Blog Category Archives: Book Reviews

When is a Teddy Bear Also a Bunny?

You Can’t Judge a Cookie By Its Cutter


If your treasure trove of cookie cutters looks anything like our collection it is a jumbled mass of hearts and flowers, gingerbread men, dogs, candy canes, stars, bunnies, chicks, shamrocks and assorted seasonal and themed shapes. When we look through the pile we tend to see what we see. The heart is a heart, the bunny is a bunny. Well, what if they were so much more? Just take a look at these images and you will immediately see what I am getting at.

When the book You Can’t Judge a Cookie by Its Cuttercame across my desk I was floored. I have never seen such creativity with cookie cutters. Author Patti Paige “sees” things that you and I don’t (or in my case I’m pretty sure I couldn’t on my own). She has a true artist’s eye and has transformed the way I will look at lowly cookie cutters from now on.

Look at the Teddy Bear above. Adorable, right? Lovely icing job and presentation. Now look at the Magic Rabbit in a Hat below.

teddy_bear_rabbitinhat_0090 1


It’s made from The Same Cookie Cutter! Yup. Now look at the Toadstool and Dragonfly




…and the Kisses and Hugs




Is your mind blown yet? They were all made with the Teddy Bear cutter! The book is laid out by primary cutter so that you can make 100 different cookie designs with just a few cutters – and most of the cutters are ones you probably already own!

A heart cutter becomes in turn a pumpkin, a tropical fish and a strawberry. A Santa Claus becomes a witch, a turkey and a rabbit. A pear can be turned into a ham, a flower or a laughing hippo. I am telling you, I am simply amazed at Patti’s ability.


We highly recommend this book, You Can’t Judge a Cookie by Its Cutter. It puts a spin on decorated cookies that we haven’t seen before and the designs will take you through the year, hitting all the seasonal and holiday high points as well as providing some simply gorgeous cookies that will work for whatever event you have at hand.

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The Karen Page Interview

Karen Page and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible


After all these years of reading and feeling like I “knew” Karen Page, I hadn’t actually met her. When her first groundbreaking book, Becoming a Chef, came on the scene in 1995 I was energized and transfixed. She and her husband and collaborator Andrew Dornenburg brought to life what it actually was like to be a chef. They unveiled the stories of 60 chefs and they showed us a behind-the-scenes world in a way we had never seen before. The idea of the food business being something aspirational or inspirational was not so universally accepted. It was the beginning of what we take for granted now – that food and food information are everywhere! Karen and Andrew felt this pulse early and they have continued to bring us books with singular visions.

Their newest book is the The Vegetarian Flavor Bibleand while I am interested in every book they produce I wasn’t sure how this one would have applications to what we do here at Bakepedia. Then I received the book. It is very hard to describe, but I will do my best to entice you to buy it, as it will become a standard reference for you if you have an interest in flavor and how flavors work – and I know you all do! Karen took some time out to chat with me.


Dédé Wilson: Karen! I cant believe that after all these years of reading you and feeling like I “knew” you that we hadn’t actually met – what with all our overlapping circles of friends…thank you for chatting with me today. Tell me about how the Vegetarian Flavor Bible came about?

Karen Page: Thank you for talking to me and including the book, Dédé. This one was very personal. My father and stepmom both passed away from cancer between 2006 and 2009…we don’t always think about our health and especially for those of us in the food and wine business, it can be difficult. We eat more and drink more than the average American…and you can’t ignore the headlines anymore. We have to pay attention to nutrition for the sake of our health. I really began to start thinking about what we were eating and putting in our bodies when I was not eating professionally…I started reading and it opened my eyes – a lot. I began learning so much and yet there were so many contradictions. The book opens with a quote that I love:

“ Over half of Americans believe it is easier to figure out their income taxes than to figure out what they should and shouldn’t eat to be healthier”.

That’s a stunning fact, however, while many sources don’t agree, they do agree that plant based diets are best.

The reason for the book was to share what we have been learning on the nutritional end of things and the flavor end of things…I hope book will convey some complex info simply.


Let’s talk about how to use the book. It has an unconventional layout and I want to give our readers a clear understanding of what to expect and how to maximize the information. How should they dive in? I’ll just give them a head start by explaining that there is important info in the front of the book that should be read that sets up some guiding principles as well as some helpful info on how to use the book…

There is a lot of color-coding to help you. The most nutritionally dense foods have dark green dots – you can see immediately what foods are the most recommended…


And the bulk of the book is alphabetical. So, in thinking about the foods that we bakers use a lot, you can for instance look up Apples and within that section you can find out flavor descriptions and pairings along with the nutritional info…the pairing are what stand out to me as intriguing and unlike anything I have seen…

Yes, exactly…I’m a big skimmer…so maybe skim for an ingredient that you are familiar with or one you want to learn about…you could look up Acai and see how it is pronounced, seasonality, get a general sense of what this ingredient is. Let’s say you are planning a June wedding and you want to know if something is going to be available – it will tell you…and then you can also easily see where flavor and creativity intersect!


I am drawn to the parts where you describe flavor combinations. Some will be expected, like apples + cinnamon + nuts + raisins (Ed Note: this is the format used in the book), but some make me thing about an ingredient in new ways and then my mind starts racing and thinking about new ways to use that food. That’s very exciting. When I read apples + cinnamon + lemon + honey I could taste it in my mind…

Were there any particular surprises for you? Particularly when it comes to the kinds of ingredients we use in the dessert kitchen?

Almond milk was a great example…it’s not just for heating for hot chocolate or using on granola or oatmeal. There are now cheeses that are made from almond milk that are incredible…fresh cheeses that can sub for ricotta and even soft ripened cheeses. (Ed Note: we love those from Kite Hill, which are the ones Karen is referring to).

The first time I tried them I was floored…so many vegan cheeses can have off putting aroma and texture…if my palate and nose aren’t happy I can’t eat it. I don’t eat anything that’s weird…there is a lot of weird vegan food…these are very neutral…there’s just a note of almond and sweetness. I was impressed with the texture and flavor. I have wanted to try them in a cheesecake for a friend. I’m not sure of the baking properties yet…also Claudia Fleming has a ricotta tart that she makes that is just about the greatest thing I have ever had. I might try modeling after that…

…vegetarian and vegan…we have come so far. Still, we see the letter “v” and we think “weird”, but in fact both vegetarian and vegan foods and restaurants are more mainstream than ever…one of Philadelphia’s top restaurants is vegan! (Ed Note: Vedge was #6 on a recent Philadelphia Magazine poll of best restaurants).

I do agree there is a long way to go…especially with baked goods…so many that haven’t been invented yet!

Anyone on the cutting edge of creativity (in the food scene) should be interested in this whole slew of new products to use that are very compatible with great eating.


This is a good segue. Decades ago vegetarianism was fringe, then more acceptable. We are at that bridge where veganism is crossing that river. Vegan food doesn’t have to be fake.

Exactly…when I was in college in the late 70s there were restaurants beginning to experiment and some weren’t 100% vegetarian but had roots and were exploring organic, way before it was trendy. It was wonderful because it was another option. They made their own cornbread with stoneground corn and the flavor profiles were different.

Right now is a very exciting time for vegan and vegetarian cuisines. They are becoming more mainstream. Restaurants like Per Se and 11 Madison Park are offering vegan tasting menus. Vegan cuisine is being addressed and explored within gastronomy.


So how do you describe how you eat? Do you say “cleanly”?

I say “plant strong” or “plant based”. I don’t like to say vegetarian or vegan because I like to focus on what I eat not, what I am giving up.


Do you eat desserts?

I believe in sweets and sweetness. That period at the end of a meal…but so often we have such large portions of our main meal that by dessert our palates and stomachs are just done! I love the idea of a sweet at end of the day…life is good…not to use as a motivator…but a lovely way to end the day…

Sweetness serves that function of satiation…a hint of sweetness. I am more interested in petits fours than a whole dessert. That tart I mentioned of Claudia’s is truly perfect…and I like so many fruits…and nuts…and nuts take on much more importance in vegetarian diets so they are covered in the book in a thorough way.


Well your book allows us to take a deep dive into plant-based ingredients in a new way and I think it will help bakers expand their way of thinking. I am looking at the Chocolate entry right now and that combo of chocolate + hazelnuts + dried plums has me thinking…

Thank you, Dédé. I am, so glad you are enjoying the book.



