The complete and total unpredictability of the days before, during, and after my birthday goofs up my otherwise certain baking schedule during precise months of the year. Ditto my personal cravings.
Right now, baking-wise, I’m a very oaty, nutty, seedy, and crunchy person. And, as usual, itching for coconut. So, the decision was made to join it all in caramelly clusters, with one self-imposed critical requirement–that the treat be batter-free, just a happy conspiracy of ingredients stuck together in a vanilla-seasoned mixture.
Inspired by trail mix, the clusters have been on my planning board for a year. Over the last several months, I’ve made many, many types. As I chased my idea of a wonderfully crispy confection housing all kinds of things, a potpourri of results ensued–messy, crumbly lumps; too-sweet or too-bland nuggets; overly sticky clumps; impossible-to-bake-evenly mixtures (don’t ask). Finally, on the edge of the proverbial baking cliff, a midnight kitchen romp rewarded me with a recipe I’ll be making in many more years to come: a beautifully and deeply golden block of stuck-together components, ready to break up into small and rugged pieces. On February 27th, crunch rules. Politely, of course. (Or, maybe, not quite politely because it’s my day–live with it, people.)
Weeks and weeks ago, a load of the aforementioned ingredients in varying combinations has been reduced to a sweet-tart and nutty paste of sorts, packed into a loaf pan, and refrigerated–the kitchen was awash in one long and colorful mash. Once firm enough, the result turned into a gloriously unbaked confectionlike-treat, quite flavorful and intense.
The road to bar-perfect was paved with a few stumbles–some mixtures tasted bland and lackluster, others not fruity enough, a few not as cohesive as desired. Finally, a blend of sweetened flaked coconut and unsweetened coconut, raw cashews, dried apricot halves and dates, plus a little coconut oil, created a balanced mixture. The concoction was moist enough to press into a lined pan, yet sufficiently firm to slice cleanly once refrigerated for a few hours.
In all, a delight.
sweet and savory baking notes
delicious bites of baking information
Mar 8 -
baking style diary reflects on favorite cookies: Developed for Food & Wine magazine, my recipe for Large and Luscious Two-Chip Oatmeal Cookies is a cookie jar gem.
Mar 7 -
Freshly-baked! My recipe for (delectable) pistachio butter cookies was published in the food section of the Boston GLOBE. A plate of cookies are an ideal accompaniment to coffee, tea, peel-it-yourself tangerines or clementines, or ice cream. You can find the recipe here. Enjoy.
Mar 6 -
Baking Style Tracker: My answer to readers asking me to choose a favorite cookie from Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes? The recipe for when chocolate chip cookies go butterscotch (page 475). These are buttery and caramelly. Crisp and chewy, with background flavor notes of toffee and vanilla.
i have a baking question
ask Lisa a baking-related question
The appetizer bread in Baking Style is delicious. If I want to customize it with other items, rather than salami (or pepperoni), what ingredients would you suggest? Even though you say that the bread should be served on baking day, it was also wonderful the next day.
This savory bread (page 440, and following page) from Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes is casual and so good with a glass of wine, or a leafy, herb-flecked salad. The salami (or pepperoni), Provolone, and Pecorino Romano may be replaced by other items, though it is preferable to either use cheese plus a charcuterie ingredient or cheese alone (one or a mix of two or three varieties). Either smoked ham or smoked turkey–cut into cubes–would be a good substitute for the salami; minced fresh herbs can be worked into the dough with the cheese; or diced onions pan-fried until golden in a little olive oil would make a tasty addition. And don’t forget to use the oil and cheese finish–it’s lovely.
Can you recommend dessert recipes from your baking books for bringing to potluck dinners? Also, what is the best way to transport them?
Bake-ahead sheet or one-layer cakes and fairly sturdy bar cookies are ideal for preparing in advance and transporting to an event. Bar cookies can be cut into squares or rectangles, and gently layered between sheets of waxed paper or cooking parchment paper within sturdy containers. Sweets baked in rectangular, square, or round pans (each single, not multiple-layer) are easy travellers, whether frosted or not–leave the dessert in the pan, cover, and place the baking pan in a larger pan for safe delivery.
