How to Bake Everything: What Makes a Recipe a Keeper

Text and photos by Pam Hoenig

Mark’s new book, How to Bake Everything, got me thinking about what makes a full-on go-to recipe. Topmost, it’s flavor—you take a bite and your first thought is WOW! Adaptability is also important; I like when you can simply swap ingredients in and out and the result is still delicious, only now in a totally different way. Easy changes are at the core of how Mark thinks about food and he’s extended this approach to develop variations for baking. Lastly, recipes I make again and again are always forgiving, even when I need to go rogue.

A perfect example is the book’s Lemon Cornmeal Cake. I absolutely love this cake: it goes together in less than 15 minutes, bakes up in 30, and you can serve it right out of the pan or flip it out onto a plate. It’s intensely citrusy and not too sweet, making it wonderful for snacking (meaning I don’t feel guilty when I eat most of it myself in a series of small slivers). The first time I made it just as written—well, not quite. I used my cast iron skillet as the pan and I “baked” it on my gas grill. It was fantastic.

I decided to bake it again this week and thought I had all the ingredients. It turned out my larder wasn’t as well stocked as I had thought. Four large eggs? How about three jumbo eggs? Ricotta cheese? Well, I’ve got buttermilk. Lemons? Nah, oranges instead. And I’ve got some sliced almonds—that would combine nicely with orange.

Once again I enlisted my cast iron skillet, this time everything going into a preheated 350° oven. Thirty minutes later, out came “Orange Cornmeal-Buttermilk Cake with Almonds.” Fifteen minutes to cool down a bit, and a wedge of sweet heaven.

And next time? Well, ricotta, lemon, blueberries, and a little bit of fresh rosemary sounds like a good combination to me. Whatever I decide (or have on hand), I’ll be revisiting Lemon Cornmeal Cake on a regular basis.

Posted in Baking, Mark Bittman Books, Recipes


  1. Donna Cole said...

    Did you put any sugar in the cake mixture.

  2. Robert Fenerty said...

    I just made the original recipe and it was a big hit! I might decrease the sugar by 25% next time. I wanted to make your blueberry variant, but $5 for a tiny carton stopped me in my tracks. Anyone who can have this ready for the oven in “15 minutes” is a far better organized cook than I am. I’d say 30 minutes is more like it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *