The Messy Baker (HarperCollinsPublishers, paperback, $24.99, August 26, 2014)
Home bakers will know that “real” baking is often messy. Yet many cookbooks don’t acknowledge that aspect, presenting perfect iterations of baked goods and treats that might seem complicated or intimidating for the average home baking enthusiast. Charmian Christie, author of the recently-published The Messy Baker (and blog of the same name), understands that most of us in the real-world cook and bake in smaller spaces than a test kitchen, that we’re pressed for time and that we might not all own the latest kitchen gadgets. In Charmian’s kitchen, lopsided cookies and interestingly-shaped pies are the norm, and, in The Messy Baker, they are celebrated, rather than shunned as “not perfect”.
Charmian’s warm voice comes across in her headnotes – you almost feel like she’s right there in the kitchen with you (though she might be a little alarmed at the real mess in my kitchen – the pictures of Charmian’s workspaces in the book look fairly pristine!). Her writing is easy to read and her directions clear, meaning that recipes that many home bakers might shy away from (pastry or more complex baked goods) feel truly approachable.
As someone who approaches baking as a science, I thought the chapter on “The Basics” was very useful. In terms of kitchen equipment, Charmian divides all those cool gadgets into “Can’t do Without”, “Nice to Have” and “I’m a Baker and I’ve Earned it” items and there’s over 20 pages of information about Essential Ingredients for baking which is a must-read for all bakers – both novice and seasoned – so much valuable information in there.
There’s a handy Glossary of commonly-used terms at the back of the book as well as a section outlining Common Measurements and Equivalents (though if you are a metric baker who is used to baking by weight, be aware that all the weight measurements are in ounces and most of the recipes still call for volume measurements).
There’s also incredibly useful information about Adjusting Cake Pan Sizes (because we can’t all have every type of cake pan!) and a must-read Emergency Substitutions section (i.e., what to do when you have the wrong type of flour or are missing an ingredient entirely with no way of getting hold of it).
In short, if you’re into the “geeky” side of baking, you’ll absolutely love the practical information in this book.
The book is divided into the following chapters: Pastry, Flaky, Crumbly, Dippable, Sloppy, Smudgy, Gritty and Drippy which, although they are cute and eye-catching names, I don’t necessarily find very intuitive in terms of knowing what’s in each chapter. Of course, each chapter lists its recipes right at the beginning, though if you don’t understand what a “Smudgy” recipe is, you might not think to look for, say, gingersnap drops there. Obviously, the way you thumb through a cookbook is a very personal thing, but I like to have all the recipes of the same type grouped together (for example: there are tarts in each of the Smudgy, Sloppy and Flaky chapters) for quick reference. Each chapter mixes sweet and savoury dishes.
I’ve bookmarked too many recipes to list here but some on the list are: Roasted Butternut Squash and Sage Tart (perfect for Thanksgiving), Sweet Potato Samosas (I tried these at the book launch and they are to-die-for!), Blueberry-Lime Cornmeal Muffins (ditto!), Espresso and Hazelnut Biscotti, Double Stuffed Oreo Cookies (again, tested by yours truly and fabulous!), Boozy Chocolate Torte, Dill Zucchini Fritters with Lemon Tzatziki, Fig and Apricot Newtons, Chewy Fruit and Nut Bars and Boozy Brown Sugar Whipped Cream.
I chose to bake the profiteroles as my test recipe since it’s a fairly standard recipe and technique, it’s a reliable one to test across different cookbooks. The quantities are a little different from other profiterole recipes (there’s more flour, for example, than my standard recipe) so I was interested to see what a different it made since baking is a precise science. The recipe was simple to follow, accurate and offered some choices for forming the puffs (piping bag, cookie scoop or 2 dessert spoons) although more novice bakers might benefit from information such as what size piping bag or tip if they choose that route) - I like that there were different options given. I appreciate that Charmian assumes no special equipment is available to use in the majority of home baker’s kitchens.
