May 11, 2009

Scotch-a-Roos

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So if buttermilk pie is the star of the dessert buffet at a small town’s ladies luncheon, then Scotch-a-Roos are the treat that said ladies make for their daughters’ slumber parties. And how can I make such an assumption? Well, the first time I had these diabetic coma-inducing gems was with my dear friend Erin at her parents’ house (a house with a small field for a front yard, mind you) in the can’t-get-more-Midwestern-if-you-tried town of Hartford, Wisconsin.


We were probably a little old for a slumber party at the time, but it was the cap-off to Erin’s bachelorette party that involved a few bars on Hartford’s main drag outfitted with neon signs, dark wood paneling and jukeboxes blasting John Mellencamp, Foreigner and Boston. I vaguely remember bachelorette party essentials like cupcakes in questionable anatomical shapes and there may have been some karaoke as well, but the one thing I’m sure of is that there were Scotch-a-Roos at the afterparty.

At first glance, the Scotch-a-Roo looks somewhat familiar–a golden-hued Rice Krispy treat dressed up with a slick of chocolate over the top. But the first bite reveals something else altogether–an unexpected punch of peanut butter and butterscotch taking the whole thing to the next awesome, chewy level. But I should warn you: if you’ve never had them, it’s probably better to just try one and fall in love with them before you ask how they’re made. Because any recipe that starts with a cup of corn syrup and a cup of sugar makes your molars hurt just hearing about it. But if you think about it, that’s pretty much what marshmallows are minus their incorporated air plus! there is a cup of peanut butter involved as well, so hello, protein! Nevertheless, I usually halve the recipe to curb the extent of their damage–this way my Scotch-a-roo benders can only be a couple days long because my supply runs out faster.

And once you figure out other ways to justify eating half a pan of them in a weekend, you will be oh-so-pleased to learn how delightfully simple they are to create and how quickly they come together. Just bang a few ingredients (ahem, sugar and more sugar) together in a saucepan until bubbly, stir in the PB, toss with the cereal to coat, and while you’re waiting for the sugar to bubble, throw the topping chips into the micro to melt. And then chain yourself to a large piece of furniture in the other room while you wait for the bars to set up in the fridge for a few minutes.

Risking a few cavities never tasted so good. Enjoy!

Scotch-a-Roos

Makes 16 bars

Lining the pan with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (sprayed with a bit more cooking spray) will allow for easy removal of the Scotch-a-Roo slab and make for neat, even cutting of the bars. This recipe doubles easily–just use a 9×13 inch pan instead.

2 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (not a time for natural peanut butter, people)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Spray an 8×8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper if desired (see recipe note).

Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar into the corn syrup and bring to a bubble, stirring often.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate and butterscotch chips into a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30 seconds or so, until the chips are melted and smooth. Set aside.

When the sugar has started to bubble, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until melted. Pour the syrup over the cereal and stir until evently coated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer over the bars. Refrigerate until cool and the chocolate is set, about 20 minutes, before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Apr 29, 2009

Buttermilk Pie

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There’s so much to catch up on! That should be the new title of this blog, by the way. Maybe if I set a goal of monthly posts, it just might happen. Anyway, there really is a lot to tell. Baby C has grown by leaps and bounds. Rolling! Teeth! Singing! Grabbing everything! Crawling any day now! Eight months old already. Who, what-what?! I can’t believe it. She is at the age now where I want her to stay this way forever. And then the next day she’ll do something completely new and adorable, so it keeps it sort of bearable that she is inevitably going to grow up. Sigh. She is eating literally everything she is offered with gusto and eyes everything she’s not quite ready to have yet, like an amazing dessert that has totally re-centered us after a crazy month around here. I give you…buttermilk pie.