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Cupcake Envy

Turn Simple Cakes into Edible Works of Art

p65 xylophone toy

Amy Eilert has written a book called Cupcake Envy, which will appeal to those who like to get crafty in the kitchen with their baked goods. In fact, as you take a look at these images it is hard to tell where the cupcakes are! She actually uses a variety if small cakes as bases for these pieces of edible art ranging from half-sphere molds to loaf pans to simple 9 x 13-inch pans of cake that are carved to your desired shape. No matter, the point is that with time, patience and some food coloring, you too can create these wild desserts.

p47 sushi bar

She shows us, step-by-step, how to turn simple cake into spectacular creations. These are perfect for birthdays, anniversaries and other significant events where a themed centerpiece might be welcomed.

There are 8 chapters, beginning with encouraging you to think outside the box, information on basic tools and all of the professional tips & tricks that Amy has compiled. Then it is onto the chapters that range from Fun, Flirty & Fabulous, which contains a chic handbag, dresses and fashion related items including a makeup kit complete with eyeshadow. Another chapter titled Macho Macho Man features boy and adult male oriented edibles such as a golf set, other sports paraphernalia and a cigar box. Another chapter is filled with baby related items such as the xylophone above or a baby bottle among others. The “food” chapter has the sushi as shown as well as a paper bag of groceries and a bright red apple for teacher. The flower pot below is perfect for Mother’s Day.

p92 how does your garden grow

There is a recipe for a Versatile Vanilla Cake as well as Royal Icing and Vanilla Frosting but Amy provides information on using cake mixes as well.

Let these images be an inspiration for you to check out the book; you will find all sorts of colorful cakes to make that will keep you busy for hours of fun and creativity.

Images provided by publisher with permission. Cupcake Envy: Irresistible Cakelets – Little Cakes that are Fun and Easy by Amy Eilert, Tuttle Publishing, 2015.

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“A Fine Dessert” Celebrates Women & the History of Desserts

Celebrate Women’s History Month


March is National Women’s History Month and it is a perfect time to celebrate all the amazing recipes and baked goods that women have handed down and preserved through the centuries.

In A Fine Dessert, author Emily Jenkins takes us through four centuries following four different families and we watch how they make a special dessert and pass down the same recipe to the next generation. This was a task so often relegated to women and thankfully recipes have been taught, absorbed and passed on again and again so that legacies continue as so beautifully depicted in this book.

A perfect gift for very young children – an enjoyable for the adults reading aloud – A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treatis a joy and comes alive with illustrations by Sophie Blackall.

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Best Baking & Dessert Books of 2014

Bakepedia’s Choice for Outstanding Books of the Year

Baking Books 2014

The year started out a bit slow but ended with a bang. A flurry of books from some well-known and loved experts in the field debuted this fall – Rose Levy Beranbaum, Dorie Greenspan and Peter Reinhart to name just a few. Here at Bakepedia we try to pay attention to books from various sources – the tried and true, the brand new authors (hello Dominique Ansel and Brooks Headley). We looked at big tomes, tiny ones, single subject, technique oriented and more. Here are our picks for Best Baking & Dessert Books of 2014 – the ones you should be paying attention to.


Bread: Some authors’ get better and better and surprise with each new book. Such was my experience with Peter Reinhart’s Bread Revolution. Not only is it written in Peter’s incredibly accessible style, but the book is truly aptly named. This book focuses on sprouted whole grains, unusual and heirloom flours and new techniques. When I got to the part about using peaches versus Parmesan cheese versus coffee beans to trap different kinds of wild yeasts, each of which would bring different qualities to my bread, my brain was spinning wildly with anticipation. I wanted to keep reading the book but I also wanted to race to the kitchen and get started! Check out our interview with Peter and if bread is your thing, this book is a must.


GAP US cover

Technique: If you have followed our book reviews this year you know that I loved The Gentle Art of Preserving: Pickling, Smoking, Freezing, Drying, Curing, Fermenting, Bottling, Canning, and Making Jams, Jellies and Cordials. This book came as a surprise to me. I almost didn’t ask for a review copy but then I received it and I was truly drawn into the world of curing and preserving with vinegar, sugar, air, smoke, alcohol, oil, butter, fat, heat, cold and through fermentation. Sure there is plenty of non-dessert related content, but there is plenty for us dessert lovers such as homemade fruit leather, fruit cordials, marron glacé, jams and jellies and more. Tons of images. A great gift book or resource book for your own shelf.


Baking: Rose Levy Beranbaum has done it again and has brought us another “bible” – The Baking Bible – this one on baking in general, from the cover shot of the flaky, buttery, sweet, shatteringly crisp kouign amman to cakes, cookies, pies and tarts including a bit of savory. Read our full-review. A must-have for the cookbook collector, Rose aficionado and those that love to know (need to know) the why’s of baking. Her Frozen Pecan Tart is a revelation, the Fourth of July Cheesecake with a red velvet cake base is a stunner and the almost impossible perfect looking Meringue Birch Twigs are pure Rose – sublime perfection.


General Desserts: Dorie Greenspan’s newest, Baking Chez Moi, might be about what she bakes in her Paris kitchen, but the recipes, most very accessible, will be at home wherever you live. Check out our interview with Dorie; she gave me one of my favorite quotes of the year: “Deliciousness is the final criterion”. If that speaks to you, so will this book. I was particularly drawn to her Brown Butter-Peach Tourte, Bubble Eclairs, Apple Speculoos Crumble (perfect for right now) and her Matcha Financiers.


Gluten-Free: I have already sung from the rooftops over my appreciation for all the hard work that Karen Morgan has done with GF research and recipe development. Her book, The Everyday Art of Gluten-Freeis so far beyond in its sophistication of any other GF books I read this year that it stands alone. Karen’s concept is that she has broken down GF baking and cooking (savory and sweet) into 6 categories. Each has its own fool-proof GF blend, which you can make or purchase: Biscuit Blend, Donut & Fritter Blend, Pie & Pasta Blend, Cookie Jar Blend, Cake & Muffins Blend and Bread & Pizza Blend. She helped me create the GF bagel of my dreams and for that she will have my never-ending gratitude. A chewy NY-style bagel folks! The waffles that grace the cover got huge thumbs-up around here, too.


New Author: Dominique Ansel and his debut book, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes, might have been included under our chef category but Dominique is such a gifted writer that calling him out as an “author” seems so much more appropriate. The book is roughly divided in half: half recipes and half beautifully written philosophical treatises on his approach to food and the creative process. I have never seen a cookbook like this before. Get it. As a gorgeous present for someone else, sure (the images are absolutely stunning), but you have to read it to. This is one of those books I took to bed – and then into the kitchen.


Restaurant Chef: Okay I know I just said this above about Dominique’s book, but I have never seen a book like Brooks Headley’s Fancy Dessertseither (he is the pastry chef at Mario Batali’s Del Posto). I mean, it kinda confounds me. So why is it included here? Because it is also highly entertaining and if you bake and you often find yourself thinking about why you bake or why you bake what you bake or how your days as a drummer in a punk band have informed your approach to pastry, then you need to read this book. I never thought I would read about a pastry chef putting olive oil and nutritional yeast on his popcorn (I do this too – hint to Headley, put the olive oil in a mister; it rocks). The book is weird. Good weird. Cucumber Creamsicle, “The Best Thing I Have Eaten in America” (hint: it’s a biscuit), Smoked Applesauce and Yeast Gelato. Here’s a quote so you know what you are in for: “ The key to making great food is to get the best possible stuff and avoid f*cking it up”. There ya go.


Candy: I am a chocolate fiend. Marzipan makes me swoon. Anything caramel-y or toffee-like weakens my knees. My fave candy book for 2014 is Sweet Thingsby Annie Rigg. Great recipes packaged with a look that evokes old-fashioned confectionery stores with offerings like Violet Candies, homemade Candy Canes, Turkish Delight, Rosewater and Pistachio Marshmallows and all the standards too like fudge, chocolate bark, truffles, caramels and more. (We are highlighting Candy with Lollipop Dippers and Candy Buttons). The book is a workhorse with clear instructions, but pretty enough to give as a gift. Her version of Rose Truffles is one of the most elegant I have seen yet with a rose petal infused syrup and organic rose oil.


Single Subject: The Southern Cake Booktook me by surprise. It’s put together by Southern Living magazine and I had preconceived notions about being underwhelmed. Consider me schooled. Big time. I love this book. Every cake has a gorgeous photograph and of any book this year, I wanted to bake more recipes out of this book than any other. I mean, not just in my dreams, but actually go into the kitchen to make. Get what I am saying? These are good recipes. Great flavor combinations, simple solid technique, tested recipes and really enticing visuals: Baklava Cheesecake (crispy and creamy), Apple Cream Cheese Bundt (with a cream cheese tunnel and praline glaze), Pineapple Upside Down Carrot Cake (combining 2 perennial favorites) and Toffee S’Mores Cheesecake (time to indulge). This is a paperback but the book has a luxe feel. Great addition to a baking library for those who bake a lot of cakes.


