Baking by James Peterson
I’m not a natural baker. Whereas when confronted with a stew or roast, I seem to know just what to do, when it comes to baking I need exact measurements and exact directions. And even with instructions in hand I manage to get flour all over the kitchen floor and chocolate on a whole sinkful of dishes. But I do savor the joys of baking: its precision, its particular (and sometimes peculiar) exigencies, and the pleasure of presenting a finished product to my guests or family. As I have progressed as a baker over the last four decades, I’ve gotten a lot of oohs and aahs, which is always extremely gratifying.
There is no shortage of excellent baking books available. I was motivated to add to the number because it has long seemed to me that most baking books never really explain the rudiments of the art in a way that would allow the reader to build on knowledge gradually acquired. What I hope to bring to the table is an approach that will truly teach you to think like a baker.
This book was years in the making. As with my other highly illustrated step-by-step books, recipe testing and photography went hand in hand—only this time, I worked with a full-time baking consultant “on set.” It seemed wise given my proclivities (or lack thereof). Baking is organized and written in such a way as to enable you to understand the principles and techniques at play in a given classic recipe, and then to apply what you learn to baking projects that aren’t even included in the book. This means that most of the chapters are organized in a modular fashion. The chapter on cakes, for example, starts with basic recipes for the six different kinds of cakes, then moves on to recipes for frostings, fillings, and glazes. Next come an array of instructions for assembling cakes, such as raspberry buttercream layer cake, each of which results in a delicious and beautifully decorated cake and also serves as an example of techniques that can be used successfully with myriad other recipes (in the case of the raspberry buttercream layer cake, the main technique illustrated is how to assemble a layer cake without using a cake stand). Or, to take a principle from the chapter on pies, tarts, and pastries, once you realize that pastry dough comes in only five basic varieties, it becomes much easier to master the techniques required to execute a fully decorated pastry.
Often the difference between an ordinary cake and a fantastic one involves only a simple trick or two. In each chapter and recipe, I have tried to take every opportunity to teach good technique, whether in headnotes and recipe methods or in the many sidebars with stand-alone tips and techniques. Baking describes what can go wrong and how best to avoid common pitfalls such as over- or under-beating, but also how to use little bits of extra knowledge to get great results rather than merely good ones.
Thus, Baking is for both novices and experienced bakers seeking to improve the uality of their cakes, tarts, cookies, or breads and make them look as good as the wares in the windows of Fauchon, the famous patisserie in Paris and New York. Key to this book’s focus on teaching and technique is its abundant photography— more than 1,500 images that show the most important parts of virtually every technique and recipe described in the text. This step-by-step color photography is indispensable for teaching certain techniques that are next to impossible to explain fully with words. Being able to see how a recipe’s ingredients come together in stages throughout the process of baking reinforces good technique and gives the reader confidence, and a greater ability to get it just right the very first time.
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