Welcome to December 2009 Issue of Betterbaking.com. It is, as is our unique subscription method here at BB, a three-month sign-on time. If you like, sign on today to receive 3 months of Betterbaking.com (new recipes, archives and all) from now through February 28, 2010. Just hop on over to the To Subscribe page. There are also, as always, quite a few free recipes for the month (as well as a Free BB Twitter recipe) so do check the Note from Marcy page (where this month's beefy editorial also resides) at www.betterbaking.com and check them out.
Montreal Book Signing
Other perks include the nice reception I had in Toronto and Montreal at book signings and all the exciting PR activities including radio, TV, and live appearances at Canadian Place. My next book signing is in Montreal, this Saturday, December 5th at Bon Appetite Bookstore, at 1 pm. I will be demonstrating Apple Strudel in the Round, New Wave Potato Latkes and sharing the finer art of making real, stretch strudel dough.
Hart to believe but 2010 is head. To me, 2009 has been a blur of getting my new cookbooks done and launched as well as starting a new baking book that I am not supposed to say much about because go figure, that’s how publishing works. But you know that famous cooking book I am working on and always tease you about – the one that has no publisher yet? It's nearing the finish line. Just a bit more testing and writing and it will be complete. If I have to photo copy it at Staples and mail it out myself one day to those who are interested, I will. The other day, I looked at the entire manuscript (I have been working on it now for five years, as have the volunteer testers who have done huge amounts of testing). Behold, there were all these gorgeous, tested cooking recipes, beautifully organized in chapters (Soups, Appetizers, Vegetarian Cafe, Pasta, Fish, you name it!). I was floored. It is some book and I for one need it in my own kitchen. So stay tuned.
This was also the year I recommitted to my work as a writer as well as a baker. If anything, I am more devoted to my twin bread and butter passions. I also renewed my tango vows after a bit of a sabbatical. (And perfume too, for that matter. If you need perfume gift suggestions, email me - happy to help). Everyone in tango experiences their private tango wars wherein in response to life tussling you about, you leave tango (don’t ask why). It's almost as if rejecting tango is the tonic for whatever else ails you. So you leave - not forever but a prolonged tango break. Just where you should go to feel better, instead, you avoid. Do you ever find that? You know the things that make you whole and happy and in the midst of a valley, you turn your back on those same things. Maybe that is how we learn to re-appreciate what makes us tick.
At any rate, the tango dance floor looks good again, the partners are ever more soliticious, and I have new Capezio shoes and neat, new tango togs. I’m back. All else about me this year seems in transition but tango? Who would think, gliding on air, held by some kind stranger you will never see again, you could find solid ground. And yet I do. A friend recently commented that I must be in my element at book signings, demo-ing scones and chatting baking and I am. But at tango – somehow, where I am lost and anonymous, I feel ‘found’ to myself. Do you too have a place where you feel more found? More you, more present? If you find it, never let it go - at least, not for too long.
Which brings me back to the kitchen. At book signings and interviews, I am often asked about my favorite baking tips. The tricks and tips are in all my baking books. But you must know by now, just via this website, where I stand on using doubled-up baking sheets, pure ingredients, slow baking biscotti (versus twice baking) and covering your entire mixer with plastic bags, when rising yeasted doughs. These tricks which are to me second nature and so helpful to better baking, are tricks I hope I convince you to try in your own baking.
My baking goals at www.Betterbaking.com and in my cookbooks is to give you the most exciting, flavorful, fun, elegant baking I know and in a form that is clear, streamlined and contains unique baking and pastry techniques, hidden between the lines. I try to share my expertise invisibly so that you will have more success and more professional looking baked goods. I am also trying to import incredible flavor in each bite of every recipe I create. A flavor devotee, I want you to experience that in your own baking. I want your baking to be the sort of food that have people sigh in pleasure with just one bite. Call it Twilight Baking.
I can't (yet) offer a state of the art website nor calorie counts, weighted ingredients and the sleek and interactive programming I would prefer. But I can give you the best baking possible - and I can share my spirit and passion and be available for your questions. What I can do is share the perfect recipe and hope you try at least one thing, have success, and warm up your kitchen and life, with that special energy. It's not really about the recipe; it's always been, (as if you don't know me by now), about sharing a passion for life, coincidentally articulated in flour and butter. I am not a foodie. I am a baker who writes or a writer who happens to bake. I don't pose for the camera (I shy away) nor pout or flirt (much) and often, I am far from entertaining. But I am earnest in wanting you to find joy in baking, creating your own traditions, discovering new tricks that might work better, and exposing each and every baking secret another chef or cookbook author might have forgotten to share with you.
In the many interviews I did lately I was often asked if baking is difficult. Baking is mindful but not difficult. I was often asked if baking is intimidating and more 'science' than anything else. It is a mystery at times and only as scientific as you choose it to be. Our grandmothers didn't know from science of baking - they just did it. I think chatting up baking in terms of science (while true) only stops people from diving in. That said, there is friendly baking science that anyone can learn by and by. Last, interviewers asked me if baking makes you fat (No, over-eating makes you ...hefty. Baking on its own is blameless).