To start at the beginning, when I haven’t been busy literally chasing Baby C around the place (boy, she sure does roll fast–I mean, why crawl when you can roll at warp speed?), my new thing is entering recipe and cooking contests. I know, I know–how kitsch, right? But there is crazy prize money involved in some of them, so hey, why not? And it is fascinating, this world of contesting. For instance, I have learned that there is a difference between recipe contests and cooking contests. What now? Well, recipe contests are just submitted recipes, with or without a photo, and almost always can be submitted online these days, so really, they are the perfect thing for lazy creative people with lots of good ideas for original recipes. So you know I’ve been getting in on that.

Cooking contests are like “offs”. You know, cook-offs, bake-offs, that sort of thing. Competitors actually have to congregate and cook for judges in a live contest. The “offs” are hard core and I’ve been submitting entries for some of those, too, even though I am kind of scared of actually getting selected to participate in an Off. Like the Granddaddy of All Offs, the Pillsbury Bake-Off. So flippin’ great and Americana at it’s best, right? Well, I got in really late in the game, like a month before the deadline. So for four weeks, I ran around like a deranged Sandra Lee, conjuring up recipes using items from the eligible list of Pillsbury family products.

A few were pretty good–those got submitted for the Off and can’t be shared here yet lest I make myself ineligible because I’ve “published” them on the internets. Other experiments for the Off were, at best, very confusing in the mouth and are dead to me. There were so many processed foods in our personal refrigerated section at one point that I was sure we were becoming part of the epidemic. I’m no hippie when it comes to food, but I do like to make prepared foods with long, mumbo-jumbo ingredients lists just an occasional thing, and for a few weeks, everyday was an occasion.

But the deadline for the Pillsbury Bake-Off has passed, and things are getting back to normal around here on the baking front (read: scratch cooking, recipes developed by experts), much to the relief of the ever-supportive husband (thanks for pretending to like that crushed sugar cookie/marscapone/jam thing, babe). But there was one lone pie crust and half a quart of buttermilk rattling around in the fridge. In these waste not, want not times, I opted for the obvious utilization of said quickly expiring ingredients: Buttermilk Pie.

Nothing makes you feel like you instantly live on a farm than saying you are making a Buttermilk Pie, even if you use a packaged pie crust. I mean, Pillsbury shows people on farms eating their products a lot in their commercials, but I’m not so sure that’s really the case. But so what? This pie is everything a great dessert should be and the star is the filling. It looks, smells and tastes like it should be on a sprawling buffet at some small town’s ladies’ luncheon where all the husbands show up at the end and scarf up what’s left and everyone raves about the pie. It’s somehow at once subtle yet abundant in flavor, tasting of fresh eggs and sweet butter and a swirl of nutmeg, with tangy buttermilk and a bright squeeze of fresh lemon keeping everything from getting to be just too much.


You’ll find lots of different recipes for buttermilk pie in cookbooks and online, but I love this recipe because the eggs are separated, and the meringue folded into the filling right before baking gives an incredible weightlessness to the custard–so unexpected in the mouth because the pie appears so rich in color and lush in texture, like whipped cheesecake filling. The custard also separates in the pie shell in the most gorgeous way when you pour it into a warm crust before baking–fluffy, set and almost cake-like at the top, with a layer of lemon curd-like custard underneath. Delicious, delicious, delicious. Say it with me now: My, oh my, Buttermilk Pie.

Buttermilk Pie
Adapted from Robert Sehling and Food and Wine

Serves 8

This is the perfect dessert to pair with good strong coffee. It also would be a great match with fresh seasonal fruit of all kinds, and of course a bit of freshly whipped cream. Even better the second day after a night in the fridge.

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 9-inch pie shell, your favorite homemade or store-bought variety

Place an oven rack in the center position. Bake the pie shell according to the pie crust recipe or package directions. Begin baking the shell while you make the filling so that the pie crust will still be warm when the filling goes in. When the shell is done baking, set the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, beat the butter until creamy with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the egg yolks and flour and beat until incorporated–batter will be very thick at this point. Switch to a whisk and energetically stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice, vanilla, nutmeg and salt (you can use an electric mixer for this step, but have a kitchen towel ready, because it tends to make a big mess). Set aside.

