baking questions and answers

You baked all the recipes for photography in Baking Style and, as such, can you tell us what was the hardest recipe to style?

Though the process of styling baked goods for photography began to flourish in earnest for me with Baking by Flavor, and continued on with ChocolateChocolate, and Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, I’ve always enjoyed creating recipes that look as good as they taste. It’s not easy! For Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, the challenge was twofold–to bake the recipes in the order that they appeared in each chapter to facilitate the coordination of background materials and to capture their inherent lusciousness in a very primal way. The recipe that posed a real challenge for me to bake for capturing in an image was my brown sugar toffee cake. Cake, in general, seems to create visual problems and this simple but wildly delicious Bundt cake looks so basic–and I was not willing to prepare a more complicated version just to suit its appearance. A few days before the art session that included this sweet, I came up with the idea to present the cake with every other slice pulled out and, in the end, its look is one of my favorite baking images in the book and turned out to be a very simple solution to the presentation.

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Many readers have asked about the design details for Baking Style. This query was presented to my publisher (Natalie Chapman) and editor (Pamela Chirls) for commenting on the particulars. Please welcome both experts.

From Natalie Chapman:Baking Style is a voluptuous book. The design is elegant, distinctive, stylish, and very pink. Curlicued rules and candy-stripes on the edges of text pages accentuate the allure of the recipes and photographs while complementing the cleanness of the design. The splendid full-page photographs show Lisa’s cookies, cakes, breads, muffins, and other baked creations aglow against a variety of pink and patterned backgrounds, and the endpapers dazzle the reader with eighty thumbnail-sized photographs of baking-related equipment and ingredients. The abundance of the interior is perfectly contained within a cover that’s at once understated and sensual. Unjacketed, printed on linen-textured material, the cover makes use of the same cursive but clean lines in the interior and adds some shimmer with silver metallic ink. The background color is, of course, a deep, almost shocking, pink. The overall effect is at once substantial and intimate, as only a printed book can be.” From Pam Chirls: “From pink to purple, a rich range of textures and tones became the showcase for Lisa Yockelson’s collection of cakes, cookies, and breads in Baking Style. Along with 80 four-color photographs of ingredients and equipment from Lisa’s pantry and cupboards printed on the book’s endpapers, the cover was designed to make a quiet statement of elegance, borrowing the fuchsia color, the graphic pattern, and the strong typography from the interior. The title is part of a creative seal, promising a personal baking journey for the reader.”

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What are your favorite bake-ahead recipes in Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes? Do you have any specific recommendations for storing baked goods?

This is an excellent question–and one particularly appropriate for our modern schedules. In Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, I can point you to a few of the recipes: apple cake, maple butter glaze (page 53, and following page), dirty cake (page 137), exquisite cake (page 140), confection brownies (page 178), cheesecake deluxe (page 213, and following page), morning butter slice (page 260), moist and chewy fruit slice (page 322, and following page), and butter and sugar cookies (page 347, and following page)–among other recipes. The morning butter slice, in particular, charms, as it radiates good butter and is straightfoward to put together. For storage, be sure to follow the directions specified in the recipes, keeping in mind that using good storage containers is essential to maintaining that all-essential freshly-baked quality–purchase sturdy containers, with tightly fitting lids–and cool the particular sweet completely before storing.

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This is probably a no-brainer question, but I’d like to know if the intense almond bars in baking style diary can be made into a cake. The bars are delicious, but I’d like to present the dessert more formally on a plate.

Indeed, the batter for my intense almond bars is flexible enough to be baked in an 8-inch round layer cake pan (1 1/2 inches deep) at the same oven temperature for the same time. While some experts offer direct and generic correlations between square and round pans, I judge the exchange on a recipe-by-recipe basis, for each type of batter, dough, or batter/dough responds slightly differently depending on the shape of the pan and internal characteristics (such as level of leavening, amount of liquid, level of fat, and/or type of add-ins, such as bits of dried fruit or baking chips). Interestingly enough, other bar cookie batters (especially those of the brownie and blondie type) can be baked in round baking pans, plain-sided or fluted, too.

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Occasionally I see pie crust recipes that contain a small amount of baking powder. I’ve had success with these recipes, but I’m not sure I know/understand in what way the baking powder enhances the crust. …I have often wondered, though, does it really make a difference of some kind?

Baking powder (preferably aluminum free) occasionally appears as an ingredient in a pie crust dough in a very small amount. The actual use of the component varies from baker to baker. In the buttery dough for my rustic fig tart (page 274, and following page) from Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, I included 1/8 teaspoon (in a formula that calls for 2 cups all-purpose flour). The general reason this leavening agent is utilized is to promote a bit of a rise (especially in a rich dough), with the ancillary result of tenderizing the baked crust. In the case of the buttery dough recipe for the free-form tart, the baking powder supports its buttery, sweetened texture.

