Monday, February 23, 2009

Reviews

The reviewers have been busy and there's lots of buzz! Here's a round-up of recent reviews and kudos for Nancy and her latest work.

PRAISE FOR NANCY'S KNEADLESSLY SIMPLE BREAD BOOK -

Reviews from Home Bakers Everywhere:

Kneadlessly Simple is simply a fabulous cookbook. I have been making the most wonderfully delicious breads…. While I had tried my hand at baking bread previously, I have never made - or even tasted - breads so flavorful. They are also really easy to make but are in no sense a compromise. I have not had one failure and have worked my way through a quarter of the book.… I gave several as gifts … one to … a serious bread maker who said she will never knead again! Thank you Nancy Baggett!!”


“This book takes quality home breadmaking and puts it within everyone's reach. The recipes themselves are very simple.... I'm having a fantastic time baking through the recipes.... I've been breadmaking for many years, and I have so MANY bread cookbooks, and this is the first one I've seen in ages that really gives dramatically new and valuable information.”

“This book is amazing...I'm working my way through it … from front to back and loving each recipe! The whole concept is so darned easy...my family has not had one slice of store bought bread since I bought the book ... and truthfully, we may never again. I've shared some with family and friends and they are all amazed….”

“…. If I had ever been asked to make a list of 20 things I'd like to do or accomplish before I die, becoming proficient at baking bread would have made my list…. I was never willing to put in the time to develop the skill to bake bread the conventional way, so my occasional efforts were definitely sub-par. But now, thanks to this book, I have crossed bread-baking off my to-do list! I have tried 5 or 6 of the recipes so far, and all have been terrific. My favorite is the simple peasant-style boule, which rivals the artisan style boules from any upscale bakery. So delicious, and so easy….”

“I received this book as a gift, and have made five of the recipes so far - each one a spectacular success. Kinda like making a brisket in the … slow cooker - comes out great every time. I highly recommend it.”

"Thank you, thank you, thank you- for Kneadless book. I have spent 2 years trying to get kneadless bread right- original recipe, Cook's, rose b., hertzberg, many internet sites. Yours is the best. Made pot boule and it was fabulous. No mess, no clean, no knead, great bread. Try it--will never purchase bread again.” A Brawer

"As a new cook, I’m happy this technique makes bread making easy. I always watched my mom make bread, and I thought it was too complicated. Now with Nancy Baggett's updated technique it's easy to make bread! I love the way that you can make the dough and adjust the rising time to fit your schedule. This way you can make the dough the night before, let it rise, complete a few more steps, and you have freshly made bread! The directions are easy simple and easy to follow. I can't wait to gather more ingredients and make some more bread!" E Horting

"...the results have been impressively crusty loaves, even better than what I get in many bakeries (and far better than anything I can get in the supermarket). But what I think is most interesting is how the author gives so many options for rise time. If I'm busy and can't bake the loaf until the next day, I choose the long rise (anywhere from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the recipe). She is also gives 1- to 2-hour OR 2- to 3-hour rise options. And as the title claims, there is no kneading involved. ... I really like not having a kitchen counter covered with flour." Justin S.

Here's what some Professional Bakers had to say about Kneadlessly Simple:

"Nancy Baggett has brought all her considerable baking and teaching skills to the table in her newest book, Kneadlessly Simple. Bakers always knew that making bread was fun, but now, with Nancy's help, it can also be surprisingly easy. She really gets the artisan principles of slow-rise bread baking and has created an easy method that will work for home bakers of all skill levels."
—Peter Reinhart, author of Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor

"Nothing beats the flavor and texture of good homemade bread, especially when it's made from a no-knead, no-fuss dough and it rivals the best artisan bread you can buy anywhere. That's just what Nancy Baggett gives you in Kneadlessly Simple—an adaptation of all the most up-to-the-minute methods for producing outstanding bread with little effort—you'll love it!"
—Nick Malgieri, author of The Modern Baker


GREAT REVIEWS FOR THE ALL-AMERICAN DESSERT BOOK

Lauren Chapin, The Kansas City Star:

Nancy Baggett has done for desserts what she did for cookies: collect oodles of recipes into one handsome and useful cookbook. The All-American Dessert Book (Houghton Mifflin, $35) is the follow-up to her highly successful (and usable) The All-American Cookie Book.

As she did in Cookie, Baggett gives her topic a sense of history and place. She thumbed through family recipes, traveled about the country and researched origins. For example, she learned cobbler-baking tips from Jean Jennings of Mountain View, Ark., and sorghum cookie baking tips from Judy Wilson of the Cumberland Mountains in Monterey, Tenn. ....

My All-American Cookie Book is stained and dog-eared, signs it is well-used and well-loved. I suspect Dessert is destined for the same happy fate.


Candy Sagon, The Washington Post:

Did you know that the Snickers bar was named for a horse? Did you know that Martha Washington made cheesecake, but it didn't contain any cheese? Baking expert Nancy Baggett loves these nuggets of dessert history almost as much as she loves hunting down the perfect dessert recipe.

The author of 2001's The All-American Cookie Book canvassed bakeries and bakers across the country and dug into historical documents to come up with 150 updated recipes. The beautifully photographed book includes forgotten favorites that deserve a new look, such as butterscotch custard pie, and traditional treats with a new twist, such as gingered pear and apple cobbler. Baggett, who has written for the Food Section, has a reputation for dependable recipes, but she doesn’t take shortcuts.

Staff Review, Publishers Weekly:

Apple pie may be America's signature dessert, but if this fine cookbook is any measure, there are a number of contenders that could reign equally supreme. Take Yellow Sour Cream–Butter Layer Cake, for example: a staple of wedding and birthday celebrations, it can be paired with nearly any icing and, in Baggett's version, is moist, aromatic and "very buttery."

