Author: Lauren Chattman
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (2009)
Some of us grew up in the kitchen clamouring to stir cookie dough and knead bread with nary a box mix in sight, especially if Mom, Dad or Grandma was around to guide the process. While mixes and pre-made foods clearly still have a consumer following, the trend now is to eliminate the excess processing and additives that go into those items and return to the call of scratch baking. So what then of the ones who grow up without an intuitively baking parent – or who were too busy racing around as children that the kitchen didn’t hold that same allure? Scratch baking is not out of reach for the average kitchen elf thanks to the wealth of comprehensive baking guides on bookstore shelves. Arguably one of the most concise and well organized of these resources is Lauren Chattman’s work The Baking Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask.
In Baking Answer Book, readers will find 350 pages of common questions and their detailed, practical answers in an easy to read, no-frills format. Chattman includes only the information that the common baker would find useful in day-to-day applications, and her information spans an array of topics from Ingredients (p. 1) and Equipment (p. 38) to complex Layered Pastry (p. 277) and the often-problematic Yeast Breads (p. 308). The author also includes recent additions to the baker’s kitchen by addressing questions on non-stick, insulated and silicone bakeware (p. 43-46). Chattman also incorporates applications of her answers, with simple and reliable recipes for classics such as Low-Fat Wheat-Bran Muffins (p. 136), Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 162), New York Cheesecake (p. 220) and the quintessential No-Knead Bread (p. 332). By no accounts, however, is Baking Answer Book a recipe manual. The goal is to inform and ease the creation of the modern cook’s own recipes, not build their cookbook repertoire from ground zero.
This book is one that all bakers, aspiring and experienced, will find useful. Chattman’s tips on freezing batters (like muffins (p. 133) – an application I had never thought of) and doughs (breads are “risky” (p. 337) while cookie dough is better than baked in this respect (p. 191-193)). While I don’t need her help on the subject of pastry bags and tips or cake-frosting techniques (p. 231-238), having taken classes at George Brown College and making up my own solutions for many issues, I did love the author’s glossary of the varieties of cake (p. 201), and her charts of pan volumes (p. 47), as well as metric equivalents (p. 356) as a reference. Having also made many a pie by my mother’s side, much of the help Chattman offers on this subject (p. 240-276) was wasted on me. However, Chattman includes the invaluable conversions of whole to crumbled cookies for crusts (p. 271) and a handy storage guide for the baked pies (p. 274-275). Detailed resource lists for any and all things baking related, including Chattman’s most valued cookbooks, fill the final pages of this book. Those living at high altitudes will be delighted to know that Baking Answer Book includes a special appendix of these answers as well (p. 351).
The only minor issue I do take with Chattman’s piece is in her discussion of specialty flours. While those who out of necessity keep gluten-free diets will already know their “can” and “can’t” grains and flours, others may not realize that soy flour is completely gluten-free (not “substantially lower” as the author notes (p. 12)) as is buckwheat (lumped into a list of specialty flours but whose status is ignored while the other grains have mention (p. 13)). Again, this is a minor oversight but is one of the reasons why information from a variety of sources is always preferable on a subject such as this.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Baking Answer Book: Solutions to Every Problem You'll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You'll Ever Ask by Lauren Chattman – it is truly an incredible resource and has both piqued my interest in the “whys” of baking, and answered many questions I have asked over the years. I look forward to sharing the knowledge with those bakers around me and applying it to my own kitchen experiences.
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