Interesting seasonal takes on French and American classics, advice on composing desserts, and plenty of dessert…soups! The Last Course is a great addition to the collections of more experienced pastry makers and bakers. Written by longtime and very influential pastry chef Claudia Fleming, it has pretty pictures, a clean design, and a focus on ingredients. There is solid technique behind the recipes, though I did find that they were somewhat hit or miss for me. For a few, I found myself thinking that an idea or a sauce was great, but that I would rather use a different recipe for part of the dish.
That said, this book is filled to the brim with great ideas and inspiration, and I would definitely recommend it to cooks who fall in either the intermediate or advanced categories of pastry making. Also, the Apple Tartes Tatin recipe has now for me completely replaced the one that I learned in a pastry program in France, no small feat. It was easy, turned out beautifully, and the apples were perfectly caramelized and soft.
I made: Nectarine-Blueberry Cobbler (p. 31), Fig and Concord grape Clafouti (p. 43), Grape Focaccia with Rosemary (p. 46), Concord grape Sorbet (p. 54), Apple Tartes Tatin (p. 61), Citrus Lace Tuiles (p. 90), Maple Glazed Bananas with Waffles (p. 99), and Chestnut-Honey Madeleines (p. 184).
Would add to my regular rotation: Nectarine-Blueberry Cobbler (with my own favorite biscuits recipe), Apple Tartes Tatin.
Quick answers to important questions:
- Is it necessary to spend a bunch of money for new equipment? If you bake often, probably not. If you are not an experienced baker, I’m not sure I would start with this book anyways.
- Are the ingredients expensive? For the most part, no.
- Are the ingredients difficult to find? No, as long as you stick with the season.
- Can I use ingredient substitutions? Yes, but baking is a science, so you may have to tweak things.
- Are the recipes complicated? No, but some things just didn’t turn out well for me, which could be particularly frustrating for someone just learning to bake. Some include techniques that will need to be practiced a bit, as in the Citrus Lace Tuiles.
- Can I feed kids from this book? Yes.
- Is this book on my side, trying to help? The writing is a bit distant. The recipes need to be read a few times, and I recommend making notes on ingredients that will need to be prepped in advance, the time required for each part of the recipes, and also any equipment needed.
- Is the text of the book helpful and/or interesting? The introduction to each recipe focuses on the dish itself, which is helpful, though not particularly warm.
- Are recipes on one page or do I have to keep flipping back and forth while cooking? Impressively, most of the recipes are on one page.
- Is this book beautiful and would it belong on a coffee table? It’s very pretty in a starched white apron and basket of fresh farmer’s market produce kind of way. It is not a coffee table book.
- Did I learn and grow as a cook while using this book? Yes.
- Are ingredients given in weight? No. Really a shame, especially for a baking book.
- Is there advice on how to make ahead/store/reheat food? Hardly any, which again, is really too bad for a baking book, and again leads me to say that this is not for beginners.
- Can these recipes be adapted for different dietary needs? Most of the recipes are vegetarian, but not vegan. There are a lot of naturally gluten free recipes included.
- Can kids help with these recipes? Yes, once you’ve made them once or twice.
- How delicious is the food? Some things were fantastic, others not so impressive.
- Are the recipes healthful? Can they fit in to a balanced diet? Yes, if you consider dessert a part of a healthy and balanced diet.
- Is there a set of values underpinning the book? Yes. Showcasing seasonal ingredients to their fullest, slow food.
- Good gift? Yes, for pastry enthusiasts, chefs, and anyone with a solid background in baking and pastry.
TLDR: The Last Course by Claudia Fleming is a great book for intermediate and experienced bakers looking for inspiration. Includes both classic American and French recipes with twists, developed over many years of seasonally based cooking at Gramercy Tavern.
Find The Last Course wherever you buy books, or get it from Amazon! Get inspired, bakers!