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The Ovenly Interview: Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin

A Chat with Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin

Author photo. Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga

Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin are the authors of the new book, Ovenly, which shares the name of their Brooklyn, NY bakery. Their approach is to create desserts and baked goods that are a little sweet, a little savory with a hint of spice. We will be highlighting their Currant Rosemary Scones and their Blue Cheese Apple Pie with Toasted Walnuts. The ladies chatted with me about their creative approach, how even they have recipes that don’t work from time to time and how naming desserts is an art in itself.


Dédé Wilson: Hi, it’s Dédé from Bakepedia…thank you so much from taking the time to chat. Agatha, I have to dive in here first and ask you about Martin Yan! Does he know about the book? Did you contact him? You went on at length in your introduction about his influence on you and I have worked with him and I know he would love to hear this!

Agatha: OMG that is so amazing that you asked this…he is my hero. I did reach out and asked for a quote and we never heard back. He really was such an inspiration for me…


I have some old contact information for him. I want to try and help you get in touch. I bet the message just never got to him because if it did I bet he would have been all over this. He is very generous with his support. OK I wont drop the ball on this; let’s see if we can make that happen.

That would be amazing! Seriously…


And Erin, in your introduction you talk about your love of fresh currants and how your initial idea for the currant scones was to use fresh…I have a recipe for fresh currant scones in my book Unforgettable Desserts! I paired it with a red currant curd, as well. I felt so bonded with you here! I have to send it to you to see what you think…

Erin: I love fresh currants but they aren’t easy to find and can be expensive so that’s how we came to use the dried…


And I never had the experience that you had in your grandmother’s garden, covered in red currant juice. I love that an early experience had such an impact on you.

OK this is a perfect time to talk about creative inspiration. Where did the concept come from to create baked goods with sweet, savory and spicy profiles? Your approach does have a niche…was it very deliberate?

Erin: As soon as we started baking together we knew we wanted to do something different from what we saw everyday…and Agatha likes savory and I like sweet…and we realized that this could be inventive and unique but approachable…we were seeing desserts and flavor profiles in our favorite restaurants and books but not in bakeries…at the time we were making baked goods for other people (wholesale), but we wanted to do our own thing…we went back into reading blogs and family recipe cards and going into spice shops and really thinking about approach. Our goal the entire time was to have things with complexity, but not to be complicated. When we started experimenting we realized early on that sweet and savory with a touch of spice suited us and our ideas.


What do you hear from customers?

Agatha: We did so much experimenting in the early days and were only offering “Baker’s Choice” with lots of different flavor combinations and we would get feedback from the coffee shops and cafés we were working with…we would be dropping off baked goods somewhere and would actually have someone chase us down on the street and start talking to us about our baked goods, like about the Currant Rosemary Scones…it was such helpful feedback for us…confirmation that we were on the right track…we definitely had things that didn’t work – that goes with experimenting. Now that we have the bakery we see customers on a daily basis and we can see them face to face and can chat…we’ve always said we should do a video of people’s first reactions…people are really responsive and get super excited…it’s so funny and they get so ecstatic… what’s cool is that the most common statement is that people feel that nothing is overly sweet but everyone also has a little bit of a surprised reaction. Our baked goods are all takes on traditional, but with that first bite, you taste the difference…sometimes it takes a moment until the other flavors hit and that’s what makes them special…


Like you said, complex but not complicated…and also, it is at a time where there is so much super sweet stuff out there. I mean, I think the pink sugar cupcake trend is on the downside but still, there is a lot of very sweet baking going on…

Agatha: Yes, and that, as bakers, is what we were trying to do – something different. We didn’t want cloyingly sweet. We wanted to bake the things that we like to eat…I don’t know if you noticed but one of those things is soft cookies. We don’t like crisp cookies…


So what were the failures? Were they recipes that actually didn’t work or was it that the flavor combinations just didn’t resonate with your customers?

Erin: Sometimes it was that the recipe didn’t work…that we didn’t have the right equipment to make something…like we made homemade pretzels but couldn’t get them to stay crispy. We needed a dehydrator, and it just didn’t make sense to invest…and in the beginning it was just the 2 of us baking and supplying several coffee shops. Several gluten-free recipes didn’t work for us, but this helped guide us…that was not going to be a focus. We do make some simple GF products using nut flours and egg whites, but not a lot with GF flours. There have been flavor combos that we love that didn’t sell like a black olive shortbread cookie with lemon zest and it is so savory and sweet and tender and buttery…but people said “ew” and there is nothing weird about it! So now we just make it for friends and family, not for Ovenly.


What about re-naming it as a cracker? Maybe when people hear “cookie” they expect one thing but if it were a “cracker”…

Agatha: You have a really good point…how you name things affects people…we love prunes…we made a coffee cakes with prunes and ginger prune scones and they didn’t do well and then we changed the name to dried plum scones and people loved them! (We all laugh).

We have this mustard spice cookie which is also great; we re-branded it as molasses spice but people don’t want that everyday so we learned that it works, but as a special. Everyday cookies to our customers are things like peanut butter and chocolate chip.


Now the book came out recently but of course you handed in the manuscript a while ago…so what’s new since then? What’s new at Ovenly now?

Erin: We have been going back into the kitchen and coming up with new things…we are about to participate in a bunch of new farmer’s markets, so we are focusing on local and organic ingredients…working on a rye scone…

Agatha: And we have seasonal things like for fall we have a vanilla bean roasted butternut squash cake and a roasted cranberry buttercream to go with our vanilla cake that’s delicious…

Erin: Thanksgiving pies! We make a bunch the day before and the day of. No pre-orders. We just sell what we have. We will bring back our Bourbon Maple Pecan Pie…it has a maple custard that holds the pecans together and it is so good…also from last year a spiced pumpkin pie with toasted marshmallow topping…

Agatha: And some sort of apple pie…


Perfect segue! We will be featuring your Blue Cheese Apple Pie with Toasted Walnuts. Any tips and hint for our community members who want to make it?

Agatha: Well there are two components, the pâte brisée and the filling. For the pâte brisée use very cold butter and make sure to use ice water. Work very quickly and don’t over work dough. For the filling, don’t let it sit – you don’t want the apples getting soggy and for the blue cheese, we like a more mild blue cheese…mild and crumbly. Not too creamy. We tried this amazing funky blue cheese and it was too much. It overpowered the apples.


Anything about the Currant Rosemary Scones?

Erin: Again cold is key – the cream should be cold and the less you handle the dough the better. Turn it onto your work surface to knead it but work quickly and briefly and fold it – there are specific instructions in the recipe – follow it all the way through for flaky, butter bursting in your mouth scones.

Agatha: It even helps to stick all of your equipment in the fridge beforehand – your bowl, spoon or fork and the cream of course. Chill them and the other thing is also once your scones are on the pan, put them into the fridge or freezer for a while…


Like while you are preheating the oven?

Yes, that would work…for pies, too. Pies and scones in the freezer for 5, 10, 15 even 20 minutes to get them all firm. They bake better from frozen…turn out better… scones rise a bit better…be careful; you might need to add a few minutes to the baking time. And as we always like to say color is flavor! They should look golden! Don’t pull them out too soon.


Well thank you so much for your time. We wish you luck with the book and your recipes will be a great addition to Bakepedia. And I will get back to you about Martin Yan.

Agatha: That would make my week. Make my year!


We will talk soon.





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The Everyday Art of Gluten-Free: 125 Savory and Sweet Recipes Using 6 Fail-Proof Flour Blends

Gluten-Free Baking is Nuanced

Everyday Art slider

The Everyday Art of Gluten-Freeand its author Karen Morgan have a definitive point of view when it comes to gluten-free baking. And once she brought her theory and practice to my attention it made so much sense: a cookie is not a cake nor a bagel or a waffle. Or a biscuit. Or a pie. Different baked goods require individual approaches when it comes to flour replacement. Luckily for us Karen has figured out how to group baked goods into 6 categories and has developed a GF blend that excels for each (examples in parentheses):

Blackbird GF Blends

  • Biscuit Blend (great for biscuits, waffles, pancakes, hot dog buns, sticky buns, crepes and even ice cream cones).
  • Donut & Fritter Blend (donuts, fried calamari, corn dogs, cream puffs, tempura)
  • Pie & Pasta Blend (pasta, pie crust, pot pies, empanadas, ravioli, gnocchi)
  • Cookie Jar Blend (chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, blondies, thumbprint cookies, vanilla wafers)
  • Cake & Muffin Blend (classic vanilla layer cake, Boston cream pie, red velvet cupcakes, blueberry muffins)
  • Bread & Pizza Blend (pizza, bagels, sourdough bread, challah, pull-apart rolls, English muffins)

The chapters all begin with the blend recipe, which is followed by individual recipes using that blend such as those mentioned above and many others. You will be able to make GF Monkey Bread, Hamburger Buns, Batter-Fried Chicken, Sweet Potato Pie, Galettes, Trash Can Cookies, Hostess-Style Cupcakes, Cinnamon-Raisin Bread and more. Pictures are sprinkled throughout and her directions are in-depth and clear. In the back of the book is a very thorough chapter on ingredients called The Gluten-Free Pantry. She discusses ingredients at length and helps you understand what properties each brings to the table from the perspective of both what they can do and what they can’t. She is a huge guar gum proponent (calling it her MVP) and truly dislikes and will not use xanthan gum. She states that there are studies that show how certain people experience gluten exposure type symptoms after ingestion of xanthan. I found this part of the book very interesting and enlightening and if you are interested in GF baking you will find it very valuable.

