The Fearless Baker: Simple Secrets for Baking Like a Pro by Erin Jeanne McDowell

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Notes about Recipes in this book

  • Devil's food cake (my favorite birthday cake)

    • Astrid5555 on March 02, 2019

      This is probably the best chocolate cake I have ever made, and I am not a chocolate cake person. The whole family fought over the cake trimmings. The cake is very moist, which is probably due to the cocoa powder being mixed with boiling water and milk before it is added to the batter. I do not have 2 9inch cake pans so I baked it as one big cake in my deep 9inch cake pan with a removable bottom and cut it into 2 layers. Caused a little bit of overflow, but worked fine and was done after 70 minutes. Made without the American buttercream which always tend to be too sweet for my taste and used the ‘Vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream’ recipe from Tessa Huff’s ‘Layered‘ and her chocolate ganache on top. Will never make another chocolate cake recipe again.

  • Mocha cake with coffee–white chocolate ganache

    • Zosia on December 06, 2019

      The flavours of this cake were fabulous! The cake was a deep, dark mocha and its bittersweet notes were balanced by the sweet coffee ganache....like a really good cappuccino in cake form. The textures could have been better but that was on me. I forgot to rotate my pans part way through baking and the cakes were already pulling away from the sides of the pans when I checked for the first time at 50 minutes. The cakes weren't dry but would have been a little more moist had I pulled them out just a few minutes earlier. Reviewers commented on how sweet the ganache was so I increased the cream to half the weight of the white chocolate; it was still sweet but worked with the cake. It was a little plastic at cool room temperature so I would add even more cream next time. Note that there's a typo regarding espresso powder quantity: both ganache and cake call for 43g but the volume required is listed as 1.5tbsp and .25 cup respectively. I used the volume measurements for the espresso powder.

    • pie4u on January 25, 2020

      This is the first cake I have made from this book. It's the second recipe where I found editing issues which has me a bit concerned. Zosia mentioned the issue with the espresso powder. (1 .5 tablespoons of espresso powder is nowhere near 43g). The instructions say grease and flour 2 9in cake pans. When I got to pouring the cakes in the pan, I was glad she gave approx. proportions per pan, but 652g per pan!? If you add up the weights of all the cake ingredients, you get over 2000g. If you look at the upper right corner of the recipe where it gives quantity it say "Makes one 9-inch 3-layer cake" If you did make 3 cakes it would 652g/cake. However, back to the assembly the instructions say split the cakes in two for a total of 4 layers. I should have followed Zosia suggestion to add more cream to the ganache frosting it was far too thick to spread nicely, and I didn't really have enough to fully cover the 4 tier cake

  • Lemon–love chiffon layer cake

    • Zosia on August 01, 2019

      This review is for the cake portion only. I used the only bleached cake flour I can find here (Canada) and it's actually a cake & pastry flour blend. My cakes were a little sturdier than typical chiffon cake, which made splitting them and assembling the cake easier, but the crumb was light and moist, even straight from the refrigerator, and had a lovely lemon flavour. I used cake strips and the cakes baked up very level - no need to trim. I frosted the cakes with Stella Parks's Super thick and fruity whipped cream, which, in addition to the lemon syrup, I think, helped to keep them very soft and moist. Additional notes: 2 extra egg yolks were needed to reach the required weight; batter per pan was 710g (not 652); bake time was 40 minutes instead of 50-55 (could have been even less but that was when I did my first check).

  • Banana cake with cocoa nibs and Nutella swirl

    • Zosia on January 10, 2018

      Delicious cake that's not too sweet (despite the nutella swirl), and has good banana flavour that improves over time. It was quick to put together using the muffin/quickbread method and enjoyed by everyone - I particularly liked the bites of intense chocolate the cocoa nibs brought - but I'm unlikely to make this often (or again) as I rarely have 480g overripe bananas on hand (I used only 400g for the cake) and the 75-90 minutes bake time is too big a time commitment for me when I have excellent recipes that take much less time.

