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A Note from Marcy

The All That Jazz Baking Issue June 2004  

Menu du Jour
Recipes for June 2004

Potatonik – a heavenly, onion, potato, yeasted wonder
Buffalo Girl Chicken Tenders  -no contest, this is a winner
Greek "S" Cookies – golden, lemon vanilla, sweet dipping cookies
Banana Bread Biscotti – Is there a grandma in the house? Homey crunch.
“OO” Italian Flour Pizza Dough – Best pizza dough. At least, this month.
Pizza on the Grill Tips
Supermarket Yellow Cake for Strawberry Shortcake
Buttermilk Vanilla Scones with Currants (Bonus recipe for June) 

What you missed last month
(All recipes searchable in Complete Recipe Archive)

Ooey Gooey Peanut Butter Cookies
Anadama Bread, Basque Butter Cake
Italian Cream Cake
Whole Wheat Date and Orange Muffins
Asian Chicken Salad
Double Fudge Chocolate Cookies

Dear Fellow Bakers, and Friends of BetterBaking.com,

Some housekeeping…….

First of all, apologies for those of you who got double issues of the Carbs feature as well as the note about our new rates. I did say, ‘stop the presses’ but duplication went out anyway. Please note that the new recipes in each newsletter are referred to but are all view ‘downloadable at the BetterBaking.com home page, rather than linking via the newsletter. Our home page not only lists all the new recipes but also it is also where you can see some other added feature or news. Besides, we spend weeks working on the home page and want to show it off when you drop by.

Welcome to our new members and for the lovely response overall from everyone. If I had to speak on the collective good, and pervasive warmth of BetterBaking.com visitors, I would wax lyrical for days. I have the nicest guests dropping by the BetterBaking.com Test Kitchens. You are an incredible bunch with an energy that resonates through cyberspace.  

While my site is a long-established concern in both Web terms and time, the Internet that is its backdrop is an ever-evolving medium with a daunting growth rate. It is striking how quickly certain things on the Net become outmoded, what becomes hot, and how inaccurate many of the experts have been in forecasting the next wave, and how surprising other revelations have proven. How things have changed! When I launched this site, one cookbook publisher told me not to even consider launching a baking website.  “Do you really think people are going to cook off their computer?”. Well, no, not exactly, but yes, I guess so, as the Internet is proving a primary source of instant and comprehensive information.

Despite my tenure on the Net, as an editor and writer, as well as baker of the new millennium, I am constantly learning all the time what works, what serves my readers, keeps baking and fun in the kitchen alive, and what makes a website thrive in all ways and keeps us afloat overall. So, stay tuned, bear with us as we hit the high notes and have some off ones as we try different ways that enable us to continue to bring you original, fine baking for your palate, something for your reading pleasure, and your sense of aesthetics.

Some new friends…..

We welcome a new partner, www.JazzedonJava.net. We always wanted the presence of a coffee company and when these folks paid us a visit, we saw a perfect fit. I have tasted several of their blends, and will be roasting green coffee on their equipment and stovetop roasting too and reporting back.  This is a company that is unique, upscale, dedicated to great service and we are delighted to be associated with them. And, if you tell them you are from BetterBaking.com (we will have a code soon), you will get 5% off on your first order!

 

In this Issue…..

As for this issue, it is the All That Jazz Issue, our salute to dads and guys. The Montreal Jazz Festival and www.JazzedOnJava.net add to the mix, as well as a baker’s slew of hot, cool, sweet, sassy recipes with a jazzy spin. There’s a Jazzy New Orleans Beignets, a zesty Buffalo Girl Chicken, Pizza on the Grill (plus tips and techniques to do it), a simply divine Banana Bread Biscotti and a super duper Supermarket Yellow Cake (the chocolate cake is still in the test kitchen, cooling). The sleeper recipe this issue is the Potatonik – hard to describe but I urge you to try it.  It is weird, wonderful and if you do have leftovers, it is as good on day three as day one. The Baker's Collection each month showcases our new recipes but in the Complete Recipe Archives, you can also search for more recipes in a jazz theme (Red Beans and Rice, for instance or some lip smacking’ BBQ ribs). We cannot highlight all the recipes in the over 1400 that are in BB’s Complete Recipe Files (where is my staff, anyway?) but I can suggest you search for summertime greats, from iced-teas, smoothies, homemade lemonades, picnic foods, BBQ specialties.  You will find treasures. I try and bring you a balance of things in each issue, easy, challenging, lite, healthy, traditional, trendy, and new. The result is often eclectic but a buffet like no other. Seasonal, as well as holiday baking and cooking often take precedence but once in awhile we all need to be challenged with techniques. Teaching you a better way to make pie or inspiring you to try a batch of croissants is other baking ground you can expect to be covered. If you need a recipe and cannot find it, just holler. If you have a recipe suggestion, ditto. I can’t promise but I am happy to hear requests and many times, I am able to produce a recipe to request or recreate something you like.

