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Full disclosure: I am the owner of a baking facility and I own close to 200 cookbooks, many of which I have barely touched. I have a filing cabinet filled with colour-coded folders with at least 2500 recipe ideas eagerly torn out from magazines that I will never in my lifetime make even a minor dent in. I find that too many cookbooks read like dictionaries and I will never buy a cookbook with just the token amount of photographs. I am in constant search of inspiration but I am jaded and finicky when it comes down to choosing a recipe to try. So when two more baking cookbooks by Marcy Goldman arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I was at first hesitant, but then I saw that half-full glass: here were hundreds of new recipes from a famous Montreal baker from which to draw inspiration.
The New Best of Better Baking.com and the 10th edition of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking are good introductions for the novice baker but the recipes are still interesting enough for the more experienced one. In both, there are useful descriptions of key ingredients that explain the not-so-subtle difference between all-purpose and bread flour, the effect on the taste buds of artificial versus real vanilla extract, the beauty of buttermilk, and much more. While there is also a section on essential baking equipment for the baker’s kitchen, I immediately got apprehensive when I saw that a kitchen scale, the most essential baking tool of all,I believe, is omitted. I am steadfast in my belief that any baking book worth its salt weighs ingredients as opposed to measuring them by volume. Needless to say, all the recipes in both books are unfortunately solely volumetric.
After these preliminary introductions, the books take divergent courses. A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking first tackles all you need to know about bread and is then divided into chapters based on the various Jewish Holidays. In each chapter, you will find traditional baking recipes for these stomach-stuffing events. Thankfully, for those of us more than a few years out of religious school, there are reminders as to why recipes that include dairy foods, such as “Blueberries ’n Cream and Lemon Lime Curd Tart” (314), are associated with Shavuot and why recipes with fruits and nuts, like “Pomegranate and Sour Cherry Mandelbrot” (184), with Sukkot. Before tackling any of the recipes in this book, I recommend having a good supply of vegetable oil on hand because many Jewish baking recipes use oil in place of butter in order to abide by kashruth laws prohibiting the ingestion of milk products after a meal of meat. As a bonus with this 10th anniversary edition of A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, there is an added chapter of savoury dishes, which includes everything from brisket to tzimmes. It just goes to prove that bakers can excel at cooking too.
The New Best of Better Baking.com also focuses heavily on bread. Goldman devotes close to one-third of the book to the subject matter and its offshoots, from pizza dough in “Fried Parmesan Pizza Wedges” (95), to “Armenian Lavosh” (104). Also included are recipes for the sort of baked goods that I make every day, but the names she chooses are much more inventive than mine! Refer to the decadent-sounding “Molten Caramel Cheesecake Brownies” (123), “Pucker-Up Lemon-Raspberry Bars” (128), “Oatmeal Cookies the Size of Plates” (159), and “The Underground Baker’s Secret-Formula Carrot Cake”(270). Yes, quite a mouthful, but don’t you just want to give them a try?
All the recipes in The New Best of Better Baking.com and A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking begin with a preamble that often includes a personal story.
There are cookies that were a favourite of her sons’ baseball teams and recipes invented during her formative years as baker. Such preambles make for an enjoyable read. I now feel like I could easily engage the author in conversation should I bump into her in the flour aisle of the local grocery store.
So where is my call to action, so often lacking and resulting in the multitude of untested recipes stacked up in my office? It is, quite simply, in Goldman’s recipe titles. From The New Best of Better Baking.com, “Lawsuit Buttermilk Muffins” (181) are hard to resist. Any recipe worth suing over is worth my time and these muffins do not disappoint. The recipe is flexible enough that you can make it less sweet by leaving out the streusel topping, and there are suggestions for alternate fillings if you prefer, such as rhubarb-apple or blueberry-lemon.
Being a chocolate addict, it was hard to resist the “Chocolate Brioche Buns” (215). Fresh from the oven and upon first bite, hot, dark chocolate oozes from the middle. “Chocolate-Sour Cream Bundt Cake” (285) did not turn out quite as well. The recipe produced too much batter for my bundt pan and the cake was undercooked, even after the requisite tests for doneness.
In A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking, a recipe described by the author as “just about the best cake to come out of my test kitchen,” flung me into immediate action. It was the “Incredible Cinnamon Chip Cake” (94), and all I can say is that while it was enjoyable, it was not the best thing to ever come out of my test kitchen. Contrary to what you might think, this is not to be construed as a negative. As a matter of fact, my most diligent taste tester found it to be her favourite of all the samples I had passed her way. Furthermore, it is proof that we all have different tastes and if we all liked the same chocolate cake, how boring would that be?
As the savoury recipes were a new addition to this book, I tried “My Favorite Friday Night Spice and Lemon Roast Chicken” (341) and the “Friday Night Roast Potatoes with Olive Oil, Garlic and Lemon” (347). The potatoes were a hit and made it into the best cookbook of all − my own battered binder of recipes culled from various cookbooks and magazines over the past 20 years. And really, isn’t that what it is all about? Being able to enjoy a cookbook like a novel you cannot put down, baking and cooking with the expectation of trying something new that your family and friends might like, and feeling satisfied in the end that it was time well spent? Yes, there were a few flops along the way. I wish there were additional photographs. I wish that some of the recipes were a bit more descriptive and did a better job of pointing out potential pitfalls − but in the end, a couple of Goldman’s recipes have made it onto my “must make again” list. Most of all, I have a renewed desire to make that dent in the stack of cookbooks and cooking magazines piled up in my office, all in search of the next recipe that will make me swoon.
Kathy Cohen holds an Honors in Business Administration (HBA) degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business, London, Ontario. Prior to forming Desserts Mousse, a baking company in Montreal, she held senior management positions in both the retail hardware and semiconductor industries.
Kathy Cohen est titulaire d’un baccalauréat spécialisé en administration (HBA) de la Richard Ivey School of Business (London, Ontario). Avant de monter Desserts Mousse, une entreprise de pâtisserie, Kathy a travaillé en tant que cadre supérieure dans les industries de la quincaillerie et des semi-conducteurs.