Ten Ways to Become a Better Baker

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. MIKE FLETCHER, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Strawberry Rhubarb PieBecoming a better baker is a matter of patience and repetition,  but there are practices that will help speed the process.  Here I have listed some that I hope will help you – even if it is just one thing you may need to work on to become the baker you always wanted to be.

1.  Read the recipe from  start to finish.  Make sure you have all of the ingredients without substituting.

2. The first time you make a new recipe make it exactly as it is written.  It’s fine to change raisins to dried cherries or use dark brown sugar instead of light.  However, if it calls for buttermilk, don’t substitute regular milk.

3. If you want to change the recipe, change one thing at a time.  If you change more than one you will not know which one worked, or didn’t work.

4.  This really sounds basic, but focus.  Baking is not like cooking.  You can’t be talking, texting or multitasking when baking.  It is more of a science than cooking.  I once had an employee who omitted the baking powder in 64 layers of cake with the result that we could have used them for Frisbees!

5.  Use a timer.  My husband always looks at the clock and then “knows” he will remember 25 minutes later to do whatever it is he is timing.  Can’t tell you how many things have been over done (read burned)!

6.  Always, always short time anything you are baking.  I keep thermometers in my ovens to make sure they are accurate but I always short time anyway.  If an oven is running hot, you can rescue your item with no damage.

7.  Patience.  Without patience it is difficult  to become a really good baker.  Baking and decorating are  a matter of practice.  Practice takes patience.  I perfected my blitz croissants  after 30 attempts.  But they are easy and a baker from France told me they were better than the original.  There isn’t a reward much better than that.

8.  Organization.  This may rank as the most important item on the list.  Because baking is more scientific than cooking, a clean, organized work space is important.  If you have to start looking for teaspoons or tablespoons, empty a measuring cup to use it again, or find an ingredient on your work area, chances are the end product will not be what you wish it to be. It is a good idea when baking to measure all the ingredients before you start mixing or assembling.  You will be less likely to forget something.

If prepping more than one recipe, I put each set of ingredients on a separate tray so I don’t get them mixed up.

I once saw a post by David Lebovitz about dirty dishes http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2011/11/my-favorite-kitchen-tip-ever/ .  In it is a huge pile of really dirty dishes in his sink and laments not being able to go out with friends because he has to stay home and do the dishes.  He was excited that Marion Cunningham of cookbook fame told him to soak them while he was preparing the rest of whatever he was making.  Are you kidding me?  Just make some hot soapy water and do your dishes as you go if they aren’t being loaded into the dishwasher.  He didn’t answer me when I suggested it takes minutes to wash items as you go and hours to do them later!  Hmmmmmm!

9.  Whisk dry ingredients together that need to be combined to insure they are completely distributed. In the olden days, everything was sifted through a triple sifter.  I still have one in the basement that I intend to donate  to a museum.

10.  Last but not least, just know you can do it and enjoy yourself as you do.  Baking has an underserved reputation for being difficult.  I can make a loaf of bread or a batch of cookies faster than my husband can get to the store and get back home  And we don’t live that far from our store.  Sure the bread will require rising and shaping, but the rewards are so much better.  Now the cookies……anyone for a warm cookie?

Cream Biscuits with Strawberry Balsamic Jam

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. MIKE FLETCHER, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Finished 2In my years of baking and teaching, I have found that people are leery of making piecrust and biscuits.  The one thing both of these usually have in common is cutting in the butter.  How about a recipe for the best biscuits ever with no butter – period.

This has to be the easiest biscuit recipe ever with only 4 ingredients.  Cake flour is used to insure tenderness.  The cream takes the place of butter. When you think of butter, it is only cream that is whipped to a solid state with the liquid being spun out.  So the use of all cream makes perfect sense.

The dough will be a bit wet and that it as it should be.  I learned the traditional way of making biscuits from Shirley Corriher, a biochemist who wrote, Cookwise and Bakewise.  With Shirley being from the south, I can’t imagine a better teacher.  She stressed the importance of the dough being very wet so the steam created in a hot oven would cause the biscuits to expand to great heights. Continue reading

60 Second Brioche

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. MIKE FLETCHER, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Fiinished photoThe title, “60 Second Brioche” (pronounced BREE-ohsh) comes from the article title as it appeared in Bon Appetit Magazine.  While it takes a few minutes to prepare the ingredients, it does indeed come together in about sixty seconds in the food processor, making it the fastest brioche around.

In my first book, “The New Pastry Cook”, the theme was to take a basic dough and make 10 to 12 items using that dough. When I first started learning to make the classic doughs I thought it a shame to spend the time to learn them and then use them for just one or two things.  In the Bon Appetit article, they used the 11 recipes I developed for my book and an additional one I developed for them as they wanted an even dozen.

I learned to make many of the traditional French pastries from Andre Gotti, a marvelous French pastry chef.  After I learned the traditional method, I became a consultant to Cuisinart specializing in pastry using the food processor. I modernized many of the traditional French techniques without sacrificing quality. Brioche was among them. Continue reading

Chocolate Strawberry Pie

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. MIKE FLETCHER, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Chocolate Strawberry PieIf you love chocolate covered strawberries this Chocolate Strawberry Pie is the one for you.  Gorgeous looking and delicious, it is a snap to make.

A blind baked pie or tart crust is another basic technique of pastry. Essentially it is a baked crust with no filling in it.   While not difficult,  a few pointers will give you a perfect crust every time. While these pointers will apply to any crust, the one I have used is mine.   I have no idea why it is referred to as blind baked.  So if anyone knows, please tell me.

While we no longer have Big Boy restaurants in my area, I, like Rose Levy Beranbaum, remember their strawberry pie.  I would rather have eaten that than anything else I can remember at the time.  It was a simple pie consisting of a baked pie shell into which fresh strawberries were placed standing up and the whole was covered with a sweet, shiny glaze. I swear I can still taste it. Continue reading

Food Equipment Storage using Vertical Space

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY T. MIKE FLETCHER, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Kitchen shotI tried to think of a really sexy title but what can you say about food equipment and  a bunch of pots and pans, knives and miscellaneous cooking items?  Because I am in the kitchen constantly cooking for pleasure and business, I designed my kitchen about 40 years ago to make it as easy as possible to use.

When we remodeled our small kitchen, I wanted an island which gave me a lot of prep room, but it had the effect of making the kitchen smaller.  I wanted to keep my work areas as of free of clutter as possible.  That goes for under and over the counter storage as well as drawers.  When we were ready to remodel, we gutted the kitchen and everything went.  All of my small utensils were put in a box and stored in the basement.  I also had a box that held questionable utensils.  These were items that seemed like a good idea when I bought them, but didn’t seem to get much use.   I decided if I didn’t use any any of these  for six months, they would go out.  I kept one.  The others I gave away to Goodwill.  Hopefully, someone enjoyed them.

I don’t think anyone ever has enough storage for food equipment.  I certainly don’t.  To help solve the problem I looked at any vertical flat area we had and basically used kitchen gear in various forms as decorative pieces.  I covered walls with pegboard, hung racks and my husband designed a knife rack to keep my knives out of a drawer and accessible.  The outcome was a kitchen where I never have to take more than three or four steps to get anything I want to use.  Small definitely has its advantages. Continue reading