Baggett (The All-American Cookie Book) canvassed the country, visiting bakeries, restaurants, confectioneries and old-fashioned soda shops to come up with this collection of 150 recipes. Her book covers pies, tarts and cheesecakes; cakes and frostings; fruit desserts; puddings; cookies; ice creams; candies; and easy gifts and treats, such as Maple Sugar on Snow (a popular Vermont confection). There are, naturally, many regional favorites, such as Black Walnut Pound Cake, adapted from several versions from Missouri, where black walnuts grow in abundance. Many recipes include instructional asides (e.g., a lesson on forming the lattice top for a pie, used in both Deep-Dish Blueberry Pie and Deep-Dish Raspberry-Apricot Pie), and useful sidebars detailing the history of Concord grapes, Key limes, Martha Washington's cheeseless cheesecake and other fare. Most recipes also have a solid introduction explaining the recipe and techniques.

Elegant and inspiring, this volume has something for every cook.



From Fine Cooking, Cookbook Review
Nancy Baggett's The All-American Cookie Book would be a real treasure for the recipes alone (New York Black & Whites, Maple Sugar Cookies, Turtle Bars, Chocolate Whoopie Pies, Key Lime Frosties ....) But her thorough research—Baggett crisscrossed the country and delved into antique cookbooks to find and update the best American cookie recipes—makes this cookbook fascinating reading, too.
— Susie Middleton, Executive Editor, Fine Cooking



From Epicurious.com, Cookbook Review
Did you know that Baker's chocolate was named for a Dr. Baker? That both oatmeal and peanuts used to be scorned as food for horses and pigs? .... If not, get yourself a glass of milk and a handful of cookies, ... and sit down an read this fascinating book.

It's not just a factual book that touts ... cookie trivia; the recipes are fine too. Clearly written, with excellent photographs, they show you what the cookies are supposed to look like.... There's even a section on technique that every cookie-baker should read.... But for me the best part was the lore, the bits of food history that Nancy Baggett discovered when she looked through old cookbooks for truly American cookies.
--Irene Sax, epicurious.com Jan. 2001

From Gourmet, Books for Cooks List
...anybody who picks up Nancy Baggett's The All-American Cookie Book (Houghton Mifflin) is sure to extend their holiday baking well beyond December.

From The Washington Post
.... we love the way the ... (All-American Cookie Book) is organized by ingredients, rather than by cooking technique (rolled, dropped, cut-out, etc.) as many cookbooks do. That way, if you adore oatmeal cookies, all the different variations are in one place. Baggett has also done a nice job of discovering regional favorites, like Florida's penchant for making cookies with sweetened condensed milk. Finally, the historical research ... yields some fun and fascinating facts. Did you know that chocolate appeared in desserts beginning in the 1800s, but that it never really caught on until the ...(20th century)?
--Candy Sagon, Food Section Bookshelf, Dec 12, 2001

From The San Francisco Chronicle, Best Cookbooks List
The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett ... is a flag-waver of a cookbook, build on the contention that American bakers have not just copied European customs but have created a distinct sweet repertoire of their own. The collection is accompanied by enough basic advice and instructions to tempt even a kitchen klutx to dip into the flour sack and the sugar jar.
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kneadlessly Simple FAQ's--The Secrets to Breads that Knead Themselves

I get lots of questions on my  Kneadlessly Simple cookbook. Here I've answered some of the frequently asked ones. (A lot of questions are also answered on the video; click here .)  A surprising variety of breads can be made using the kneadless method; see a gallery of a whole array as they were tested in my kitchen here.

BTW, if you scroll down you'll see the very interesting results of a Fleischmann's Yeast survey showing high satisfaction with  the Kneadlessly Simple recipes.  Yea!

Q: How does the Kneadlessly Simple no-knead method work? How can you skip the kneading?
A: Most modern yeast breads recipes call for kneading (or mixing the dough by machine) to develop a very elastic protein called gluten. The process moves around two proteins so they come in contact and form these gluten strands. The stretchy strands then trap carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. It leaven, or puffs up, yeast doughs.

The Kneadlessly Simple method lets doughs knead themselves, so you don't have to! The natural bubbling of fermentation (shown in the photos) causes doughs to gently move and stretch, especially when they are fairly soft and moist (as Kneadlessly Simple doughs are). Even though the activity is barely visible, it works much like regular kneading, just more slowly. The very long, slow first rise allows plenty of time for this “micro-kneading;” the rubbery consistency at the end of the rise and good texture of the finished breads are the proof.

 
Q: Do you think no-knead bread is a fad or here to stay?
A: Definitely here to stay! Fleischmann's Yeast tried out some of my recipes in their test kitchen, and liked them so much they then got some customers to try them too.  Then Fleischmann's  surveyed those bakers to get their reaction. The results suggest that no-knead, at least Kneadlessly Simple no-knead breads, are going to stay around. People liked the recipes even more than they expected too, and over 95 % said they would make them again.  Here are some of the survey questions and results:
Compared to your expectations how would you rate the recipes?
1.1% Significantly worse than I expected.
5.3% Somewhat worse than I expected.
25.0% What I expected.
36.0% Somewhat better than expected.
32.6% Significantly better than expected.

How Did You Like the Recipes?
2.4% Very Dissatisfied/Dissatisfied
8.6% Neutral
37.8% Satisfied
51.2% Very Satisfied
*97.9 % Said They Would Use Them Again

Impact of Ease/Convenience on Your Baking Habits
16.4% No-knead will not affect my amount of baking.
18.9% No-knead will increase my amount of baking by 10%.
26.4% No-knead will increase my amount of baking by 25%.
38.8% No-knead will increase my amount of baking 50% or more.


