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Gateau: The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes

James Beard Award–winning writer Aleksandra Crapanzano shares the secrets of the cakes Parisians bake at home: the gâteau in its many splendors from the simplest yogurt cakes to deceptively easy bûches de Noël, from nut tortes to boozy flourless chocolate cakes, from yuzu madeleines to rum-soaked babas.

When we think of French desserts, we tend to imagine ornate creations and confections. Perhaps we envision a tarte Tatin, but rarely a homemade cake, whipped up on a weeknight with little fuss. But that is exactly what Parisians make and eat. Gâteaux are simple, delicious cakes, both sweet and savory, served to family and friends.

You might expect elaborate home baking to rival the extraordinary pâtisseries in town. Who hasn’t wondered if the French are born knowing how to make the exquisitely fine layers of puff pastry for a mille-feuille, or how to poach a soft meringue for an île flottante? As food-columnist Aleksandra Crapanzano spent time with Parisian friends who were cooking at home, navigating children and careers and gathering friends around their table at night, often impromptu, always delicious, she realized that the real magic is a certain savoir-faire, that distinctly French know-how that blends style and functionality in every aspect of life. Hardcover, 384 pages.

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