Review: Sweet Melissa Baking Book

For most of us, the first we had ever heard of baker Melissa Murphy was when she took home the grand prize a while back on the Food Network’s Edible Ornaments Contest. But the folks in Brooklyn have adored her devotion to making the finest baked goods in the five boroughs since she first opened Sweet Melissa Patisseries in 1998.

Since then, the accolades have been many. In addition to the Food Network victory, Sweet Melissa’s was also honored with the Zagat award for “Best Tarts and Pies” in New York City. Melissa and her bakery have been featured in both local publications, like the New York Times, and in national periodicals like Sweet Melissa Baking BookFood & Wine and Fine Cooking. On the heels of this success, Murphy is releasing her much anticipated Sweet Melissa Baking Book from Viking Studio, a division of the Penguin Group.

Flipping through an advanced copy with a friend who loves to bake gave me some true insight to the Sweet Melissa methodology. Each stunningly photographed treat brought a similar response from my friend, “Ooh, that looks good, but I would have drizzled chocolate on the plate first,” or “Pretty.  I bet powdered sugar would have made that even prettier.” Murphy’s plate presentation is fine, but not the focus. She decided years ago to concentrate on always preparing the absolute best recipe, not the trendiest. In fact, she states in the introduction, “The best food doesn’t have to be challenging in its preparation, but should recall our fondest food memories.”

Thumbing through the recipes myself later on gave me the chance to fully appreciate why many say Melissa Murphy is the best baker in the nation. After reading some of her creative specialties like Guinness (yes, the beer) Gingerbread and Sweet Plum Clafoutis with Almonds, I then took time to notice her takes on some of the classics … sheer genius.

At times the narrative seems a bit cocky when you read things like, “The cakes in this chapter are so uniquely delicious, yet the ingredients are so familiar. If you make any one of the cakes from the chapter, you will become somebody’s hero!” But when you observe the attention to detail, you begin to understand that Murphy is not bragging, she is stating fact. What makes Sweet Melissa’s Red Velvet Cake so good? Dutch-process cocoa, red wine vinegar, and buttermilk in the cake batter. The secret to her Carrot Cake? The zest of one orange in the frosting.

The recipes used at Sweet Melissa’s are not just her spin on each dish, but rather the result of lots of trial and error. Murphy has tested hundreds of versions of each delicacy she produces to find what she, and her many patrons agree are the best recipes for each. One might say that the Sweet Melissa Baking Book is a greatest hits of baking.  Or even better, it’s like a various artists greatest hits album recorded by Van Halen in their prime.

I’m giving away a copy of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.  Last day to sign-up is 12-12-11.  To enter click HERE.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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