    • anya_sf on March 28, 2018

      I used white whole wheat flour and a slightly healthier version of Nutella (Justin's). Justin's spread is stiffer than Nutella so I couldn't really swirl it, just dolloped small spoonfuls. The cocoa nibs were fairly bitter, which balanced the sweet banana cake nicely. The only issue I had was with the weight of the bananas. My 4 bananas only weighed 380g and I worried that I was missing 100g of liquid, so I added some applesauce to make up the difference. I wasn't sure if the weight was supposed to be peeled or not. I assumed peeled. Anyway, the loaf turned out great. My family loved it.

  • Italian custard cookies (Genovesi)

    • Zosia on March 09, 2018

      Lovely little pastries unlike anything I've had before. The pastry was tender with crisp edges, a delicious pocket for the silky pastry cream within, both delicately flavoured with lemon. However, the path to these beauties was not without its difficulties (the recipe IS rated "hard"): dough that cracked easily (it was much better behaved once it was almost at room temperature); oozing pastry cream (had to use much less per cookie); instructions that would never have yielded 24 cookies. I rolled the dough half as thick (3mm instead of 6mm) and used smaller cookie cutters (3" & 2-3/4" instead of 3-1/2" and 3-1/4") and was only able to squeeze out 24 by making mini turnovers from the final scraps of dough (4th rolling). I would make them again.

  • Butterscotch blondies

    • Zosia on January 15, 2018

      These were gooey and uber butterscotch-y as promised. I thought they were far too sweet but they were very popular. They baked unevenly in my oven; the sides rose quickly and it looked as though the butterscotch sauce gravitated towards the centre which took 10 minutes longer to cook than the time given in the book. I think a cake strip could correct that, slowing down baking of the batter around the edges of the pan.

    • anya_sf on May 24, 2018

      Instead of making the butterscotch sauce, I used leftover salted caramel sauce from the meringue recipe. I added toasted pecans and a bit of cinnamon to the batter. The flavors were good together, but the blondies were extremely sweet (more than I'd prefer). I don't know if the butterscotch would have somehow been less sweet - seems unlikely. Although I thought I baked them enough, they sank an awful lot and were super gooey. Also, I made the stupid mistake of lining the pan with foil instead of parchment, and the bars stuck like crazy (and the foil, of course, just tore into pieces).

  • Peanut butter pie dough

    • Zosia on March 14, 2018

      I made this as part of the book's chocolate cream pie and it was a dream to work with...very pliable and not at all sticky. This "mealy crust" (the author's description) didn't have the loft or large flakes of a "flaky crust" but it baked up crisp and tender.

  • Chocolate cream pie with whipped peanut butter cream

    • Zosia on March 14, 2018

      The filling was creamy and tasted of good bittersweet chocolate which I quite liked but wasn't sweet enough for some. The peanut butter crust was crisp and tender, but the flavour of the peanut butter was too subtle to be noticeable in this pie. The peanut butter cream was a fantastic addition that held its own against the intense chocolate filling; I'll definitely be making this component again to accompany other desserts. My pie required 4 hours refrigeration to set.

  • Baklava muffins

    • Zosia on March 10, 2018

      Fun presentation and the lightly spiced muffin that was chock full of nuts was quite good and not very sweet but it didn't really bring baklava to mind. I'm putting that down to user error. I substituted the same weight of liquid honey for the granulated and the flavour wasn't really noticeable. Also, I think I should have been far more generous in my application of the honey-butter syrup to the pastry since I didn't get that honey-drenched crispy baklava goodness from the pyllo layers and I had quite a bit of the syrup left over.

  • Chocolate puff pastry dough

    • Zosia on January 27, 2018

      This was my first attempt at a proper puff pastry and it seems to have worked. I used dutch process cocoa (the author doesn't specify type) and replaced some of the bread flour with it in the dough (again, the author doesn't mention which flour should be reduced). Also, when the kneading hook didn't work, I used the paddle attachment to make the dough and switched to the kneading hook once it came together, kneading on power level 2 only as per kitchenaid's instructions. The instructions for making the dough are detailed, easy to follow and include helpful diagrams. I made a small batch of the book's chocolate palmiers to test it. Very tasty.

