After my husband and pets, my battered 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking is the next thing I would save in a fire. It is, in my opinion, the greatest American cookbook ever created.
Like many classic cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking has recipes for every type of food you could imagine and a dozen more beside. There are literally hundreds of comfort dishes in these pages that can be prepared with ingredients found at any supermarket. Honed over literally generations of editions dating all the way back to 1931, the format of the recipes is easy to follow for cooks of all skill levels.
The Joy’s pages describe the literal melting pot that is America. Classic regional cooking of the U.S. is treated with the same reverence as Escoffier’s mother sauces. Eastern European, Middle Eastern, South American, and Asian recipes are all well represented with both authentic flavors and techniques. The choices say as much about who we are as a country of immigrants as it does anything else, and I find that rather beautiful. And to keep the love-in going, there are also more than a few recipes for vegans, vegetarians, and those who go gluten-free. If only our national politics were so harmoniously integrated.
It’s easy to miss the bakery for the croissants here, though, and one most notice The Joy is more than recipes. The beginning each chapter explains, in detail, the ingredients and techniques that you will find within. Reading the introductions to the meat, vegetable, and grain chapters may very well change your life. The book opens with chapters on nutrition and menu planning that would keep anyone healthy for a lifetime and ends with detailed diagrams of how to set a formal table. I believe the word encyclopedic is appropriate the volume of knowledge packed into this one book.
If you haven’t your own copy of The Joy of Cooking, now would be the time to procure it. (There’s a used book shop near you with a $5 copy, I promise.) And if you do own a copy but have never really plumbed its depths, now is the moment.
Next week, Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.
It’s no wonder the ancient Chinese fetishized peaches. In both form and texture, they are sensual to the point of being fruit porn. An electric bite of sweet, tart perfume and impossible juiciness that has the power to transport you to the outer reaches of ecstasy.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I anxiously await that first Sunday of the summer when the gals from Tenerelli Orchards will appear at the Hollywood Farmers Market. Theirs are the best peaches, plums, and nectarines this side of the Mississippi so far as I’m concerned.
My peach galette* is an homage to the Tenerelli’s fruit and uses only the barest amount of sugar, allowing the peaches to shine in all their summer splendor. You’ll be amazed at the sheer depth of flavor that can be extracted from fruits baked in this manner. You’ll also be amazed at how little work goes into such a memorable dessert.
* Galette is a fancy word for a flat pie.
This recipe yields dessert for four to six on its own, eight if accompanied by ice cream.
Preheat oven to 425º and set a rack in the middle position.
If using peaches, peel them like an apple using a very sharp paring knife. Nectarines can be baked with the skins on. Slice each fruit into sixteen wedges.
Roll dough out to 13-inches and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with sunflower oil or melted butter.
Leaving an inch border all around, sprinkle some of the sugar lightly over the entire round of dough. Use the rest of the sugar to create a perimeter as shown.
Lay peach wedges in concentric circles, starting from the outside with the tips of the wedges just within the perimeter of sugar. Lightly brush the peaches with sunflower oil or melted butter and then sprinkle over the allspice.
Fold edges like a stop sign, with the crease right at the sugar perimeter. Place in the oven immediately and bake for 40 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown and center bubbling. If the edges are dark but the center still not bubbling after 40 minutes, lower oven to 375º to finish baking.
Cool for five minutes on a wire rack before cutting and serving.
There’s a predictable course to all conversations that begin with, “would you share your recipe for <dessert thing> with me?”
I savor the precious few moments of smiles when I agree. They often are brief.
There’s the obligatory first stop at, “it’s all in grams? Metric?”
Then we arrive quickly at, “so how many cups in a gram?”
And finish with, “oh, a scale. That seems like an awful lot of work. Let me know if you convert it to cups.”
No doubt many of you, my dear readers, feel the same. But hear me out! A digital kitchen scale is the best thing that can happen to a baker.
Louis-Camille Maillard rolls in his grave when I write it, but it’s easy enough to pretend that there’s no science involved in everyday food preparation. Not so baking and dessert making. This reminder of high school chemistry class is what scares a lot of people off of the endeavor. But it shouldn’t, because embracing a little bit of nerdy precision will save you both time and angry tears.
Consider the following:
1) How I scoop my flour and how you scoop yours isn’t the same. A gram is always a gram, no matter who measures it.
