The Dahlia Bakery is famous for coconut cream pie, mini doughnuts, English muffin breakfast sandwiches, and lines that snake out the diminutive shop on 5th Avenue. Chef Tom Douglas has just released his fourth cookbook co-authored with longtime colleague Shelley Lance--The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. Inside are 125 recipes for the bakery's most popular items, along with baking tips and techniques for everything from how to make biscuits, ice cream, and "worth the effort" puff pastry, to how to use your oven, test for doneness, shave chocolate, and whip, fold, and mix batters and dough.
Last summer I spent some time in a test kitchen with Lance and others testing through the recipes for The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes process I hadn't observed before. Not every cookbook author has a staff of hundreds and over a dozen kitchens at their disposal, but it's still a considerable expense and commitment to a project. Tom Douglas talks about the difference between pastry chefs and other chefs in the introduction of The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and about how they are perfectionists. It's a good thing he had several of them perfecting this cookbook. It shows.
The first chapter is dedicated to breakfast sandwiches and how to make English muffins at home. This is graduate-level baking, but you are coached through the process with five pages of instructions and photos. Even if you aren't up for making the English muffins though, there are recipes for building breakfast sandwiches at home using store-bought English muffins. You get no such shortcut in The Dahlia Doughnut chapter however. The basic brioche dough recipe is used for the doughnuts as well as monkey bread. It's admittedly not a classic brioche, but is a great dough for deep-frying and baking.
Chapters on morning pastries and breakfast and brunch recipes include muffins, scones, biscuits, coffeecake, granola, strata, and more. There are recipes simple enough for weekday breakfast treats, or elaborate enough for Christmas morning. Throughout these and other chapters are sidebars packed with techniques such as poaching eggs, proofing dough and skinning hazelnuts, to how to peel a peach, caramelize sugar and make vanilla bean sugar with spent vanilla beans.
While the book's introduction includes a myriad of helpful advice such as how to bring butter and eggs to room temperature, how to measure and mix, as well as tips on ingredients, each chapter includes specific techniques such as rolling, shaping, and baking pie and tart dough, how to split, layer, and frost layer cakes, how to decorate sugar cookies, and how to frost cupcakes. Throughout each chapter are process photos showing you most if not all the steps you need to succeed.
And then there is the coconut cream pie. This famous Dahlia Bakery staple has been on the menu since 1989 and since then they've sold 345,290 pies, including serving four to President Obama. The recipe isn't easy. There's the coconut pastry dough used for the crust, a coconut pastry cream for the filling, the towering whipped cream topping, and the toasted coconut and white chocolate curls for garnishing the top. With the detailed instructions included in this recipe and others in The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook however, you can someday make this famous dessert and many others.
Tom Douglas has several book signings lined up around town to promote The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. He'll be at Macy's Downtown on November 7 at 6 p.m. and at Book Larder, along with Shelley Lance, on November 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. And on December 2 at 3 p.m., there will be a book signing at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island.