With the holiday baking -- and giving -- season in mind, Baking Central is forgoing a step-by-step recipe this month in favor of a book-by-book guide to some of the season's best resources. And there are some doozies.
Over 25 years, Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., has developed a passionate national following through its mail-order options. Now it's sharing 65 of its best recipes, such as sour-cream coffee cake, Jewish rye bread and pecan sandies with bacon in "Zingerman's Bakehouse," by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo (Chronicle, $29.95). If you wince at a lengthy recipe, consider yourself warned. But know that all those words provide an extraordinary level of detail, enabling even a novice baker to tackle the Hunka Burnin' Love Cake.
While the Zingerman book is full of great bread recipes, the nod has to go to "The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook," by Jim Lahey (Norton, $35), of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Lahey's no-knead method changed the baking world. His second book takes a broader view, adding cakes, cookies, pizzas, even roasted foods. His famed pannetone recipe? It's here; all five pages of it. This is a book directed toward serious bakers. But bolstered by pages of helpful step-by-step photos, these recipes are well within reach of aspirational bakers.
THE BIG NAMES
Fans of "The Great British Baking Show" trust that Paul Hollywood is a great baker. Now we can know for sure with his "A Baker's Life: 100 Fantastic Recipes, From Childhood Bakes to Five-Star Excellence" (Bloomsbury, $36). The recipes tilt toward Britain, with crumpets, baps, biscuits, a beef and ale pie, and with spellings like "mould." A Greek vibe reflects a love of that cuisine, but mostly consider this collection an Anglophile's dream -- or a fan favorite.
Yotam Ottolenghi already has five bestselling cookbooks that carry his flavorful, inventive mark. But fans have been waiting for "Sweet" (Ten Speed, $35), with pastry chef Helen Goh. In a word: Wow. Coffee and walnut financiers in mini-popover pans. Pineapple and star anise chiffon cake. Chocolate tart with hazelnut, rosemary and orange. You get the picture -- and the highly detailed recipes. There also are simple pound cakes and cookies. But this is showstopper stuff, beautifully photographed. Wow.
THE NORSE CONNECTION
Linda Lomelino may not be all that familiar, but the Swedish food stylist's blog, Call Me Cupcake, has a strong following. "Lomelino's Pies: A Sweet Celebration of Pies, Galettes, and Tarts" (Roost, $26) is a tribute to her photography skills, tending toward moody and romantic. But the recipes are straightforward, accessible pies of all types. Nothing too innovative, but she has an inspiring eye for presentation.
There's less beauty, but much more information in "Meyer's Bakery: Bread and Baking in the Nordic Kitchen" by Claus Meyer (Octopus, $29.99). This is a bible of whole grains, sourdough and slow fermentation. Its 80 recipes aren't identifiably Nordic, but such old-country heirloom grains as emmer, spelt and einkorn are highlighted. It's a history book and science text, all in the name of baking, say, a Swedish Syrup Loaf With Almonds and Prunes. Yum.
THE HOME BAKER
Erin McDowell is one of Food52's most popular baking contributors, and the name of her book says it all: "The Fearless Baker: Simple Secrets for Baking Like a Pro" (Houghton Mifflin, $30). She advocates flexibility, showing how you can tweak recipes, add your own touches and gain confidence. The book is full of practical tips: how to perfectly soften butter, frost a cake, avoid air pockets. Plus, she's fun. Her Any-Fruit or -Nut Scones provide rock-solid instruction with the freedom to follow your own flavors. A great guidebook.
It's hard to imagine a book more striking and informative than "Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S'more," by Todd Masonis, Greg D'Alesandre, Lisa Vega and Molly Gore (Clarkson Potter, $40). Billed as the first-ever complete guide to making chocolate from scratch, this takes readers from the farm to the pastry kitchen. PVC pipes are involved.
"The Artful Baker," by Cenk Sonmezsoy (Abrams, $50), is a curious book. The recipes aren't daunting. There are brownies and Bundt cakes, macarons and croissants (plus lots of ice creams and candies). But its heft and price and beauty vault it into aspirational territory. This is a coffee-table book that really should be used. But the first splatter on its pages will make you ache. Bake carefully.
Finally, talk about aspirational: "Modernist Bread: The Art and Science" by Nathan Myhrvold (The Cooking Lab) comprises five volumes, 2,000 pages, 3,000 photographs and 1,200 recipes. Just about bread. It costs $625. We've just seen the glossy multi-page press release and it's a wowser. Sure, roll your eyes at such indulgence, but just knowing such passion exists is kind of fun.
