Baking and Chocolate

bakingbasicscover.jpgAre you pie-challenged? Does your meringue collapse after you whip it? Do you even attempt meringue? Have you ever made brownies from a box mix and claimed them as your own? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, know three things: 1) You are not alone. 2) You are still a good person. 3) There is hope.

Pat Sinclair’s Baking Basics and Beyond, 2nd edition, is here to help you. With over 25 years of experience as a cooking teacher and cookbook author, Sinclair knows what she’s talking about. In her easy-going, uncomplicated manner, she leads beginning bakers through step-by-step instructions for everything from scones, biscuits, and cookies to pies, custards, and cheesecakes.

Each of the 100+ recipes is written in clear, succinct prose, that’s easy to follow and many are accompanied by lovely color photographs. Don’t know what a “jelly roll pan” is or what is means “to cream” something. Not to worry. Sinclair explains. Indeed, she tells the novice baker everything they need to know from how to measure liquid and dry ingredients to how to dissolve yeast. Sinclair takes both the guess-work and the anxiety out of baking.

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ImageBiscotti comes from the Latin word biscoctus meaning ‘twice cooked, or baked.’ Baking them twice makes them dry, so they’re easy to store for long periods of time. This was highly advantageous at one point in time. Twice-baked breads were useful during long journeys and wars, and were a staple food of the Roman legion. Now, it’s simply a lovely left-over result of the original recipe that we’re still enjoying today. From the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome, ‘Biscotti’ is a very special cookbook, a small love letter to one of Italy’s most famous sweets.

The book is the first in a series of small hardcover cookbooks on single subjects to be published by the American Academy in Rome in conjunction with the Rome Sustainable Food Project, a program devoted to providing organic, local and sustainable meals for the community of artists who work and study at the AAR. Author, Mona Talbott is the American born, Chez Panisse-trained Executive Chef who oversees the kitchens of the Academy. Alice Waters is also part of the collaborative dining program advising on menus, and food choices. The program was first implemented in 2007 when the Academy remodeled and revamped the AAR kitchens. The Rome Sustainable Food Project facilitates the AAR’s move towards sustainable, and local cooking and eating.

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bigfatcookies.jpgIt was my friends birthday last Wednesday and I had every intention of making her a cake, yet the day got away from me. I wanted to make something she could share with her employees, but also wanted there to be enough for her take some home.

This recipe is from Elinor Klivan’s book, Big Fat Cookies. I love most of the cookies from this book and what I love most about this particular recipe is that it can whipped up in minutes. It doesn’t require your Kitchen Aid Mixer; just a bowl and a wooden spoon. I love this cookie and so does everyone else I have ever made this for.

It is not a drop and bake recipe, which is a true time saver. You make the batter, spread it on a silpat pad on your baking sheet and bake. Once it is cool enough, you break similar to a candy bark. I have made this dough and have used all kinds of tasty additions. Be creative and enjoy this batter with your favorite candy, dried fruit, nut, etc!

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nancybaggat-bookFinding random emails in my in box, requesting a review(basically asking if I want “free” stuff) of a product, kitchen gadget, or cookbook always ignites my curiosity.

I get request quite often, but the reality is, is that between family, menu planning, my kid’s schedule, my consulting clients, and work, there is not much down time to sit in a chair and read a cookbook. I used to be able to do that regularly, but now when I do find myself stealing a few of those moments, I embrace them and hang on to them as long as possible.

However, when I saw what book I was being offered, it didn’t take me long to respond with an enthusiastic YES! Nancy Bagget’s new book; Simply Sensational Cookies is filled with many classics but with a twist.

And as I read through the book, there were several that I earmarked, knowing that I could convert them into a gluten free version. An added bonus to this book is that all of the photography is shot by the art and mastery of Todd and Diane.

Great recipes, mouth watering photography, and new inspiration.

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Southern-Italian-DessertsWhen I was a little girl growing up in Italian-centric Rhode Island, I relished my Sunday morning tradition with my Dad. He and I would drive to our favorite old-school bakery in Providence, LaSalle Bakery, and buy my family’s favorite treats. Sticky pull-apart cinnamon raisin buns for my brother Chris, creamy éclairs for my brother Paul, cannoli for my Dad, and sfogliatelle for me. My mom mystifyingly always passed.

Of all the Italian pastries, the Campanian sfogliatelle, the clam-shaped flaky pastry with ricotta filling, has always been my favorite. I relished the crackle! emitted with every bite into the crisp shell and sighed with happiness when I reached the soft, creamy ricotta cheese center.

Years later as an adult I thought I’d learn to make sfogliatelle. That thought quickly passed when I realized how labor-intensive they were to make. Pastry dough must be run through a pasta machine twice to render it paper-thin. Then it must be carefully stretched, rolled, and molded by hand until a dizzying number of layers are formed. I didn’t have the constitution for it. Fortunately for me (and you), Rosetta Costantino does.

A self-taught baker who was raised in Verbicaro, Calabria, Costantino now resides in Oakland, California where she and her mother teach Americans how to make many of Italy’s most beloved desserts. In her latest book, Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily, she shares over 75 recipes for authentic regional Italian desserts that are virtually unknown in the United States making it a singular addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.

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