Q: If yeast doughs will naturally knead themselves, why do most recipes call for kneading?
A: Good question! The custom of developing gluten by kneading (or by manipulating dough in some other fashion) has been passed down through centuries of baking. The procedure is now so commonplace that it is widely viewed as the traditional way. Actually, however, kneading was itself an innovation, perhaps discovered by an early baker interested in speeding the bread baking process. Bakers’ guilds and later, cookbooks, perpetuated the use of various gluten-developing techniques.

In parts of the world still without affordable electricity or power mixing equipment, some large-batch bread bakers continue to use more ancient methods: They mix troughs of ingredients using whatever simple stirring tool is available, then simply let time and natural chemical processes develop both the gluten and flavor. So, the “kneadless” way is not new, it's just new to most modern American bakers.


Q: Why do you say your recipes are not only easier but produce better bread?
A: Baking experts widely agree that while a fast first rise might be more convenient, a slow rise that results from a small amount of yeast and a cool environment yields better bread. This gives various enzymes time to cause chemical reactions that improve dough quality. Some enzymes make breads taste and smell sweeter and richer. Some give loaves a smoother crumb and improve crust browning. Others help break down seeds and coarse bits of grain so they are more palatable and digestible.

Additionally, a long, cool first rise gives the yeast plenty of time to ferment and produce alcohol—a surprising, but important flavor and aroma component of bread. Since the natural, “micro-kneading” requires no effort or attention, the structure-enhancing gluten is always thoroughly developed. In contrast, human hands sometimes get tired and stop kneading too soon. Finally, the moister-than-normal doughs and long standing periods allow the flour to fully absorb water. Which means that Kneadlessly Simple breads stay moister and fresher longer than conventionally prepared homemade breads.

Q: Since your recipes all feature a long, slow rise, why do you call for “fast-rising” yeast?
A: When the “fast-rising” yeasts came on the market in the 1980s, manufacturers dubbed them that to spotlight one of their advantages over the regular active dry yeast. But the newer yeast products have another advantage that makes them just the right choice for the Kneadlessly Simple method; the particles are finer and blend with water more easily. As a result, they can be conveniently added directly into dry ingredients without being activated in warm water first. And, unlike the ordinary active dry yeast products, they will grow well even when the dough is mixed together using ice cold water, a step that’s important in the Kneadlessly Simple approach.

Q. Why mix doughs with ice water? Won’t the cold temperature hurt the yeast?
A: The ice water will absolutely not harm the fast-rising yeast. They can tolerate extremely cold conditions, so it’s not even necessary to check the ice water temperature. But the ice water does slow down yeast activity until the dough warms up again. Called retarded first fermentation, this new technique is now catching on in some cutting-edge commercial artisan bakeries, and it will work exactly the same magic at home.

Why this simple step yields better bread is not yet fully understood, but it definitely enhances flavor, color, and texture. I have repeatedly observed this myself with side-by-side comparisons of loaves made exactly the same way except for the use of ice water in one batch and warm water in the other. (The improvements are even more pronounced when I refrigerate the dough a while before setting it out for the long countertop rise, so I suggest this as an optional step in all my recipes.) Besides being effortless and effective, the cold water technique has the added advantage of eliminating any chance of overheating and destroying the yeast. As long as the yeast is fresh and the first rise is unhurried, the yeast will raise the bread every single time.


Q: Where did you get the idea for your slow-rise, no-knead method?
A: I’ve loved making and eating yeast breads since childhood and have always wanted to simplify the process so others could more readily enjoy the transcendent experience of fresh-from-the-oven bread. To that end, in 1985, I wrote a bread book featuring very accessible recipes. Most of the breads relied on a quick, very warm rise approach that was convenient but, in truth, didn’t deliver great flavor. However, one recipe, my Slow-Rise White Bread, called for barely warm water and a minimal amount of yeast; a short “kneading” in the bowl using a mixer; then a long, cool 12- to 18-hour countertop rise. I noticed that the resulting bread had exceptionally nice texture and flavor, but, unfortunately, I didn’t continue experimenting and eventually moved on to developing other kinds of recipes entirely.

I’d forgotten about my recipe until I read about baker Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread in The New York Times in 2006. Lahey had completely eliminated all kneading and had switched to baking in a Dutch oven to create a wonderfully crusty, artisan-style boule. But, otherwise, his approach was similar to the one I’d used for my slow-rise white bread years before. Inspired by his results, I began experimenting with all kinds of breads, skipping the kneading, minimizing hand-shaping and other messy, off-putting chores, and building in flexibility so that even those with little expertise or time at home could easily make yeast bread. I had also tried out and loved a new ice water method that noted baker Peter Reinhart raved about in his 2001 award-winning book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Since it was an effortless way to improve bread quality an simultaneously eliminated any risk of harming yeast through overheating, I incorporated it into my Kneadlessly Simple method. The rest, as they say, is history.###



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Monday, February 9, 2009

Berry Bold, Berry Beautiful: The American Cranberry



Autumn is cranberry time in America and it has been for centuries: Native Americans along the North Atlantic coast were eating these indigenous fruits long before the Pilgrims arrived. They often consumed them in a dried fruit-nut-jerky-like mixture called pemmican.  Native tribes also introduced cranberries to the colonists who came to their shores.  (That's a modern-day fave, my cranberry-apple crumble pictured above and posted here.)



By the 17th century a version of the traditional cranberry sauce we still enjoy was already being served at Colonial American tables. In a 1680 letter written to his brother back in England, Mahlon Stacy commented from the Delaware Valley: "The cranberries are much like cherries for color and bigness ... an excellent sauce is made of them for venison, turkeys, and other great fowl ..." Stacy’s remarks also indicate that cranberries were already being used in baked goods: "... they are better to make tarts than either gooseberries or cherries."

