When trying to explain to people why it is that I have so many cookbooks, and in fact continue to buy cookbooks, one of the comments I make most often is that I love buying a cookbook and feeling like I’ve made a new friend.
No, no. Don’t worry. My cookbooks aren’t talking to me. (At least not yet …)
What I mean by making a new friend is that a good cookbook, a really good cookbook, will allow you to hear the author’s voice loud and clear. So whether you’re trying a recipe for the first time, learning to bake, trying to figure out how to tie a roast or simply just passing the time on a Sunday afternoon, a well-written cookbook will reach out to you and guide you just like a friend.
To me, a cookbook worth keeping forever is one that is without pretense. The recipes should be spot on, and the instructions should be clear as glass. Whether or not it has photographs is immaterial. While pictures help, a well-written cookbook will guide you and help you along even without photographs or illustrations. Most importantly, however, I want to hear the author’s voice. I want to imagine that as I’m making the recipe, the person who wrote the book is reading it to me, helping me along at every turn.
While I own a lot of cookbooks, I can honestly say that not all of them meet these standards. That’s why cookbooks will come in and out of my life all the time. The ones that aren’t good enough will find a temporary home on The Overburdened Bookshelf, but eventually they’re passed on in the hopes that someone else will see something in them that I didn’t.
When I heard that Dorie Greenspan had written a new cookbook, I immediately looked at my shelf and began mentally calculating what books I’d have to move around to make room for Dorie’s new one. When I saw the actual book in a bookstore, I realized I’d have to say goodbye to a few cookbooks to make room. This is not a small glimpse at the world of baking. This is a 500-plus page ride through the world of all things sweet. I decided that rather than buying it for myself, I’d add it to my Christmas list in the hopes that a generous family member would make my Christmas morning.
You can’t even imagine how thrilled I was when Sara of I Like to Cook offered me the chance to have my own copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours in return for blogging about it in the latest round of the Cookbook Spotlight. She didn’t have to ask me twice.
Dorie Greenspan is a more-than-accomplished pastry chef and writer. She has authored nine cookbooks, including a collaboration with the great Julia Child on the magnificent Baking with Julia. If you’ve never had the chance to look at that cookbook, I highly recommend it. It is among the finest of cookbooks!
Baking: From my Home to Yours is a refreshingly simple yet astoundingly thorough look at baking in all its forms. The book covers everything from muffins and scones to cheesecakes to beautifully decorated cakes for the most special of occasions. What is particularly impressive is that virtually every recipe is introduced by an anecdote with Dorie describing either the history of the recipe or how she came to bake that particular item. It’s abundantly clear that a very experienced and knowledgeable baker is offering you these recipes.
But even more impressive, is the sweet, friendly tone of the entire cookbook. It’s like walking into a friend’s kitchen to bake together. Especially for those of us that are novices or perhaps just learning to bake, nothing could be more comforting or encouraging. If Dorie Greenspan is going to help you bake a cake, you’re in good hands.
As I mentioned previously, this is a big book with hundreds of recipes. Certainly it would be a constant source of ideas for any home baker as I imagine it would take quite some time to bake your way through it. And for those of you that like photographs, there are lots of them â€” full colour and unbelievably tempting. If you’re considering an addition to your cookbook family, or perhaps thinking about a gift for that baker you know, I can’t think of a better cookbook to buy.
For my first attempt at baking something from the book, I had a heck of a time choosing a recipe. There are just so many! Instead, I used the same tactic that I did with the previous Cookbook Spotlight … I simply flipped the book open to a random page and tried the first recipe that I saw. In this case, it was a recipe for Buttery Jam Cookies.
The recipe was simple to make and it gave me the opportunity to use the apricot jam my mother and I made during the summer. As I found with most of the recipes in the book, the list of ingredients is straightforward, with items that most of us would have in our pantries. The instructions were easy to follow, although I did overlook a bit of Dorie’s advice to my own detriment.
The batter for these cookies is very stiff. Dorie notes that in the recipe. But rather than spooning the dough onto the cookie sheet (as directed), I thought I’d practice those piping skills. Not a good idea. It was incredibly difficult to pipe out that dough! The end result looked pretty, but boy did I have to sweat over the piping bag. I think next time I will just listen to Dorie.
In the end, the cookies were buttery and smooth and perfect with a cup of tea. I only wish I could have shared them with Dorie, and of course, all of you!
Buttery Jam Cookies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp. whole milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup apricot jam
- icing sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place two racks in the oven, one in the upper third of the oven and one in the lower third of the oven. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar (on high speed) for 2 to 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg and beat on high speed for an additional minute.
- Add the milk and the vanilla extract and beat on high speed for 30 seconds.
- Add the jam and beat on low speed for 1 minute.
- Add the dry ingredients, with the mixer on low speed, just until they’re mixed in. The dough will be extremely thick and stiff.
- With a an ice cream scoop our a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of the dough onto baking sheets, forming cookies that are about 1 inch to 1-1/2 inches in size.
- Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, rotating the trays from top rack to bottom rack halfway through.
- Once baked, let the cookies sit on the pan for a minute or two and then remove to a wire rack and let cool completely.
- Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Note: This recipe will yield between 40 and 50 cookies, depending on size.