- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Essential Cake Boss (A Condensed Edition of Baking with the Cake Boss)
My baking education started with cookies. They taught me the fundamentals of my craft, and helped me develop muscle memory and intuition to last a lifetime.
But before I get into all that, let me sing the praises of cookies. Carlo’s Bake Shop, like most Italian-American bakeries, has a counter section devoted to cookies, and it’s the only section that’s equally popular with adults and kids. That’s because there are precious few new cookies in the world; most of the treats you see under that gleaming glass are exactly the same ones that moms and dads, grandmothers and grandfathers, ate when they were kids, too. The cookies might be something as simple as a black-and-white cookie or rugelach, but I love watching customers dig into them. Their faces say it all—kids are forming taste memories to last a lifetime; grown-ups are reliving their own memories with each bite.
My own memories of cookies date back to long before I ever tried to actually bake anything. When I was a child, my father would often return home from our family business, Carlo’s Bake Shop, with a box of tarelles (vanilla cookies) or tea biscuits in hand. Dad was known around Hoboken as a cake master, but it was the cookies that mesmerized me. Most kids feel that way. Cakes are big, towering, intimidating: Before you can eat them, a grown-up has to slice them down to size for you.
But cookies are manageable—you can eat them in just one or two bites. And when I look back at my baking education, it’s the same: Cookies were a way of taking in bite-size bits of information about basic skills and techniques, in a way that even a little kid could understand. It was by making cookies that I first learned how to mix dough properly, how to use a rolling pin, and how to start to develop the all-important Hand of the Bag.
The recipes in this chapter produce some of my favorite cookies, and it’s a pretty varied bunch that reflects a number of cultures: pignoli (pine nut) cookies from Sicily, black-and-white cookies from New York City, Jewish rugelach, and all-American creations such as peanut butter cookies, to name just a few.
For home bakers, a good cookie recipe is a valuable thing. Most cookies can be made quickly and stored for days, if not longer—so you can make them for guests and serve them right out of the oven or keep them on hand for unexpected company. They are also a good project for baking with kids who can do the simple tasks such as adding chocolate chips to dough. In addition to making cookies for family and friends, one of my favorite things to do with cookies is to give them as gifts. Think about giving cookies at the holidays or for a friend’s birthday; there’s nothing that shows your affection like baking something for someone yourself.
Cookies’ simplicity is also the source of their power to teach us about baking. The more simple something is, the more important each part of it becomes. Most cookie recipes are made up of some combination of the same basic ingredients—butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and baking powder and/or baking soda—plus others that add flavor and texture. How those ingredients are mixed has everything to do with how the batter will behave when baked. You don’t tend to see mixing discussed much outside professional bakeries, but in a place like Carlo’s, we talk about it like it is rocket science. Every cookie requires its own style of mixing: Some need to be mixed quickly, some slowly, some for a long time, some not so much. (My own Achilles’ heel as a kid was overwhipping egg whites; I’d let them go until they began to break down, their stiff peaks crumbling like an avalanche in the bowl.) The same is true of pastry and pie dough and cake batter: The difference between an Italian sponge cake batter and a chocolate chiffon batter is profound; being able to understand that begins by learning to understand the differences between the doughs for different cookies.
Cookies are also a good way to begin a baking education because the recipes are more forgiving than those for pastries or cakes. (They also multiply better, so you can double or triple them easily.) What’s more, in professional bakeries, cookies are valuable commodities because many of them are convenient: Often, doughs and the finished cookies they produce can be frozen, so we can work them into the production schedule whenever we need to fit them in, and always have cookies on hand or just a few minutes of bake time away. Throughout this chapter, I’ll point out when you can take advantage of this same convenience factor at home, so you always have cookies on tap.
Some cookies also teach you how to work with dough, rolling and molding it with your hands, and in some cases with a rolling pin—what we call “bench work” at Carlo’s. And they teach the delicate balance between following a recipe and going with your gut in the kitchen. Think back to the first time you baked a chocolate chip cookie. I bet you overbaked it and ended up with something as hard as a manhole cover. That’s because you didn’t yet know that a chocolate chip cookie has to come out of the oven looking doughy, almost raw. But let it rest for an hour and it firms up to perfection, because the baking soda does its thing as the cookie cools down. We all need to learn the same lesson when it comes to cookies—that we often have to take them out looking a little raw, trusting our baking experience to know that’s the right thing to do.