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What is the best way to prepare cookie dough ahead of time? I like to serve cookies that have not been lying around in a container for a few days but am unsure of how to work the dough into my schedule.

Certain types of prepared cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen to bake off for future enjoyment. Just recently, I put together another batch of brown sugar chippers with the understanding that portions of dough would be stored in the freezer (my freezer “pantry” sort of thing going on) and baked-to-order sometime in the not-too-distant future. I did the same with my joy of toffee cookies. The ingredients in each “creamed” cookie recipe combine to create a dough stable enough to endure a rest in the freezer–the elements that contribute to this stability are a respectable amount of butter, the correct balance of sugar and eggs, and enough flour to promote and develop texture. Over the years, I have found that the best way to store this type of drop cookie dough cookie dough is to divide it into the portion size called for in the recipe, freeze the plump scoops until firm, wrap them two to a package, and tuck them into a self-sealing freezer bag or sturdy lidded container.

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What are your favorite recipes in Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes for baking and serving in the summer? Do you have any tricks for storing the baked goods?

In Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, there are a number of recipes that can survive the summertime heat and humidity, are perfect for gift-giving if you are a guest at a beach or vacation home, and easy to pack up for a weekend picnic: blueberry breakfast cake (page 48), a big banana cake (page 120), chocolate chip cake (page 124), dirty cake (page 137), morning butter slice (page 260), and dark shadows (page 342)–to name just a few. The care and packaging of baked goods, no matter the season, remains the same: Store thoroughly cooled items in containers with tight-fitting lids.

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In Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, there is a collection of chocolate chip cookies. What is your favorite recipe in that section?

As the “mother” of all four chocolate chip (and chunk) recipes, it’s difficult to choose a favorite! In Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, my goal was to annotate diary entries with recipes that, historically, have a story attached to them. Each of the four recipes reflects a different sort of baking experience. The recipe for my melting for chocolate chip cookies (page 474) is, perhaps, the most traditional, with a balance of granulated sugar and light brown sugar. A caramelly version can be found in when chocolate chip cookies go butterscotch (page 475). The batch of cookies containing pools of bittersweet chocolate, the melty, lush: empowered-with-bittersweet chocolate (page 476), takes the classic flavor to a new level. In the packed-with-chips department, wild ones (page 477) could possibly be my favorite, for the cookies combine chewy centers with crispy edges. The recipe for wild ones was praised in Publishers Weekly on October 17 and can be found here.

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a reader writes in: “Have made several more recipes from your Baking Style, each one a hit. I see your recipes call for bleached AP flour but most of my other recipes call for unbleached. How important is it to use bleached AP flour or can I use unbleached in your recipes and still get the same results?”

The recipes in Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes were created and conscientiously tested with the ingredients and methods outlined in each sweet or savory baked good. Unless specified in a particular recipe, exchanging/replacing/deleting ingredients or changing the method will largely result in an unintended result. The general answer to the question is that it’s important to use the type of flour called for in each recipe. Please refer to page xiv of Baking Style and look over the paragraph that begins with “Flour provides structure to a batter or dough and works with the fat and liquid to develop and achieve a textural ‘crumb.’” The explanation continues on to reveal the differences among several types of flour–and, most importantly for this question, offers the notation that unbleached flour contains an “elevated” protein content; the texture of many batters or  doughs would be compromised if bleached flour is replaced with unbleached flour.  To ensure that my recipes work as intended, it would be wise to use bleached all-purpose flour as stated in each recipe.

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Many years ago you published a recipe for Currant Crisp Cookies in Gourmet magazine (December, 1983). My wife has lost it. Do you know how I might get it for her?

My recipe for Currant Crisps, created for my article titled Foods for Holiday Giving and published in Gourmet magazine (December, 1983, beginning on page 34) featured miniature sweetmeats (all cookies). The ingredients: 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 1 cup cornstarch, 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 sticks (1 cup) softened unsalted butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 large egg (lightly beaten), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1 cup moist dried currants. The procedure: Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt onto a sheet of waxed paper. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, add the sugar a little at a time, and continue beating for 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract; beat for 1 minute. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, blending on low speed until just combined. Work in the currants. Chill the dough, covered, for at least 3 hours, or overnight. (Never comsume raw dough.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll teaspoons of the dough into balls. Arrange on baking sheets. Flatten each ball with the tines of a fork. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, or until golden around the edges. Transfer to cooling racks, cool completely, and store in airtight containers. The recipe creates about 120 miniature cookies.

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