Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Bake Something Great! – 400 Bars, Squares & Cookies

Bake Something Great! – 400 Bars, Squares & Cookies
Author: Jill Snider
Publisher: (2011)

I’m a bona fide baker – not only is it my passion to whip up cookies and brownies on the weekends for friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers, but I bring that joy every week to my classroom when I teach Home Economics for grades 1-8. I even trained in baking at one of the renowned Toronto culinary colleges. Suffice it to say, sugar and flour live in my bones. So of course, the possibilities of a cookbook declaring it’s “great” recipes excited me – after all, for me the only thing better than eating baked goodies is actually making them! Jill Snider seems to agree with those of us who are baking-crazy, and penned Bake Something Great! – 400 Bars, Squares & Cookies to prove it.

Bake is packed front to back with recipes designed to suit almost everyone’s tastes. Chapters range from Brownies and Drop Cookies to Nut Bars and Squares and Shaped Cookies and Biscotti. There are even special sections for Cake Mix, Holiday, kid-friendly and “Good for You, Too” treats, and each recipe has a handy tip in the sidebar for success in baking. Many of the recipes also offer variations to try or suggestions for “jazzing up” a baked good as well. Truly novice bakers will appreciate the thorough introduction, including a 6-page primer on “Baking for Success” (p. 6) which covers everything from baking pan composition (shiny vs. dark vs. glass), small appliances like mixers and food processors and parchment paper (indispensable in my kitchen) to the methods of cooling, cutting, storing and freezing. My personal favourite area of this chapter is a chart that details just how many bars or squares you can get out of the most common pan sizes – the multiplication is done for you!

With such a strong introduction, and being packed with full-colour photographs, I couldn’t wait to see what I could make. I started with Classic Peanut Butter Cookies (p. 342) – which definitely had more ingredients than the classic, back-of-the-jar one I’m used to but also had the added interest of chopped peanuts in the dough. While I liked the flavour the cookies had, they were too sweet for my taste, spread a fair bit and also left a greasy mouthfeel. If I was to make these again, I would drastically reduce the butter and cut the granulated sugar in half, possibly cutting both sugars in half if I used honey-roasted nuts as well. The cinnamon seemed out-of-place here as well, but that could be personal preference. 

Date-Fig Bars
Fabulous Fig Bars (p. 200) - original on top, modified on bottom
Next, I went for one of my personal favourites from childhood – Fabulous Fig Bars (p. 200). Encouraged by the photo (featuring equal thicknesses of cookie and fig layers) I set out creating them. However, the ingredient amounts for the cookie component did not yield nearly enough dough for a bottom and top crust, even when I rolled it thinner than the photo showed. It was also very hard to work with – dry and crumbly, not so much a cookie dough as a crumb topping – and I needed to add milk to the recipe to get it to come together. Later, I made a second batch (doubling the crust mixture, reducing the total sugar to ¾ cup and adding about 3-4 tablespoons of milk) which fared much better. Again, the flavours were present, but overall the experience was disappointing.

Hmm... not what I expected #followingarecipetoatee #semifail #cookies #chocolate #chips #chocolatechip #yum #food #cooking #baked #baking
Judie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 359)
Not to be completely deterred, I settled on making one of the basics found in every baking book – the chocolate chip cookie. Specifically, I tried to make Judie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 359), which looked promising and incorporated oatmeal for a hint of texture and flavour. I also liked this recipe because it utilized shortening – something my mom swears by in her chocolate chippers and an ingredient I partially use in mine. I figured the shortening, and lack of white sugar (it’s all brown) would keep a control on any potential over-spread. However my first batch – baked right away rather than chilled as I normally do for cookies – spread all over the cookie sheet into a crunchy, greasy mess. Frustrated, I chilled the second half of the batter, but it still gave me similar issues – crunchy, crumbly and greasy, with way too much spread.

While I’m not sure my experiences mimic every recipe in the book, I can say that from my perspective Snider needs to go back to the testing kitchen and rework many of the formulae in Bake Something Great! – 400 Bars, Squares & Cookies. As a cookbook seemingly designed for all bakers, including beginners, the amount of modification necessary to make the recipes “work” seems to be a bit much. Regretfully, I will go back to baking up my own recipes and leave this book on the shelf.

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