How to get the most from your baking books

baking cookbooks

Does the following scenario sound familiar? You've just received a new baking book full of glossy photos that make your mouth water. You want to dive right into that gorgeous cake or pie on the cover so you quickly turn to the recipe and plunge into baking. Hold on just a minute, says Alice Medrich via indexed blog Food52. The esteemed baker and award-winning cookbook author explains how you can get the most out of your baking books. Her first piece of advice? Read the book's introduction and foreward.

Medrich says each author "has his or her own way of doing certain things. If you really want to learn, find out how the author thinks and moves in the kitchen, and get the best possible results, you must read the front matter! This is where you learn one of the most critical elements for getting stellar results from a baking book: what type of flour was used to develop and test the recipes and how the author measures it."

Likewise, Medrich advises careful reading of any headnotes and sidebars. There you might find valuable information on ingredient sourcing, what best accompanies the recipe, and other useful tidbits. You should also follow the order of the recipe's steps. If a recipe instructs you to mix the dry ingredients together before moving on to the next step, you shouldn't just add each of the dry ingredients separately or you could end up with "dough or batter that has pockets of unmixed salt or baking powder."

Medrich also emphasizes the importance of mise en place and paying close attention to the "language of mixing." She notes that words like stir, fold, whip, and beat each convey a specific meaning, and that the "texture of cake, cookies, mousse, or pastry is profoundly affected by how (and with what utensil) the ingredients are mixed." 

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