Clean the beaters well, and in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff, but not dry, glossy peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks of white remain (whisking gently a bit if necessary to help things along). Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and bake until the custard is set, deeply golden and a toothpick inserted in the very center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack completely before serving. Refrigerate before serving if desired.


Mar 19, 2009

Meyer Lemon Sablés

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I love my cookie scoop. Love, love, love my cookie scoop. The way it swiftly forms a mess of dough into beautifully uniform orbs and deposits them onto baking sheets in neat rows–breathtaking. And the fact that I never once have to dirty my hands or wrestle with two spoons or weigh portions to ensure even baking, oh, I could just pass out from the sheer joy that my cookie scoop brings me. And I miss it so, because if a recipe calls for a dough to be portioned en masse onto baking sheets, well, that bit is usually just way too time-consuming for an ordinary day now. So one might assume that there would be a frightening lack of cookies around here since my beloved cookie scoop has been laying cold in its drawer for several weeks now. And one would be sorely mistaken, because who needs a fussy drop cookie when there are buttery slice-and-bake Meyer lemon sablés to be had?


Sablés are yet another fantastic French invention, crisp and buttery rounds with one of the shortest ingredient lists in all of baking and a perfect canvas for adding any number of flavors (like a smattering of fragrant Meyer lemon zest). They are so unassuming in their rustic shape and simple recipe, you never see it coming when you sample one and then suddenly have an instant craving for a second and third; you know the feeling–like a warm, snug rope wrapping around you and pulling you back towards the cookie plate. You are powerless against the sablé. It’s okay, it happens to everyone.

Meyer Lemon Sablés
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Makes four dozen

This dough freezes beautifully. I love to slice and bake one log of dough the day I put it together, and keep the other log in the freezer for any situation that calls for cookies, of which there are plenty. Serve with tea or coffee or for a last-minute elegant dessert, add a couple to a dish of premium ice cream and fresh berries.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
Zest of two Meyer lemons
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
Sanding sugar or other coarse decorative sugar

Pour the sugars into a small bowl and add the lemon zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant with lemon with the bits of zest evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until it is soft and creamy-looking. Beat in the lemon sugar just until the mixture looks smooth again, being careful not to let it get fluffy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat in just two of the egg yolks, mixing until well-blended. Turn the mixer to low and stir in the flour until it is fully incorporated. The dough will be very soft and not quite clear the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide it in half.

Shape each dough half into a even log about nine inches long and wrap each log in a sheet of plastic wrap (the plastic wrap can also help the dough-shaping process along if your dough is especially soft and sticky). Refrigerate for at least three hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Coat each log of dough with the remaining egg yolk, and coat liberally in decorative sugar. Slice each log into 24 discs (most easily achieved by slicing the log in half, then each half in half, etc.) and place on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the edges turn golden brown and the cookies are mostly firm to the touch. Cool on the baking sheets for one minute then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Feb 23, 2009

French Yogurt Cake

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Can you think of anything better than baking on a Sunday when the rain and wind beat so hard against the windows that the

sound

makes you pull your old sweater around you tighter? I didn’t think so. If I had gotten through the day without turning the oven on, I am certain some kind of culinary police would have come pounding at my door. If not for that, then because of the sweet, cakey air drifting from my kitchen that could have drawn in the entire city.


Some rainy days make you want to putter for hours in the kitchen, but others call for something with a quick preparation that allows you to get back to your big, cozy chair and your copy of The Tenth Muse as soon as humanly possible. In her memoir, Judith Jones (in addition to regaling me with stories of her years as a legendary cookbook editor) creates such vivid pictures of the French countryside that I have been choking back tears for not yet having traveled there. So I figured the best I could do was to crank up some Josephine Baker and throw together a cake well-loved by the French that is incredibly, deliciously simple. So simple, in fact, that the batter comes together in just one bowl, is mixed by hand, and traditional recipes for it call for the ingredients to be measured in “jars” rather than “cups”–meaning the jars that many wonderful French yogurts come packaged in, like the one in this blurry photo:


Although I opted to use my boring old American 1/2 cup measure, I added extra interest to the basic French yogurt cake recipe by adding vanilla extract and a scraped vanilla bean. And now would be an opportune time to admit to something in the kitchen at which I am completely inept–scraping vanilla beans. No matter how I do it, no matter how sharp my knife or how carefully I scrape out the seeds, the pods end up in gnarled shards, the fragrant pulp shmeared into my board, and I end up having to pick woody bits of pod out of my batters or frostings and trying to furiously flick seeds from my fingertips into the bowl. Witness the carnage:


Vanilla bean snafus aside, this cake is a winner. And so versatile–great with ice cream, flavored whipped cream, any kind of fruit or dessert sauce. Or eaten out of hand with a paper towel as a plate while standing at the counter, watching the rain through your rattling kitchen window.

Gateau au Yaourt a la Vanille
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg

Makes one single layer, 9-inch cake

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and the seeds of the vanilla bean until well-blended. Stir in the flour and baking soda until the batter just starts to come together–there will be some small lumps and that’s okay. Pour in the oil and whisk the batter until it is smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 32-35 minutes, until the cake is an even, deep golden brown, springy to the touch, and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 30 minutes before turning it out onto the cooling rack to cool completely.

Feb 20, 2009

Warm Herb-Scented White Bean Salad with Greens

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As crazy as this may sound on a blog such as this, one cannot live on dessert alone. And as maniacal as my sweet tooth is, I’m not sure I would want to. At least, not when there’s a warm, herb-scented bean salad to chow down on.


This dish is originally from the cookbook that I’ve practically been keeping under my pillow at night, How To Eat Supper. I don’t need to go into my near-restraining-order-sized love for Lynne Rossetto Kasper again on Piece of Cake, but hey, why not? I love this woman. Love her, love her show, love everything about her. She gets me. I am the type of cook who loves a challenge when I have extra time, but when it comes to everyday cooking, I want to head into the kitchen with an arsenal of Not Dessert recipes that can be made quickly but still feel like a fun project, and are soul-warming and satisfying in their simplicity but are always interesting and bright spots in a long week. I also love the fact that this book is full of recipes that one can easily riff on, and you can practically hear LRK cheering you on as you swap out an ingredient or two and really make a dish your own.

With this recipe, I sometimes use dried herbes de provence rather than fresh rosemary because I always have that on hand. I also recently swapped out the asiago cheese in the bread crumb topping for lemon zest and an extra pinch of salt since my completely adorable vegan sister was visiting, and it was still so delicious the two of us ate the whole dang thing in one sitting, half of it straight from the pan. The beans stay whole and firm, yielding to their creamy, sweet interiors, tasting even richer with a light coating of warm, garlicky herb-infused oil and a salty, crumbly topping. Adding extra greens that maintain some structure while barely wilting at their edges takes it beyond the side dish. And putting some toasty bread covered in ripe avocado with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt alongside makes you never want to think about eating anything else again. Except maybe some cookies, which are especially necessary after eating something so full of savory health.

Warm Herb-Scented White Bean Salad with Greens
Adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift’s How To Eat Supper

Serves 2 (or one hungry vegetarian)

1 generous tablespoon dry bread crumbs (or about two tablespoons fresh)
1 tablespoon grated asiago cheese (or the zest of 1/2 a large lemon)
2 large garlic cloves
Good extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon herbes de provence
1 can organic white beans, drained and rinsed
2 big handfuls mixed sweet baby salad greens (such as romaine, butter and red leaf)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast the bread crumbs until they are golden and fragrant. Stir in the cheese (or lemon zest and a pinch of salt). Pour the crumbs into a dish and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean and set it back on medium heat.

As the pan gets back up to heat, mince the garlic and add a generous pinch of salt to it. Working with the heel of your hand against the flat blade of a chef’s knife, massage the garlic into a nubby paste in a circular motion, using the salt as an abrasive. After a few firm rubs, scrape the flattened garlic back into a little pile, run the knife through it to mince it even finer and repeat the massaging and mincing process until the individual bits of garlic are nearly undetectable.

