I’m a great fan of kitchen gadgets, especially those I don’t have to plug in. I would be lost without my whisks, granny fork, instant-read thermometer and nut grinder. What’s a nut grinder? It’s a rotary hand-cranked device you clamp to the side of a table that does a superb job of turning nuts into a fine dry powder. Many European cakes (tortes) use ground almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts, and the only way to achieve the proper texture is to grind the nuts with a nut grinder. A food processor just doesn’t hack it. I got hooked on nut grinders while baking my way through Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1974). Back then I could order a nut grinder from Williams-Sonoma. In Maida’s book she even had a sketch of one. Nowadays nut grinders are hard to find, unless you visit European cookery web sites.
Génoise is the last of the foam cakes. It is also a very versatile cake that may be used to make petits fours and jelly rolls. It differs from all the other foam cakes–angel food, sponge, chiffon–in that it is made with whole eggs. Warmed eggs are beaten with sugar and vanilla until they triple in volume, become thick and creamy, and are filled with tiny air bubbles, the only source of leavening. I like to use a mixture of unbleached all purpose flour and bleached cake flour because I think it gives the cake a fine, sturdy crumb.Génoise tends to be dry, and when baked as a thick layer, it is split and brushed with generous amounts of a flavored sugar syrup before filling and frosting.
Can you imagine how thrilled I was when Food and Wine magazine voted Apricot Berry Crumble “Best of the Best” shortly after Baking in America was published? Thrilled and surprised, actually, because the dessert is so simple and uncomplicated. So, what exactly is a “crumble?” According to Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts, it’s a fruit dessert baked with a topping containing oats, essentially an English version of American “crisps”. What both these types of desserts share is a crumbly topping of flour, sugar, and butter that bakes crisp on top as the underside sinks into the fruit to flavor and thicken it. They go way back in our history.
DuncanKateRobinDuncan McDermott Graham (Kate’s son), Kate McDermott, and Robin Jacobs, the three musketeers of The Art of the Pie workshop.
It’s rare that I get to take classes from a professional baker because I’m the one who usually gives the classes. All that changed recently when my wife, Dorothy, and I, were invited to attend a baking weekend called Upper Crust at Paws Up, a world-class resort just an hour away from our home in Montana. Full disclosure: My wife and I were comped for this extraordinary weekend.
Abby Dodge is one of the best bakers in the world. I got to know her by baking my way through her dessert stories in Fine Cooking magazine, where she began as a recipe tester eighteen years ago. Abby has a flair for combining flavors and textures in unexpected but delicious ways and her recipes are foolproof.
In her new and delightful cookbook, Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets: 100 Delicious Desserts to Pick Up and Eat, published last year by The Taunton Press, Abby has come up with inventive takes on all sorts of cookies, macarons, pastries, mini cakes and pies, frozen treats, and even candies.
I’ve had a long and happy ride with Baking in America, my cookbook that tells the story of our country’s love affair with baking through 200 years of history since the American Revolution. Published in the fall of 2002, Baking in America went on to win the James Beard Award for Best Baking Book in 2003 along with the International World Gourmand Cookbook Award.
I am very proud of this book. In the four years it took to write I traveled all over the country to peruse original editions of historical cookbooks, leafed through pamphlets of ephemera featuring recipes and cookware of American manufacturers, and interacted with dedicated research librarians who fell in love with my project as much as I did.
The idea for Baking in America came to me while I paged my way through Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book looking for an inspiration, something to bake, but I didn’t know what. I’d owned this book since 1950, the year my family and I immigrated to San Francisco from Shanghai, China. I had read it from cover to cover several times, and I always found something new.
As I read it again, I was struck by how American the recipes were, which led me to ask: Where did these recipes come from? And that led to all sorts of questions about America’s past and how people baked, and what were the butter, sugar, and eggs like, and how did women manage to control oven temperatures, etc.
