The fall and winter have always been my favorite seasons for delighting in the creation, flavors and aromas of delicate and buttery baked goods. Every time I bake bread, cakes, cookies or pies I honor the memories of my many baking mentors both past and present who have introduced me to the joys of baking. By freely sharing their knowledge and wisdom with me I have not only learned their tips and techniques but listened to the stories behind their traditional family recipes while also creating a few of my own.
Each time I make a pie I joyously think of my grandmother who introduced me to baking when I was just a small child. I’m very fortunate to have so many wonderful memories of the times we spent together whether we were baking, crafting or collecting fresh fruits on the family farm that were ripe for eating, preserving and pie making. She relied on wholesome ingredients for all of her baked goods and she taught me that a flaky pie crust when made with butter should never be overworked and always kept cold. Even though my own pie crust is not as good as hers, I always use a ruffled edge on my pies just like she showed me all those years ago.
For some great advice on pie making, try these two books by noted pie expert and author Michele Stuart: Perfect Pies: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes from America’s Pie-Baking Champion and Perfect Pies and More: All New Pies, Cookies, Bars, and Cakes from America’s Pie-Baking Champion. And don’t miss tasting Michele’s pies! She’ll be at the Oliver Wolcott Library on November 14, 2013 from 7:00- 8:00 p.m., to share her secrets behind her National Pie Championship winners and serve up tips and techniques for a variety of crusts and toppings.
When it comes to bread baking my trusted source has always been the Tassajara Bread Book written by Edward Espe Brown. Gifted to me over 15 years ago, my copy is in dire need of rebinding but that hasn’t stopped me from carefully flipping through the pages to make his Tassajara yeasted bread, French bread, and cinnamon roll recipes. What I love the most about this book, aside from the delectable baked goods, is its simplicity and the authors step by step guidance and gentle encouragement. Depending on my mood I’ll add millet, oatmeal, rye flour, grated cheese or even savory herbs to the bread recipe for a little diversity.
If you’d like to learn more about the tips and techniques behind successful bread baking check out: Amy’s Bread by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree, Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor by Peter Reinhart, and Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads: Sweet and Savory baking for Breakfast, Brunch, and Beyond by Ciril Hitz.
A good friend and mentor of mine once said,” cooking is an art but baking is chemistry” and she was right. All of us at one time or another has had a favorite baked good recipe fail without obvious explanation. Many of my own baking disasters have been the result of using butter that was too soft, over mixing my batter which resulted in dense pound cakes or muffins, over-stretching my bread dough and destroying gluten formation, and even improper oven temperature. To understand more about baking chemistry check out The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet and BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with over 200 Magnificent Recipes by Shirley O. Corriher. Not only do these authors take you step by step through important techniques but they also provide invaluable information about ingredients and explain the food science behind hundreds of tried and true recipes.
To create unforgettable dessert recipes that not only taste but look spectacular, check out The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts by Stephen Durfee and The Culinary Institute of America. In the Great Courses DVD collection, award winning pastry chef and famed Culinary Institute of America instructor Stephen Durfee offers up a plethora of basic concepts, practical tips and insights behind the tried and true methods of baking. In these six lessons Durfee demonstrates how to bake everything from simple cookies and cakes to custards, cream puffs, and chocolate mousse. As well as Baking with Julia by Julia Child, Bevelyn Blair’s Everyday Cakes: The Ultimate Workday, Weekend, and Special Occasion Cake Book! by Bevelyn Blair, and New Baking Book by Better Homes and Gardens.
Every baked good has its own story to tell. My own recipes take me back to some of my happiest memories with friends and family from baking Tassajara yeasted bread in an old-fashioned wood oven in New Mexico to baking brownies by the hundreds in the Netherlands and my many years of camaraderie and laughter working in a professional bakery. All of my mentors add the same secret ingredient to each and every one of their delectable recipes…love. A love for the process, friendship, memories and traditions but most importantly, love for sharing something wonderfully delicious with others.
-Tricia Messenger is the Library Assistant and Publicity Coordinator for the Oliver Wolcott Library.