Film the pan with olive oil and add the garlic. Using a spatula, keep the garlic moving in the pan for about one minute and don’t let it brown. Add the herbs. Saute for about 30 seconds more and lower the heat to medium low. Add the beans and turn them gently in the pan, coating with the garlic and herb infused oil and being careful to keep the beans whole and as unbroken as possible. When the beans are just warmed through, toss in the greens and keep folding gently until the greens just begin to wilt. Turn the salad into a serving dish and cover with the bread crumb topping. Nudge the salad around in the bowl just enough to send some bread crumbs tumbling down deeper into the bowl, but not tossing completely. Serve immediately.

Feb 19, 2009

Gougères

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I may be in the minority here, but I was not a huge fan of being pregnant. At any point. Okay, as far as pregnancies go, I had it easy in the nausea department and there was about a week at the beginning of the third trimester where I felt like a million bucks all day long. But other than that, I am glad to have that behind me for now and be enjoying my beautiful outside baby. And my wine. Lord, how I missed my wine. There are few things sadder than being eight months’ pregnant and wanting nothing more in the world than some crazy stinky (and unpasteurized) cheese, water crackers and a luscious Côtes du Rhône and sobbing because all you can really have is the crackers.

So I am glad to have wine back in my life, especially when the San Francisco winters make for long, rainy nights. And wine drinking is even more delightful when you get to share a few glasses with a dear visiting friend and a plate of golden gougères, heady with Gruyère.


Gougères are one of those incredibly delicious bites that are so complex in their texture (crisp, light, airy and yet toothsome when the orb begins to melt in your mouth) that you never really believe how simply and quickly they come together, no matter how many times you make them. It all starts with a pâte à choux, that fabulous French invention that can be taken from sweet to savory in a matter of minutes. When the dough is shaped and baked plain, you can have yourself some eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles and more. When loaded with savory ingredients like cheeses (traditionally Gruyère), diced meats and herbs, you’ve made gougères, quite possibly one of the most delightful matches ever to pair with drinks.

The dough initially comes together on the stovetop in just minutes–butter, water, milk, salt and flour–and finishes in your stand mixer with eggs added one at a time until the golden, silky dough comes together with the consistency of a pound cake batter. The cheeses (and/or other seasonings) are stirred in last and the dough is shaped and dropped immediately onto prepared sheet pans. Shape the dough into any size you want, from teaspoonfuls for a dainty one-bite morsel with cocktails in fancy glasses to ice cream scoop-sized mounds that make for a ham sandwich unlike any other you’ve had in your life. I like using my one ounce cookie scoop for a three bite gougere (or two unabashed bites if you’re among friends) that sits well in one hand with a big glass of wine in the other.

If the method isn’t simple enough, when you make yourself a batch of gougère dough, you can scoop out mounds, freeze them on a sheet pan and then store the portions in zip-top bags and bake them off as needed. So you can actually be one of those people that has something intoxicatingly fragrant and freshly baked to offer guests who just happen to “drop by”. Can you stand it?! Actually, I think just dropping by is kind of rude. I don’t know if I would share my gougères with such etiquette rogues. But if you call first, well then my gougères are your gougères.

Gougères

Makes about 30 golf ball-sized puffs

Gruyere is the standard here, but I’ve also made great ones with extra sharp cheddar. Whatever cheese you choose, bold ones taste best with the eggy, buttery richness of the dough. Blue cheeses are also wonderful. If you want to freeze any unused portions, there’s no need to thaw them before baking–just bake them a couple minutes longer.

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups of a coarsely grated, flavorful cheese, such as Gruyere or Cheddar


Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.


In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan over high heat, bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a boil. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium and immediately begin stirring at a good clip with a wooden spoon–don’t let up until the dough starts to come off the sides of the pan. It will also form a loose ball and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. At this point, keep stirring quickly to dry the dough, about 2 minutes more. The dough should now be very smooth and have lost most of its moist appearance.