Sometimes called bounce berries because they bounce when dropped, cranberries were given their modern-day name by Dutch immigrants. "Kranbeere" actually translates as "craneberry," a reference to the fact that the nodding blooms of cranberry plants have long, thin stamens that look like cranes’ beaks. 
 

The pics left and above show the berries at harvest time at a New Jersey cranberry farm I visited: In the left pic the berries are floating on the surface of the flooded bog, waiting to be gathered, loaded and taken to an Ocean Spray processing plant. On the right, the bogs had been flooded, and I was shooting down into water; look closely and you can see the berries still attached to the plants. At left a bog is partially  flooded. The equipment shown on the bank includes a rotating reel that churns through the water and loosens the berries, which then rise and float. This wet harvest method is modern and dates to the 1960s.

Getting hungry for some cranberries? Try my Cranberry-White Chocolate Cookies
or my Cranberry-Cherry Crumb Bars.  Or how about my Cranberry-Pear Muffins here?


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Truly, Yuley American Culinary Confab - Cookie Exchange

by Nancy Baggett

Everybody loves cookies, so it’s no wonder the custom of gathering to swap (and sample!) favorite cookies has become a popular seasonal event in America. Sometimes these cookie confabs feature numerous guests and considerable fanfare. Other times they involve a group of good friends simply joining together for coffee and quiet conversation along with the cookies. Still another very traditional kind of cookie exchange--my favorite--is a very small communal baking party in which several cooks actually ready their cookies together and then share the fruits--or in this case cookies!--of their labor. Best held in a fairly spacious kitchen with more than one oven, this type of exchange turns what can be a tedious task into a warm, sociable, yet productive event.

Whatever the type of cookie exchange, here are some tips to make sure all the ingredients for a truly Yuley event are in place:

* Invite guests well in advance, and tell them what’s expected. They need to know if they will be swapping recipes. And do mention that as a matter of fairness everybody should bring "from scratch" cookies. For those who seem concerned about this, offer them one of your own tried and true recipes--or one from my All-American Cookie Book!

* If the cookies are being made ahead rather than at the get-together, specify how many each guest should bring. For a group of less than six, each person might supply enough to swap a dozen with everyone else attending. For a larger group, this would require participants to ready too many cookies, so simply ask everyone bring six dozen--plus extra for sampling. Then, if there are eight guests, each receives 9 cookies of every kind; if there are twelve guests, each receives 6 of every kind, and so on. If you are having a communal bake-a-thon, remind participants to bring the ingredients needed (and maybe a baking sheet or two) for readying their own recipe.

* Remember to provide plenty of cookie take-home containers for your guests. Sturdy decorative paper plates and foil to cover or cellophane bags and wired ribbon for twist ties are inexpensive and serviceable, yet festive-looking. Have several containers per guest so the spicy cookies and mild butter cookies can be kept separate (otherwise, the mild ones will start tasting spicy) and crispy ones and gooey ones kept separate (otherwise the crisp ones will lose their snap).

* To make the actual cookie exchanging more memorable, ask guests to point out their own cookie contribution and tell where they got the recipe or why they like it.

Check out my recipes archives for some tempting cookie recipes.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Decorating Techniques for Rolled Cut-Out Cookies



Sugar cookies, gingerbread and other rolled cookies can be quickly decorated with a a few colored sprinkles, a zig-zag of drizzled icing or more elaborate piping. (Writing looks quite simple, but practice piping on wax paper first. And unless the cookies are fairly large, add only initials or short names!) Icing in an array of colors can also be painted on as shown on the summer daisy cookies below and here. For another great look, see my "painted"  autumn maple leaf cookies here .

 One of my favorite decorating techniques is called marbling as shown on the holiday cookies at the very top; I have a quick Youtube video that shows how to marble here. See how to do marbling and get the icing for the holiday cookies at the top here or check outmy pretty marbled Valentine's Day heart cookies here. 

Another entirely different, very eye-catching look can be achieved by creating stained glass cookies. Below are a couple more handy techniques I like. The following info comes from the big decorating chapter of my All-American Cookie Book.



Dry Stenciling Stenciling is done on unbaked cookies with a dry material such as fine crystal sugar, homemade colored granulated sugar, or cocoa powder. The technique involves masking some portion of a smooth, flat, unbaked cookie top by covering it with a handmade decorative cutout (for example, a Christmas tree, heart, bell, etc.), round cookie press disc, or even simple paper strips. Then, the exposed dough surface is dusted with the stenciling material, and the cookie is baked. During baking, the dusting material becomes embedded and so stays in place.


Faux Etching This technique gives rolled-out cookies an interesting etched or engraved look, but involves no real etching. All you need are several sizes of cookie cutters and an eye for putting together complementary shapes. For example, attractive looks can be achieved by pressing down and imprinting the outline of almost any smaller shape—from geometric forms and alphabet letters to animals, birds, flowers, etc.,—onto a larger round, fluted, or oval cookie. For more elaborate looks, use sets of nested cutters such as hearts, stars, or petals "etched" with progressively smaller hearts, stars, or petals. Or mix and match by "etching" with a succession of different but complementary shapes, such as a tiny heart inside a petal, inside a slightly larger heart on a scalloped cookie.

"Etched" designs look best on doughs that contain only small to moderate amounts of baking soda or baking powder and, thus, don't puff up excessively and blur the etched lines. Ready unbaked cut-out cookies for etching by placing them on sheets for baking. Center the cookie cutter used for the etching on the larger cookie. Press down firmly enough to imprint the shape of the cutter into the dough but not so firmly that you cut completely through it. If imprinting with a series of cutters to create an elaborate design, simply repeat with successively smaller cutters until the surface area is filled.