By the way did you notice that it says bagels up there? Of all the GF baked goods I have tried over the years I have never had a good GF bagel. In fact, they have all been horrible. Crumbly, soft. No chew! I grew up on the lower side of Manhattan and I know bagels. This would be the ultimate test. You can read my interview with Karen and we discussed this whole bagel thing. I was skeptical. She sent me her Bread & Pizza blend (she also sells the blends). I made the bagels. Guess what? I got to experience that chewy, toothsome quality in her bagel that I had been missing for years. Years! No longer. Now I know I can eat GF and have my bagel, too. We are featuring her Bagels and also her French Boule, as well as her Bread & Pizza Blend.

I am enthralled with her approach. We made her waffles and they were crispy outside and so tender inside that the non-GF eaters couldn’t tell they weren’t a classic version. I also made her blueberry muffins and while I wasn’t a huge fan of the nutmeg that is just a personal preference easily rectified. All in all this is my pick for GF book of the year. Get it. Make the blends. Order the blends. MAKE BAGELS!

 The Everyday Art of Gluten-Free: 125 Savory and Sweet Recipes Using 6 Fail-Proof Flour Blends by Karen Morgan. Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Photos by Knoxy Knox.

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The Baking Bible Book Review

The Wait is Over: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Baking Bible is Here

Baking Bible Jacket

Who else but my buddy Rose Levy Beranbaum would write a book called The Baking Bible. (There are actually other books with that title, but we think Rose has laid claim). Many a baker has been looking forward to its publication but the wait is over and from the first glance of the cover, we know we are in for a special treat – a dark black background with a buttery, flaky pastry staring right at us in all its many layered glory. Initially it might seem an unusual choice for the cover, but since Rose is known for cakes, cookies, pies and breads, the image of a pastry hints at new things to come within – and does not disappoint. It is a Kouign Amann and the picture is so mouthwatering it will have many turning to that page directly, but this is a book to be savored and poured over again an again. As with all of Rose’s books, it will become a recipe book as well as a general resource.

Let’s start at the beginning. The book is a hefty 500+ pages, so like with any Rose book, you get a thorough treatise on whatever is being presented. It is her largest book in scope to date. Originally thinking this next book would be “Rose’s Heavenly Baking”, when it was re-dubbed “The Baking Bible” Rose realized that some basics should be included and also since it would be wide ranging, that she would be able to cover certain recipes that she has wanted to share for years, but never had a proper platform for. By and large these are new recipes that she developed for this book, but she has revisited some favorites and supplies us with her new, improved versions. She and I had a chat about re-working recipes, which you can read about, which explains how – and why – her recipes evolve.

Before you get to the recipes Rose explains about the Golden Rules, which you will find at the beginning of every chapter. According to Rose these are the “mantras to internalize” – baking habits that will ensure consistent success. Some of the rules are re-stated again and again in subsequent chapters, (such as measuring carefully, using ingredients specified) but is only because Rose wants to impress upon us her precise approach and encourage us to do the same. Then there are rules that are particular to that chapter. For instance the cake chapter will discuss using stand mixers for cake batters and how to best utilize the various speeds, while the pie chapter will have a rule about making foil rings to protect overbrowning crusts. You might be tempted to jump to the recipes, but do not overlook these Golden Rules as there are many tools of Rose’s trade here that will help you be a better baker.

The chapters are as follows (some recipe examples in parentheses):


Cakes – with subcategories of:

Butter and Oil Cakes (Blueberry Buckle, The Red Velvet Rose)

Cupcakes (White Chocolate Whisper Cupcakes with Raspberry Mousseline)

Sponge Cakes (Heavenly Chocolate Mousse Cake, Banana Split Chiffon Cake)

Cheesecakes (Lemon Almond Cheesecake, Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes)


Pies, Tarts and Other Pastries – with subcategories of:

Scones (Irish Cream, Flaky Cream Cheese Scones)

Flaky Pastry Basic Recipe

Fruit Pies and Tarts (Frozen Lime Meringue Pie, Pomegranate Winter Chiffon Pie)

Nuts and Chocolate Pies and Tarts (Frozen Pecan Tart, Fudgy Pudgy Brownie Tart)

Savory Pastries (Perfect Savory Cream Puffs, Pizza Rustica)


Cookies and Candy – with subcategories of:

Cookies Dropped or Shaped by Hand (Spritz Butter Cookies, Pepparakor)

Rolled and Pastry-Type Cookies (The Dutch Pecan Sandies, Hamantaschen)

Cake-Type Cookies (Mini Gâteaux Breton, Woody’s Black and White Brownies)

Candy, Meringue, and Ice Cream Cookies (Luxury Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee, Praline Pecan Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches)


Breads and Yeast Pastries – with subcategories of:

Sweet Yeast Pastries and Breads (Rum Raisin French Toast Royale, Classic Brioche)

For The Cheese Course (Swedish Apricot Walnut Bread)

Favorite Homemade Preserves (True Orange Marmalade, Concord Grape Jelly)

These chapters are followed by thorough sections on Ingredients, Ingredient Sources, Equipment and Equipment Sources. There are also indexes for Quick and Easy Recipes, Flourless or Mostly Flourless Recipes, Lactose Free Recipes, Recipes Using Only Egg Yolks and Recipes Using Only Egg Whites.

I have been baking out of the book and you can read about my experiences with The Renée Fleming Golden Chiffon (recipe coming 11/10) and The Polish Princess, (which you can see now) in more depth.

In short, if you are a Rose fan you will want The Baking Bible. If you are new to her writing, it is a great place to start as it gives you a selection – as opposed to her many single subject titles. As with all of Rose’s books you will get a graph presentation of the ingredients and have the choice of volume measuring, grams or ounces. The techniques are very thoroughly explained. Rose appeals to those with analytical minds. She approaches baking with a scientist’s sense of inquiry. If you want to know how and why to do something, you will find it here. It is not casual baking, however, if you are a beginner who needs to know all the ins and outs of a recipe, it will work for you as well.

I know Rose cut many recipes for the book and frankly, for me it could have been longer! For instance, some of her groupings are so interesting, that when I came across the Cake-Type Cookies section and found only 3 recipes, and a scant 2 recipes in the Savory Pastries, I was left wanting more. That said, the fact that she even addresses breads specifically to go with The Cheese Course and offers up some of her favorite Preserves felt like a bonus. And the Golden Chiffon cake will be a standard for me now for years to come. Kudos to Rose on another job well done. I’m making the Chocolate Cuddle Cake and the Sugar Rose Brioche next.

baking bible slider_1


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Baking Chez Moi Book Review

Dorie Greenspan’s New Book, Baking Chez Moi, Hits the Shelves

Dorie cover crop

Many cookbooks come with quite a bit of anticipation, such as with Dorie Greenspan’s newest, Baking Chez Moi,which I have had the pleasure of baking from for the last couple of months. You can read my very in-depth interview with Dorie as well, where she describes this book as the baking companion to Around My French Table. Her goal with this book was to bring us what she bakes in her Paris kitchen and also what her French friends are actually making in their homes. There is a paradox here – that she mentions in our interview – that most French women and men don’t bake at home! So how did she write a baking book about it then? Well, what the French do is prepare simple, glorious desserts. Some are baked, some are simply assembled but you will find recipes in her book such as a casual galette, perhaps with a crust that has gently cracked open to reveal the juicy fruit filling, as opposed to a structured pie. A cake might be plain or have a simple glaze instead of the piped frills of a frosting decoration. It might seem to be a subtle shift of focus, but if you have lived in France, as Dorie has for 20 years, the methodologies are clear. Whether it makes sense to you or not, there are recipes in here that you will want to bake in your home. We are featuring her Fall-Market Galette (which she recommends for beginners) and her version of Cannelés.