2) What’s easier to add? 720 g. plus 1219 g. or 1 lb. 9.4 oz. plus 2 lb. 11 oz.? (If you answered 3 lbs. 20.4 oz., grams are for you!)
3) Because the math is easy, you can use ratios to quickly formulate the recipes of your dreams or scale them up and down to suit your needs.
4) Three bowls (at most) and the “tare” or “zero” button on your scale are all you will ever need. No fumbling with and then washing up a squad of spoons and cups.
The type of scale you use matters. Digital is a the way to go, and you want one that has a capacity of at least 4.5 kg. (10 lb.). The OXO 11lb Food Scale with Pullout Display is currently my favorite. The truly devoted will also want to pick up a smaller scale from a maker like AWS for when fractions of grams are required (like yeast in bread recipes).
Poundcake is the little black dress of desserts. Enjoyed for its splendid simplicity or made part of a larger ensemble, it is always an effortless star. My poundcake light as air and twice as tasty. Cinnamon brings an exotic perfume to the classic, and European style (Plugra or Kerrygold) butter is worth the splurge when you want to impress.
I cannot help but admire a deceptively simple cake whose name enshrines an entire recipe in one word. The pound in poundcake is a reference to how much of each of the main ingredients (eggs, flour, butter, and sugar) are required. It’s another way of saying, “a cake of equal parts eggs, flour, butter, and sugar.”
That sounds a lot like a ratio. And you know I love a good ratio in the kitchen! See the one that underlies this recipe here.
This recipe yields one 10-inch Bundt or two 4-cup loaves.
Brown Sugar Poundcake
336g cake flour
18g baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional but highly recommended)
336g unsalted butter, room temperature
336g brown sugar
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 325º and set the rack in the middle position. Lightly grease your pan(s) with butter.
Weigh all the dry ingredients and butter into the work bowl of a stand mixer. With the cake paddle attachment, mix on low until the butter is completely incorporated and the mixture resembles damp sand.
Beat eggs and vanilla together in a bowl and then add to flour mixture. Beat on #2 for a minute. Stop mixer and scrape down the edges of the bowl with a silicon spatula. Beat on #4 for 30 seconds and then scrape the bowl down again. Beat on #4 for a minute.
Scrape batter into pan and smooth with spatula. Rap the pan on the counter three or four times to dislodge any air bubbles and then place in oven.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Turn poundcake out and cool, still on the rack, for at least an hour before cutting.
I’m a huge fan of custard in all of its forms, no less so than in pies and tarts. Each lightly sweet, eggy, jiggly bite of my almond custard comes with the snapping crunch of buttery, flaky crust. Their marriage is divine.
It was a surplus of almond milk that brought this riff on the custard tart to life. Normally I would use half-and-half in such a creation. Arguably this dairy alternative yields a relatively healthier dessert. The almond milk also gives the final custard a consistency not unlike trembleque – much more wiggle than the classic made with cream.
It’s worth noting that this custard follows perfectly the ratio you can find in my Kitchen Grimoire.
This recipe yields one 9-inch pie.
Almond Custard Pie
All-Butter Pie Crust
4 large eggs
112g brown sugar
1/4 ts salt
224g plain, unsweetened almond milk
1/2 ts almond extract
1/2 ts vanilla
Prepare All-Butter Pie Crust. Roll and blind bake (detailed instructions below) crust. It’s important that the custard be ready to go the second the crust is finished blind baking. Also, the egg you reserve in the next step is what you’ll use to glaze the crust, so get it ready pronto!
To start the custard, beat eggs in a medium bowl until pale yellow. Scoop out about a tablespoon of beaten egg into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Add the rest of the ingredients to the remaining eggs and whisk to combine. As soon as the egg glaze is set on the crust, pour the custard mixture into the shell and return to oven. Immediately reduce oven to 325º and bake for 50 minutes. Pie is done when center jiggles like Jell-o or reads 175º on an instant-read thermometer.
Cool completely on a rack. If it won’t be consumed within four hours of baking, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to three days.
To Blind Bake Crust
Rather watch than read? Try the video demo!
Before beginning, make sure the dough has rested in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Wrap a clean tea towel, or other lintless towel, around a cutting board that’s at least 13-inches square. Lightly dust it with flour. Unwrap the rested dough, place it in the center of the towel, and dust it lightly on each side with flour.
