Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I have always been drawn to the dessert section of any cookbook. Of course my sweet tooth points me in that direction, but it’s also because I love the way a finished dessert has a creative, artistic quality to it. I need meat and vegetables to sustain me, but turquoise frosting flooded on a hummingbird-shaped sugar cookie, or the luscious, vibrant colors of summer fruit arranged on a tart..…creating a dessert is an outlet for creative and aesthetic senses, and if done well, satisfies tastebuds and olfactory simultaneously. (Ugh, that's kind of a geeky sentence. Looks smashing, tastes friggin' awesome and smells good enough to...to...make you draw in your breath and grin from ear to ear in a sheer moment of delight. How's that?)

Today’s cookbooks are stunning -- gorgeously photographed, some pictures worthy of framing and hanging on your wall. Dessert cookbooks are especially intoxicating gems. I often go to bed with a stack of my dessert books, vicariously baking all sorts of beauties as I fall into my dreams. A few weeks ago, after falling asleep on the couch with a book about pies and tarts still clutched in hand, I woke myself up as I made slow, chomping motions with my mouth. When I opened my eyes, I realized I’d been about to bite into a heavenly piece of banana cream pie. Sheesh.
I want to try so many new recipes that my mind is frequently all in a dither about how I should prioritize my list, seeing as how I work full time and often only bake on weekends. At one point I actually jotted down a litany, numbering it all in order of priority. I had everything on there from croissants to baked Alaska, butterscotch cream pie to chocolate eclairs, pithiviers to blood orange mini-tarts. I’m not sure what happened to that list, but it keeps growing and floating around in my brain. Sometimes I think I should take time off just to plow through this baking bucket list I am so obsessed with. A staycation of baking….a bake-cation? (As I had this thought, I wondered if that was already a term in use, and why yes, it is. According to a slang dictionary, it's when someone stays home to ‘get baked’. OK then.)
This penchant for baking started snowballing last summer. I’d recently moved from a fairly small town into the city of Seattle, and I was so excited by all the new possibilities. I could now walk to restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores. I heard about a dangerously close French-style bakery that everyone raved about. I started Googling 'stuff', including the bakery, and cooking classes at the local PCC Market, where I had seen an in-store demo kitchen. Eventually my online "recherche" led me to a cookbook store in Fremont called Book Larder. They were hosting an author talk and demo by Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston. I was in! She graciously showed her audience how to make pate a choux, and signed copies of her books, Flour and Flour, Too. I purchased her first book, Flour, and took a photo with her as I held up the cookbook. I dove into that thing immediately. It’s full of detailed descriptions of how to make everything from cookies and scones to brioche and sticky buns. I adore this book -- she has a way of making you feel like she’s right there next to you with a calm, guiding voice as you follow a recipe. (She also, I discovered not long after, replies to emails and might even post a picture you unabashedly had attached to said email on the Flour Bakery + Cafe Facebook page. How awesome is that?) 
I continued Googling: "best dessert books” and “best dessert blogs” and “best food memoirs” and searching hashtags like #brioche and #pithiviers. Each search branched out into new information and new searches, and before I knew it, I was buying brioche a tete molds and looking on eBay for kugelhopf molds from France ($$$$! – that one’s still on my wish list).
Since then, I started taking photos while baking new recipes. I look forward to sharing things at work or baking something for someone’s birthday. An outlet for sharing this process and my sense of excitement and pride when I take a new treat out of the oven has been a growing desire. Et voila! Here I am. I’m uber excited. I look forward to sharing successes as well as getting constructive feedback, both in cheerleader tone, as well as “Hey, it would turn out better if you did this….”
If I'm lucky, I'll get permission to post a few recipes from some of the authors I've been following.    
To start this thing off, below are some photos of Craqueline, the first recipe I tried from Flour by Joanne Chang (Flour Bakery + Cafe).  It's the first book I bought at the impressively comprehensive cookbook-only store in Fremont, Book Larder. It was also the first time I ever tried making brioche, or ever ate brioche for that matter!
Craqueline, made with brioche as mentioned, is filled with candied oranges and topped with sliced almonds. Oh yeah!! The brioche dough, which is yeasted, has to refrigerate and rise, as well as proof, over the course of at least 10 hours, so this is ideally a two-day process (weekend warriorism!). The way it will fill your house with enchanting smells is in itself an experience to be had. The scent of the bread as it bakes will make you feel like someone is wrapping you up in a comforting hug. Sure, maybe you can buy brioche at the bakery, but you can't buy the way it smells as it bakes, and it's so worth it.

[letting them proof, i.e. rest and rise in a warm place]

[Joanne was a gracious hostess and let the person behind me in line
snap our photo together after she signed my copy of her book. I printed
the photo and taped it inside the front cover for posterity.]

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