For a longtime pastry chef, Emily Luchetti holds notably clear-eyed views about dessert. The sweet course, she writes in the introduction to her new cookbook, Classic Stars Desserts (Chronicle, $29.95), "is important for our emotional well-being and tastes better when we don't feel guilty about eating it." To assuage this guilt, we must accept that "we cannot eat desserts all the time" (let alone start meals with them, and yes, you got the memo). We must also keep ourselves in some kind of shape and eat what she calls "healthful" foods the usual suspects here: fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein, and so forth. With life in the proper balance, we can reward ourselves for our restraint and moderation with the occasional fix of blueberry pie, knowing that, as Luchetti says of herself, "I am more apt to stick to a healthful diet if I know I can have a treat now and then." (Blueberries, incidentally, are not without nutritional value; even in pies, they offer a rich palette of phytonutrients, including anthocyanins and anthocyanidins, which tend to protect human tissues.)
In Luchetti's enlightened world, intensity, not scale, is the measure of all desserts, since when a dessert "is made with great ingredients and has maximum flavor, you don't need a huge portion to feel satiated." It also helps to have first-rate recipes, and Luchetti (who has enjoyed long runs as a pastry chef at Stars and, for the past 10 years, Farallon) has a lot of these to offer. I was particularly pleased to find in this new volume the secrets of Stareos, the star-shaped cookies that were a favorite and icon at Stars. (One secret: the filling is made with mascarpone.)
Just as delightful is her cranberry twist on linzer torte, an old Austrian favorite typically made with raspberry jam. Although Thanksgiving is months off, it's never too early to start worrying about cranberries, which despite their many virtues (including effectiveness as a home remedy for urinary-tract infections) always seem to end up being orphaned at the end of the big meal, valued for their reddish magenta color and not much else.
Luchetti's greatest-hits book left me with a pang too for Stars, a sensational and imposing place built for the ages yet gone before the turn of the millennium. An ashen fate, yet memories of the restaurant remain surprisingly sweet.