It's said that "addiction starts with a broken promise," and Flo Braker's Baking for All Occasions, published by Chronicle Books, provided me with a needed fix. This new book found a prominent place on my shelf. The hefty, 395-page book containing 250 recipes is worth all that weight in chocolate truffles.
A few words about the nationally known baking teacher and writer Flo Braker: I'm not sure if her pastries reflect her or if she mirrors her pastries. She is every bit as sweet and tender as her delectable creations. Like her pastries, Flo is beautiful inside and out. She is one of the most generous people I know, as evidenced in her magnanimous sharing of her professional baking knowledge, tips and techniques in her books.
Like her previous works, Sweet Miniatures and The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, she holds the reader's hand, from measuring cup to final presentation, and gives even the most-timid baker a sense of "I-can-do- this" confidence. It's like having a private class in Braker's kitchen.
The subtitle, A Treasury of Recipes for Everyday Celebrations, captured my heart and my attention, because it's not only about the grand occasions, but the small triumphs of our daily lives. A promotion, a good report card, or special treat for the mah-jongg gang all deserve to be sweetly celebrated.
The opening chapters are all about basics: equipment, techniques, ingredients. The final chapters deal with basic recipe components, sources and measurement equivalents. The chapters in between have recipes -- for cookies, pastries, coffee cakes, cupcakes and breads, organized around different occasions.
I can't wait to try Focaccia for Breakfast, Red-Velvet Cake Roll, Croissant Pastry ASAP, Fresh Mint Brownies. For Jewish holiday desserts, what could be better than a Flourless Banana Chiffon Cake, Maple-Pecan Medjool-Date Rugelach, Quintessential Cheese Blintzes, Cookie-Dough Hamantaschen, and Evie Leib's Food-Processor Challah? Speaking of special occasions, Chanukah is just around the corner; Baking for All Occasions would make a terrific gift!
Chocolate-Chip Cookie Logs
11/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsps. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet pistoles, such as Guittard brand
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt just to blend. In the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the sugars on medium-low speed, just until well-blended, 45 to 60 seconds. Do not overbeat. (The mixture should appear grainy or sandy.)
On low speed, add the egg and vanilla, and beat just until blended, then stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On the lowest speed, gradually add flour mixture and beat until incorporated.
Detach the paddle and bowl from the mixer and tap the paddle against the side of the bowl to free the excess dough. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the pistoles.
Divide the soft dough in half.
On a clean work surface, pat one-half of the dough into a rough log about 51/2 inches long. Repeat with second half. Then, compress each log so it is rounder, more uniformly shaped and about 7 inches long. Wrap the logs separately in parchment paper, and refrigerate until cold and very firm, at least several hours or up to overnight.
For longer storage, overwrap with aluminum foil, label with the contents and date, and freeze up to one month. Thaw in the refrigerator for eight hours or up to overnight.
Before baking, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, so you can get a second pan ready while the first is baking.
Using a sharp knife and a sawing motion, cut the chilled logs into slices a scant 1/4 of an inch thick. Place the slices on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 11/2 inches apart.
Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until they are flat and light golden-brown, but still soft, 12 to 14 minutes. They will crisp as they cool. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan about 3 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.
Stack the cooled cookies in an air-tight container and store at room temperature for up to two days or in the freezer for up to a month. Thaw in the container at room temperature
Makes about 4 dozen
Flourless Chocolate Torte
4 oz. unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup granulated sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
3 large eggs
11/2 cups (6 oz.) walnuts, finely ground
3 oz. unsalted butter cut into 1/4-inch slices
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. honey
Decoration -- 3 walnut halves, lightly toasted; edible gold leaf, optional
Before baking, center a rack in the oven and preheat to 375°.
Butter an 8x2-inch round cake pan, then flour it, tapping out the excess flour. Line the bottom with parchment.
To Make the Cake: In a small heavy saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over very low heat, stirring with a silicone spatula until smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl While it is still warm, add the sugar, orange zest and liqueur and stir to mix. Let cool 5 minutes.
Stir in the eggs one at a time, blending in thoroughly after each addition. Stir in the ground nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake until it feels soft in the center, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake. The chocolate becomes firm as it cools. Transfer to a wire rack and cool 15 to 20 minutes.
Tilt and rotate the pan while gently tapping it on the counter to release the cake sides. Cover the cake with a sturdy round of cardboard, invert the cake onto it and lift off the pan. Peel off the parchment liner and discard it. Let cake cool completely.
To Make the Glaze: Half fill a bowl with hot water (120°).
Put the butter and chocolate in a one-quart bowl, and place it over the hot water. Stir occasionally with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth, shiny and liquid.
Remove the bowl from over the hot water, and gently stir in honey. Use the glaze right away, before it begins to set.
Place the cake on its cardboard round on a work surface.
Using a metal icing spatula, apply a thin coating of glaze over the top and sides of the cake. This is a crumb coat -- a bit like applying putty to hide imperfections -- that will allow the glaze to flow more smoothly over the cake, creating a shiny, attractive finish.
Place the cake, still on its cardboard round, on a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet.
Pour the glaze onto the center of the cake, and gently tilt it to help the glaze flow over the top and down the sides. Set on another rack or serving plate.
When the glaze has set, place the three walnut halves on the top of the cake, in the center in the shape of a triangle. If desired, using a small sable paintbrush, apply tiny pieces of gold leaf, or small dabs of gold leaf randomly on the top of the cake.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. Among the six books she's co-authored is Jewish Holiday Feasts.