    • Zosia on March 07, 2018

      I used some of my stash from the freezer to make mille feuille filled with white chocolate mousse (recipe from Taste and Technique, Naomi Pomeroy) for a recent dinner party. I rolled the pastry about 3mm thick and it puffed to a height of about 8-9mm. It turned out beautifully: the layers - of which there were many - were thin and delicate and crisp, and the dark chocolate flavour was an excellent match for the sweet filling. Served it with raspberries and raspberry coulis.

  • Chocolate palmiers

    • Zosia on January 27, 2018

      I made a very small batch with 250g of the book's chocolate puff pastry to test it out, using the trimmings from squaring off the block of dough. Considering the scraggly pieces I used, I was quite happy with the results: multiple paper-thin layers of crisp pastry that was amazingly chocolate-y for how little cocoa powder went into the dough. Crunchy caramelized sugar added just the right amount of sweetness. Note: Ignore the instructions in step 2 to roll the dough in flour and skip to step 3 where you're instructed to roll it in sugar. Also, for full batch of dough, recipe yield should be 60.

  • Lemon ricotta turnovers

    • Zosia on January 14, 2018

      These were fabulous! I cheated and used store bought puff pastry (but made the lemon curd from the book) but that just meant the focus was on the creamy, lemony filling and tart glaze. Such a great idea to flavour the cheese with lemon curd; it brought the lemon flavour without hiding the delicate flavour of the ricotta.

  • Lemon curd

    • Zosia on January 14, 2018

      Tangy and lemony with a good, thick consistency. The method of adding the yolks, juice, sugar etc to melted butter was new to me and it worked. I cooked it until it was 185F. I used some of it in the lemon ricotta turnovers. Note that the amount of butter listed is incorrect: it should be 170g divided (113g at the start and 57g to finish).

  • Salted caramel-swirled meringues

    • anya_sf on March 04, 2018

      The salted caramel was easy to make and turned out well. It is very thick and makes much more than needed for the meringues. I had trouble with the meringues: (1) made 1/2 recipe - I think the volume was too low for my mixer - next time make full recipe; (2) used previously frozen egg whites - next time use fresh. It took over 15 minutes of whipping to get medium peaks. Volume was still low, so I only got 7 meringues (using 1/4 cup scoop). They took 80 minutes to bake. Maybe I used too much caramel (I measured 2 tsp, but the caramel does tend to mound), but the caramel leaked out during baking. They tasted really good, although they are, of course, quite sweet. I'm not normally a fan of meringue, but I liked them.

  • Peachy coconut macaroons

    • anya_sf on September 20, 2018

      I substituted lingonberry jam, which went well with the coconut and gave the macaroons a pretty pink color. I made 1/2 recipe; my scoop yielded 12 cookies. Note that there is an error in the portioning - both regular and large versions call for a #16 (1/4 cup) scoop. I would stick with a small scoop, as these are quite chewy when made with unsweetened coconut. Also, they don't keep well, getting soft and sticky after a few hours. But they were good.

    • pie4u on January 07, 2020

      I actually had all the ingredients on hand and needed to use up some eggs whites from another recipe. These were very quick and easy to put together. I had homemade peach ginger bourbon jam which was a great complement to the coconut (unsweetened). They don't keep but that was expected. I would definitely make again.

  • Chewy oatmeal cookies

    • anya_sf on April 15, 2018

      I added the optional raisins and used 60 g dough per cookie. Baking time was spot on. They spread a lot during baking and came out soft and chewy. The brown sugar flavor was prominent, with a hint of spice. Very tasty.

  • Lemon–rosemary madeleines

    • anya_sf on May 18, 2019

      I made 1/3 of the batter and chilled it for a few hours before baking. Baked in a mini madeleine tin, the yield was 28-30 mini madeleines (I got 28, but some were too large). I used extra lemon zest. The flavor was wonderfully bright with just a hint of herbaciousness from the rosemary. Of course they were best when eaten immediately, but also pretty good the next morning.

