Emily Luchetti, herself an accomplished pastry chef, has long wondered why so many home cooks have a fear of baking. Even skilled, confident cooks fear the precision and risk of failure that baking can sometimes present. So, she teamed up with Lisa Weiss, a food writer and coauthor of several chefs' cookbooks, to tackle the topic and turn dozens of test subjects into fearless bakers.
Luchetti and Weiss recruited friends, family and other fearful bakers (FBs) for private baking sessions, where Weiss would record and take notes, while Luchetti would coach them through the recipes and teach them various baking tasks. The Fearless Baker is the resulting cookbook with 175 recipes for everything from sugar cookies and brownies, to cheesecake, ice cream pie, scones, and quick breads. About a third of the recipes include conversation bubbles with the common questions, roadblocks and troubleshooting tips Luchetti and Weiss discovered during the testing and research with their FBs.
The introduction of the book includes information on must-have and nice-to-have kitchen tools, common ingredients--and suggested uses--plus a two-page helpful explanation of various kinds of chocolate used in baking and how to select the right one. Peppered throughout the book are tips like what recipes can be made in advance and/or frozen, how to measure flour, how to crack an egg (on the counter, not on the side of a bowl), and how to get cookies to bake evenly.
The chapters that follow divide recipes into cookies, bars, and bites, cakes, pies and tarts, fruit, no oven required deserts, best dessert sauces, and breakfast. Each chapter gives specific tips to that group of recipes, such as using a convection oven versus standard for baking cookies, cooling cakes in the pan before unmolding them, not overworking your pie crust dough, and pre-mixing the wet and dry ingredients for muffins the night before, for quick and easy assembly in the morning. Even though these tips are spread throughout chapters, it isn't a huge book, so it's worth flipping through and educating yourself before diving in to any recipe.
I consider myself a fearless baker, but I was still able to find insightful gems in this book. When making a batch of cookies that makes four dozen or more, they suggest starting two sheet pans in the oven, then forming out the rest of the cookies onto sheets of parchment that can be swapped out once the first sheet pans are out of the oven. There are also illustrations for things like segmenting citrus, peeling and chopping a pineapple and releasing an angel food cake from its pan.
Probably two of the more daunting baking tasks that strike fear into less experienced bakers are pies and cakes. In The Fearless Baker, each topic gets a couple pages worth of tips and how-to advice to make your pies and cakes a success. You're also given the green light to buy pie crust and puff pastry - and brand recommendation are listed. While there isn't a puff recipe, there is a great pie crust recipe. There are also recipes for tart dough and basic sugar short dough. The latter is the type of dough that can be pressed into a pan, rather than rolled out. This dough is all you need to turn out showstopper desserts such as double strawberry cream tart, hazelnut pear tart and plum almond tart.
There is a short chapter on sauces, including great tips on how to make whipped cream, caramel sauce and chocolate sauce. Basics to be sure, but given the number of store-bought options available, a lot of people will benefit from these recipes. Not all the recipes are for dessert, there are breakfast recipes for everything from crepes and granola, to muffins, scones, and banana, zucchini and pumpkin breads. You can also turn store-bought puff pastry into cinnamon coffee swirls--similar to cinnamon rolls, or apple turnovers.
The Fearless Baker, would be a great gift for any fearful bakers you know, but even as someone that's pretty fearless when it comes to the baking, I am excited to tackle some of the cake recipes in the coming months (OK, I am a little afraid of baking and frosting cakes), such as the pineapple upside down cake, spice cake and Boston cream pie. Even some of the no oven required recipes look like an easy weeknight project. The homemade truffle recipe may just be all you need to impress your Valentine next month.