Rebecca Miller Ffrench is on a mission. The longtime food writer wants to restore the tradition of weeknight desserts. Yes, you read that correctly. In this day and age of endless dieting, low-cal this, organic that, and “no, I’ll pass,” Ffrench believes that it’s downright sinful not to enjoy a little bit of sweet. “So many people don’t eat sweets these days,” says Ffrench, who has been an avid baker since the age of six. “But I’m so smitten with dessert; we always have something.”
In her debut cookbook, Sweet Home (Kyle Books; $24.95), Ffrench writes about how — no matter what was going on — her grandparents slowed down and bonded over their nightly sweet treat. “The tradition of weeknight desserts has been lost somewhere in the past 25 years,” she writes. “But times are changing, and so are family values. People are seeking inspiration from bygone times, when families weren’t over-scheduled or overprogrammed, when ‘store-bought’ and ‘readymade’ weren’t common terms.”
In the book, with stunning photographs by Philip Ficks, Ffrench shares dozens of dessert recipes, culled from her family collection, friends and other favorites she’s picked up along the way, in places like Jamaica and Norway. But she also provides tips for preserving your own family recipes, creating new traditions, and how to personalize and package baked goods to make one-of-a-kind gifts.
And by the way, Ffrench doesn’t think the gift of dessert should be reserved only for birthdays and holidays. “Honestly, in my family, we’ll celebrate anything,” says Ffrench, who lives in Phoenicia with her husband and two daughters. “If it is a really hot day we’ll come home and make big ice cream sundaes with lots of fresh fruit. One of our favorite traditions is to go berry picking and to come back, eat them, and make jam that we’ll be so happy to open in November.” And Ffrench just flat out won’t accept that watching-your-waistline excuse. “You can bake something — keep a couple of cookies yourself — and then give the rest away. That way nobody is getting a whole big box of cookies, or a giant cake that they can’t eat. Share the love.”
Personalizing and packaging baked goods:
- Always attach a recipe card. “I love when people give me recipes,” says Ffrench. “Whenever I make it, I think of that person. It is always so much better than something you can find in a store.”
- Use interesting containers. Consider reusing jelly jars, coffee tins, oatmeal canisters, and wooden fruit crates.
- Be creative with your wrapping. Use cellophane wrap, glassine bags, and colored wax paper squares. Fancyflours.com has a large selection of packaging supplies.
- Give your gift in a pudding mold or bundt pan.
- Attach vintage cookie cutters.
- Package your dessert with a special ingredient. If nutmeg or vanilla bean is a key element in your recipe, include a small jar or package of it with the dessert you’re giving.
Some of Ffrench’s favorite Hudson Valley sweet treats:
- Donuts at Deising’s Bakery in Kingston
- Dutch Apple Pie at Me-Oh-My Pie Shop & Café in Red Hook
- Desserts at Miss Lucy’s Kitchen in Saugerties
» Click here for Ffrench’s recipes from Sweet Home (including Strawberry Surprise Cupcakes, Mom’s Banana Cake, Black Bottom Ice Cream Pie, Pistachio Lover’s Pound Cake, Wacky Cakes-in-a-Cone, Sugared Mango and Anna Banana Muffins, and Nilla Wafer Pudding)