So many recipes, so little time. So many calories, so, so worth it. Speaking of which, in reference to the Good Carbs, Bad Press piece, just to let you know, few essays have caused such a stir. The feature is now posted in When Bakers Write. Also there are two corrections, 3500 calories make up one pound (not 500) and I stand corrected in grouping the South Beach diet as an extreme diet.

Some visitors also shared some neat diet/nutrition sites and I offer them to you here, http://www.recipecalc.com/ for converting foods as per diets, www.accuchef.com for those of you wanting to organize recipes and a site that offers insights on fat, www.fatfallacy.com. The overall consensus among BB readers is that calories count, exercise counts, complex carbs are better but treats of more refined carbs (Chocolate Eruption Cheesecake, Lemon Bundt Cake, etc.) have their place. It is about balance and knowing your own body. So, stop eating pasta in the closet everyone. Have pasta if you like – at lunch preferably, in small amounts and laden with light marinara sauce, roasted vegetables and chevre but don’t exile half your pantry.

The All That Jazz Issue

Saluting The Guys, the Dad’s Day Issue June 2004

Or, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing……

The other day, my son was noodling around (a music term, not a food one) on his tenor sax. Of course, I did the ultimate screwball thing: I complimented him. And oh, how quick he was to set me straight, informing me that he was terrible, his tone of was off, his articulation was squat, his prowess on the high register lacking, his dexterity nothing to write home about,  and in short, “Mom, no offence, but you know about (name it) jazz, music, tone, discordant harmonies, and the genius of Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. When I protested that I had a vintage copies of the Modern Jazz Quartet and Oscar Peterson’s Canadiana Suite (including Wheatland, my favorite), he scoffed and pointed out I also had things like Matthew Wilder, The New Radicals, and Stephen Sondheim hits lying around – proof my artless tastes.  Essentially, according to the Jazz Bar Chez Nous house performer, I knew nothing about what it takes to noodle at a level, which in music parlance is called….improvisation.

‘You just don’t get it’ were his exact words. Sure I do. I get sourdough, I get a perfect crepe, and I get how to make a muffin sing like a canary. Apparently, I just don’t get good music. Well I do, but it is a discernment I will never have the temerity to voice to again, at least in some circles. I have been served.

So, what is improvisation? It exists in every art form. In music, improvisation is where you get to when you know your basics of technique, and your instrument and your own abilities so well that your artistry, your brain, and your soul take over and you are no longer reading notes on paper that someone else wrote and arranged but you are in fact – creating new music. You are delivering a new experience that is even beyond music. But until you can improvise, being a good musician means being able to play what is written, real well. To play off the charts and harmonize with that inner voice and make outer paradise for yourself and anyone within earshot is creatively speaking, heaven. Some folks of course, never really like to improvise and their technical skills, and emotional feeling they impart to what they play, is often equal to great improvisation. It is a purity of music that is another expression entirely and in its own way, another way to rewrite a score. In short, mastery itself is its own pinnacle.

But the 'new' music, improvised stuff that comes out instantly and disappears from bar to bar until it is but memory of a performance past and a review in a newspaper the next day is not so ephemeral as you would think. It is born of the nexus of inspiration, technique and the musician’s spirit.  In some cases, it is so outstanding, it rewrites the way other musicians follow and write scored music. Most times, it is this ‘place’ in sound and melody that exists briefly during each performance and then fades into music memory. It is way cool. But….until you get there, it don’t mean a thing and you are relegated to the notes laid out before you and you play what is written. Besides, who is going to quibble with Mozart, Beethoven and Coltrane, Porter or Gershwin? You could do worse than to just play their stuff correctly. But without that fluency, that ease, regardless of the endeavor, we are in that lost in translation/I don’t speak the language groove. Because ultimately, you want to create, not just perform. And you can only do that with a foundation of practice, experience, instinct and well, this, letting go, let fly spirit.