  • Glazed mini cakes

    • anya_sf on April 12, 2018

      I made a number of mistakes with this recipe. First, I used a silicone pan with slightly smaller cups, so I got 12 cakes, but should have gotten 13-14 because the cakes rose well above the top, so I had to level them with a knife. I didn't think the silicone was sturdy enough to slam on the counter to eliminate the air bubbles, so I used a toothpick to stir the batter, but definitely found air bubbles in the baked cakes. They needed 22 minutes to bake. I did not reduce the juice quite enough for the glaze because it seemed to be burning, and it was quite thick, so I measured out 80 g. But then I had to add a lot more powdered sugar, which made the glaze sweeter and less fruity than I would have liked, and the glaze was still a bit too thin. I used virgin coconut oil, thinking the flavor would be complementary, which it was, although it wasn't that strong. Despite my errors, they tasted very good.

  • Cream cheese swirl brownies

    • anya_sf on March 25, 2018

      I used 72% bittersweet chocolate and also added 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor. Although the brownies are thin in a 9x9" pan, you need the surface area for all the cream cheese. The brownie batter and cream cheese mixture didn't swirl together much even though I ran the knife through about 4 times in each direction. The only downside of that was that the cream cheese ended up with little bubble pockmarks on top, making it less attractive. But you don't notice that in the individual bars too much. These brownies are super moist, fudgy, and delicious. Highly recommended if you love cream cheese brownies!

  • Almond pound cake with raspberry swirl

    • anya_sf on March 20, 2018

      The cake stuck to the pan. Although I tried hard to keep the jam away from the edges of the pan, it all sank to the bottom while baking, and the cake stuck wherever the jam leaked through. So the top was all torn and there was no swirl at all. Nevertheless, you could still taste the caramelized jam on the crust. I would try this again if I could figure out how to keep the jam from sinking. Or maybe I might add some fresh raspberries instead. The cake itself is fantastic - very soft and tender with a lovely almond flavor.

  • Glazed lemon buttermilk loaf

    • anya_sf on March 12, 2018

      This is essentially a pound cake, with a dense texture and fairly fine, soft crumb. The lemon flavor in the cake is subtle, but very bright in the icing. I only needed 1 Tbsp cream in the icing for the thick-but-pourable consistency. It was delicious.

  • All–buttah pie dough

    • anya_sf on March 26, 2020

      I made dough for a single crust using just my hands. In hindsight, I maybe should have used a pastry blender or food processor to cut the butter, as I was aiming for a mealy crust. I needed to add 2 extra tablespoons of water for the dough to come together. Overall, a good, basic, all-butter dough recipe.

  • To parbake a single piecrust

    • anya_sf on March 26, 2020

      These instructions call for chilling the dough at several stages after rolling it out, which is unusual. I don't know if that helped, but the crimping didn't hold that well (but my pan did not have a lip, so that's a factor). The crust didn't shrink too badly though. I needed a few extra minutes in the oven covered, and I probably should have given it a few extra minutes uncovered, as it didn't end up browning much more while the filled pie baked.

  • Eggnog panna cotta with raspberry sauce

    • anya_sf on December 25, 2018

      I made half the panna cotta for 3 people, but the full amount of raspberry sauce, which we liked to balance the can-be-cloying eggnog/rum flavor. The flavor will, of course, directly reflect the eggnog you use, so choose one you like. This was a nice Christmas dessert.

  • Caramelized white chocolate pots de crème

    • anya_sf on February 24, 2020

      The weight of egg yolks is wrong; 6 yolks would be closer to 100-120 g, not 162 g. I assumed the number of yolks was correct. I used Valrhona Dulcey, chopped and melted in the microwave. The instructions don't say when to add the vanilla; I stirred it in after the cream. Although the recipe doesn't suggest serving these with whipped cream, the photo shows that, so I did, which was good, as a large dollop of lightly-sweetened whipped cream was needed to balance out the sweet, firm-textured pots de creme.

