Semi-Homemade Desserts
By Sandra Lee

205 pages; Color Photographs. Large Format Glossy Soft Cover
Miramax Books, Hyperion, New York, New York 2003
Reviewed by Bess R. Emanuel
Comments by Chef John J. Vyhnanek

Having tried several of the recipes in Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade cookbook and finding them surprisingly tasty, I was ready to try and sample some of her desserts. Her premise in her cookbooks is that today's eaters are too busy (or not knowledgeable enough about cooking) to start from scratch, so why bother? With some creative combining of mixes and pre-made sauces and such, reasonable versions of various desserts can be made quickly and easily.

The two recipes I tried produced mixed results. First up was Eric McCormack's (Will of "Will and Grace") "Amazing Chocolate Almond Biscotti". This recipe used a cake mix as its base, which eliminated the mixing of a few ingredients, but otherwise didn't save much time from the "from scratch" version I am used to baking. The baking time suggested was 35 minutes, which I followed, but the dough was very underdone at that point, even though the proverbial toothpick came out clean when inserted. Unfortunately, I didn't find this out until I sliced the log into the " biscotti slices. The second baking to dry out the slices did partially fix this problem; however, the basic recipe, while tasty, produces a dough which is too crumbly for biscotti.

I also tried Sandra's version of Boston Cream Pie. This recipe combined pound cake, vanilla instant pudding and fudge topping to approximate the famous "pie/cake" from Boston's Parker House. Maybe my problem is that I've had the real thing at the Parker House, so this version paled in comparison. However, if you are looking for a shortcut to this dessert, here's your roadmap.

These recipes do offer quicker versions of classics, although some of the cakes seem to take up in decorating time what they save in cooking time. And, as in Sandra's previous book, I still have the concern that the amount of fat and preservatives involved in using these prepared ingredients is too high. But when you're talking desserts and sweets, maybe people don't care!

Good Cooking and Chef John J. Vyhnanek have a lot of experience making Boston Cream Pie. When John was Executive Chef of the Ritz-Carlton Boston he made hundreds of these pies along side of his pastry chefs. "You make a lot of pies in 11 years", he said. Traditionally you start with a genoise, make pastry cream and a chocolate fondant to top the pie. We used to soak the layers with simple syrup (cooked sugar and water with flavoring), whip the pastry cream with additional cream, assemble it in layers and then top it with the chocolate fondant. It then sat in the refrigerator for several hours to firm before you could even think of cutting it. Once for a party of 300 we made 40 pies!

The recipe in this book isn't labor intensive or intimidatinganyone can make it. Surprisingly it tastes really good!
Good Cooking finds this book to be just the right thing for easy, quick and trouble-free desserts. No fuss and no muss, a good buy! However if you are a pastry chef you might have some reservations.

Copyright 2003 Sandra Lee
From the Stars Section Eric McCormack's Amazing Chocolate Almond Biscotti On the left is the version from the book and on the right the results we had!

Makes about 28 biscotti
1 box (1 8.25-ounce) dark chocolate fudge or devil's food cake mix, Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick butter, melted 2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure almond extract, McCormick
3/4 cup whole almonds
Prep time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine cake mix, flour, melted butter, eggs, and almond extract in large bowl. Beat for 2 minutes, or until dough forms. Knead almonds into dough. Scrape dough onto 1 prepared baking sheet and form dough into 13-inch-long log that is 3 inches wide. Bake for 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of biscotti comes out clean. Cool for 35 minutes. Using serrated knife, cut log crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Carefully transfer half of biscotti to second prepared baking sheet. Arrange biscotti cut side down on baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes, or until biscotti are dry. Cool completely (biscotti will harden as they cool).

Variation: Melt dark or white chocolate, then dip bottoms of biscotti into chocolate to coat. Transfer biscotti to wax paper; set aside until chocolate becomes firm.

Eric McCormack loves food. After all, the Will & Grace star lured his wife into marriage with his "Love Salad" recipe-just think what he can do with biscotti! The irresistible pairing of deep, dark chocolate and smoky almond is sure to steal hearts, and it's amazingly easy to make-a must when you have a new baby and a hit TV show requiring long days on the set Who knows? This stylish snack might make a guest appearance in Will Truman's kitchen.

From the American Classics Section

Boston Cream Pie On the left is the version from the book and on the right the results we had!

Serves 8

Cake and Filling: 1 1/4 cups cold whole milk
1 box (3.4-ounce) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix, Jell-0
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract, McCormick
1 box (I 6-ounce) pound cake, Entenmann's

1/2 cup chocolate hot fudge topping, Hershey's
1/4 cup confectioners/powdered sugar, sifted
Prep time: 25 minutes
Chilling time: 1 hour

Combine milk, instant pudding mix, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat for 2 minutes, or until pudding thickens.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Line 2-quart loaf pan with 2 layers of plastic wrap, allowing 2 inches of plastic to hang over sides.
Cut pound cake horizontally to make 3 equal layers. Place 1 cake layer in bottom of prepared pan. Spread half of pudding evenly over cake.
Top with second cake layer; spread with remaining pudding. Top with third cake layer.
Fold plastic overhang atop cake to cover. Refrigerate cake for I hour before serving.

For the Glaze:
Stir chocolate fudge sauce and confectioners/powdered sugar in medium bowl until smooth. Fold back plastic from atop cake.
Using plastic as aid, lift cake from pan; remove plastic. Cut cake crosswise into slices.
Transfer cake slices to plates. Spoon glaze over cake and serve.