CHOCOLATE COCONUT MACAROONS
Makes 2 dozen cookies.
Note: The bakery owners say these gluten-free treats were created for Jewish Passover, but many customers buy them for Christmas. From "Zingerman's Bakehouse," by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo.
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (115 g) chopped chocolate, (56 percent cacao or higher)
3 egg whites (90 g)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (25 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons (160 g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (340 g) sweetened flaked coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the chocolate in a double boiler to melt. You can make your own double boiler by using a metal bowl that fits over the top of a pan. Fill the pan about one-third full of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and place the metal bowl with the chocolate in it on top. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Stir the chocolate until melted. Avoid overheating it. Once the chocolate is melted, set it aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, by hand or with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer, stir together the egg whites, cocoa powder, sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the melted chocolate and stir until well blended. Add the coconut and mix until evenly incorporated.
Using a 3/4-ounce portioner, form mounds of the mixture and place on parchment-lined pans. You can also use a spoon to roll the mixture into balls, using about 1 1/2 tablespoons for each. They should be the size of a walnut in the shell. Leave some space between the macaroons for even baking. They will not spread.
Bake for 25 minutes until the cookies are slightly crispy on the outside and still soft on the inside. If you are unsure whether they're done, squeeze one. Remove to a cooling rack and cool completely. These cookies stay very moist in a sealed container or bag for up to a week. They can also be frozen for up to 3 months.
Nutrition information per each: 130 calories, 7 g fat, 95 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrates, 6 g saturated fat, 15 g total sugars, 1 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber
Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 1 1/2 fat.
CREME FRAÎCHE BISCUITS
Makes 12 biscuits.
Note: Best eaten fresh from the oven, but dough can be shaped up to 12 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. From "The Fearless Baker," by Erin McDowell.
3 cups (361 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (149 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (12 g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 g) fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick, 113 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup (226 g) creme fraîche
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a small pinch of fine sea salt
Turbinado or coarse sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and pulse until it's well-incorporated; the mixture should look like coarse meal. Add the creme fraîche and pulse just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix!
Turn the dough out into a lightly floured surface and press it into a rectangle about 1 1/4 inches thick (no need to be precise.) Use a pastry wheel or knife to cut the dough into 12 equal squares and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between them.
You can also cut the biscuits into rounds with a 2 1/2- to 3-inch biscuit cutter. Be sure to flour the cutter and try to use it in one swift downward motion with minimal twisting for the cleanest cuts and best rise. You can reuse the dough scraps once, but keep kneading to a minimum; just press the dough into the proper thickness and go.
Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer for 5 to 7 minutes or the refrigerator for 15 to 17 minutes to chill the dough, which helps ensure a higher rise.
Brush the tops of the chilled biscuits with the egg/water wash and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the biscuits are tall and the tops are very golden. Serve warm.
Nutrition information per each: 300 calories, 15 g fat, 185 mg sodium, 37 g carbohydrates, 9 g saturated fat, 14 g total sugars, 4 g protein, 55 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 1/2 carb, 3 fat.
Makes a 9- to 10-inch ring cake (12 to 16 slices)
Note: This is a bit like a classic pound cake, but baked with milk and oil rather than butter, and scented with sambuca. From "The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook," by Jim Lahey.
3/4 cup (170 g) neutral-flavored oil, such as grapeseed or canola, plus oil for the pan
3 cups (435 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (4 g) fine sea salt
1 cup (242 g) whole milk at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
2 tablespoons (24 g) sambuca
1 teaspoon (4 g) vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 9- or 10-inch ring pan, or angel food cake pan.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt into a small mixing bowl and set aside. Whisk the milk, sugar, sambuca, oil and vanilla together in a large mixing bowl until the sugar dissolves. Then vigorously whisk in all 3 eggs.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Stir together as quickly as possible with a flexible spatula until a wet batter forms; do not overmix. Pour the batter into the ring pan and place on a sheet pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the inner and outer edges of the cake and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Variation: Omit the sambuca and replace with 2 tablespoons limoncello. Add the zest of 1 whole lemon to the dry ingredients.
Nutrition information per each of 16: 280 calories, 12 g fat, 160 mg sodium, 38 g carbohydrates, 2 g saturated fat, 17 g total sugars, 4 g protein, 35 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber
Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 1/2 carb, 2 fat.
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