No one likes to waste incredible bread, especially me and my neighborhood baker Taylor Petrehn. Since he and his brother Reagan opened 1900 Barker in Lawrence, Kansas, last year—dangerously just two blocks down the street—my husband, Sean, and I have been enjoying perfect croissants, meticulously sourced and brewed coffee, and at least a loaf of bread a week. And I find ways to use every crumb.
When I started writing How to Cook Everything in 1994, I had no idea it would become a franchise. Now, 20-plus years, many thousands of recipes, and five doorstopper books later, I realize the initial title—which was sort of tongue in cheek—should have told me something.
With How to Bake Everything, the newest installment, I’ve taken what has become my expected (one could say “well-known”) approach—flexibility, improvisation, and variations—and applied it to over 1,000 sweet and savory recipes. Modesty aside, if you want to learn how to bake, this is the place.
Many people believe that you’re either a cook or a baker, that cooking is an art and baking a science, that one is left brain and one is right brain. Nah. Even if you identify as a “cook” and have never considered yourself a baker, baking has plenty to offer you, and, with the exception of a few fancy pastries, its rules aren’t nearly as ironclad as all that. Besides, baking is, at its very core, communal; you don’t make a cake unless you’re planning to share, and we celebrate almost every one of life’s milestones with one.
It is true that the skill sets are slightly different, but if you can cook, you can bake, and that means everything, from real puff pastry to chocolate soufflés to vegan brownies to whole grain pancakes. And, with just a little experience under your belt, you can decide for yourself which baking rules to follow, which to break, and how to put together a sweet or savory treat to fit with your diet, timeline, or whatever you happen to have in the house at that very moment.
How to Bake Everything comes out October 4th, but you can pre-order your copy now.
Thanks for all of your support over the years, and happy baking.
By Emily Stephenson
Last week, when it was over 100 degrees outside, I had a pie baked by a professional, and even her dough was crumbly (warm butter means crumbly dough). I appreciate that there is a fabulous bounty of fruit available during the summer, the stuff of luscious pie fillings, but hot weather makes getting a perfectly flaky crust difficult.
I didn’t realize this until I started baking my own pies last summer. After more than a few less-than-ideal pie crusts, I did some research beyond the recipe at hand. I’m happy to report that, just like in school, extra-credit work really does pay off.
In honor of the last month of summer, here is the most useful advice I’ve found in pursuit of a perfect pie crust:
- After adding a little water to the butter and flour mixture, pinch a bit of it between your fingertips. If it holds together, the dough is ready. While the dough is resting in the refrigerator, the water will continue to hydrate the flour. This way, you’ll use less water than if you were expecting the dough to form a ball, and your crust won’t be tough. (If you have a vacuum sealer, you can see this in action: the difference in texture between when you seal the dough and when you take it out 30 minutes later is pretty incredible. Removing all the air expedites the process.)
- Many recipes say the butter should be no larger than pea-sized when cut in, but that doesn’t mean they should be exactly pea-sized. When I first started making dough, I didn’t cut the butter into the flour enough. I had pieces of butter that were too large, which meant I had to use more water to get the dough to come together, and my end result was very tough crust. When you’re cutting in the butter, you’re looking for bits of butter of a variety of sizes, none of them larger than pea sized. This doesn’t matter as much if you are using a food processor, but if you’re cutting in the butter by hand, keep cutting a little more.
- Don’t rush the resting time. You can’t over-rest dough (within reason) but you can certainly start working it too soon. Leave it for an hour or more in the refrigerator.
Any other tips I’m missing? I’d love to hear from dedicated summertime pie bakers.
Inspired by recipe testing we’ve been doing, summer, and not wanting to turn on the oven, I made my first cake on the grill, with great success.
I used the Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe in How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, subbing 2 cups pitted cherries for the pineapple. The batter came together in less than two minutes; I poured it over the brown sugar and cherries scattered over the bottom of a cast iron skillet, and I carried it up to the rooftop, where our barbecue was taking place.