To get answers to my questions I needed to go to libraries to read old cookbooks, newspapers, and magazines. In my research I found all sorts of recipes that I wanted to bake that had been left languishing in cookbooks from another century. Why was that, I wondered. Why were Boston Cream Cakes, Lafayette Gingerbread, Indian Pound Cake, Yeasted Corn Bread, Devil’s food Cake made with a chocolate custard base from 1910 no longer being baked? So I decided to begin my journey by baking them myself with the full realization that the ingredients I was using—flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs—were quite different from the ones used by the bakers of a bygone era.
The recipes I read inspired me to create recipes of my own, and so my book is a celebration of America’s past as well as its present. You’ll find over 200 recipes in Baking in America including savory and sweet yeast breads, quick breads, pound cakes, loaf cakes and sheet cakes, cupcakes and cream puffs, sponge cakes, angel food cakes, and chiffon cakes, Génoise cakes, cheesecakes and tortes, cookies, fruit desserts, and pies and tarts.
The staggering range of what American bakers were able to produce in their home kitchens is awesome. Just think of the challenges presented by a wood-burning stone oven! Nevertheless, the hallmarks of the American home baker of the past and present are the same. They strive for simplicity, straightforwardness, and experimentation.
I recently received sad news. Baking in America has gone out of print, no longer available in stores. It’s the end of an era for me, but fortunately, I managed to get my hands on some remaining copies. So as a favor to my fans, I’m making band-new autographed copies available until March 15, 2013, for just $25 each, including media mail postage, for delivery within the USA only. And, if you’d like, I’m happy to personally inscribe the books as well. To order, just click on the gold “Buy Now” button in the far right column. And thank you all very much.
Sponge cakes are named for their springy texture and airiness. They may be baked in tube pans, loaf pans, sheet pans, layer cake pans, muffin cups and just about any pan you can think of. You can flavor the cakes just about any way you like—they take to all sorts of fillings and frostings. And whipped cream—flavored with vanilla, coffee, chocolate, liqueur—is always a welcome companion.Because we’ll be in the world of foam cakes in the next couple of blog posts, and the techniques to make these cakes are essentially the same, I’ll provide links so that you can review what to do and how to do it at your leisure.
Okay. I know the holiday season is over and we can forget about Mel Tormé singing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” until next Christmas. But let’s not forget chestnuts. They are a neglected ingredient in baking: starchy and sweet, they add a unique texture to cakes and tortes. Fortunately, chestnuts imported from France are available year-round in cans, either cooked and left whole, or in purées.
My goodness, but this recipe brings back memories. I began making it decades ago and included it in an episode of my Montana television cooking show, Big Sky Cooking. I had decided to do a show on meringue because I was—and still am—absolutely fascinated by how gloppy egg whites beaten with sugar transforms them into a billowy white cloud-like meringue. I had found numerous recipes for something called Overnight Meringue Torte in newspapers and magazines where a stiff meringue is packed into a tube pan and placed into a hot oven. The instructions said to turn the oven off immediately and leave the torte in the oven overnight, at least 8 hours. But how strange was that? And what was supposed to happen? Magic. That’s what happens. As the oven cools, the inside of the torte cooks to a creamy smoothness—it will melt in your mouth—and its top develops a crunchy crust. After taking the torte out of the oven the top may be all cracked and uneven, and you may scream in anguish.
I found this recipe years ago in a publication whose name I do not remember. I had torn the recipe out and zipped it into my briefcase and I said to myself: “I’ve gotta make this.” Finally, this past Thanksgiving, I kept my promise. Normally our Thanksgiving gatherings are fairly small affairs, but Thanksgiving 2015 was special because our entire family got together. This recipe makes a huge yield. The bars are rich, rich rich, and one bar will definitely satisfy, especially after a big meal and a sampling of a few pies. I followed the recipe as written but I omitted the caramel sauce because I felt that was overkill. Here it is. I measured the flour by spooning it into the measuring cups and leveling off.