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Claudia Fleming was hired as the pastry chef of New York City's Gramercy Tavern in 1994 because she promised not to dazzle diners. While everyone else was creating architectural concoctions that were impressive but intimidating, Fleming had already developed a simple, elegant style that belied the craft behind it. To realize what a master of technique she is, you need only make a few of the desserts from The Last Course, the new book of recipes she has written with Melissa Clark ($35). Even the easy ones are revelatory. For instance, I'd never bothered to cover a water bath with foil before, but I followed directions when I made her Lemon Verbena Custard. The reason for the extra step became clear when I tasted the custard: Cooked in that closed, moist environment, it was the most delicate I've ever made. Fleming is especially adept at combining flavors; for instance, she tempers the rich custard with tart raspberry sorbet. In fact, the book may be worth having just for the inspiring recipe titles. The words (Roasted Chestnut­-Honey Pears and Spiced Quince Butter Cake) look dazzling on the page.

-Jane Sigal

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Published October 2001
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