Structure of the book

Tartine has 85 recipes in 8 chapters:
Breakfast (8 recipes)
Tarts and Pies (13 recipes)
Cakes (13 recipes)
Fruit Desserts (5 recipes)
Cookies (8 recipes)
Pastries and Confections (11 recipes)
Cream Desserts (7 recipes)
With a Glass of Wine (5 recipes)
Basic Bakery Recipes (15 recipes)
Many recipes have an accompanying full-page photograph. Ingredients have measurements listed in both US customary volumes and weights (cups, spoons, and ounces) and metric weights. If a basic recipe such as pastry cream or chiffon cake is a component, the page number is indicated. The book itself is strongly bound and can eventually be coerced to open flat with repeated use. The pages are matte book paper that dulls the contrast of the photographs slightly but gives them a rustic appeal. There is also a built-in bookmark.

About the authors

Elisabeth Prueitt and her husband Chad Robertson are the co-owners and chefs of Tartine Bakery and the Bar Tartine restaurant in San Francisco. They both graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in New York and trained in France for a year. Prueitt has worked at New York’s Montrachet restaurant and Canyon Ranch in Massachusetts. Robertson has worked at the Berkshire Mountain Bakery under Richard Bourdon. Together they have been nominated for a James Beard Award in 2006 and 2007 for Outstanding Pastry Chef and Baker, and won in 2008.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

The publisher’s site says that Tartine is a cookbook that “comes along [and] instantly says ‘classic’”. This review can easily be summed up with this: I vehemently agree. Of course, I’m going to give you all the reasons why I think so.

It’s been said that Tartine Bakery is the best bakery in America’s East coast. While some people might disagree, preferring classic American cakes slathered with buttercream or intricately assembled French entremets, I’m a fan of their rustic, artisanal approach to patisserie that mixes American and Southern French influences. However, cookbook lovers often find that the quality of the bakery doesn’t correlate well with the quality of the cookbook, with watered-down – or worse – completely altered recipes. Tartine is one of those uncommon cookbooks that allows the baker to successfully recreate their favorite bakery treats at home. The authors have done a remarkable job scaling down their recipes for the home baker — you won’t be forced to hide big batches of creams and cake scraps, or to make five times as many pastries as you need. One major change the authors have made is to use round pans for the Bavarian cakes, since they use long rectangular forms in the bakery.

Another area where the authors have been generous is in the inclusion of most of the bakery’s repertoire. All of their popular items — the croissants, brioche, quiche, tarts, Bavarian cakes, and cookies — are included. Even seasonal offerings such as the Bûche de Noël and Soft Glazed Gingerbread are in the book. The only items that have been omitted appear to be the bread (for which the authors are writing a second book), the Croque Monsieur (and all their pressed sandwiches), muesli, and Coconut Cream Tart. The Morning Buns were also omitted (to many fans’ protests), but Prueitt soon released the recipe (which can be found here).

I’ve been baking my way through the book and can say with confidence that I’ve never had so much success from a cookbook. Even though the pastries are “rustic”, they derive their charm from their simple, honest forms and the natural appeal of the produce. The Summer Fruit Bavarian always gets oohs and aahs, and so does the act of torching the Lemon Meringue Cake and slicing it to reveal four layers of lemon cream and chiffon cake. Even simple tea cakes (unfrosted loaf cakes) get inquiries for mass production for gift-giving. While the pastry for the fruit galettes is labor-intensive, it comes out beautifully flaky and buttery; I’ve passed on the recipe to friends who agree. Many of the recipes I’ve tried have received requests for repeat performances.

The recipes themselves range from easy (the tea cakes, which really are a “mix until combined” affair) to the intermediate (the croissants with five pages of instructions, the Bûche), but everything in between can easily be accomplished by an avid home baker.

The photographs were beautifully captured by Frances Ruffenach; she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Photography in 2007 (but lost to Karl Petzke’s work for Michael Mina). The images of the food have a dream-like quality but since they are captured from behind the scenes of the bakery, they also have a gritty effect from the dark wooden work surfaces, charred crusts, and the cold steel of the equipment — it is the combination of these two characteristics that best encapsulate the feel of the Tartine Bakery.

What problems/flaws are there?

While Tartine is hands down my favorite baking book, there are still a few problems. The photographs were taken in the kitchen of Tartine Bakery, and somehow some of the things I bake from the book that don’t have an egg wash — namely the tart doughs and the chiffon cake — never appear to be as brown as they are in those photographs, even though they are cooked perfectly. While it’s hardly a problem to have pale chiffon cake, the tart pastry loses some visual appeal and the deep golden color of browned pastry just looks better paired with fillings (the contrast between pale pastry and deep, toasty pecan pie filling can be jarring). Though I tend to like assertively spicy gingerbread, the steamed gingerbread pudding (really their gingerbread loaf cake) was a tad too strong (perhaps a function of the pungency of my particular knob of ginger), and my blender couldn’t completely puree the ginger, leaving behind fibers. Prueitt recommends slicing the ginger thinly to reduce this, but I wouldn’t mind just using powdered ginger in this case and saving myself the trouble.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Tartine is, in my opinion, one of the best baking books from an American bakery that has ever been published. The recipes are accessible but still have small, special touches that make them stand out from your usual bakery fare. Getting this book is a no-brainer for fans, but you would probably make new fans out of the people who eat your freshly-baked goods.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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Tartine, Elisabeth M. Prueitt | 2006 | US, 4.6 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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4 Comments

  1. klokanek
    Posted 29 Dec 2009 at 14:39 | Permalink

    I completely disagree with your judgment of this book. I consider myself easily an intermediate baker, and the three recipes I happened to try from the cookbook–the truffles, the toffee, and the almond rochers–and all three were were flops. The best recipe of the three was the truffles, but Mark Bittman’s ganache two-ingredient ganache truffles are infintely easier AND bette, so the work was entirely unjustified.

    Perhaps I tried the wrong recipes! Still, I’m a baker by inclination, collect baking cookbooks and love experimenting, and this is the one cookbook where I’ve had not one, not two, but three failed recipes–and the one cookbook that I got rid of as a result.

  2. Posted 29 Dec 2009 at 16:45 | Permalink

    Fair enough. But my judgment is from my own experience, and I obviously had a completely different experience with the book. I’ve tried 15+ recipes and only one with a kind of iffy result (but still good enough to finish eating, and I admit it was partially my own fault), the rest were resounding successes.

  3. Leslie Bronstetter
    Posted 26 Sep 2010 at 04:08 | Permalink

    The jury still out on how much I like the book. Couple of recipes great but definitely having trouble with some. As you say the pictures do not match my results. Example lemon squares where the pastry does not even come close to looking like the picture, perhaps covering with parchment and topping with pie weights the problem. Any comments? Also had to reduce the amount of lemon filling because suggested amount overflowed the pastry and came out a real mess. Again would appreciate comments.

  4. admin
    Posted 28 Sep 2010 at 14:46 | Permalink

    It’s been a while since I made that recipe, but I don’t recall having those problems specifically. How it differed from the book was that the filling was definitely firmer and more gelatinized, rather than the drippy glistening filling shown in the book (and I imagine the one from the book would be messier to eat). Still tasted great.

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