  • Rhubarb cheesecake

    • anya_sf on April 23, 2019

      I made 3/5 recipe in a 7" springform and it nearly came to the top, and served 6 people, so I imagine the full recipe would make a lot. I pureed the rhubarb in the food processor, let it cool, then added the other ingredients to the processor (why dirty both blender and food processor?). I used sugar + vanilla extract, but the smaller amount of sugar - I'm not sure why you'd use more sugar than vanilla sugar. The cheesecake was plenty sweet. I used graham crackers in the crust since I had them on hand. The cheesecake was dense, moist, and creamy, with a difficult-to-identify tang. Despite the pink color (I did add a drop of food coloring), my husband wondered if the cake had lime, since it reminded him of key lime pie. My family enjoyed this cheesecake.

  • Rice pudding with cardamom stewed peaches

    • anya_sf on July 22, 2018

      Lowfat milk worked fine. I served the pudding cold and the rice was a bit too al dente. Next time I'd serve the pudding warm and/or cook it longer so the rice is softer. I enjoyed the strong spices in the pudding, and the peaches were delicious on top.

  • Chocolate pudding

    • anya_sf on March 12, 2018

      I used 1% milk instead of whole and 72% Swiss dark chocolate with a fairly mellow flavor. The recipe doesn't say to strain the pudding, but I needed to, as my pudding was decidedly not smooth. I think I curdled the egg yolks a bit. Despite using lowfat milk, the pudding was super rich and thick, like pot de creme. I accidentally forgot the salt, but the flavor was still good. I'm not sure I'd make this again, as we found the puddings to be almost too rich.

  • Brioche rolls

    • anya_sf on March 31, 2018

      I made the dough for another recipe, not the rolls. Mixing instructions are way off, IMO. It took me at least 10 minutes just to add the butter, then a few more minutes to get "smooth" - which it never quite did because it was really, really sticky. Even after chilling for 12 hours, the dough was very sticky. It froze well. It wasn't too hard to roll out, but needed lots of flour to prevent sticking. The baked product tasted great, but I would use another brioche recipe next time.

  • Figgy pull–apart bread

    • anya_sf on May 24, 2018

      I used strawberry-rhubarb jam instead of fig. The assembly instructions seemed way off, as 1 Tbsp jam was never going to stay enclosed in a 3" circle of dough. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to, but it seemed like an enormous mess in the making. I used the dough scraps to line the edges of the pan to help contain the jam. I did not use the egg wash since there was so much jam on top of the dough. Still, the dough somehow rose over and around most of the jam, and the bread turned out great. It wasn't beautiful, but tasted absolutely delicious. (Note: the brioche dough is very soft and the recipe instructions seemed off. I'd use a different brioche recipe next time.)

    • dprostrollo on January 21, 2019

      Made this loaf with a fig jam from Honey & Co and it turned out lovely. The brioche dough requires a baker’s eye (the timings didn’t line up at all but I don’t know what kind of mixer she tested on, and my kitchen currently runs pretty cold). I didn’t measure the jam and just used a tea spoon (not a teaspoon!). I somehow got double the yield from the recipe (maybe my tins aren’t a true 9x5, or maybe I was supposed to squish the rounds in more). All in all, it’s a lovely loaf and a nice change from cookies and cakes.

  • Apricot cream cake

    • anya_sf on June 08, 2018

      I used a 10"x3" high springform pan, and am glad I did because the cake rose a lot. It still took 60 minutes to bake through, but the edges ended up overbaked, so it might be good to lower the oven temperature. The cake itself was soft-textured, but with an uneven crumb - maybe from the dried apricots? The first batch of apricots I roasted were falling apart after 15 minutes. The second batch was done in 12. The sugar never melted all the way - not sure if it was supposed to. I ended up brushing away the excess sugar from the roasted apricots. The apricot whipped cream was divine and I definitely enjoyed the roasted apricot garnish on top of the cake. Next time I'd consider making just half the cake batter relative to cream topping.

  • Mini cherry cobblers

    • anya_sf on June 07, 2018

      I made 1/2 recipe as one large cobbler, which served 4. It was the best cobbler I have ever made. Normally I prefer crisp topping, but this recipe was just perfect - easy to make; bumpy, craggy topping; just the right level of sweetness with or without ice cream. Next time I might add lemon zest to the cobbler dough.