Color Wash
The details highlighted on stamped, molded, or even "etched" shortbread and pale-colored sugar cookies such as springerle can be easily enhanced by adding a food color wash to whatever features are desired after the cookies are baked. For example, leaves and flowers could be colored with green and pink and stars with yellow. This pic is from the http://www.thespringerlebaker.com/ ; it shows just how gorgeous the color wash technique can be.


Ready a wash simply by adding a drop or two of the desired color in a few teaspoons of water. Make as many different colored washes as desired. Using a small clean artist's paint brush, test each color on a broken cookie to see how each shade looks before applying it. Lightly apply the wash over very fine details using small artist's brushes and over larger detail areas using a small pastry brush. Let the colored cookies thoroughly dry before storing them.


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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Finding Missing Tableware the E-Way

by Nancy Baggett

If you’ve ever considered trying to locate replacement pieces of a discontinued china, stemware or flatware set, it may be possible to find them in time for the holidays! Not only are there dozens and dozens of vintage tableware dealers selling via the Internet, but it’s easy to locate them using a handy, free website called www.setyourtable.com.

I recently discovered this great resource while searching for replacement cups, saucers and dinner plates for a set I’d inherited from my grandmother. I’d been searching a long time in antique shops for pieces in this charming old rose, foxglove, and primrose bedecked pattern, but never had any luck till I tried the Internet.

The setyourtable.com site features an up-to-date directory of dozens of dealers and matching services who sell discontinued china, crystal, and silverware. These sources are listed by tableware manufacturer, making it very convenient to go right to the places that may carry the particular items you want. The directory provides not only phone numbers but hot links to instantly e-mail the individual dealers and matching services listed.

The owner of the website is Susan Ranta, who started her directory of dealers eight years ago. She says she first got interested in the idea when she tried to find pieces of the vintage Syracuse china her sister had inherited from their grandmother. "I wasn’t having any luck with an old list of replacement china dealers and matching services a department store tableware department had given me. Many of the companies on the list weren’t even in business any more." So, she decided to put together and publish her own directory using information she obtained in magazines for antique dealers.

A year later, she printed 5,000 copies of her first Set Your Table Directory, which listed about 30 different dealers and matching services. Her current directory includes more than 50 dealers, and her 30,000 copies (which sell for $8.50 apiece) are almost sold out. Three years ago she also decided to expand by going on-line. Access to the on-line version of her directory is free and now sometimes gets more than 150,000 hits a month!

For some of Susan’s very helpful directory of dealers, go to www.setyourtable.com
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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Great Baked Apple Bake-Off--Which Apples Make the Best Baked Apples


Basket of Jonathan Apples


When you're out at the farmers' market, does it make a difference which kind of apple you buy for preparing whole baked apples? Are some apples–like some potatoes–better suited for baking than others? 

The answer is yes! After conducting informal comparison bake-offs of different varieties over several autumns, I’ve determined that some bake up beautifully and others don't.

The basket at left contains one of my favorite old-fashioned baking varieties, the Jonathan. When you can find them, they are delish right off the tree, or cooked or baked. Their only drawback is that they are somewhat hard to find, and they tend to be smallish so when baked whole the finished servings are on the modest side.

Pink Lady Apples
As I learned from extensive comparison testing, some baked apples come from the oven temptingly colored, nicely shaped, and with full-bodied fruit flavor and aroma. Others emerge looking a bit slumped and faded, but tasting appetizing. Still other kinds emerge bland, limp, or mushy, or all three. Though you might (rightly) guess that very crisp, tangy, intensely flavored apples are the best candidates for baking, not all the varieties in this category actually do perform well. The Granny Smith, as you'll discover below, was a dud!


It's common for recipes simply to call for “baking apples,” or “tart apples,”or “large apples,” which is not really helpful! Occasionally they specify Granny Smith or Golden Delicious or Rome; a few suggest McIntosh. So I started out by giving these four a try. (When you want "baked" apples in a hurry, try my handy --and yummy Microwave-Baked Apples.)
 

These four varieties baked up noticeably different from one another. The Rome apples held their shape, although the skins tended to split and lost a lot of the original pretty red color. The flesh tasted pleasantly tart. 

The McIntosh apples split apart and completely collapsed. Their flesh softened to the point that an actual applesauce bubbled out the center tops. (No wonder they are often called applesauce apples.)

The Golden Delicious were okay, but not at their best either. They kept some shape, but their handsome yellow skin faded a bit. They tasted good, but I felt that baking muted the tantalizing fruity-sweet flavor that’s the best feature of these apples.

Granny Smith Apples
The Granny Smith apples were a surprise--and not in a good way! Baking seemed to bring out their usual tartness (make that sourness), but not their flavor. Plus, they collapsed completely, and their skins turned a homely olive drab as you can see in the pic at right.



Unimpressed, I set out to find varieties that baked up better. Eventually, I tried over 30 different kinds (shown above right)–carefully labeling each type to keep the contestants straight. I baked them all in the same kind of dishes, with the same recipe, in the same oven. I always tested two of each type at once, to be sure the results were characteristic and not a fluke. Every apple was sampled and informally rated by two or three tasters.

The details are in, and there is not one all-out favorite, but several “best bakers” available this time of year. They are listed below, along with my comments and testing notes. Additionally, I’ve mentioned a number of other varieties that bake up nicely and are well worth trying—some of these may be hard to find.
Honeycrisp Apples

 In case you don’t see your favorite apple suggested, there are several possible reasons. In general, most of the popular eating apples–Red Delicious, Gala, and Fugi, for example–simply don’t stand up to the heat. A lot of their appeal comes from their mild taste, lack of acidity, and gratifying crispy texture. Baking tends to negate these qualities. Plus, not only the McIntosh but the Cortland and Macoun (both crosses of McIntosh with other apples) tended to break down when baked whole, although their flavor was pleasant. Of course, if you grew up enjoying these varieties, their applesaucy consistency may strike you as just the way baked apples should be! 