From Baking by Flavor, the following items are ideal for contributing to a potluck dinner: Kitchen Sink Buttercrunch Bars (page 209), Caramel, Nougat, and Walnut Candy Bar Cake (page 235, and following page), Sour Cream Fudge Cake (page 260, and following pages), Simply Intense Chocolate Brownies (page 280, and following page), or Cream Cheese-Swirled Brownies (page 492, and following page). From ChocolateChocolate: Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies (page 76), Supremely Fudgy Brownies (page 81), White Chocolate Chip and Chunk Blondies (page 145), Layered Toffee Bars (page 176), or Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd (page 403, and following page). From Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, A Noble Marzipan Cake (page 41, and following page), A Gentle Banana Cake (page 118), Date Bars, Big and Crazy Chewy (page 163), Confection Brownies (page 178), Moist and Chewy Fruit Slice (page 322, and following page), Blondie Cake (page 409), or A Decadent Streusel Coffee Cake (page 467).
read about noteworthy cookbooks
Tartine Book No. 3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole, by Chad Robertson (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013), $40.00
In Tartine Book Nº3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole, Chad Robertson dives deep into baking with whole grains (including ancient grains), turning the tables on classic pastries (take a good, tasty look at his Chamomile-Kamut Shortbread on page 251 and Buckwheat-Hazelnut Sables on page 261) and reinvigorating traditional breads with blended grains (a spectacular example of this is the author’s recipe for Spelt & Toasted Corn-Flour Baguettes on page 59, and following pages, and a veritable textbook on how to achieve the best “crumb” and flavor in a creation based on a multi-layered process and likely appealing to only the most passionate–and possibly advanced–of bakers). Even if you only put together Robertson’s 50/50 Sablé Cookies (page 258, and following page) and read through this work at leisure, you would come away deeply admiring the scope of the topic and love of the art Roberston conveys.
This is an exciting book. It may shake up some time-honored formulas and techniques–but only if you are not wedded to exploration.
The dynamic quality of Tartine Book Nº3 is evident throughout many distinctive chapters, like “Hearth Loaves with Sprouted Grains” or “Pastry.” Expect to add to your baking education–and the pantry–significantly by creating perfect crispbreads, scones, or tarts. And prepare to take your notion of the peanut butter cookie and have it turned completely upside-down (hint: Robertson’s take is made with oat flour and the cookies make one huge jump into confection immortality).
My suggestion: With a copy of Tartine Book Nº3 in hand, travel into this author’s mixing bowl to learn his philosophy and methods. It may take several reads to absorb the material. Even if bread is not your thing, perhaps he can lure you with Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies (page 248, and following page). Unlike his Golden Brioche (which uses four different flours and a poolish, in addition to kefir butter), the cookie-making is a way-briefer, easier event, makes you rethink rye flour entirely, and produces swoon-worthy results.
All bakers beware. This book enchants.
The Model Bakery Cookbook: 75 Favorite Recipes from the Beloved Napa Valley Bakery, by Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen with Rick Rodgers (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013), $35.00
Translating recipes from bakery scale to home kitchen is–usually–a daunting task. Ask any pastry chef or author of a pastry cookbook to authenticate the occasional dilemmas and worries. When a collection of formulas emerges that accomplishes this task in a genuine way, a fine body of work emerges.
Such is the case with The Model Bakery Cookbook: 75 Favorite Recipes from the Beloved Napa Valley Bakery–the recipes beckon you to preheat the oven, assemble ingredients, and mix up a batter or dough. Reading the table of contents, you’ll be intrigued and comforted by the heritage of items offered. Many happy baking sessions are sure to follow. A quick read-through of the chapters teases with the likes of Cinnamon Rolls, Cream Currant Scones, Sunny Lemon Cake, Chocolate Rads, and Tender Sugar Cookies. Enough to tantalize, or do you need to be told about the Buttermilk Biscuits and Carmelita Bars?
The chapter headings follow a traditional format: “Breads,” “Yeasted Sweets,” “Breakfast Favorites,” “Cakes,” “Pies and Tarts,” and “Cookies.” Introductory material covers “Ingredients,” “Equipment,” and “Basic Techniques.” And for those interested in the bakery’s history, the first few pages present the reader/baker with the story of how it came to be–from catering business to storefront, complete with the chronicle of renovating a historical building and all the challenges associated with it. In other words, it was a long way from renovation to Sticky Buns.
One cozy baking afternoon not too long ago, I baked a batch of Multigrain Muffins (page 97) made from cake flour and whole wheat flour, bran flakes (the cereal) and oats, plus dried fruit and nuts–delightful. In the head note, the authors describe them as “hearty” and this is accurate, and correctly not overly substantial. I would also characterize the lot as enormously satisfying, especially when served at breakfast. I could also imagine baking the batter in a single-layer to make a kind of “morning cake”–as I have done with many of my own muffin recipes (less work, big payoff).
Though not all-embracing, The Model Bakery Cookbook is largely a testament to the business drive, skills, and good taste of the owners and staff. In an interesting way, the bakery seems to dovetail local-with-classic and local-with-contemporary. Anyone who lifts their chocolate chip cookies (known as The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies in the book, page 180) from the baking sheet to cooling rack will appreciate this book.