My birthday lands right at the beginning of April – it’s a time when the temperatures can jump from 75 to 45 in a single afternoon and there’s more likely than not going to be a blizzard. Every year I keep my fingers crossed for a nice warm birthday – where I can wear a sleeveless dress and flip flops. I wish for a birthday that will see me sipping a cocktail on some patio in the warm rays of an afternoon. This is all entirely unrealistic. So, instead I settle for giving myself a day of baking – the kitchen is always warm with the oven on and it is quite sunny.
Each year I see my birthday as a baking challenge – a chance to try something I haven’t tried before that I’m daunted by. My birthday is an opportunity to try those recipes that could be potential flops – that way if I mess up someone’s birthday cake it’s MY birthday cake. No harm no foul, right? This year was no different. EXCEPT instead of going out for dinner with BF and my sister I chose to conquer Momofuku Milk Bar.
I threw a dinner party. I made a ton of pasta and asiago cheese riddled focaccia. I invited BF’s and my favorite people over, we drank wine and ate good food. Dan and Mandi made a great sauce that went perfect with the I-drank-too-much-wine-last-night day that followed. Megan made a lovely spinach salad and there was liberal pouring of wine and beer. It was, truly, the best birthday I could ask for. But, in my brilliance, I decided that making two cakes that both required at least three separate pre-made ingredients and a whole bunch of love was the best way to top off this grand evening of debauchery.
I made both of these cakes pretty much exactly according to the recipes – my variation was that I used liquid cheesecake in the chocolate chip cake instead of passion fruit curd. The cheesecake was WAY more accessible. I’m not sharing these recipes today – they are too complex and my pictures are MIA as my hands were typically too much of a mess to photo-document this process. SO all we have left of this cake is a remnant and these pictures. There were twelve of us at the party. We ate most of both of these cakes. I loved them.
And I will assuredly be baking from Momofuku Milk Bar again soon.
Sometimes you need something to aspire to. Sometimes you need to step out of your comfort zone and just have a book that you can look at and know, with certainty, that it’s a hair out of your range. That is why I own the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook. I find this book incredibly daunting – like a giant sundae when I’ve already had too much to eat. But I can’t stop myself from picking it up every few months and thinking I should give it a try.
For the record – I’m usually a show no fear kind of cook. I’ll try anything at least once – I’ve made my own bacon and babysat my own sourdough starter so I always think I can handle this cookbook. Which means I pull it out and look up a cake – now a cake in this book has at least four separate ingredients that must be cooked/mixed/pureed/blended before I even consider the possibility of putting it together. I did mention I found the book daunting, ya?
Most people look at this book for the pictures I think – okay the crack pie is fantastic and the compost cookies are extraordinary but the rest of the book is meticulous. Everything is weighed and soothed into the rest of the ingredients. But maybe that’s why I love it, it’s a book of challenges and dares me to break my boundaries a little bit.
I do plan on actually tackling a few of these recipes in the next couple weeks – I’ll share my results. Don’t you worry. Though I’m still a tad intimidated, at least I’m building my own birthday cake so I won’t wreck someone else’s birthday, right?
It’s pretty apparent that I bake a lot. I make cookies, cakes, cupcakes, quick breads, anything that will encourage a sweet tooth. So I pretty much always keep an eye out for the next awesome baking book. I’m always looking for a book of fail-safe recipes that will offer consistent and reliable baked goods that I will love, because here’s the thing – there are a LOT of cookbooks out there, each more complicated then the last and some not offering good or reliable information. That’s one of the reasons I started this series on the blog. I want my readers to know what I bake from because it’s what I find reliable consistently. I never give you a book I’ve only cooked from once, I must have cooked a couple of things from the book and liked them. There’s no point in sharing a recipe I’m not in love with and there’s ABSOLUTELY no point in telling my readers to spend money on something without making sure it’s perfect. I feel this way about a lot of things – kitchen ware, cookbooks, electronics, I like consistency and reliability. I like Dorie Greenspan.
Every time I look for a new baking recipe I turn to Baking: From My Home to Yours, from cookies to cake to cheesecake, the girl owns her recipes. They are well tested and reliable, but not represented as practically perfect – because lets face it, none of us are. This book offers real recipes, and real variations that make sense. She doesn’t suggest you use fifty bowls for one cake or ask for weird, obscure ingredients that are hard to find, or worse, expensive. These are tested recipes for early morning baking and perfect birthday cakes.
When I bake from this book it’s the cake portion of the black and white celebration cake, or the black and white banana loaf, or the basic cheesecake, or, well you get the idea. I can’t choose a favorite recipe because everything I’ve made from it has been successful, and I’ve never received a complaint on something I made. Is there a better recommendation than that?
When I was little we didn’t have many cookbooks – we made a lot of family recipes and cooked from books that were more familiar to us than the furniture, they were books that had been in the family for a long time. One of those books we reached for most frequently was The Joy of Cooking. I don’t remember which volume it was that we owned but I remember the weight of it in my hands when I opened it and the satisfying crinkle of the dust jacket whenever the book was moved.
My copy of Joy (as I playfully refer to it) is a library reject that my mom picked up at a library sale. The cover lacks any glossy coating and any time you put the book down it shoots up a little pile of white dust. I call this character building, others refer to it as messy, but it’s my Joy.
Joy is now and always will be one of my favorite cookbooks because it never fails; from the basics like a perfectly flaky dinner biscuit to the more complicated things -chocolate truffle cream frosting and almond crusted pork loin Joy has been in my life. Not only is this a cookbook but it’s a reference book – with useful information like how to create your own spice mixes (I made Garam Masala based on the suggestions here and it was delicious) to the ratios for homemade baking powder or the conversion of eggs to cups it’s all here in one easy to handle book.
My favorite recipes are Spanikopita, Chocolate Truffle Cream Frosting, and Almond Crusted Pork Loin. Be warned though – Joy is constantly going through new revisions and printings so my copy may not be the same copy you get and thus may not have the same recipes.
Recently I’ve noticed more and more people are asking me for cookbook recommendations because I bake and cook a lot. Which is true. I always have a recommendation – so my lovely and wonderful Big Sister asked me to start posting quick reviews here. I’m starting with Julia because she is one of my personal heroes and she is the reason that I challenge myself in the kitchen.
I’m starting with Mastering the Art of French Cooking because it is THE cookbook to have in your kitchen if you are only going to have one or two. You can learn everything from how to coddle an egg to what happens when you break a hollandaise from this illuminating book. Though mostly credited to Julia Child it was also assisted along be Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (though if you read My Life in France you can see just how much of the book Louisette actually wrote). I have been cooking from this book for a very long time (My mom owned a copy and I remember flipping through it when I thought the whole book large) and always find it useful – from key illustrations in things like trussing a chicken to well written instructions this book is a great glimpse into the world of French food. Even if you’re not a cook you should read it for gorgeous illustrations and engaging writing. It is a book that talks to you like a friend sharing their favorite recipe. Everything is presented in an unpretentious and thoughtful way that is easily digestible and logically laid-out. A must read for any food aficionado and a must have for any home cook, because is their anything more magical than boeuf bourguignon on a cold winter night? My favorite recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking are Boeuf Bourguignon, Mayonnaise, Hollandaise, and Crepes.