We bakers often get asked these hard questions. I don't think Jamie or Emeril are getting similar questions about cooking. But I can stand the disclaimers because at this time of year, everyone wants to bake or be a baker's friend. The bottom line is to me, baking is not as much science or mythical as it is magical. That said, it is a democratic, accessible, wonderful white magic anyone can do.
My own baking spirits have revved up as I am creating new recipes such as Caramel Bread Pudding, Pecan Scones, and Russian Coffee Cake. Testers send notes filled with compliments on Cranberry Ripple Biscotti and Eccles Cakes - all sweets for the book in progress. I am always happy baking and giving. Recently, someone wrote me and coined the phrase, Random Acts of Baking. It is indeed - just that. And these random acts of baking are as giving to the giver - those of us who bake and share, as it is to the recipients.
Now, I could remind you to ‘buy my books’ or ‘follow me on Twitter’ but this is one author who is tired of self-promoting. You know what I do, you know where to find me and I assume you know how to whistle, don’t you? So, if you need something, holler or email. I am happy to help.
In December, you can find me in the kitchen baking, or dancing, or at Starbucks with friends, talking about husbands, kids, life, romance and a better cupcake, or working on my books. I pursue, unless otherwise waylaid, anything that makes life sweet, such as those Random Acts of Baking that transform my world as much as they do yours. So please bake and bake it forward. Share the warmth. Feel the glow you get back.
Warm wishes, and sweet times in the kitchen, Happy Chanuka, Merry Christmas, a wonderful Kwanza, and my very best for each and every holiday and special moment you are privvy to celebrate.
Classic Shortbread !! FREE!! There are many recipes for classic shortbread. This is my favorite and happily, it is the simplest. Variations are always an option (adding extracts or chocolate chips, etc.). These were tested with cornstarch, rice flour, and confectioners’ sugar and granulated sugar was my preference, based on results. I make Hannukah shapes out of this same dough. One day, I hope to get a terra cotta shortbread mold to make one large, break-apart shortbread cookie. For now, a fork got pricking the dough, and a knife to cut the cookies, is all I (and you) need.
$$$$ Millionaire Bars
A buttery shortbread base is the throne to a special caramel filling all topped off with a yet another layer in the way of a decadent chocolate crown. No wonder these are Millionaire Bars –they are a personal, if not national, treasure. Forget about the economy, breathe in and out, and munch on one of these. Makes 24 ‘shares’. I’ve been perfecting this recipes for ages but January 2009 seems just the right time to decant it before it goes back in the vault.
Dulce de leche Pound Cake
From the BB Cover and in The 10th Anniversary Issue of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, my legendary holiday cake, photographed by Ryan Szulc.
So simple, so unique, so obvious and so good! Chunks of white and dark chocolate in a tender, golden challah, made so by using all-purpose instead of bread flour. Add some cocoa for a chocolate (dough) challah or leave it out. If you have Nielsen Massey's new chocolate extract on hand, this challah becomes more than manna.
BB's Original Carrot Cake Fruitcake (c) I think this needs it's own place on a cake hall of fame. What you love about carrot cake but in a holiday rendition. It keeps, but doesn't last -if you follow.
Bake Camembert in Filo with Cranberry Chutney Add a touch of fresh, tangy cranberry sauce to this appetizer classic. It just takes minutes to create a buttery bundle, filled with oozing, warm Camembert or Brie cheese, with a scarlet dash of cranberries. You could substitute Major Grey Chutney if you like or leave this classic: brie, filo, butter. Provide pear wedges or crusts of bread for dipping.
Cream Cheese Butter Layered Biscuits Folding butter into these cream-cheese rich biscuits makes them the winningest biscuits for Thanksgiving or any other time. Stonewall Kitchens is renown for their amazing layered biscuits for some time now. They are so good - I do hope you try them. But the baker in me loves the idea of the concept of layering butter into a dough to make each extra flaky is a technique borrowed from croissant making. It works for croissants, why not biscuits? I think you will agree.
Clementine Cranberry Pound Cake A tangy twist for pound cake that is a great coffeecake for Thanksgiving tea time. Use seedless, little oranges such as clementines for full flavor and thin skins and wash the outer skin of the fruit first. Dust this elegant cake with confectioners' sugar or use the Orange Fondant as a spiffier glaze. If you get tired of pumpkin pie and pecans, this is another seasonal option.
Chocolate and Sour Cherry Fruitcake
A travesty to some; heaven-in-a-fruitcake for others. A dense chocolate pound cake enlivened with dried sour cherries, chunks of chocolate and nuts laced with brandy. You can also try a coffee liqueur such as Khalua.
