Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cookbook Spotlight #2

When Sara emailed asking if I'd like to take part in the next Cookbook Spotlight, it was a very easy decision to make. This time the book in question is Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

I must admit that I've not heard of her before so it was interesting to get a book free of any preconceived notions.

The book is a weighty tome - coming in at 528 pages and just under 5 lbs/2.2 kg. Visually, there are lots of full page photos - featuring most of the recipes. The book is divided into approachable categories such as breakfast treats, pies & tarts and spoon desserts. Bits and pieces of information can be found scattered across the recipes, be it of technical nature or variations on the recipes.

At first glance it's quite an enticing book but digging a little deeper I found it limited in appeal due to the use of american-centric ingredients and methods of measurement. Certain recipes couldn't be attempted as here in Australia those ingredients can't be found.

Writing recipes using only sticks of butter ignores all the other countries that don't sell their butter this way. For the brioche recipe I found the use of "sachet of yeast" without at least giving a teaspoon/tablespoon alternative most unhelpful. I know in the Australian market there are at least two sizes of sachets on offer - which one do I choose? I did find it surprising that no mention of using fresh yeast was made.

Most surprising of all, in a book about baking, was to find that weight equivalents were not given. It's always stressed when baking how important it is to correctly measure the ingredients and the most accurate way to measure is by weight. By only offering cups it ignores the fact that countries do measure their cup sizes differently.

Onto the recipes...

The first choice was driven by produce - in particular one of my favourite fruits that is just coming into season, cherries and an old favourite, rhubarb.

fruit

With produce this good I opted to make the Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler. The recipe is pretty simple, the base is made from a mix of pitted cherries and diced rhubarb that is given a bit of zing with the addition of ground ginger. The topping, are dough balls, once again given a ginger hit and some structure with a mix of plain and wholemeal flours.

cooked

Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler

Filling:
1 pound/450 grams cherries, pitted & halved
12 ounces/340 grams rhubarb, trimmed, peeled & cut into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup/65 grams caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour/cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Topping:
¾ cup/90 grams all-purpose/plain flour
¾ cup/100 grams wholemeal flour
3 tablespoons/42 grams (packed) brown sugar (3 tablespoons = 2¼ Australian tablespoons)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
3 ounces/85 grams butter, cut into 18 pieces
½ cup milk


Make the filling:
In a small bowl stir together the sugar, cornflour and ginger until well mixed.
Place the cherries and rhubarb into a large bowl, sprinkle over with the mixed dry ingredients and stir well. While making the topping, stir from time to time.

Make the topping:
Put the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and ginger into a food processor. Pulse to blend. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top, then continue to pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Drizzle in the milk and continue to pulse until it forms moist clumps.
Turn out onto a very lightly floured board.
Cut into 20 pieces and shape each into a ball.

Assemble the dish:
Place the fruit and any juices that have been released into the baking dish. Spread it out evenly. Top with the prepared dough balls.

cobbler

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the topping is golden and fruit bubbling.
Cool the cobbler for at least 20 minutes.


Verdict:

It looks nice but looks are deceiving.

Unfortunately the rhubarb just didn't cook evenly - those in the syrup at the bottom of the dish had softened but those above the liquid level were still hard.

This result was something that did concern me from the start. Having cooked many rhubarb crumbles, it's always necessary to cook the rhubarb/sugar down slightly - it gets the rhubarb softening and also gives the syrup a bit of a head start.

I also found that the syrup was lacking in body, instead of being the promised bubbling thick syrup it was thin and had not reached temperatures high enough to cause the sugar to reduce and thicken.

I did enjoy the topping and if I was to repeat this dish I would be cooking the rhubarb first.


For the second recipe I decided on a variation of the Brown Sugar Bundt Cake - in this case making use of local hazelnuts.

bundt

Brown Sugar-Nut Bundt Cake

2 cups/280 grams all-purpose/plain flour
¾ cup/100 grams hazelnut meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 ounces/225 grams softened butter, cut into cubes
2 cups/380 grams packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 cup/115 grams chopped toasted hazelnuts


Carefully butter and flour a bundt tin.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

In a bowl, sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir though the hazelnut meal until well combined. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the sugar & butter. Beat until light and fluffy - stop occasionally to scrap down the sides of the bowl to ensure an even mix.
Add the eggs, one at a time, ensuring each egg is absorbed before adding the next.
Beat in the vanilla extract.
At low speed add a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half the milk (then add another third of dry, the rest of the milk, finishing with the final amount of dry ingredients). Mix only until just incorporated.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, sprinkle over the nuts and stir through using a spatula.

Scoop the mixture into the bundt pan - smoothing the top with the spatula.

Bake for 60-65 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Let the cake sit 10 minutes before un-moulding onto a rack.
Cool to room temperature then dust with icing sugar.

1-DSC_8499.jpg

Verdict:

A much better result.

