The Fearless Baker

February 12, 2012

 

I first heard about "The Fearless Baker" through Sur La Table's "Fearless Baker" cooking classes, and was intrigued. I'd expected the recipes to stick to simple (read: bland) beginner's recipes like sugar cookies, but far from it: you'll find exotic touches like cardamom shortbread (cardamom is a popular seasoning in Scandinavian baking as well as a staple of Middle Eastern dishes), pine nut fig cookies, and orange date ricotta tartlets. Emily gives new bakers the tools to learn and master baking techniques (toasting nuts, cutting butter into dough for pie crusts, etc.) through a series of clever sidebars consisting of dialogues between Emily and her Fearful Bakers (FB).

When I first started out on my own as a baker in 2006, I had precious little baking experience other than licking the spoon or dropping cookie dough onto waiting cookie sheets as a kid. After several years living overseas or in dorms without a kitchen, I finally took the plunge and began baking, first with simple quick breads, then Bundt cakes, then on to yeast breads and laminated dough. There were several messy (and occasionally expensive) mishaps and missteps along the way, and I only wish that Emily Luchetti's "The Fearless Baker" had been around at the time!

There are nearly 200 recipes to choose from. I'm more of a breakfast baker myself (I love a good coffee cake, babka, or muffin), and curiously enough, the breakfast section is the very last one in the book. You'll find a tempting array of scones, muffins, breakfast breads, sticky buns, and more to get your day off to a sweet start. This might be the best place to start if you're brand new to baking; there are very few steps (or dirty dishes involved) to whip up quick bread or muffins.

The first recipe I tried from Fearless Baker was the mocha cream cheese brownies. I used Scharffen Berger Mocha bars from a previous Amazon Vine newsletter (the original recipe called for semisweet), and the mocha chocolate added an additional dimension of coffee flavor (there is instant coffee in the mocha cream cheese layer; I used espresso powder). The cream cheese layer was about twice the thickness of the brownie layer, and despite my best attempts to marble the cream cheese and brownie layers, it was so thick that it didn't cut through the brownie layer (they still tasted wonderful). I also had to add an additional ten minutes onto the baking time.

The next recipe up was the chocolate orange crinkle cookies. These unassuming little cookies pack a citrusy punch from grated orange peel and orange liqueur, bound together with ground toasted hazelnuts and a lot of melted bittersweet chocolate. The dough is really wet due to the liqueur and melted chocolate, so it needs to firm up in the fridge for an hour or so before baking. You roll the balls in granulated then powdered sugar before baking, so they have a pronounced crinkle effect. I may not have let the dough chill enough, though, since the powdered sugar became soft and gummy as the cookies came out of the oven, and I had to add extra powdered sugar after the cookies had cooled. But the end result was fabulous; the citrus added a burst of unexpected sunshine to the delicate, airy dough.

The book's typeface is clear and easy to read, with required equipment printed in orange and ingredients in black. The whimsical vintage art brings to mind 1950s cookbooks. Instead of food stylist-tweaked food photos, you'll see photos of actual Fearful-to-Fearless Bakers in their home kitchens as they work their way through the recipes. It's yet another way that The Fearless Baker serves to ease new bakers into the kitchen in a friendly, down-to-earth manner. However, if you're someone who likes to see color photos for each recipe, you might be a tad disappointed.

Even if you already know your Bundt pan from a batter bowl, there are plenty of creative, tasty recipes that pair uncommon partners to delicious effect (golden raisin-lime scones, lemon prosecco sabayon, pineapple-raspberry upside-down cake). There's something to appeal to everyone's sweet tooth, and even experienced bakers may learn a new trick or two; I know I did!

(Review copy courtesy of Janna W.)

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