The best of improv stuff is that it is at its most inspired when it happens in this thing called the ‘zone’. Runners know it, jamming musicians know it, dancers live for it, writers thrive on it and yes, and bakers know it too.

Yeah, baking is a lot like that. The main goal is to bake with an understanding of technique, ingredients, equipment, tools, and recipes and bake it as well as you can. But I for one, always dreamed of baking without recipes, to improv in flour the same way a musician does by taking a scale and making it a symphony. I always wanted to do that with the ‘notes’ (flour, sugar, butter) from the bakery. I can't tell you the time and day it finally happened but it did. I just knew, in a visceral, in-my-bones baker sort of way, that I could dance on the high wire of baking and produce all sorts of recipes - recipes as I imagined them in my mind's eye, palate, and sense of what could work, what is possible and somehow, make them also something others could replicate. It just sort of happened one day and ever since,  I never again felt too tightly tethered to recipes, as they already existed, documented in cookbooks. You bake long enough - you get to that place. It is that same convergence of baking know-how, an intimate knowledge of technique and ingredient, magic and a vision of what is possible in your craft.

People tell me all the time how they can wing in cooking but not in baking. “How do you just make up recipes?” or, “How do you know how to adjust this or that?” or “How can you simply invent a new bread or change a cake formula?” I liken it to learning a language. You study the verbs, the nouns, the tenses, the idiomatic phrases and sayings. While there is not exactly flow, you can make yourself understood.  And one day, all the verbs, grammar, repetition come together and you are, magically, suddenly, fluent. You just sort of ‘cross over’ in a similar intersection of language and human expression. In Montreal, where I live, it happens a lot. For years you struggle and out of the blue, you realize, hey, you understood a joke in French or said something slang at the right time and you did not even have to translate in your head before you uttered a sentence. Yes, before you know it, you do indeed  ‘speak the language’ and the only thing lost in translation is that no one but you is there to witness the great crossing over into the language groove. Some days, I do that real well. Other days, just like bad food days (you know –nothing seems to taste right and you don’t know what you want to eat?), I have bad language days and trust me, at those times, I don’t know from flow.

In baking, it is chemistry, sure, as well as ingredients, a balanced recipe, fresh spices, real butter, eggs, and pure flavors. But you can, if you do it long enough, ad lib in the flour arts as you do in any other one. Make no mistake, for all its science, baking is art and craft. If you are a master of your domain but leave out your heart and soul, it won’t mean a thing. The best bakers, artists, musicians who bring their excellence to the stage and also share their spirit, their humanity, achieve an artistry that is quite beyond the usual bounds. I think it is that sound that echoes and draws us. Without those extra components, we run the risk of being technicians.

Which leads back to baking…..Do get great ingredients, take your time, read the recipe, think about who you are serving your food to and how they’ll enjoy it – put your heart and soul into the small, as well as large tasks, whether it be prepping toasted almonds or vigorously kneading dough. Add your own spice or modify here or there, if you’ve a mind to but most of all, bake big. A loaf of bread is an expression of you and as creative as any other fine art. Better, yet, we bakers  feed both body and soul. Who else can say that? Don't be afraid, once in awhile, to experiment. Heck, Mrs. Wakefield did that and managed to re-write the book on cookies. Perhaps someday,  after baking for awhile and feeling you confident, or maybe you decide to take a leap of faith and dare to play with the elements, you too will find yourself improvising on the sacred ground of thousands of years of baking history and endless stalks of wheat and......gee whiz,  making 'new music' in the bakery.  Then, cue applause. Take a bow. Give yourself an ovation, and say bon appetit.

Sweet times in the kitchen, happy June everyone,

Marcy Goldman
Editor, Host, and Head Baker
www.BetterBaking.com
1997-2005


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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