Let’s get inside the book. From first glance of the cover, it sets the tone – one of quality and deliciousness. You must really read our interview to understand how important “deliciousness” is to Dorie, and we couldn’t agree more. A shiny and chic chocolate cake stands center stage, covered with salted chocolate shards. While it was inspired by an original by Pierre Hermé, this one according to Dorie, “is doable by ordinary mortals”. Dorie repeated her collaboration with photographer Alan Richardson and stylist Karen Tack to great effect. The images look inviting; they look approachable. You can readily see the components and understand what the dish is made of. They make you want to make the dish. (Make sure to read my interview with Alan as well.

The book’s introduction is followed by chapters for (with recipe examples in parentheses):

Simple Cakes (Browned Butter and Vanilla Bean Weekend Cake, Cheesecake Alsace Style)

Fancy Cakes (Gingerbread Buche de Noel, Pithiviers)

Tarts and Galettes (Caramel Tart, Cranberry Crackle Tart)

Baby Cakes and Petite Pastries (Les Whoopies, Matcha Financiers, Bubble Éclairs)

Cookies and Bars (Vanilla Bean Sablés, Parisian Macaron, Coco Rochers)

Fruit, Creams, Frozen Desserts and Candies (Pistachio and Berry Gratin, Honey-Yogurt Mousse, Hot Chocolate Panna Cotta, Tea-Raisin Truffles)

Basics (Sweet Tart Dough, Brioche, Chocolate Ganache, Crème Anglaise)


Every chapter has a nice index page, set off by a French blue color, making the chapters easy to find. The sidebars sport this color as well or a chocolate brown and include helpful information on Measuring Flour (Dorie dips and sweeps, by the way), “Logging” (how to make rolled cookies or Buche de Noel nice and tight and firm), the “French Bake”, which is the extra-dark color that many French bakers bring to their baked goods as well as a mini-glossary of French terms such as confiseries, Viennoiserie and boulangerie, among other sidebars.

So far I have baked the Custardy Apple Squares and Edouard’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. I gravitated towards the apple dish because of its seasonality and homespun quality. It is a very simple pancake-like batter that is combined with a very generous amount of thinly sliced apples. Poured and baked in a small square pan, the squares are meant to be eaten with a fork and work well for breakfast, snack or dessert. The ingredients are humble (you have them all in the pantry) and their look, as you can see, is straightforward. It is the kind of recipe you might overlook, but shouldn’t. It highlights apples in a lovely, direct way. Her recipes sport their own mini-sidebars called Bonne Idées where she elaborates upon the recipe at hand. In this case there are suggestions for the inclusion of rum or Calvados (apple brandy), Armagnac or even almond extract. Citrus zest might be added, pears or quince could sub in for apples or, if you want to gussy it up, apple jelly can create a glaze. These additions mean you are getting many recipes rolled into one, and while I understand Dorie’s desire to add – and I am glad that the info is there – in this case, I thought the simplicity of the dish spoke most directly to the way it would be created in a French home, and so I stuck to the basic version. And they were great. I used her suggested Gala apples and they were eaten up in a flash.

The chocolate chip cookies are a version that includes nut flour, either almond or hazelnut. I made the almond version and you can read about the details in our interview. What was interesting with this recipes, and indicative of all the recipes in the book, is that I followed her recipe – although not exactly – and while mine did not look like hers they were delicious nonetheless and demonstrated perfectly how her recipes are very workable by “mere mortals”. Okay, I know I have more experience than most but trust me; you can make her chocolate chip cookies and come away with treats delectable enough for the corner patisserie and just different enough from any others you have encountered.

While the book is meant to be a sweet companion to Around My French Table, it certainly stands alone as a great book on baking, regardless of where you live. Dorie considers herself a baking evangelist and she truly wants to help her readers get in the kitchen and not only have success but also an enjoyable time. Her directions are clear and thorough yet have a calm, supportive way about them. This is not about perfection or exact duplication time after time. Dorie’s kitchen is about producing inviting baked goods that are a joy to learn about and then to create.


Available Now: Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Photos Alan Richardson


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The Gentle Art of Preserving Cookbook Review

Preserving Techniques with Sugar, Salt, Air and More

GAP cover slider 

The Gentle Art of Preserving by Katie Caldesi © 2014 Kyle Books. Photography © Chris Terry.

GAP US cover

If you have been reading this area of the blog you know that I have been on a tear lately about actual, print cookbooks. Some fellow digitally based brethren think I am nuts, but that fact is that while technology changes constantly – and I am thrilled that it does – the printed word has been around for centuries because books speak to us in their own, tangible way. When this book, The Gentle Art of Preserving: Pickling, Smoking, Freezing, Drying, Curing, Fermenting, Bottling, Canning, and Making Jams, Jellies and Cordials arrived on my doorstep, I had one of those moments where I knew I was holding a book that I would refer to again and again for actual recipes. That I would pour over the images and text for inspiration and for a greater understanding of the topic. That I would love this book. Now that first statement about using it for recipes might seem like a silly statement, but I rarely do this. My life is filled with days of original recipe development and testing and I have to be really moved to follow someone else’s recipe start to finish. That statement means something. The passion and authority of the authors Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi is readily apparent from first glance. Then, upon diving into the book, the whole experience is even more solid than originally imagined or hoped for.

When you open up The Gentle Art of Preserving you will immediately see how the book is structured – and it is brilliant. When you hear the word “preserving” maybe you think of canning fruits and vegetables or making jam, and yes, all of those are covered here, but it encompasses so much more and the book’s chapters guide you through. Katie and Giancarlo embarked on a two-year-long journey to discover the different methods of preserving food, from smoking fish in Scotland to drying chiles in Sri Lanka and the breadth and depth is stunning. The authors also reached back into their own family experiences and present Italian cured charcuterie inspired by Giancarlo’s family recipes while Katie offers jams and chutneys evoking memories of cooking with her mother. Full-color photos are used liberally throughout, with many recipes accompanied by multiple images showing raw ingredients, process as well as final dish.

The Chapters are as follows: Vinegar; Sugar; Salt; Air; Smoke; Oil, Fat & Butter; Alcohol; Fermenting; Heat and then Cold. These are followed by a good Suppliers chapter and a bibliography.

As you can imagine the book covers much more than the sweet side of things so if you are interested in making your own Gravlax (Salt chapter), Tarhana -Turkish Homemade Instant Vegetable Soup (Air chapter), Cold Smoked Cheese (Smoke chapter) or Watermelon Vodka (Alcohol chapter) you will find them and dozens and dozens more.

For us dessert lovers I was particularly drawn to the homemade Fruit Leather and the Marron Glacé and we have brought you those recipes. The marron (chestnuts) are actually relatively easy and the kind of recipe that teaches technique while also giving you a finished dish worthy of gifting. I am also looking forward to making the Roasted Pear and Vanilla Butter, Caramelized Oranges in Brandy, Livia’s Oven-Baked Quince Jam, Damson Cheese and Homemade Pectin Stock.

If reading about techniques from all over the world is a favorite way to armchair travel and thinking about the myriad ways to work with and preserve your favorite ingredients gets your creative juices flowing, then this is a must-have book. Basically if you like learning, this is your kind of book.


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Review of À la Mère de la Famille: Recipes from the Beloved Parisian Confectioner

a la mere de famille exterior

French culture is in my blood. My name, Dédé (pronounced DayDay) is French. My father lived in France for decades and was actually engaged by the OSS and later the CIA because he was an American who could speak French with no discernible foreign accent. I grew up with French language in our household, an abundance of French food and several trips to France as a child. My interest in desserts came early and so when this book, A la Mere de Famille, came to my attention and introduced the fact that there was a confectionery store in Paris that had been around since 1761 that I had never heard of, I was a bit surprised. As I delved into the book and the history, all I could think about was visiting and experiencing it for myself.

a la mere de famille cover

Luckily for us this book is not only filled with recipes but tons of history and background, of both the physical location as well as the families that have kept the store going since the time of Napoleon. Kudos to the publishers as the design and format come together with the text and images to beautifully recreate the feel of a classic Parisian institution. The page edges are dyed a rich orange to capture the color of the store’s ribbons, which are used to tie up one’s purchases. The rich green cover visually mimics the storefront, each depiction of a window featuring one of the sweets inside. Every city has its own flavor, and if you have ever been to Paris you know the “je ne sais quoi”, the “I-don’t-know-what” quality that makes each and every storefront and shopping experience so Parisian in nature. This book captures that essence. And if you have never been to Paris, then this book will provide some armchair travel.

a la mere candies

This book exudes what it is to be in Paris and visit a confectionery shop. The recipes are presented in chapters such as Chocolates, Candy Making, Candied Fruits and Such, Cookies, Tuiles and Meringues, Jams and Spreads among others.