A while back, I invited Guy Raz, host of NPR Weekend All Things Considered to come to my kitchen and do an apple comparison tasting. You can catch the short interview and find out what apples Guy liked best here.

Tip: Cinnamon and sugar can’t save apples that are past their prime. (Once picked, store apples in the coldest part of the refrigerator; experts say 33 degrees F. will keep them at their best.) Even highly recommended kinds won’t come out succulent and full of flavor unless they go in the oven that way. And speaking of the oven, if you prefer your baked apples in a crisp, check out my favorite apple crisp recipe.

And the best baking apples are:
 
Empire Apple
Empire–This cheerful red, sweet-tart apple is a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious and a far better baker than either of its parents. As you can see from the photo, the skin turns an attractive, though unusual pinkish-red, and the flesh usually holds together and wins points for its honest, gratifying fruit flavor. 

Honeycrisp–A 1960s Minnesota introduction that’s descended from Macoun, Golden Delicious, and Haralson apples, this large, super-crisp, and sweet yet tangy variety is shown in the large bowl above right and baked below right. The Honeycrisp holds its shape fairly well when baked, and its reddish-yellow skin takes on an attractive tawny-gold hue. As the name suggests, the flesh also has a faintly golden color and a memorable sweet and mellow flavor.

Baked Honeycrisp Apple
Jonathan–This old favorite doesn’t hold its shape as well as some other varieties during baking, but its complex sweet-tart flavor comes through clearly, so it gets a top rating for taste. The reddish skin retains some color, another plus. One drawback for those who prefer their baked apples large is that Jonathans are rarely more than medium-sized, 5 to 7 ounces each.


Rome–Also called Red Rome and Rome Beauty, this bright red apple is recommended primarily because it’s very large (sometimes huge!) and impressive looking, and its zesty-tart flesh maintains its integrity during baking. However, the skin does fade to russet-red and may split; sometimes it also becomes a little tough. The apple flavor is not complex, but quite zesty, which complements the classic brown sugar-cinnamon combo nicely.

Baked Braeburn Apple

Braeburn- A New Zealand apple from a chance seedling discovered in an orchard of the same name in 1952, the Braeburn bakes up attractively, as the pic at left indicates. It also has a pleasant middle-of-the-road apple flavor, especially when very fresh, and is usually 7 to 9- ounces, which yields a medium-sized baked apple. These are featured in my 2-ingredient, 10-minute microwave baked apple recipe here.
The exact parentage of Braeburn apples is unknown but they are believed to be a relative of the Lady Hamilton and Granny Smith apple, both varieties which were growing in the orchard where the Braeburn apple was first discovered - See more at: http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/Braeburn_Apples_673.php#sthash.prsTdJvI.dpuf
The exact parentage of Braeburn apples is unknown but they are believed to be a relative of the Lady Hamilton and Granny Smith apple, both varieties which were growing in the orchard where the Braeburn apple was first discovered - See more at: http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/Braeburn_Apples_673.php#sthash.prsTdJvI.dpuf

Honorable mentions: Cameo, Crispin, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Nittany, Pacific Rose, Paula Red, Green Pippin, Sansa, Stayman, and Summerfield.
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nancy Baggett's Cookbooks

NANCY BAGGETT'S COOKBOOKS

Nancy's latest work is a co-authored Kindle book, The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook. It provides 50 of Nancy's color photos and 75 quick, tasty lo-cal recipes that enable you to lose weight while dieting 2 days a week. More details on the book, pictures of the recipes and why the 2-Day, aka 2-5 Diet, is so effective for losing weight are here. To try the flavorful, healthful, simple-to-make soup from the book (shown below), go here.

The 2 Day a Week Diet Cookbook has received all 5-star reviews on Amazon and is currently a huge bargain, selling for just $2.99!

  

SIMPLY SENSATIONAL COOKIES--Bright, Fresh Flavor, Natural Colors and Easy Streamlined Techniques

Nancy's most recent hardcover book is Simply Sensational Cookies, an enticing  collection that includes everything from updates of classics (like mom used to make, but streamlined for busy bakers using today's ingredients) to modern, innovative ideas and cutting edge treats. Suitable for novice bakers, experienced cooks, parents looking for never-fail goodies to try with the kids, and everybody else yearning for delectable cookies, the recipes range from super-fast and simple no-bake, through everyday cookies, through healthy and savory, to fancy, special occasion kinds. For a sample recipe from the book, Nancy's monster chocolate chip cookies, go here.
Chocolate Chip Cookies--Simply Sensational Cookies


  • Nearly 200 recipes, from traditional cookies like one-bowl chocolate chips to sophisticated rose and lavender shortbreads to a variety of savory nibbles to serve as appetizers and cocktail snacks.
  • Includes gorgeous and inspiring full-color photography throughout.
  • Emphasizes pure, fresh, natural ingredients: A whole set of recipes (such as these decorated sugar cookies) is devoted to cranking up taste and decorating cookies with fruits, herbs, edible flowers, and other wholesome botanical ingredients rather than iffy artificial dyes and flavorings.
Simple Sensational Cookies made the National Public Radio "2012 TOP 10 Holiday Cookbooks" List (http://goo.gl/V2tHh ) and the Washington Post list of top 2012 cookbooks. It was also chosen  a Best Baking Book nominee by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Some of Nancy's cookies from the book were also featured in Better Homes and Gardens 2012 holiday issue and in Eating Well magazine. 



