Book Review

The Sweet Spot: Asian-Inspired Desserts

By Pichet Ong and Genevieve Ko

As the gravitationally challenged author of Notch-by-Notch, I shouldn't be allowed to read this book, let alone review it. The photos themselves (by Pate Eng) put me into insulin shock. Do they sell a drool protector for this keyboard?

This book is a class act; a wonderful mix of traditional and innovative recipes that will forever change the way you look at desserts. Once you taste jalapeno cream, you open a door you can never close. Tread carefully here. Here's that hallucinatory jalapeno concoction, which is really just a masterful way to disguise a bunch of flattened fruit: Fruit Carpaccio with Jalapeno Cream Ingredients:

Lychees, pineapple, kiwis and strawberries, all sliced thinly

Lemongrass Glaze

3-inch piece of lemongrass ½ cup sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice ½ cup water

Jalapeno Cream

½ cup heavy whipping cream 3 tablespoons sugar ½ cup crème fraîche ½ teaspoon seeded jalapeño, chopped 1 teaspoon grated lime zest &frac1"; teaspoon salt Directions: For the Lemongrass Glaze, simmer the lemongrass, sugar, lemon juice and water for 20 minutes until syrupy. Set aside. Thinly slice and arrange the fruit. Cover with plastic wrap and gently pound the fruit into an even layer. Refrigerate. For the Jalapeno Cream, whisk the cream in an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. While running, add 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Continue until soft peaks form. Mix the crème fraiche, jalapeno, lime zest, salt and the last tablespoon of sugar in a bowl. Add one-third of the whipped cream, mix well and then gently fold in the rest. Refrigerate for at least one hour. To serve, spoon the lemongrass glaze over the fruit, and top with a scoop of the Jalapeno Cream.

Okay, some of this may sound a little wacky, but I've loved every recipe I tried, even the avocado milk shake.

Some of these recipes, like banana cake and devil's food cupcakes, seem a little less than exotic. But that's deceptive: the cupcake frosting, for instance, has black tea, anise and bourbon, which gives a whole new meaning to devil's food.

Other recipes are real tongue twisters, like watermelon shaved ice with salt and pepper or pineapple wontons. The problem with typical American desserts, if I may be so bold, is that they bang the sugar drum over and over, leading to monotonous, forgettable ditties. The recipes here have a whole new rhythm, and will set your taste buds dancing.

The only problem I have with this beautifully photographed and printed book is the lack of an index or even a table of contents listing the recipes. Once you find a recipe you like, you have to tag it, because you may never find it again.

On the other hand, that conundrum leads me to a lot of page-flipping, often to discover a new recipe that I hadn't seen before, so it's hard to get too upset. The last time I tried to find the coconut creamsicle recipe, I ended up with spicy pineapple snacks. Yow, those were tasty.

The background music here is oriental, but Piche Ong is no stranger to American ways. Many of the recipes contain distinctly non-asian notes, like ovaltine and graham crackers. Still, the main excitement comes from the unexpected richness and subtlety of roses, mali syrup, lychees and pandan leaves. The only problem here is finding some of these exotic ingredients, but the magic of the Internet can help if you don't have a Chinese store in your neighborhood.

If you're ready for something new and exotic — something that will surprise the hell out of anyone expecting a normal devil's food, for instance — this is your book. Just use it with care.

Copyright © 2008 by Scott Charles Anderson. This article is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at may be posted or distributed without written permission.

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