I made these profiteroles for a street party and they didn’t even make it to the dessert table. As I brought the first tray around, they disappeared before I could finish telling someone exactly what they were and by the time I brought out the second tray, people were actively seeking me out. I snuck one beforehand and can confirm these tasted fantastic. And (sssh!) they really are so easy to make!
Recipe from The Messy Baker by Charmian Christie (c)2014. Published by HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved. Published here with permission.
Choux is the rebel of pastries. It’s made on the stove top, not in a bowl, and bites its proverbial thumb at the standard pastry rules that have you cutting in cold butter and mollycoddling the dough as if it were a newborn. With choux pastry, melted butter, heat, and a good stiff beating are key. The resulting dough is a thick paste you can scoop, drop, or pipe. And once baked? You get a pastry studded with air pockets, just ready and willing to hold all the cream you can pipe into it. Yeah, it’s a rebel, but with a deliciously drippy cause—cream.
Makes about 3 dozen
Commitment level: done in stages
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 cup water
11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk plus 1 tablespoon heav y cream or milk (for glazing)
2 cups heavy cream, cold
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. To make the choux pastry: In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the butter, granulated sugar, salt, milk, and water. Heat until the mixture just begins to boil. Reduce the heat to low and dump all the flour into the pan. With a wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula, stir until the dough forms a ball.
3. Place the dough in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse once or twice. With the food processor running, add the 4 eggs, one at a time, until combined. Alternatively, you can beat in the eggs one at a time by hand or with an electric mixer. The dough should be smooth and shiny and hold its shape.
4. Drop the dough onto the baking sheets to create profiteroles. You can do this using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop, or 2 dessert spoons. The aim is to make balls of dough about 11⁄2" wide and tall so that filling them is easier. Regardless of the size you create, be consistent so they bake at the same rate. When all the profiteroles have been formed, tap down their points with a clean finger dipped in cold water.
5. In a small bowl, whisk the yolk with the cream or milk. Brush each profiterole with the egg wash. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the profiteroles are golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.
6. To make the chantilly cream: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fill the profiteroles immediately.
7. To fill the profiteroles with a tip: Put the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a small tip. Using a skewer, poke a hole in the side of the profiterole, insert the piping bag tip into the hole, and fill until you feel resistance. Repeat with the remaining profiteroles and cream. To fill the profiteroles without a tip: Using a serrated
knife, cut the profiteroles in half horizontally, spoon a dollop of cream onto the bottoms, and then place the tops on gently.
8. Chill the filled profiteroles until ready to serve. Profiteroles can be served as is or drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Note: Any uneaten, sauce-free profiteroles can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
TIP: You can use regular or confectioners’ sugar for the chantilly cream, but
confectioners’ sugar adds a bit of structure and makes the cream a bit easier to handle.
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of eat. live. travel. write - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far. She has lived and worked as a teacher in Australia, Hong Kong, England, France and now calls Toronto home. She spends nearly every summer in France, honing her cooking and baking skills and touring different wine producing regions. As part of her job, she runs a cooking class twice a week for 7-13 year-old boys, Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. She was one of the founding members of Food Bloggers of Canada, and is a cook, baker, traveller, photographer, writer, Food Revolution Day Ambassador for Toronto, contributor to JamieOliver.Com and in her spare time teaches cooking and baking classes around Toronto.
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The Messy Baker – a giveaway!
Thanks to Harper Collins Canada we have one copy of The Messy Baker to give away to a Canadian reader!
To enter, simply leave a comment below and tell us about your messiest baking experience!
For a second entry, click this link to tweet the following message: Tweet: I entered to win a copy of @charmian_c 's The Messy Baker from @RecipeGeekMag + @HarperCollinsCa. #winmessybaker! http://ctt.ec/8n24U+
then come back to let us know you did in a second comment!
Winner will be chosen (by random.org) and announced via twitter or email on October 7th, 2014