I did find that after 15 minutes the top had browned considerably so I covered the top in foil and lowered the temperature. With so much brown sugar it does react very quickly to the heat.

The cake itself was quite soft and fairly evenly spread with hazelnut pieces - the crust was deliciously crunchy.

1-DSC_8505.jpg

Conclusion:

If you're a fan of Dorie Greenspan then it won't disappoint.

For me, it's probably a book I wouldn't have purchased as I found it's approach a little too American in it's use of ingredients and measurements.

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9 comments:

  1. Haalo,
    Your critiques are incredibly valuable if a book is to have cross-national appeal. I live in the States now and have not yet really baked, so I'm going to get some dry yeast this weekend and measure it. As for the butter, it would have been helpful had the instructions given the grams per tablespoon amount (by the way, it is 15/gms per tablespoon; there are 8 tablespoons for each "stick" of butter). Fabulous job, as always. Pity about the rhubabrb and cheery crumble - I'd have been really peeved!

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  2. To be honest, I have to admit that I'd wondered about the 'american-ness' of this book as I saw cookbook spotlights appearing all over the blogosphere. I think I'd still like to get my hands on it - but perhaps to look through it first before purchasing?

    Glad to hear that the bundt worked out, especially after the cherry/raspberry disappointment!

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  3. I was curious about this book. As with most American recipes, the measurements and ingredients was a concern. Something I really struggle with! It was good to read about your thoughts and experience with it.

    Shame about the cherry rhubarb cobbler...but at least the bundt cake turned out well.

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  4. Thank you Shaun - I can only give an honest opinion based on my experience with the book. Perhaps it's an editing problem but there were discrepancies in the measurements - some recipes would show 1 stick = 8 tbs others others would show 1 stick = 4oz. I don't know why they didn't use the same method throughout. Interestingly enough, having a look at the Pierre Hermé book by Dorie Greenspan the measurements shown on every recipe has the following structure 1 cup/120g/8oz - brilliant - a simple and clear way of pleasing everyone!

    Hi Ellie - I would recommend having a good look at the book before buying and make sure it satisfies your desires. I'd also add that it's best to be swayed by the quality of the recipe and not of the photos.

    Thanks Robyn - the measurements can be a bit confusing. With the simple example of 1 cup of flour, online conversion guides can't settle on one figure - they will show you that it weighs anywhere between 110g to 150g! I know doing it myself, in two cups, one weighed 124g and the other 146g.

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  5. I found a lot of cook books really disappointing. The authors often assume that you'll know what they mean by "when it's cooked" or "add some nutmeg". Especially with baking you can't really take any chances...

    Great blog by the way! Gorgeous photographs...

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  6. Haalo,

    I have to say I really liked your post - so honest and open.
    I totally relate to that - I live in Brazil and have lots of foreign books. It's a problem not to have the accurate measuring data.
    I have even prepared a spreadsheet with different measurements so I can at least get close to what the books ask for. It has worked well so far.
    Sorry about the cobbler - those cherries look amazing!

    The cake is beautiful. Hazelnuts are very expensive here, maybe I'll try the recipe using almonds (which are a little more affordable, but not cheap). :D

    Tks for sharing so much with us!

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  7. Thanks Mallika - I do imagine it is difficult to write a book that suits everyone, though there should be a glossary where the terms are explained.

    Hi Patricia - Thank you - having your own spreadsheet does make it easier to deal with those conversions - it would bring a consistency to the recipes which would help. The cherries have been fabulous this year, I've been amazed just how perfect they are.

    For the nut cake you can substitute the nuts for whatever nuts you like - you can also decrease the amount of nuts you use. You can interchange some of the ground nuts for an equal amount in flour and also substitute dried fruit for some of the chopped nuts. That should help make it a little more affordable. Hope that helps!

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  8. Haalo, I wish I had found this critique before I purchased the book over the net just recently. I was disappointed that the recipes were in American measurements. I don't know why I expected that Dorie Greenspan would give an alternate weight measurement too.

    I emailed her with my concerns and
    and asked if she could suggest a reliable conversion table to convert the recipes for me in Australia. She couldn't really name one and said that she uses her own shabby copy of conversions.

    Then almost as if she was thinking while replying to me she said she should think about doing a conversion table...hmmm it would be really helpful.
    I appreciated her getting back to me within the same day...Dorie Greenspan emaling me..I suppose it was really her..oh well, I got an answer.
    I have tried to find a conversion table but there doesn't seem to be a constant weight measurement that is realiable.

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  9. Hi Karen - it's a frustrating book and a frustrating situation.
    It's not the first time the conversion issue was brought up to Dorie - just read through Egullet and the thread on this book when it was released. Her excuses were many, one of which was that it was too expensive to list the conversions. I find that hard to believe when the Women's Weekly manage to do that and their cookbooks cost $12! It's also interesting that her book with Pierre Hermé list the metric conversion on each recipe. I know that some worship this book but I just don't get it.

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