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.
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.
When’s the last time you made ladyfingers? What? You can’t remember? And what the heck are they, anyway? Well, they’re sort of finger-shaped sponge cakes made from an airy batter of beaten egg yolks and egg whites and cake flour. I learned how to make them watching Julia Child on the French Chef episode “Introducing Charlotte Malakoff.” I get a thrill whipping up whites and yolks, and Julia made everything look so easy, I decided to try my hand at them. You can watch this episode on Amazon.com. Julia Child, The French Chef, Season 3, Episode 10.
Chiffon cakes, the third member of the foam cake family, are like sponge cakes with the addition of a secret ingredient. They came on the national scene in 1947. Before then, twenty years earlier, Harry Baker earned a reputation for his special cake among Hollywood luminaries. Mr. Baker, an insurance salesman by trade and a cooking hobbyist, would not divulge his recipe. Until, that is, he sold it for an undisclosed sum of money to General Mills. The following year, 1948, “Chiffon cakes became a national obsession” according to Jean Anderson (The American Century Cookbook, 1997). I have a little booklet from 1948, Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, containing many recipes and variations, icings, and serving suggestions. The booklet’s cover proclaims, “Never before such cakes as these. . . an amazing new cake family!”
What to do on a post-Thanksgiving Sunday morning? Why, make chocolate cake doughnuts, of course. My two granddaughters offered to help, and we all had a jolly good time. Oops! That’s my British schooling showing. The photo above shows the results of our happy efforts. I posted a story on chocolate doughnuts a while back, so just click here and you’ll get the recipe and see step-by-step pictures of the whole process. I want to emphasize that the dough is quite wet. That is as it should be. I think it’s best to mix it the night before so that it firms up and becomes quite easy to handle. Resist any temptation to add more flour to the dough or the doughnuts will cook up dry. How do I know? I’ve done it! It’s fine to flour your work surface and the cutters you use as necessary to prevent sticking. Do have fun!