Gourmet Shop Panettone A brioche, rich bread, studded with fruit, nuts and chocolate. An Italian tradition, feel free to leave out nuts or fruits or just add those that appeal. The main thing it to produce a golden, sweet, eggy bread to break off in hunks with espresso, during many wonderful holiday mornings. Large commercial food service cans, or coffee tins make ideal baking containers. This recipe makes a few small panetonnes or 2-3 larger ones. Golden Almond Holiday Stollen Delicious European holiday sweet bread. For a softer crust, you can paint your stollen with melted butter as it comes out of the oven or a special wash of sugar syrup included in this recipe. This is a rich, tender bread filled with candied fruits and a core of sweet almond paste. As good fresh as it is a few days later, plain or toasted. If you are not partial to candied fruit (who is?), use dried sour cherries, cranberries or minced California apricots to replace the candied fruit. This fiddles with tradition but if we don't update some recipes, the traditions will...ummm, expire. Brazo Gitano – Spanish Roll Cake Free!! This Spanish cake roll, also associated with Puerto Rican cuisine, is similar to a Quebecoise Yule Log or British style sponge roll jam cake. It features a light sponge cake that is filled with rum/vanilla whipped cream. You can also fill it with jam or a thin layer of dulce de leche, and then the whipped cream for this deluxe recipe. Brazo Gitano translates as Gypsy’s Arm. It makes a perfect holiday cake.
Chocolate Bread and Brownie Pudding
This is superb for a party or brunch. It is different and satisfying – not quite chocolate soufflé cake and not a cheesecake but somewhere in-between. It is as good served chilled in wedges with warm white chocolate sauce as it is slightly warm out of the oven, with caramel sauce or whipped cream or even a scoop of softened vanilla ice-cream. Use leftover chocolate cake such as Classic Dark Chocolate Layer Cake and leftover Notting Hill Brownies (without any nuts in it) or your own. If you are really time-pressed, use leftover store-bought or a mix. I give you permission for the final results of this cake are more than the sum of the parts (although homemade everything makes it cake Utopia). And if you don’t have enough cake - use more brownies; or vice versa or make up the difference with the bread chunks. It is a flexible recipe. Chocolate extract is optional but a nice touch. Nielsen Massey makes it and can advise you where to find it online or in stores.
Truffle Chocolate Fudge Yule Log FREE!!
This Yule log gets fancy with a filling of truffle-like mousse and a topping of Swiss chocolate glaze. It's definitely for chocolate lovers and perfect for making their holiday chocolate-special.
BB's Original Carrot Cake Fruitcake (c)
Everything you love about carrot cake, re-configured in a fruitcake texture and longevity. No candied fruits but just the right balance of good things, carrot cake flavor appeal and an recipe that makes one large or several gift cakes. One more new tradition for almost any holiday that calls for a fabulous and festive cake. Wonderful for Christmas or, with its oil-based batter, a perfect Chanukah treat. You can ice this with traditional cream cheese frosting and decorate it in a gold coin motif or with a Yule garnish or holly and fresh cranberries. You can also make the cream cheese frosting more of a rolled fondant by adding less liquid and enwrapping the cake as per regular fruitcakes. A keeper, in all ways! Oh, by the way, the secret soaking syrup is optional; this cake starts and stays moist but if you want to do the cheesecloth/syrup soaking route, you certainly can. This takes a nice slow bake (2-3 hours) for the most moist cake but if you are time-short or need that oven (!), increase the temperature to 350F and bake it a bit sooner (besides the soaking syrup will re-invigorate it).
Eggnog Bundt Poundcake Ok – admittedly, eggnog is not everyone’s cup of tea but if you do happen to have some on hand – either store bought or your own brew, leftovers make for a toothsome, tender, gently spiced poundcake. Besides, what a great name : Eggnog Poundcake! This makes one big loaf or two gift-able ones. This whips up in a food processor in about 2 minutes. A dusting of sugar and spice is perfect but you can also make a glaze of softened cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, touch of orange juice and pinch of nutmeg and drizzle this over the warm cake. Better yet, go for the addictive Buttered Egg Nog Glaze you pour, still warm, over the cake. A masterpiece of a cake.
Warm and inviting, the comfort of brown sugar in a gift or hospitality muffin.
Heartland Cheddar Cheese and Apple Bread This quick, savory’n sweet bread marries tangy chunks of nippy orange cheddar with sweet chunks of fresh fall apples. It’s not too sweet nor is it a savory loaf; it is somewhere in-between and unexpectedly delicious. I am partial to Wisconsin, Vermont or Ontario cheddar for this recipe. Wonderful alone or with a cup of coffee or a glass or red wine and some memories of seasons past. Albert Cake The pure buttery taste of this loaf is quite satisfying. This pound cake, also known as Albert Cake is traditionally glazed with a thin pink fondant but you can omit it or use a white or chocolate fondant glaze topping. You may wish to substitute chocolate chips for the currants if you prefer but only use one cup of chocolate chips (not two). This is just one buttery, solid poundcake from Australia that begs for a big pot of tea and either a fluffy, vapid magazine or a great book
Dutch Style Spiced Almond Pear Pie A tumble of fall pears such as Bosc and Bartlett makes this a taste and textural sensation. I don’t know what’s better – the scent of this baking or eating it. Serve as is, just warm or with vanilla ice-cream. What’s nice about baking with pears is that there’s no need to peel their tender skins – one less step for the busy baker.
Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, ‘I’ve 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.