  • Almond Danish bread

    • anya_sf on March 31, 2018

      The brioche dough takes much longer to mix than the instructions state and is super sticky. It was OK to roll out once chilled, using lots of flour. I made the dough ahead and froze it, then thawed it overnight. I couldn't find any instruction for the cinnamon, so I added it to the almond cream. The faux braid was very easy to do. I altered the assembly instructions somewhat because my baking sheet has a lip: rolled the dough directly on parchment paper (not yet in the pan), cut the strips with a bench knife (wouldn't have had room if the dough were already in the pan), finished assembling the bread, then lifted the parchment (with bread on top) onto the baking sheet. I chilled the whole thing overnight and let it rise and bake the next morning. The bread didn't rise upwards, just spread outwards, but I believe that was expected. I skipped the icing, but might use it next time, since the bread wasn't super sweet. It was rich, tender, moist, and delicious.

  • Five–spice pumpkin pie

    • anya_sf on March 26, 2020

      I used a deep dish pan and am glad I did because the filling barely fit. The crust may have been more flaky than mealy, and I could see butter leakage through the glass pan; it turned out crisp, yet not super brown, and was a little hard to cut with a fork. The filling needed about 7-8 extra minutes in the oven and turned out super creamy. It didn't crack while baking, but did upon cooling - oh well. It smelled heavenly, like butterscotch, and tasted kind of like butterscotch too. It was sweeter than our usual pumpkin, but we all loved it.

  • Any–fruit or –nut scones

    • anya_sf on March 17, 2018

      I used half white whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, about 1/3 cup buttermilk and 2/3 cup cream, and a mixture of chopped strawberries and raspberries for the fruit, along with some orange zest. I accidentally baked them a minute or two too long, but they were still tender and delicious. Most of the scones spread a fair amount, probably due to the moist fruit. They were delicious! However, I they're awfully fattening. Next time I may try using all buttermilk.

  • Dulce de leche ice cream pie

    • anya_sf on March 15, 2018

      I made the dulce de leche from scratch this time, but wouldn't hesitate to use jarred in the future, which makes this a super quick and easy make-ahead dessert. I thought the dulce de leche turned out OK, although I ended up with maybe 1.5 cups instead of 2 after only 2 hours of cooking. The texture was kind of grainy but the flavor was great. Even though it wasn't technically enough for the recipe, it was PLENTY. The chocolate crumb crust is necessary to balance the strong caramel flavor of the filling. Even with 4 Tbsp butter, the crust was a bit dry and crumbly, so I had to be very careful with the filling. Nevertheless, it didn't affect the finished pie. Lightly salted Marcona almonds were a great garnish. Of course, it is quite sweet. The only change I might make in the future would be to reduce the sugar in the whipped cream. My family devoured this!

  • Tomato upside–down cake

    • Sheli on July 23, 2018

      Delicious, moist, nutty from the graham flour, and warm and spicy from the tomato jam. This cake will be a regular in the fall.

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Reviews about this book

  • ISBN 10 0544791436
  • ISBN 13 9780544791435
  • Published Oct 24 2017
  • Format Hardcover
  • Page Count 288
  • Language English
  • Countries United States
  • Publisher Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publishers Text

Top food stylist and Food52’s popular baking columnist shares her baking secrets. 

When people see Erin McDowell frost a perfect layer cake, weave a lattice pie crust, or pull a rich loaf of brioche from the oven, they often act as though she’s performed culinary magic. “I’m not a baker,” they tell her. But in fact, expert baking is not at all unattainable, nor is it as inflexible as most people assume. The key to freedom is to understand the principles behind how ingredients interact and how classic methods work. Once these concepts are mastered, favorite recipes can be altered and personalized almost endlessly.
 
With the assurance born out of years of experience, McDowell shares insider tips and techniques that make desserts taste as good as they look. With recipes from flourless cocoa cookies and strawberry-filled popovers (easy), through apple cider pie and black-bottom crème brûlée (medium), to a statuesque layer cake crowned with caramelized popcorn (difficult), and “Why It Works,” “Pro Tip,” and make-ahead sidebars with each recipe, this exciting, carefully curated collection will appeal to beginning and experienced bakers alike.


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