The Focus and Purpose of Baking by Flavor
In many ways Baking by Flavor is a personal baking memoir, a recipe journal that records the way that my own baking style has taken shape. It's also a detailed look into how recipes that underscore specific flavors can be highlighted, then uplifted, intensified, and invigorated. It's important to put these recipes in an evolutionary time frame: a good number of them have evolved in my kitchen over the last 12 years, and many well before then. Although the exact concept had not been codified in my kitchen until a certain time, the idea for packing as much flavor as possible into baked goods has always been a significant consideration in my baking and work in recipe development.
The focus of this book is threefold: (1) to explore how a particular flavor is best developed in a recipe and then imparted to a certain sweet; (2) to elevate the flavor in traditional baking recipes that primarily use doughs and batters, and to deliver them into an up-to-date setting; and (3) to chronicle my research into flavor-baking. Baking by Flavor is both a baking cookbook about the hows and whys of bringing out flavor in baked goods and a compendium of recipes that spotlight many appealing flavors.
In researching and formulating the concept of flavor-baking, I found myself sifting through, and ultimately challenging, traditional formulas, procedures, and approaches, and finding ways to introduce taste into baked sweets and their accompanying fillings, glazes, frostings, and sauces. In the beginning I began to inspect recipes through a "taste magnifying glass." As a result, some old recipes seemed quaint. The recipefor Essence of Chocolate Squares on page 282 is a good example of that process. The squares are composed of two layers: a dense and fudgy chocolate cake layer covered completely by a creamy chocolate frosting. My goal was to create, in one bar cookie, an intense chocolate flavor with a bittersweet edge, a moist denseness, a buttery "crumb," and a thick swath of frosting that sweetly contrasts to and merges with the layer beneath. Actually, I was going after something that was part brownie, part confection. Over many months, the composition of this sweet was fine-tuned and ultimately revised to my taste. Many more of my recipes went the route of cultivation and revision, and I worked in this area to satisfy my own contemporary tastes, and to rescue and improve upon recipes that seemed, quite honestly, boring.
The purpose of Baking by Flavor is to offer to all cooks whose passion is bakingwhether at home or in a restaurant kitchensome challenging ways to look at and improve recipes in particular flavor categories.
The Organization of the Chapters
PART I of this book "The Art of Baking by Flavor," is for the conceptual baker, while Part II, "The Flavors," is for the passionate, in-the-kitchen baker. The first four chapters in the book (" The Way to Bake by Flavor," "An Inventory of Baking Equipment," "Creating a Baking Pantry," and "Craft and Technique") illustrate the way you go about making a particular flavor taste dynamic, show you how to make pantry staples that brighten the recipes, survey the kind of equipment used throughout the book, and explain fundamental methods for working with the batters and doughs that are an important element of the recipes. Chapters 5 through 22 (Part II) put all of those notions into recipe form.
The recipes are organized by specific flavor.
The five charts in Part I provide important background material. They've been designed so that home bakers and professionals alike can obtain a range of detailed information about flavors, batters, and doughs at a glance.
Chapter 23, "About Freezing Baked Goods," details the range of baked goods in this book that can be frozen either in their completed state or in dough form, gives recommendations for freezer storage time, and offers suggestions for reheating what you defrost.
About the Recipes
In my experience, batters and doughs are the most flexible and responsive to high-intensity flavoring. As a result, the recipes in this book have been developed around specific baked goods that are styled with them: butter cakes, pound cakes, coffee cakes, keeping cakes, tea cakes and loaves, tortes, bar cookies, drop cookies, rolled cookies, press-in-the-pan cookies (such as shortbread), biscuits and scones, muffins, all kinds of yeasted sweet rolls (sticky buns, crumb and streusel buns, and schnecken), pancakes (both flapjacks and crêpes) and waffles. All the fillings, icings, frostings, and glazes that flatter what you bake are included, too.
A typical recipe is composed of an introduction, a list of ingredients, a notation of the bakeware used, and the procedure. Sometimes an "observation line" will appear in the procedure at a critical point in the recipe. The observation line reveals what the dough or batter looks like at a particular (or critical) moment, explains a mixture's consistency or texture, or gives the reason for a certain technique. Essentially, inserting that observation line is my way of hovering over you as you bake.
The recipes are written in some detail, so that an act, function, and processeven a basic oneare defined and described. Each recipe concludes with information on removing the sweet from the baking pan and cooling, and, as appropriate, details about storage.
A variation (or two) is included at the end of selected recipes. Some recipes conclude with a line that begins with "For an extra surge of flavor." This last fillip, which is optional, shows you the way to add a burst of taste to a particular sweet. The extra ingredient may be a scented sugar, a flurry of flavored baking chips, or a topping that would enhance the recipe further. Some recipes also end with the line, "For an aromatic top-note of flavor," or with the line "For a textural contrast." A refined, often subtle, top-note of flavor can be added to a batter or dough, for example, in the form of a scented sugar or dash of liqueur; while dispensable, this ingredient would contribute to the over-all taste and flavor aroma of the sweet. And texturally, the crunch of nuts (or splatter of chips) fluttering through a batter or dough would also provide a lively, welcome contrast.
Many recipes contain a note about how long a specific bakery product keeps after baking. The phrase "Freshly baked, the cookies keep for 3 to 4 days" (for example) appears only when the bakery product has sound room-temperature storage life (and can be reheated, as necessary, with good results during that time). For guidance and directions on freezer storage, consult Chapter 23. If the "freshly baked" phrase does not appear at the end of a recipe, plan to use the particular sweet on the day it's made. To keep baked goods at room temperature, store them in an airtight cookie tin or cake keeper. And many recipes conclude with "Best baking advice," a tag line that explains the reason for a certain ingredient, method, or baking strategy.
To bake from this book to its best advantage, be sure to read the introduction to the recipe, which should give you some sense of what to expect: Will the cake be dense or fine-grained and feathery textured? Are the cookies chewy or crispy, thin or chunky? Are the sweet rolls gooey, sticky, and nutty, or are they silky within and topped with a rough and crunchy streusel? Is this a genteel, coffee cake kind of sweet or a mega-chocolate dessert? Then, read through the recipe in its entirety. Preheat the oven, prepare the baking pan, and measure each ingredient as the recipe indicates (allowing enough time for the butter to soften or the chocolate to melt, for example). Set out the important pieces of equipment you'll be using.
Generally, the recipes in this book begin with a batter or dough, but oftentimes include a filling, topping, icing, glaze, or frosting. A multidimensional recipe can be made in stages, with one or more of the elements prepared a day or two ahead of baking. Other recipes can be put together in the time it takes to preheat the oven.
So much of what we use in our daily lives has a consistent, occasionally regimented, almost cookie-cutter style. It's no wonder that we crave a craggy oatmeal cookie, a towering cinnamon bun, or a softly textured slice of chocolate cake, for these are heartening and satisfying. And they look so appealing. Although there's no substitute for the clean lines of an elegant cookie or a beautifully domed loaf cake, the occasional mark of what's handcrafted is welcome in the best of kitchens. While all the recipes in Baking by Flavor are about taste, they also demonstrate good design and sound technique. A luxurious slice of pound cake, a jagged dipping cookie, or a crumbly scone may look a bit rustic, but the natural, genuine quality of each is always seductive.