The other, and most overlooked, thing that cookies can teach us is familiarity with our equipment and our ovens. By making cookies, I gained a real intimacy with our oven at Carlo’s. This is even more important at home, because your home oven almost certainly has hot spots, and will not cook evenly like a professional oven. Making cookies let me learn that I like working with a broomstick handle for certain doughs (you’d buy a straight rolling pin to get the same effect) and a ball-bearing pin for others; and I learned which type of pastry bag I preferred for different jobs. But there’s no one way of doing anything: You might have different preferences, and if they work for you, that’s fine with me.
But you won’t be able to learn any of that until you get into the kitchen and start baking. So, come on—let’s make some cookies!
Even if you have two or more pans, you will need to bake in batches for many of these recipes. Be sure to let the pans cool completely between batches. Putting raw dough on a warm or hot pan can cause the cookies to drop and cause the butter or shortening inside to melt prematurely. It’s okay to let the dough just sit while the pans cool—and it’s worth it so the cookies come out right.
It’s important to get cookies out of their hot pan and onto a rack as soon as possible after they come out of the oven. Test them with the edge of a spatula to see if they will lift up easily without breaking. As soon as they do, move them. If they are left on the pan too long and become stuck, don’t use your spatula like a crowbar; instead, rewarm them briefly in the oven to loosen them up.
Do not put any cookies into a storage container until they have cooled completely. If you put them away warm, their heat will be trapped in the container and the steam will leave behind moisture that will cause them to spoil.
Creaming butter and another ingredient such as almond paste is often the first step in mixing cookie dough and it should not be taken for granted. This base needs to be mixed enough that it aerates, which will set the stage for the cookies to achieve the proper body and texture and help keep them from crumbling too easily. This step often includes a granular ingredient such as sugar that acts almost like sandpaper, smoothing out lumps as early in the recipe as possible.
Egg whites are one of the most important ingredients in baking. More than almost any other ingredient, they can determine the density of everything from a cookie to a cake. If you want to understand the effect cooks are looking for in the finished product, note how they tell you to whip your whites: stiff peaks usually means the desired effect is a full-bodied finished product.
In the Chocolate Brownie Clusters recipe, the whites should be whipped until they are stiff, and that is what allows the batter to expand the way it does. However you whip them, there are a few important things to remember about working with egg whites: First of all, your bowl must be immaculately clean. Wipe it down with distilled white vinegar to get rid of all traces of grease and oil; fat will prevent the whites from stiffening.
Posted October 27, 2013
I enjoy watching cooking shows on television. In fact, I have watched several episodes of the Cake Boss, because I love to watch how cakes are put together. It is amazing what people can do with a bit of flour and some eggs. When I read this book, the word that kept popping into my mind was "comforting." Buddy Valastro takes a quiet approach with his readers and eases them into the idea of being a baker. He explains that baking is a skill that can be learned with lots of practice. He encourages his reads to start with cookies and then eventually graduating to cakes. As I read the book, I noticed that I started saying to myself that I can do this!
Although this book is a condensed version of Valastro's large book, The Essential Cake Boss feels complete and is surprisingly detailed. Valastro goes into great detail explaining what equipment a baker needs and why. In addition, he gives some great advice on baking in general. Something that made me quite happy is that there are a lot of pictures showing you what things are supposed to look like. The large numbers of pictures keep the number of written instructions limited, so none of the recipes look too intimidating.
This book contains five cookie recipes, eight cake recipes (and additional recipes that build on these eight foundational cakes), and 10 frosting and fillings recipes. Additionally, Valastro shows the reader how to several different types of cake toppers (predominately flowers).
My skill set does not include cooking; however, this book gives me the courage to make some cookies and maybe attempt a cake for the upcoming holiday season.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 19, 2014