a la mere chocolates

The photos are straightforward, highlighting the item at hand such as Rochers, Black Current Marshmallows, Pâte de FruitSablés Breton, Candied Kumquats, Morello Cherry Financiers, various flavors of Caramels, Chocolate Mendiant Lollipops as well as the Calissons and Montelimar Nougat, recipes for both of which we have included. But what brings the book alive is the timeline that is sprinkled throughout the book.

a la mere timeline

Covering 10 time periods it begins by introducing the advent of the store in 1761 when Pierre-Jean Bernard discovers a small farm on what is now the Rue de Provence in the Faubourg-Montmartre area. He opens a grocery store – an ancient régime – that belongs to the apothecary guilds. With tiny wood hewn rooms and a dirt floor he sells everything from hams from Bayonne to vinegar, flour and a selection of sugared almonds, jams and pastries. The business thrives, he marries and his wife Marie-Catherine Fossey joins him in the day-today affairs, they expand and put in a confectionery counter in 1779.

a la mere pages


Their three daughters become involved. One marries into a family of grocers and she and her husband eventually take over the store in 1791. The daughter met an untimely death but the husband continued to run the store along with one of their daughters. When he remarries, his second wife Marie-Adélaïde Delmarte becomes the iconic figure associated with the store. By 1807 her husband has died and she not only carries on the store’s tradition, but brings it to new heights by working day and night. She lures apprentices, stocks confectionery from all over France introducing them to Parisians. She becomes a critic darling and the store establishes itself as a landmark.

a la mere image

The store passes in and out of families. In the early 1900s a young boy who loves the store tells himself that one day he will own it, and it comes to be. The history of subsequent generations running the store continues, and in one case it is an adopted daughter and husband who carry on the legacy. These timelines are sprinkled with details about what each subsequent owner brings to the store. In one instance brochures and advertisements are begun for the first time; for another it is the inclusion of international confections. Another owner wins awards for jams. During WWII the windows are whitewashed, but the store continues to provide rations. No matter who has been at the helm, preserving the look, feel and soul of the store has always been a priority and in 1984 it was listed in Paris as a monuments historiques. Today it is owned by Etienne Dolfi and his three children, Sophie, Jane and Steve. Confectioner and chocolatier Julien Merceron is producing classics as well as new sweets, maintaining legacy and creating heritage. There are now several locations but if you are lucky enough to be in Paris, a visit to the original is in order.

The book’s recipes are brief, in some cases deceptively so. This is not a beginner’s book but if you like French baked goods and candies and have a love of French culture, particularly when it relates to food, this book is highly recommended. It is one of those books that could be considered a “coffee table book” as perusing it for sheer pleasure is enough of a satisfying experience, but it also happens to hold delectable recipes. Use this book in and out of the kitchen.

Top 2 Images: the publisher

Other Images of Book Interiors: Dédé Wilson

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Everything You Want to Know About the Egg in One Book

Ruhlman Egg Crop

It is rare that a cookbook will have a one-word title. While EGGby Michael Rulhman needs no other descriptor, he did come up with perfect subtitle– A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. Eggs create volume and structure, lend moisture and are nutritional powerhouses as well. This book, which is not just for bakers, covers everything you want to know about eggs. To be precise, while he does briefly delve into the world of eggs in general, the book focuses on chicken eggs.


Chapters are divided into seven Parts, which clearly show you how to use the book. Ruhlman takes you on a journey through the wonders of the egg with solid technique and easy to understand explanations:

  • Egg/Whole/Cooked in Shell
  • Egg/Whole/Cooked out of Shell
  • Egg/ Whole/Cooked out of Shell/Blended
  • Egg/As Ingredient/The Dough-Batter Continuum (Sample Recipes: challah, cakes, pate a choux, lemon curd, buttercream)
  • Egg/Separated/The Yolk (Sample Recipes: crème anglaise, crème brulée, vanilla ice cream)
  • Egg/Separated/The White (Sample Recipes: meringues, nougat, marshmallows, floating island
  • Egg/Separated but Used Together (Sample Recipes: soufflés, mousse, eggnog)

I have to say that as a recipe developer who cracks open dozens of eggs weekly, and uses them in all the above categories, I had never really thought of eggs in this manner.

By separating eggs into their uses we can learn more about their properties and how to use them to our advantage. In addition to the over 100 recipes in the book, Ruhlman also covers all the basic information and techniques you want and need such as discussions on labeling (cage-free versus organic), storage, wet heat versus dry heat (as in poaching versus frying), sous vide, separation techniques and much, much more.

Recipes, which cover savory and sweet, range from Shirred Eggs, Pork Ramen with Soft Cooked Egg, pasta, mayonnaise and crepes to French Buttercream, Ile Flottante, gougeres and Angel Food Cake. If it relies on eggs, it’s in here.

Ruhlman believes that if you can harness the egg’s power that you can be a better cook, and I agree. To put it another way, he quotes Alton Brown as saying, “the egg is the Rosetta stone of the kitchen”. No one says it like Alton.

As an added bonus there is a long, horizontal flow-chart included, folded up and tucked into a pocket inside the back cover. It shows you, at a glance, why eggs are possibly the perfect ingredient.

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Buying Cookbooks and a Look Into Larousse Gastronomique

Why Classic Cookbooks Matter, Buying Cookbooks

Larousse Gastronomique and Mastering the Art of French Cooking

In 1979 I bought Larousse Gastronomique. I can’t tell you exactly why. I was newly arrived at college. I had grown up in a household that liked to cook and both my Mom and Dad had a smattering of cookbooks that they would refer to now and then, as did I in our home kitchen. Now I had a small dorm kitchen, a limited budget and tons of schoolwork. Looking back, this was a very strange purchase. I didn’t know then that I wanted to “go into food”, and I hadn’t planned on buying cookbooks, but there was something about the sheer size of the thing. It looked like it was a serious resource and I had always been a reader of cookbooks for fun. Back at home I had spent hours reading Mimi Sheraton’s Visions of Sugarplums. I was fascinated at how Sheraton explored Christmas baking and desserts from all over the world. I learned how cardamom was used in Swedish cookies and that mincemeat actually had meat in it. I read about German Stollen and that it was always yeast risen and contained all kinds of candied fruit and I read about cookies and pastries that were molded into pretzel shapes, which is the baker’s sign in Scandinavia. The fact that I could learn about faraway places through their food and culinary traditions truly fascinated me and I couldn’t get enough.

Larousse was a whole new animal. I was used to traditional cookbooks. This was an encyclopedia, A to Z. I could read it front to back or bounce around, each entry standing alone as a mini lesson. Where else could I see a lithograph of a Roman baker from a Pompeii fresco side by side with a definition of true Champagne and a picture of a whole ham encased in decorative pastry? Or learn what pièce montées are (intricate, decorative displays, not always edible) and view an old drawing of a bottling plant for Vichy mineral water? This is definitely the first place I ever saw an image of cacao pods growing on the tree. Did you know that a butyrometer is a calibrated glass tube that measures the butter content of milk? Neither did I before I read it within Larousse.


Cookbooks Contain Important Messages

So what does this have to do with buying cookbooks? As I began to discuss in the introduction to our new Cookbook Review feature I am a big believer in books because they offer you a literal, tangible connection to the author’s voice and subject in a way that I do not think reading online can duplicate. Of course, as the founder of Bakepedia I believe in the digital realm as well, but I believe that cooking and baking are vast. You can approach them as an art, as a science, as a cultural appreciation, as a practical need. Hopefully the only way you aren’t approaching them is as a chore. Resources are wells of information and every resource has something to offer. A book gives you a complete look into its particular subject and I will lever stop buying them. The second book I ever bought was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One. I am at about book two-thousand-and-something at this point. I have lost count. The number isn’t important. The messages are. Buy cookbooks.

 Image: Dédé Wilson

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Throwback Thursday: Pretty Cakes

Pretty Cakes #TBT!

