Monday, November 30, 2009

The Year’s Best Baking Book…

By Pat Tanner

…for holiday gift giving and receiving, at least in my opinion, is Karen DeMasco’s “The Craft of Baking.” Although she is an award-winning restaurant pastry chef who honed her craft at Tom Colicchio’s Craft, Craftbar, and ‘wichcraft, the recipes in this book are eminently reproducible. They are true to DeMasco’s style, which combines home-baked appeal with modern restaurant sophistication.

Exhibit one: Apple Fritters with Caramel Ice Cream and Apple Caramel Sauce
Exhibit two: Pine Nut Tart with Rosemary Cream
Exhibit three: Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream Filling

I could go on – the beautifully photographed book contains hundreds of equally tempting muffins, scones, quick breads, doughnuts, cookies, brownies, candies, tarts, pies, cobblers, crisps, cakes, cupcakes, custards, puddings, ice creams, sorbets, fruit compotes, and sauces. And it’s hard to go wrong, since every technique and instruction is painstakingly elaborated.

Each season’s bounty is given its due, from spring’s Fresh Strawberry Tart with Lemon Cream to summer’s Sour Cherry Turnovers to fall’s Concord Grape & Pear Crisp with Marcona Almond Strudel. Wintertime and holiday favorites include chocolate babka, homemade truffles, marshmallows in lemon, mocha, and coconut varieties, and steamed toffee pudding (steamed in the oven).

Below is a recipe to get you started on your holiday baking. Please heed the instruction to use a large saucepan, since the hot, molten sugar mixture will rise and bubble.

From “The Craft of Baking” by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) salted roasted cashews

Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan. Stir together so that all of the sugar is wet. Cook the mixture over high heat without stirring until it turns a dark amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda, followed by the salt; the caramel will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, fold in the cashews. Pour the brittle onto the prepared baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon, spread it out into a layer about 1/2 inch thick. Let it cool completely. Break the brittle into bite-size pieces, using a mallet or the back of a heavy knife.

The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 1-3/4 pounds.

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