baking questions and answers

I have made your “forever brownies” many times from Baking Style. If I wanted to make this recipe as a “party cake” how could this be done?

The recipe for forever brownies (page 37) in my new book, Baking Style, Art, Craft, Recipes, is not only one of my favorite recipes, it’s a recipe that seems to have captivated both avocational and professional bakers alike. The brownie batter can be customized to include a generous stir-in of chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans), flaked coconut, chunks of candy, semisweet chocolate chips, bittersweet chocolate chips, or white chocolate chips. My sense is what you mean by “fancy up” the recipe is to offer the confection in an alternate shape other than a bar cookie. To do this, film a 9 to 10-inch round layer cake pan (2 inces deep) with nonstick oil spray, then spoon and scrape the batter into the prepared pan. (Any other single-layer ovenproof cake pan can be used, but be sure to choose one without too much detail otherwise the cake will be challenging to unmold.) Smooth over the top with a narrow offset metal spatula or flexible palette knife. Bake the sweet for 30 to 33 minutes, or until just set, and cool according to the procedure described in the body of the recipe. For serving, cut the dessert into pretty pie-shaped wedges. Serve  quite plain, with a tumble of fresh raspberries, vanilla ice cream, or softly whipped cream.

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Can you recommend dessert recipes from your baking books for bringing to holiday 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).

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My tradition every holiday season (and at any other time of the year) is to make a food gift. It also makes a great hostess gift. I love your muesli and have made it many times. Can you explain how to make this in quantity–can I double the recipe?

One of my preferred holiday food gifts is a crunchy mixture that includes rolled oats and various other flaky things and seeds, and muesli, my favorite way is at the top of the list. The basic recipes yields six cups. It contains rolled oats, rolled spelt flakes, rolled wheat flakes, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and sunflower seeds. A honey and oil mixture gets poured over the collection of goodies, and it all gets spooned onto and scattered over a prepared baking pan. At some point during the process, wide-flake coconut is incorporated and tossed about, then the whole concoction is baked until everything is golden. Cooled and crumbled, the muesli is light but sturdy. The core recipe can be doubled successfully, keeping the following suggestions in mind: use 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 cup plain vegetable oil, and 4 teaspoons vanilla extract; divide the mixture between 2 large rimmed sheet pans (each pan measuring 13 by 18 inches), each lined with a sheet of ovenproof kitchen parchment paper and filmed with nonstick oil spray; bake the sheet pans of muesli on the upper and lower third level oven racks, exchanging the pans from top to bottom and bottom to top halfway through baking; and store the mixture in 1-quart jars with tight-fitting lids.

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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.

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Can you recommend a few recipes to bake from Baking Style to serve at a bridal shower? The only ingredients to be avoided (accounting for personal taste) are peanut butter and ginger. It would be preferable to be able to make the sweets in advance. Thank you!

There are many recipes in Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes that take well to serving in small portions. A rich bar cookie is ideal for serving at a bridal shower as a pickup-style dessert, or cake, plated in slices for offering with a dollop of mousse or scoop of ice cream. In particular, the following can be made in advance and remain fresh when assembled within frilly paper cups (if you like) on doily-lined trays: Little Almond Cakes (page 42, and following page),  a gentle blueberry buckle (page 45), brown sugar-coconut cookies (page 97), banana tea loaf (page 119), exquisite cake (page 140), edge-o-darkness bars (page 176), confection brownies (page 178), chocolate chip sablés (page 249, and following page), lemon melties (page 265), and wildly lush hint-of-salt lavender shortbread, the unrestrained version (page 303, and following page).

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What was the most difficult recipe to develop in Baking Style?

