Food & Drink

Making Dough: ‘One of the best baking books... in a long time’

Have you ever wished you could make breads and pastries like a professional? Making Dough may be the answer to your dreams.

I admit, that although I know that homemade is better when it comes to bread and pie dough and, well, everything, I do use some pre-made products. The primary reason is time saving, I tell myself, but the reality is that I don’t really have a firm footing in the art of making baked goods from scratch. Other than cookies and batter-based sweet breakfast breads, the world that combines flour, fat and liquid to make something delicious has always been a mystery to me. Or, should I say it was until I encountered this book.

I used to make a pretty good piecrust and our daughter makes an excellent one. But long ago I decided to give that up for pre-made. Rolls? Biscuits? Croissants? Bakery bought. I have recently ventured into the world of scones, but I am not sure why certain recipes seem to work and others do not. Russell van Kraayenburg takes the mystery out of the magic. Yes, it is math that makes the magic work, but it is math even I the number hater can live with. Baking requires attention to detail in measurement anyway and learning the secret of the ratios of flour, liquid and fats has opened up the world of pastry to me in a way no other cookbook has, You see, armed with this knowledge, you can look at a recipe and make it work the way YOU want it to.

This book offers the information that will allow you to adjust the recipes you find anywhere.

Reserve some study/reading time for the front of the book. You don’t want to miss a single word of the general pastry making lessons he lays out. It’s a mini-gourmet pastry course. You probably will want to mark up and refer to these pages over and over again. I know I will. Once you know the magic ratios you are in control of the baking process. Author van Kraayenburg provides plenty of recipes to experiment with — things like Maple hand pies, savories like Thyme Chicken Pot pie. And yes, delicious croissant. The best part of the recipes is that they encourage learning by offering alternatives to the flavoring that make you want to use the recipe more than once in quick succession.

Technique can be a problem for home cooks with no one to show them what to do. For instance, it’s hard to imagine the folding directions given for some butter-based dough. Folding is especially important for creating puff pastry. Making Dough gives the best diagrams I have ever seen for palmiers, a puff paste twist, also known as “elephant ears.”

I have my mother’s recipe for these, and as a young girl, I watched her go through all of the machinations for folding perfect dough for palmiers. However, before she deemed me old enough to help her and absorb the lessons of making them, she abandoned the process as too time consuming. At last, thanks to van Kraayenburg, one afternoon I will sit down with his illustrations and her words to produce a tray of these elegant pastries that are worth every bit of butter and every calorie they contain. The aim of the book is to help those of us at home learn the secrets of the pastry trade.

One small touch that exemplifies this author’s care for his readers is the fact that his weights and measure table is in the inside back cover of the book so that if you are working and need a measurement equivalent—easy peasy—turn the book to the back cover, leaving your marker in the recipe page. No time is lost. Van Kraayenburg knows his audience and wants us to be able to serve professional quality pastries we have made ourselves.

He is an award-winning blogger, (Chasing Delicious), has written for Southern Living magazine, and many other publications. I love that the foreword to his book gives thanks to the person who first thought to churn milk into butter! His recipes and good explanations make it fun and easy for readers to duplicate the deliciousness he espouses. Yes, my cookie tins are still partially full from Christmas baking, but there is always room on the table for a perfect biscuit and guests who pour in from the North during this time period would surely enjoy a breakfast croissant or sweet roll, brioche or scone, right? This is one of the best baking books I’ve seen in a long time. These calories and carbs laid out here with easy-to-follow directions are worth every bite.

Title | Making Dough; Recipes and Ratios for Perfect Pastries

Author | Russell van Kraayenburg

Publisher | Quirk Books

Cost | $24.95