KNEADLESSLY SIMPLE FABULOUS,
FUSS-FREE, NO-KNEAD YEAST BREADS

By Nancy Baggett
Hardcover - 224 pages

Find and read reviews at Amazon.com

For years, countless home cooks have shied away from baking their own bread because they were intimidated by all the mess, the experience, and of course, all the kneading required. Now, with Nancy Baggett's revolutionary new Kneadlessly Simple method, even complete novices can bake bread quickly and easily in their own homes, with no kneading and no kitchen mess. The secret is in Baggett's slow-rise method, which allows the yeast to grow slowly and develop the same full, satisfying flavor of traditional bread, but without any kneading at all. The technique calls for minimal, economical ingredients, often mixed in one bowl with one spoon, eliminating all the mess of traditional bread recipes. It can be used to produce a wide variety of breads, from crusty artisan-style boules and English Muffin Loaves to Raisin Bread and Caraway Beer Bread. With this innovative new method, anyone who can read, measure, and stir can now make delicious, fine-textured yeast bread at home. This book will differ from others on the same subject because Nancy Baggett is an experienced food writer who understand home baker's needs. While techniques by other experts may sound similar, they still require messy dough handling. Nancy Baggett's technique is the simplest one yet; it's virtually fool-proof; and it yields superior bread.


The All-American Dessert Book: Great Desserts and Sweets from the American Kitchen

Find and read reviews at Amazon.com

Nancy Baggett's The All-American Dessert Book takes us on a tour across the nation and back through time to celebrate the extraordinary array of uniquely American desserts and sweets. From modern marvels like molten lava chocolate cake and puckery key lime cookies to nineteenth-century creations like blackberry cobbler, butter layer cake and caramel frosting, this collection of 150 carefully selected and tested recipes lets us reproduce the very best sweet treats our country has devised. The recipesCsome well known, some newly rediscovered, and some newly createdCcome from all regions of the country and sources like inns, bakeshops, great home cooks, farmers, producers, vintage receipt boxes, old cookbooks, and Nancy's own kitchen. Many are accompanied by beautiful color photos, and all are in the style of America's best sweets full-flavored, satisfying, and unpretentious, yet grand.

But the All-American Dessert Book offers much more than recipes. It honors three centuries of the ingenious creators of American sweets and brings these cooks alive by telling their stories and by quoting their poignant words of kitchen wisdom. Nancy interweaves colorful snippets of history, culinary lore and regional details of America's dessert heritage to sample along with the recipes. For example, she explains the difference between a betty from a crisp, reveals who first called a dessert a cobler; who made the first ice cream sandwiches, and why early Dutch settlers called cranberries craneberries. She sketches the colorful origins of such favorites as the American cheesecake, banana split, saltwater taffy, and our beloved strawberry shortcake. She notes which ingredients (hint, think chocolate!) and kitchen equipment have most influenced the modern American sweets repertoire. And she highlights regional tastes for dishes like Banana pudding, fried pies, pandowdy, and the traditional sugarbush candy, maple-on-snow.

The All-American Dessert Book serves up a big, irresistible slice of American culinary life. It brings the past alive, explores our roots, delights, and invites participation. It makes it possible not only to remember our sweet treats and good times fondly, but to step into the kitchen and recreate them for ourselves. And it lets us share our American sweets heritage with our children and pass on our best desserts to future generations.


The All-American Cookie Book
Nancy Baggett's, The All-American Cookie Book, can be purchased in bookstores everywhere or online. It has been enthusiastically received by critics and home cooks alike, and there are now more than 125,000 copies in print. For comments of the critics, click on Reviews. For a nifty cookie decorating idea from the book, go to Nifty Stuff.

Find and read reviews at Amazon.com

In creating The All-American Cookie Book, Nancy Baggett crisscrossed the nation searching out great cookie recipes, then sure-handedly reworked every one in her own kitchen. This beautiful, 400-page, full-color cookbook (with over 50 glorious photos throughout) celebrates modern and heirloom gems from every corner of the country: Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies, New York Black and Whites, Florida Key Lime Frosties, and Seattle Mocha Espresso Wafers to name just a few. The collection also features both devastatingly delicious contemporary creations like Chewy Chocolate Chunk Monster Cookies and Cranberry-Cherry Icebox Ribbons, and homespun classics like Chocolate Whoopie Pies, Caramel Apple Crumb Bars, Molasses Applesaucers and a charming1796 Christmas cookie. For children and adults alike, one of the most exciting chapters is the lavishly illustrated "Cookie Decorating and Crafts," which includes everything from simple projects like colorful holiday cookies and Chocolate Gingerbread Bears to a festive "snow covered" gingerbread cottage. Along with the recipes, Nancy tells the story of America's cookie baking heritage and slips in fascinating bits of culinary history and lore.




THE INTERNATIONAL
COOKIE COOKBOOK


Find at Amazon.com

This big, handsome book contains 150 wonderful cookies from Jam-Filled Shorties and Fudge Brownies to Butter Spritz and Viennese Almond Crescents. Also there are interesting bits of lore, cookie-making tips, plans for an authentic German cookie house and 50 gorgeous color photos in this beautiful 240-page best seller. "Tempting and impressive," says The Christian Science Monitor. "A richly comprehensive sampling," says Publishers Weekly.



Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Trade Paper 1993 Praise for The International Cookie Cookbook:"I borrowed this book from the library at Christmas time and renewed it 3 times! Well, those 12 weeks just weren't enough. ...I had to own this wonderful book. My husband said, "Go and buy it"! (He loves to eat cookies, who doesn't.) I found many new cookie recipes to try from the USA, Canada, Latin America, The British Isles, Scandinavia, All of Europe (3 chapters) and the Middle East, etc. There are BEAUTIFUL photographs. Indexed too!" Suzy R (thecookiebaker @furryfarm.com)

"The best Christmas stocking stuffer. Excellent cookie recipes (that work). Old and new favorites for year round." cltoyou@aol.com Atlanta, Georgia

This is the first cookie book elegant enough to give as a special gift, a beautiful coffee table book—but also a reliable collection of tested recipes."World of Cookbooks




DREAM DESSERTS:
LUSCIOUS, LOW-FAT RECIPES
Beautifully designed book featuring 85 fine-quality recipes and 25 gorgeous color photos. Recipes include cinnamon coffee cake, fudge bundt cake, lemon tart, chocolate chip cookies, etc., plus helpful tips on creating light, yet luscious desserts. Excerpted in Ladies' Home Journal.


Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Hard Cover, 1993.

"The moment I heard about Dream Desserts, I wanted it. Now I've read it and I love it. This is one of those books that's kept in the kitchen and gets covered in spots...." Graham Kerr, TV Chef
"I’ve made many desserts from this book and people always love them. This book proves that you really can make good lowfat desserts. Dream Dessertsalso has beautiful photographs of the recipes and would make a great gift book." Dieter with a Sweet Tooth

"Dream Desserts is filled with recipes that taste terrific, look sensational, are easy to make and best of all, taste fattening. .... This book lives up to Nancy's reputation." Marlene Sorosky, author of The Dessert Lover's Cookbook"Nancy Baggett has succeeded the high-fat way, can she repeat her success on the low-fat route? The answer is yes!" Eating Well Magazine






Other Cookbooks by Nancy Baggett

100% PLEASURE:
THE LOW FAT COOKBOOK FOR
PEOPLE WHO LOVE TO EAT


Find at Amazon.com

From appetizers, main dishes, soups, salads, side dishes and desserts, a 200-plus recipe book with more than 75 pages of tips, menus and charts, 65 color photos and recipe nutritional analysis.
Chosen one of 1994's Best Cookbooks by USA Today, which praised its "... mouth- watering sampling of healthful recipes."

Rodale Press, Trade Paper, 1996 Rodale order: 1-800-848-4735

Praise for 100% Pleasure:

"I bought this book because I didn't know where to start with low fat cooking, and the other reviews were very favorable. What a find! The six or seven dishes we've already tried have been very tasty, and not too difficult to prepare. I was surprised to find that low fat dishes can actually taste good. Great photos, good info and a wide variety to select from." Greg Olson, Oregon"The recipes in 100% Pleasure are well-tested (an anomaly these days) and well explained.... The wonderful thing about these recipes is that they're seasoned. There is real flavor—making cooking and eating a 100% pleasurable experience." The Cook's Bookshop Newsletter
"I have made meals and baked desserts from this book on many occasions, and have always received compliments. This book proves that low fat cooking doesn't have to mean no flavor and no fun." lisad@put.com New York

"Making the move to low-fat cooking has been painful. So I was thrilled to discover a book with great recipes you would never dream were low-fat." Sterling Hill, Internet Diet-Food Newsgroup





SKINNY SOUPS

Find at Amazon.com

Co-authored by Nancy, this popular book (50,000 copies sold) contains 115 well-tested recipes for delicious reduced-fat soups. From fancy recipes like crab bisque to quick like chunky chicken and pasta, from hearty like split pea and ham, and beefy vegetable to unusual like spicy apple-wine soup. Includes a chapter of "express" recipes for cooks in a hurry.



Full nutritional analysis of recipes included.Surrey Books, Trade Paper, Second edition, 1997. Surrey order: 1-800-326-4430
Praise for Skinny Soups:
"Skinny Soups by Ruth Glick and Nancy Baggett is possibly the best lowcal cookbook ever written. I love soup and thought the recipes in this book were fabulous. Each soup I made was delicious, spicy and yet very easy to make. I have been making soups each week from this book for the last 3 months. ... Ruth Glick and Nancy Baggett have a award winning cookbook. I am purchasing several copies to give as gifts." kevans@crocker.com Rowe, Massachusetts
"... an excellent job of trimming the fat and calories without losing the thick, rich texture and full-bodied flavor of traditional soups. All (recipes) received ratings from ‘real good’ to excellent." Diabetes Forecast Magazine
"... Instructions are easy and clear. ... soups are delicious ... economical, nutritious." Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter





THE INTERNATIONAL
CHOCOLATE COOKBOOK


Find at Amazon.com

Large (288 pages), lavish coffee-table book filled with 150 of the world's best chocolate recipes including cakes, cookies, candies, pies and tortes, plus 50 superb color photos and directions for creating a miniature Swiss chocolate chalet. Awarded 1991 Best Book—Baking and Desserts by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
"A stupendous book," raves Booklist.
Stewart,Tabori & Chang, Hard Cover, 1991, Trade Paper 1993

Praise for The International Chocolate Cookbook:

"The International Chocolate Cookbook has many wonderful recipes that will appeal to the chocoholic and the 'normal' audience. Complex techniques are carefully explained, step by step, with hints to understand WHY the chef needs to follow these directions. I particularly love the creative ways to use chocolate suggested by the author. She details how to make boxes, 'birds nests', leaves, small bowls, and more - all out of chocolate. To add to the enjoyment, the author gives descriptions about where the dessert comes from and what makes it so appealing. The pictures are stunning, and are part of what convinced me to buy the book originally. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a cookbook to guide them through the complex world of chocolate." A Chocolate Lover

"Chocolaphiles should make room on their shelves for this voluptuous volume. The oversize cookbook literally dazzles.... ...The range is unusually broad."Publishers Weekly"... this glorious volume may be among the highest tributes ever paid to chocolate. The clincher—a miniature Swiss chocolate chalet." Country InnsMagazine
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Welcome

Welcome to Kitchen Lane. It's a comfortable place to drop in, relax, and unwind. A place to browse through recipes and read the related stores. A place to enjoy the communal spirit and kitchen pleasures that bond us together.

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