Every single recipe In Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes has a story attached, oftentimes relating to its development. Over the years, a handful of recipes challenged me and presented sticky problems to be worked through for creating a baked good that sang with flavor and charmed with texture. A yeast dough became “over-anxious” and burst through its wrappings; a drop cookie dough puddled–mercilessly–on the baking pan; a tray of scones rose beautifully then flattened mysteriously. Such is the life of a baker. The recipe that tormented me until I got it right was almond macaroons in an embrace of flavor and texture (page 254): My goal was to arrive at moist, flavorful, and plump cookies–it took some some to achieve all three charateristics in one dough.

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What are your favorite cookie recipes for holiday baking from Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes? Also, what is your favorite holiday baking flavor?

There are some wonderful cookie recipes in Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes so perfect for baking during the holiday season. I particularly love the molasses crinkles (page 77), roll out those cookies (page 88), confection brownies (page 178), butter and sugar cookies (page 347, and following page), and when chocolate chip cookies go butterscotch (page 475). Actually, I have two favorite flavors which frequently find their way into my holiday baked goods: chocolate and vanilla. Having spent years and years surrounded by chocolate in all forms and intensities, I never tire of its flavor–witness my mega-book on the subject of baking with chocolate published several years ago, ChocolateChocolate. As well, vanilla, floral and demure, is a versatile component of many of my dough and batter-based recipes.

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What’s your favorite recipe in the Butter chapter of Baking by Flavor?

At this moment, my go-to recipe in the Butter chapter of Baking by Flavor is the Butter Shortbread (page 200, and following page). The recipe appeals for its simplicity and direct flavor of butter; for the baking pan, I love to use a fluted 9 1/2-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom, as in it the baked shortbread looks pretty and appealing. The scalloped edges bring a certain festive quality to the cookie wedges. This particular butter shortbread dough is made out of all-purpose flour, rice flour, a touch of baking powder, salt, softened unsalted butter, superfine sugar, and vanilla extract. When the baked shortbread is pulled from the oven and cooled for 10 minutes, I dust the top with granulated sugar for a lightly sweetened, softly glimmery finish. Good shortbread, I believe, is all about the ratio of dry ingredients to butter, with enough sugar to tenderize it all, and how thoughtfully the dough is put together.

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From your books, can you offer a list of recipes for two autumn baking ingredients–apples and pumpkin?

Both the windfall of cooking apples and spice-friendly pumpkin does indeed create luscious baked goods. Generally, you can look forward to moist treats, full of flavor (some subtle, others a bit bolder) and, occasionally, pleasantly spiced.

From Baking by Flavor: Caramel Upside-Down Apple Tart (page 233, and following pages), Spiced Apple Waffles (page 473), Pumpkin-Almond Keeping Cake (page 112, and following page), Pumpkin Ginger Cake (page 378, and following page), Gingery Pumpkin Muffins with Ginger-Sugar Sprinkle (page 398, and following page). From ChocolateChocolate: Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Applesauce Scones (page 257). From Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes: Apple Cake, Maple Butter Glaze (page 55, and following page), Pumpkin Cake, with Chips (page 360), Gingered Pumpkin Squares for the Breadbasket (page 462).

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In your latest cookbook, Baking Style, how did you style the baked goods to appear so natural and appealing, yet so “perfect” looking?

While developing the look of the images (in addition to the selection of background materials and the massive amount of tableware–all from my own collection), it was important to me, as both author and baker/stylist of Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, to reveal the core expression of my baking in a visual way. It was my great fortune to have a marvelously sensitive photographer, Ben Fink, chosen for this project–his camera lens acted as an extension of his art, and a very supportive editor (Pamela Chirls) and publisher (Natalie Chapman) at John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hand-in-hand with Ben’s ability to somehow capture the essence of my work in baking, I developed a way to arrange and present the variety of sweets and savories to show off their natural goodness. Jagged edges, crumbs, and broken pieces appear visually against architecturally-correct borders, perfect scalloped exteriors and lacy edges, and very clean cuts. Most times, I simply let the baked good “control” the way it needed to be placed and, occasionally, a wayward bit of something let loose and I just let it be.

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