Turn the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or you can continue by hand if you have forearms of steel). With the mixer running at medium speed, beat in the eggs one by one. You’ll think the dough is breaking apart and all is lost, but it will come together again as all the eggs are added. Stir in the grated cheese. Immediately scoop the dough onto the prepared sheet pans, leaving about 2 inches of space between each portion.


Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until the puffs are deeply golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Feb 17, 2009

Being Dorie Greenspan

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It used to be that I couldn’t understand why so many people find baking a daunting task. I mean, I knew that the need for precision and attention to detail in order to get a great result does make baking projects a little more complicated than cooking, and perhaps it is my Type A-ness that makes the lack of willy-nilly in baking so appealing to me. But really, people, I would think, at the end of the day, if you can read and have an adequate short-term memory you can bake. Well, I have discovered that the latter is very important, because there have been many days in recent months where I have found myself standing in the kitchen, shuffling through the cupboards, saying out loud to no one in particular, “Now where on earth have I put my short-term memory?!”. I am hoping it has to do with the fact that my last full night of sleep was August 25, 2008. To those who do not have children and think I’m exaggerating–I am not making this up.

Anyway, I have botched many a recipe since Baby C came along by adding whole eggs instead of just yolks (my punishment for forgoing mise) or setting the oven to ‘broil’ instead of ‘bake’ (because everyone loves a crunchy brown crust with a raw shortbread center!) orrrrr using the wrong measuring spoon (my sleek stainless steel spoons with their nearly invisible engraved measurements were so handsome until exhaustion started making my vision go wonky on occasion). My point is that I feel you now, baking phobics. And I would like to embrace you all with my trembling arms, caked with tears and flour, and say that there is hope. And her name is Dorie Greenspan and she offers you her protection in the form of her absolutely lovely Baking: From My Home to Yours.


Now, everyone in the food world loves Dorie Greenspan, and I’ve written about some of her recipes on this blog before and have a few in the pipeline here at Piece of Cake. Her book has been out forever at this point, but I’ve always loved it so much that it’s high time I raved about it on this site and urged you to pick it up if you don’t have a dog-eared, butter-shmeared copy of it already. I’ve always loved her conversational writing style, her can-do attitude and approach to baking.
Dorie reminds me of the whip-smart, artsy woman who worked in my high school’s library who always had a twinkle in her eye and managed to be warm and delighted to help even the most clueless teenager, making you feel like you were part of a special club just for asking for her help and earning extra points when you asked for a title she found particularly interesting.

Dorie’s Baking: From My Home to Yours evokes the same feeling–even the most fantastical of her confections is doable and you feel empowered by her recipes. Of course, you have to measure your ingredients properly and know how to set your oven, there’s no getting around that (too bad for me), but once that’s done, you sail through her recipes with her voice in your ear, and the whole process a real pleasure. Plus, she is completely adorable, with the kind of Peter Pan haircut that I’ve always wished I could pull off but know I never could because I’ve always felt my head is a wee bit too small for my body. In fact, just the other day I saw a woman at a bus stop sporting a Dorie Greenspan with her black turtleneck and chunky colored glass necklace and coveted the whole look. But that’s not the point.

Follow Dorie’s recipes to the letter and you, too, will think you’re a baking phenom. Try some of her “Playing Around” tips in the sidebar and feel liberated. Come up with one of your own variations, and well, you can practically feel the glow of Dorie cheering on your genius and giving you that afterforementioned “special club” feeling. Except it’s not for checking out A Separate Peace, it’s for scoring PEANUT BUTTER WHOPPERS to add to Dorie’s Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops. But that’s another post. There are a lot of great baking books out there, but start your collection around this cookbook, and you’ll always have a go-to source for fool-proof recipes. Even if you suddenly find yourself highly distractible and have a hard time protecting yourself from yourself when it comes to baking. Promise.

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