Gently slap the dough with the rolling pin to flatten it into a disc about 8-inches around. Dust the top of the disc with flour, turn it over, and dust it again. Apply moderate pressure and roll from the center of the dough up and then from the center down. Turn the dough 90º clockwise and repeat. Every time you complete a full circle (four turns), run your hand under the disk to make sure it’s not sticking. Every two complete rotations, flip the dough over. Continue until you have a 13-inch circle. Trim to a 13-inch circle using a very sharp knife or straight razor blade.
If it sticks a bit, and it will, dust lightly with flour, flip, and dust lightly with flour again. Should the dough become too soft, place in the freezer for five minutes to firm it up.
Fold finished dough circle in half, then gently lift and place into tart or pie pan. Unfold the dough to completely cover the pan and center it. The dough must now be settled into the pan so that it’s not stretched in any spots. Stretched dough will shrink in baking and ruin your afternoon. To avoid it, gently run your fingers under the edge of the dough and allow it to settle completely into the pan. You want to see a tiny bit of sag where the dough comes into the bottom of the pan.
With your fingers, gently press the dough into the sides of the pan. Fold the overhanging dough, you should have a bit less than an inch, under itself and press firmly to seal the edge. Don’t worry about forming the border now. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425º and place a foil-lined cookie sheet on the middle rack.
Remove dough from fridge, and remove plastic wrap. Quickly work the border into a semblance of evenness by pinching with your thumb and index finger. If you have a lipless pie pan (usually glass), as you’re evening the border, squish it down a bit so that no more than 1/4-inch is above the rim of the pan. With a fork, poke holes about 1/2-inch apart all over the bottom and side of the crust.
Gently mold a piece of aluminum foil into the bottom of the crust, pushing it carefully but completely into the sides. Be certain not to fold down the edges of the foil or they will make a mess of your border. Fill the foil evenly with rice or beans, immediately place on waiting cookie sheet, and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove crust from oven. Gently pull foil from a portion of the edge and check to see if the crust has set. If it looks dry almost to the bottom, you’re good. Otherwise, return to the oven for ten more minutes. An easy way to tell if the pastry is done is to pull the foil back enough to expose a bit of the bottom at this point. Sides that look mostly like the bottom does aren’t done! The whole point of this exercise is to keep the crust from slipping into the pan, rendering itself useless, or shrinking like a wool sock in a hot dryer. Your patience will be rewarded. Finally, if at any point the exposed edge of the crust looks like it’s burning, lower the oven by 25º.
When the sides of the crust are dry and set, gather the corners of the foil and lift it out, beans/rice and all. Rest the foil on a heat-proof plate to cool. Poke only the bottom of the crust once more with a fork and return to the oven to finish baking. This will take about 15 additional minutes. The crust is done when the entire bottom is deep, golden brown on the inside of the pan. This is critical. The deep, golden brown means the crust is fully cooked. It will not cook further when it gets filled with custard because physics. A crust insufficiently baked now will be a staggering disappointment later.
You’re almost done!
With a pastry or sauce brush, spread the beaten egg reserved when the custard was made onto the inside bottom and sides of the crust. Bake for five additional minutes.
As a kid, I used to sneak the packets of Swiss-Miss cocoa mix into my room and furtively eat their contents, dry, like an addict. That flavor is incomparable bliss on the tongue.
Somewhat less-than-blissful is ice cream making. Either you roll the food poisoning dice and hope they don’t come up salmonella with raw eggs or you cook and cool a custard. Me, I prefer to sidestep the debate entirely with the no-cook, eggless ice cream. (A double scoop of love to Ben & Jerry, whose eponymous cookbook turned me onto this technique.)
If you have the tub of your ice cream maker waiting at all times in the freezer (of course you do!) this recipe can be churning in about 20 minutes.
Recipe yields about 1 quart of churned ice cream.
Eggless Cocoa Ice Cream
50g cocoa powder
100g boiling water
275g sweetened, condensed milk
460g heavy cream*
1 ts vanilla
a shot of domestic whisky or dark rum
Weigh cocoa powder and salt into a heat-proof bowl and pour in boiling water. Stir to make a smooth paste and set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
While you wait, weigh remaining ingredients into a bowl, preferably one with a spout. Whisk to combine. Scoop cooled cocoa into milk and whisk until fully combined.
Churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions and cure for at least four hours in an airtight container before serving.
*Up to two thirds of the heavy cream can be substituted with half-and-half or pure coconut milk.