We were using a standard Weber kettle grill, the one pretty much everyone has owned at some point. I tried to wait until the coals had ashed over, but I got impatient and put the skillet directly over the fire before it had hit its peak hotness. (Next time I’ll wait until the coals are fully “ready.”) I closed the lid and cooked it for 15 minutes, then checked on it; it was nowhere near ready, so I closed the lid and set my timer for 10 minutes. When I checked again, I’d say the cake was just slightly overdone, but I had been enjoying myself for those extra 10 minutes and I figured no one would notice.
They did not. The fruit mixture was bubbling around the edges and the crust was crisp and smoky. I flipped it out of the skillet onto a cake plate and let it rest while we cooked and ate the rest of our dinner (also cooked on the grill). In the end, it was the cake everyone was most impressed with. I’m now inspired to grill all my summer desserts: It’s easy, practical (you can do it while the grill is heating up), and delivers impressive results.
– Emily Stephenson
Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past months’ conversations.
This month’s topic gave an inspirational glimpse of how many of you are enjoying your meals al fresco: at cookouts and food trucks, on picnics and in gardens, from NYC to the south of France. No- and low-cook meals seem to be the perfect food in this sweltering heat—that is, when your grills aren’t fired up for searing local produce and pizza.
Here’s just a handful of my favorite ideas from July; keep tagging your posts with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along, and check back here tomorrow for August’s topic:
Happy 4th of July! A photo posted by @lizpotasek on
Where—and What—You’re Eating
“Champlain Valley, Vermont. Grilled king salmon, roasted corn, fresh tomatoes with cucumber and balsamic vinegar, baby summer squash.” –@cckinvt
“Central Park’s Great Hill; fresh fruits, homemade hummus, pretzels, pearl couscous salad, wild rice and grape salad, lemon cookies.” –@reinamaureen
“Gazpacho andaluz, made with fresh farmers market ingredients, garnished with melon and micro mustard greens!” –@lornina
“On our courtyard, watching the sunset over Santa Monica Bay, with great food, great wine and great friends!” –Ann Carley Johnson, Facebook
— Krista Holobar (@kjholobar) July 22, 2015
“My garden. Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers every possible way from around the Mediterranean. Lots of feta and lots of fruits. It’s that time of year.” –Clio Tarazi, Facebook
“Aix en Provence, South of France. Watermelon and feta salad !” –@kadee_jah
“Lobster roll on Nantucket” –@sjadad27
“Neighborhood food truck – woodfired pizza in our backyard! #ilovepittsburgh #driftwoodoven” –@leahnorthrop
“LOVE summers in Truro, eating outdoors as the grill master (usually me) finishes the last touches, Chicago-style hotdogs, several amazing summer salads and delicious local craft beer! Throw in some local seafood = Grand Perfection! Cheers, Mark Bittman!” –PiaDora PiaDora, Facebook
Dinner #alfresco at the Lake House #bittmantopics #yyc #amazing #SummerWeather A photo posted by City Palate (@citypalate) on
Lots of interest in this genre—no surprise—during the #BittmanTopics tweetchat:
“what is your favourite summer cold soup? I love de gazpacho of course & vichychoisse.” –@riucafe
“i gotta go off-topic. just made this gazpacho: almonds, almond milk, cukes, grapes, mint, oil, lemon… sorta ugly. but really delicious. and drinking it outside so it counts.” –@bittman
“That gazpacho sounds perfect to take along. Many Bay Area picnic opportunities are in places where flames would not be good.” –@EyeEmEff
A photo posted by Civil Eats (@civileats) on
Low-Cook Summer Meals
Another hot topic during our tweetchat—very fun bouncing around ideas with all of you:
A photo posted by reinamaureen (@reinamaureen) on
A photo posted by Rémy Robert (@remyrobert) on
The essence of a crisp — sweet, tender fruit and a crunchy buttery topping — done quickly on the stovetop. Soft fruit cooks faster, but you can use firm fruit like apples: Just sauté them a bit longer, but it won’t take much more time.
Skillet Fruit Crisp
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 pounds peaches, bananas, berries, or any combination
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Every other Wednesday, I’m featuring one of my favorite recipes from How to Cook Everything Fast. If you cook it, too, I want to see it—tag it on social media with #HTCEFast. And enjoy!
A four-star dessert that bakes in less than 10 minutes.
1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the ramekins
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the ramekins