For this week’s Throwback Thursday  #TBT we are doing a cookbook review on pretty cakes, going back to 1986. The book is Pretty Cakes. I was a fledgling pastry chef and being self-taught, cookbooks were a major source of information and inspiration. Pretty Cakes, The Art of Cake Decorating, by Mary Goodbody with Jane Stacey was, by far, the most influential book in my formative years and helped build my resulting style. My first-edition copy has a torn cover, dog-eared corners and butter stained pages –all sign of book love. A few specific aspects drew me back to this book

.Chocolate Cake

Happy Birthday Cake

The pictures really spoke to me. Three different pastry chefs created the bulk of the entries: Jane Stacey, Ellen Baumwoll and Cheryl Kleinman. Ellen’s style is classic and she shows her range in cakes such as the Strawberry Cream Cake ringed in piped, pink whipped cream; her wedding cake The Lohengrin, covered with pristine white fondant, teeny tiny Swiss dots and about 200 marzipan flowers. Cheryl has a way with a piping bag. I would stare at her Victorian Rosebud Cake for hours with its beautiful “Happy Birthday”writing in the most exquisite script (above). Her White Chocolate Buche de Noel (below) fascinated me with its wide, thin, delicate white chocolate “bark”, that resembled the most delicious birch tree and her gilded Christmas Gold Cake might have been the first time I saw edible gold covering a cake.

white chocolate buche de noel

All of those cakes fueled my imagination. It was with the work of Jane Stacey that I truly connected with. Look at the image at the top. They title this Our Favorite Chocolate Cake. Wow! Most chocolate cakes with a title like that would have been slathered with chocolate frosting and look very similar to the one’s my Mom used to make. This was structural. Architectural. The little bits of hazelnut praline, with their sharp shapes, contrasted to the luxurious quill-like chocolate curls. The chocolate génoise is brushed with a choice of cognac, rum or Kahlua and covered with a chocolate butter ganache. Just reading the description and looking at the image made me want to make and eat this cake.

Orange Cake with Iced Fruit

Or look at the very first picture in the book –the Orange Cake with Iced Fruit –seen above. Sounds simple enough, right? Read the description:

“Orange Layer Cake flavored with Cointreau or Grand Marnier, filled with Orange Buttercream and marmalade, frosted with Orange Buttercream, and decorated with fresh fruit and Candied Orange Peel”.

In some ways it is simple, but what drew me in then and still does, is that the description is filled with flavor and texture and combinations that dance in my head. I can taste the cake. I can feel the textures on my tongue. It is enticing. And the fact that she uses the flavors of the cake to embellish it as well –such as the candied orange peel –really attracted me. The look of the cake, just as with the chocolate cake, is connected to the taste of the cake. Her approach is about flavor and taste. This is food. It has to taste good. Even in my early days I didn’t want to make pretty cakes for the sake of prettiness. Flavor had to be paramount and Jane Stacey was speaking my language.

garlands of flowers cake

Above is an example of a wedding cake of hers called the Garlands of Flowers Cake. I was immediately drawn to her naturalistic style, from the fresh flowers and very simple but romantic piping to the fact that you can see swipes of her icing spatula. This might seem like a funny thing to point out but to me it shows the handiwork. That this was crafted with love by a real person. I actually don’t like frosting that is so perfect it looks fake. At that early stage of my career I thought being perfect looking was the goal, because that’s what I always saw as examples of professional work. Jane Stacey’s examples in Pretty Cakes opened my eyes to a new aesthetic and it was the style that I would adopt as well. And believe me, I have had arguments with chefs and teachers and judges at competitions about this very topic. There are those that say this approach does not show technique. I scoff at that. This is an aesthetic choice and it is as valid as any other. I like my food to look like food and to echo where it came from and what ingredients were used.

In addition to the pictures and the thorough, mouth-watering descriptions the book also has a front section that is an incredible resource for the serious cake baker. It begins with a chapter on Ingredients, Equipment and Techniques complete with line drawings showing everything from various decorating tips, how to make a parchment cone, beveling a cake, rolling out fondant or marzipan, to various piping techniques and even helpful hints on transporting cakes. Then there is a Recipes chapter that has several cake, frosting, filling, buttercream and decoration recipes, such as candied peel. And then there are variations. The Génoise for instance has a basic recipe and 7 variations including chocolate, coffee, lemon, nut and others. The complete cakes further along in the book work with these building blocks. This was such a novel concept to me at the time. Of course this is what pros do but most cookbooks, especially in 1986 when this book came out, weren’t laid out this way. It opened my mind to a new way of thinking about how to create “new”cakes. I was working at my first pastry chef job at the time and now I had a way to mix and match and develop new combinations that I could call my own.

I chatted with my old friend and the author Mary Goodbody about how the book came to be. The concept was to bring together Jane and Ellen and Cheryl and create easier, moderate and complex cakes so that they would appeal to many levels of home bakers. She said her daughter and her cousins have memories of snuggling up with the book and pouring over the pictures again and again declaring which cake should be the next birthday cake or a wedding cake. This is the way the book has been for me. A book to take to bed and create dreams.

The book can be found on-line and for very little money. If you like to bake cakes, whether you are making wedding cakes at home or just a few birthday cakes per year, I highly recommend this book. May your copy of Pretty Cakes show some book love in the years to come.

Images used courtesy of photographer David Arky



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Tartine Book No. 3

Tartine No 3 Slider

Chronicle sent me this book and as soon as I flipped through the pages I was simply floored. I get a lot of books to review, and frankly, being the cookbook hoarder that I am, it is always somewhat exciting. This book, however, is one of those that jumps out at you and demands your attention.

The book is named after Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s San Francisco Tartine Bakery. They launched their writing careers with their first book, Tartine, which covers pastries and some savory items, then produced Tartine Bread, to concentrate further on their bread offerings, and now comes Tartine Book No. 3. The subtitle description is “Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole”. Robertson is the man behind the bread and these descriptors do a good job of conveying his current philosophy and techniques. He has carried out a huge amount of research on creating a modern day approach using ancient grains, incorporating traditional methods with newfangled ways. Specifically, this book is about working with natural leavens and custom flour blends to build flavor and create texture. The results are breads with intricate, sophisticated, nuanced qualities while being basic and whole and elegant in their simplicity.

In the Introduction Robertson describes the most recent evolution of bread baking and credits Parisian Lionel Poilâne with reinvigorating the search for a bread with “heart and soul” – le vrai pain –in the 1970s. Bakers all over the world took note and now naturally leavened breads can be found far and wide. In Robertson’s words:

“…it was clearly time to force a creative push for our team…Respecting the foundation our reputation had been built upon, the need to shift techniques and utilize new ingredients became the driving inspiration and challenge for this book…I chose to focus on the transformative action of the leavens and the vastly different ways natural fermentation could add character to bread”.

One glance through the book and you can immediately see Robertson’s unique approach. There are breads here that don’t look or sound – or most importantly taste – like any others: Purple Barley Amazake seeded bread, Double Fermented Pumpernickel, Sprouted Buckwheat-Einkorn Bread, Spelt and Toasted Corn-Flour Baguettes, Rye Porridge Bread, and a variety of crispbreads, such as the Kamut Crispbread below. When I saw this image, I was taken in by its sheer beauty. I don’t think I have ever thought of bread as being breathtaking before, but you tell me what you think…

Kamut crispbreads

Robertson delves into the sweet side of things a bit as well exploring lesser known and used sweeteners such as unrefined and partially refined sugars – jaggery and muscovado and honeys ranging from eucalyptus and star thistle to borage. The Pastry section includes: Croquant d’Amandes, Chamomile Kamut Shortbread, Piloncillo-Nib Rochers, Buckwheat Hazelnut Sablés, Gougères made with a Rye-Cocoa Pâte à Choux and Inverted Spelt Puff Pastry Dough that he spins into Palmiers made with date sugar, fennel and sesame seeds.

One could say that every cookbook is its own treatise, but some simply have a stronger, more individualized voice and this is one of those books. One of my biggest pet peeves as a writer is when people say “most unique” or “more unique”. Unique means that something is matchless; it is a one-of-a-kind. It is not grammatically correct to add those adjectives, but man, I want to now! Robertson has written a book for serious bakers. This is a heavy book, literally (over 300 pages) and figuratively. It is a book and an approach to study. To read and re-read. The recipes are to be tried and tried again. The book is about a learning process, about experimentation, about absorbing Robertson’s philosophy to the point where you can then branch out on your own. If you think of yourself as a bread baker now, order this book. It is unlike any other in your collection and will open your eyes to a whole new world of bread-based creativity. If you lean more towards the sweeter side of baking, Robertson brings you thought provoking recipes such as those mentioned above along with Nut Milk Pastry Cream, Zucchini Kumquat Tea Cake and Lemon-Poppy-Kefir Pound Cake.

Excerpted from Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole, by Chad Robertson, Chronicle Books (2013). Photography by Chad Robertson

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Bakepedia Adds Book Reviews


In an effort to bring you the world of cookbooks and cookbook authors we have featured many over the last several months in various formats. Sometimes it is simply a recipe with a publisher’s permission line, other times we have done interviews with authors along with their insider tips, but I want to begin a new tradition and present book reviews, plain and simple. This is for several reasons.

First of all, I am a cookbook author and come from that milieu. I began pre-internet and in those days (God, that feels like a long time ago), cookbooks were a primary source of recipes. They brought us new dishes of course, but what I always found to be the most fascinating was that they give us a glimpse into the mind of the author. These days many people post recipes on the Internet. Sometimes they are recipes that belong to others that have been illegally coopted. Other times they have been originally developed and posted, but they often exist as a single post, today’s cookie not bearing much relation to next week’s muffin. Cookbooks are collections with a definitive point of view and the author and the publisher have taken great care at cultivating and presenting that perspective. (Our interview with David Lebovitz delved into this from his standpoint).

Secondly, the tangible aspect of a cookbook is something that I adore. Even though Bakepedia is a digital platform, I am a huge supporter of old-fashioned cookbooks and hope that publishers keep producing them. The look and feel of the cover, the texture and weight of the paper, the quality of the images – are they matt, satin or high gloss – the way the chapters unfold sequentially…I could go on and on. An actual cookbook gives you a complete world within its pages. I always begin with the Introduction and any of the “front matter” (that’s publisher talk for all the chapters at the beginning of the book) where I learn why the author wrote this book, what they hope to accomplish through the pages – what’s new about the recipes we are about to read. Reading a cookbook front to back brings you a comprehensive narrative, which is a very different experience from clicking on singular recipes online.

So I believe cookbooks deserve their own reviews and we will be bringing them to you here in this space. Some cookbooks will be brand, spanking new. Others will be older titles – from a year or two ago or even decades ago. The common denominator will be that they are books you should know about. They are written by authors with strong, clear voices. They contain recipes that will make your creative juices flow and tickle your taste buds. We create original recipes here in our Test Kitchen and of course want you to keep coming back to hear our voice on these “pages”, but I also always intended Bakepedia to be a very complete resource and that includes looking outwards into the world of baking in real life, on-line and in print. In my mind, cookbooks are still a vibrant recipe resource so we will be bringing you our favorites.

Our first review will be for the third book in a series. You know how movies often get watered down by the second and third installment? Well, Tartine Book No. 3  is a powerhouse of a cookbook. Enjoy the read.



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‘Become like a chef hunting for the best.’ – The Francois Payard Interview

Francois Payard

Renowned French pastry chef Francois Payard could not be more accessible and down to earth in the way he speaks about his high regard of raw ingredients, and how even desserts as simple as a dried fruit compote belong on the menu at restaurant Daniel and on your table. His newest book, Payard Desserts (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), features his favorite recipes from years of professional work in various restaurant jobs, as well as those featured within his own retail locations. At first glance, the book’s recipes look complicated because they have several components, but after close inspection and definitely after our chat, it is clear that there are basics here for every one of us to incorporate into our repertoire. And if you are wondering why there are so many exclamation points in this interview, it is because this is how Francois talks – passionately!

Payard-Desserts jacket

Dédé Wilson: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us during what must be a very busy schedule.
Francois Payard: My pleasure, Madame. Thank you for your interest in the book.

We love asking pastry chefs this first question because the answers are as varied as the bakers themselves. When people ask, “what do you do”, what is your answer?
People think I make chocolate mousse all day. This is their idea of what a French pastry chef is, but of course, it is more than you think. I am working on new recipes, my retail locations, business. It’s not all in the kitchen.

What is your favorite part of what you do?
To be able to create something, to create and experience different things in the kitchen. Sometimes it is researching produce or traveling or finding a new ingredient. Doing the same thing over and over is boring for me. Creating something new is more work, but it keeps me interested and excited about what I do.

What was the last time you discovered a new ingredient?
It might not be new, but sometimes it will be new to pastry, like using Szechuan pepper in pastry. There are savory ingredients we can use in the sweet department like Swiss chard. And people say, “is he crazy?”, but think about it. Rhubarb is a vegetable and tomatoes are a fruit. So what? Taste them. How can they be used in the sweet kitchen? So much produce is so versatile but we don’t think about them because we think they only belong here or there. There is no reason to limit.

How are you inspired to create recipes?
I am always inspired when a fruit or vegetable is in season. It cannot just look beautiful, it has to taste beautiful. Right now I am thinking about pears, I will not be using pears in the summer. A pastry chef has to think like a chef. When is it at its peak during the season? And once I decide I want pears, I think, “where can I get the best pears?” We are lucky. We are in New York City, so I can go to the Union Square Greenmarket and I can buy pears that are tree ripened direct from the purveyors. If I get them from a supplier, they are packed hard for transport and storage. I want to go directly to the grower. It is very important to find the littler farmer. Then you will get something very special. I had a pear tart over 10 years ago at Chez Panisse, just flaky dough, pear and a little sugar, I still think about it. Food does not have to be complicated.

I love the fact that a recipe as simple as a dried fruit compote made it into the book. I think people might be surprised to find it there.
Ah, yes the Fricassée of Winter Fruit. This was a favorite of Daniel [Boulud, French chef and owner of Daniel]. The customers at Daniel had money, they were well traveled; they know their food. The customers wanted to experience food and have them matched with wine. You must think about what will excite you. It is the flavors of the fruits coming together, the textures; they will excite you. You don’t have to be showing off when you can have a bite of something that simple, but that incredible.

As I’ve looked through the book, I see how it might be overwhelming for the home baker as the recipes have so many components, but if you look closely you can see how they are made up of basic recipes that can be used very successfully on their own. Like the Brown Butter Roasted Pear with Maple Syrup and Vanilla-Prune Ice Cream. There are six components for the way you might plate it in a restaurant, but within the recipe is a simple roasted pear with a maple syrup sauce that anyone could make.
Components! Exactly! You know, sometimes someone like you can say what I want to say so much better than I can say it! Yes! People can make this pear, and there are just five ingredients and it is simple. The pear gets incredible caramelization. Then if you want to make another component, the almond pastry is to die for! It is not complicated. Yes! Use that in your explanation of the book!

Do you have a moment, event or recipe from your career of which you are most proud?
No, I don’t. A pastry chef is like a painter and as artists, we like the moment, and then we get tired of it. We are allowed to create things, then we move on. We are always looking for something new. Pastry chefs can show you how to do many things. The book is a little advanced; I hope it gives ideas. I am happy when I inspire people to create.

What are the three most important things that you think the home baker should know?
1. Find and buy right ingredients. Become like a chef hunting for the best. I have people tell me, “I don’t buy this chocolate because it is $1 more a pound than this other.” Please, give me a break! In the end, the cake might cost you $8 to make? But it is the best you ever made? Wasn’t it worth buying the best chocolate? I use Valrhona and Guittard for different purposes because they are good and they work. Think about main dishes! Chefs spend $18 a pound on tuna! Pastry chefs have to spend money on ingredients, too. And don’t tell me you can’t find it in America! You can.

2. I don’t request crazy tools, spray guns and things like that. You don’t need too many tools, but what you do need, buy the best. A KitchenAid mixer, a good food processor, a blender, maybe an ice cream machine. Less can be more! And buy a Silpat [silicone baking sheet]. We use them a lot. The pans and knives, you should have already. Then as you like, you can add specialty items like a cookie press, but then you won’t just use it for cookies! You can make chestnut vermicelli!

3. Know that every time you read the book that the recipes work. If they don’t work, it is because you have made a change. You might want to change an ingredient. Do not change nothing! Follow it or don’t make it.

Tell us about what you are doing currently.
Focusing on the book. It is beautiful; I give much credit to Tish [Boyle, co-author].

You know, when I am making the book I was thinking about all the desserts I have made over the last 25 years. Every chef in the world takes an idea from someone. Home bakers, it can be the same thing. Take my ideas, take one component, like the Rice Crispy Disks [a combination of the cereal with melted chocolate and praline paste] and add it to your favorite chocolate cake recipe. Press it into the bottom of the pan. It will add a different dimension to your cake. Not everyone thinks like this, but you can! Look deeper! There are recipes for all levels.

What do you hope to do next?
I am working on a cookie book with cookies from many different countries. Everyone in America loves cookies. There will be 100 cookies or so; Italian, cookies you can serve at Passover, flourless, gluten-free, classics and things that are a little different.

With gluten-free being so ubiquitous and other food allergies seemingly on the rise, how do you address allergies in your retail shops?
There is a book in every shop that lists all the ingredients of every item so someone can reference it. We are not a gluten-free facility, but we say, “look,” then you can make an informed decision. Every General Manager knows every recipe because it has become more and more prevalent with customers. I never think of [gluten allergies] when I create recipes. I think of produce or an idea and make it to be the best it can be, then if it ends up being gluten-free or kosher, then fine. I make a meringue because it is good and then I say “aha!” it happens to be gluten-free, so it will be listed as gluten-free.

Francois, thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful hearing how passionate you are about ingredients and even simple recipes. Readers might be surprised.
Madame, thank you! Yes, tell people about the components! And it is easy to bake if you have great ingredients!


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