`Baking From my home to yours' by leading professional baking writer, Dorie Greenspan, fits very comfortably into that niche defined by one of her earliest, and most successful, books, `Baking With Julia'. Another major recent book in this category is `A Baker's Tour' by noted baking author and teacher, Nick Malgieri. In fact, Greenspan cites Malgieri, and collaborator Pierre Herme, as her primary inspirations and sources when she has a difficult question on baking.
This sub-genre is very personal in that it reflects the recipes that happen to have meant a lot to the authors over the years. It also covers a broad range of recipes, hitting virtually every major type of baking, including pastry (pies, tarts, shells), cookies (drop, roll, sheet), cakes, yeast breads, and quick breads (muffins, biscuits, scones, fruit and vegetable breads) and cooked sweets (puddings, flans, custards). In spite of this wide coverage, there is no concerted effort to touch every little corner of baking lore or professional genre. This sets it apart from `Baking With Julia' which made a point of bringing in experts in literally every baking discipline, including some of the more esoteric topics such as artisinal (natural yeast) bread baking and wedding cakes. It also sets it apart from the excellent books done by both baking teachers (Malgieri, Flo Braker, Rose Levy Beranbaum) and leading restaurant pastry chefs (`The Sweet Life' by Chanterelle pastry chef, Kate Zuckerman and `The Secrets of Baking' by Spago pastry chef, Sherry Yard) which delve deep into the whys and wherefores of baking techniques.
One sure sign that this book has no intention of being `politically correct' with its organization is the fact that cheesecake (100% American cream cheese recipes here, thank you) recipes are grouped with cakes, rather than with custard pies. And, since this is how most people think about cheesecake, this is just fine in a book aiming at the experienced home baker who doesn't have the `baking nerd' gene inhabiting people such as Alton Brown and Shirley Corriher.
This is also not an elementary cooking manual. For that, we now have the superb `Martha Stewart's Baking Manual', a true amateur's introduction to all the basic equipment and techniques. That doesn't mean you need to be an experienced amateur to work with this book, but it helps. Like `Baking With Julia' before it, all of Miss Dorie's recipes are painstakingly thorough and well written, so you really don't need the sidebars on basic techniques which Greenspan does provide. Unlike other books such as Maida Heatter's (quick genuflection here) big books on cakes, this is not an encyclopedic collection. There is no flourless Hungarian nut cake; no crepes, pancakes, or waffles; no Tarte Tatin; and no gingerbread cookies or houses. On the other hand, there are plenty of major standards such as buttermilk biscuits, blueberry muffins, cheesecakes, scones, banana bread, chocolate cake, apple pie, and lemon meringue pie.
Looking at two of the most basic recipes in the book, buttermilk biscuits and pastry dough (pate frisee), I find Ms. Greenspan is a bit different from my usual recipes, but entirely on the side of the angels in her insisting on butter and cold, cold, cold technique. She even calls for more butter than I'm used to in my Susan Purdy standard. And, like Martha Stewart's authors, she does not add in a lot of extras such as egg, vinegar, or baking soda into the pastry dough. While I use the extras, I really like the emphasis on simple ingredients and skillful technique.
If this book were nothing but a collection of superior recipes, it would be worth the somewhat higher than average list price of $40, but Madame Greenspan brings a charm to her writing that is strongly reminiscent of her distinguished colleague of years gone by, Julia Child.
The superior writing may be enough added value, but Miss Dorie also adds really useful tips to each recipe, which I immediately put to use in a task I have in hand now. I need to bake some things for a post-Sunday service Fellowship at my church, and I was planning to make muffins, but muse Dorie accurately points out that practically all muffin (and biscuit and scone) baked goods are best when eaten the day they are baked! On the other hand, sweetbreads made with virtually the same ingredients as muffins are much more robust, until they are sliced. The perfect example of this is a comparison of buttermilk biscuits and Irish soda bread. Biscuits mutate into hockey pucks around 8 hours out of the oven, while uncut soda bread, especially if it includes raisins or other moist fruit, will comfortably hold its interest for a day or more. Slightly less useful, but not common in other books is Miss Dorie's serving suggestions, which make each entry a perfect starting point from which to build an afternoon tea or dessert menu. There is also a sidebar on many of the recipes labeled `Playing Around' that identifies methods for tweaking the recipes, to make them a bit different the next time you bake them. Some of these variations may show little difference in the end product, such as the difference between biscuits based on baking powder and biscuits based on buttermilk and baking soda. But, if you happen to be a buttermilk and baking soda traditionalist, its good to know some options (as when your megamart is out of buttermilk).
If you are an inveterate cookbook collector, this one is a keeper, good for both baking and reading. If you are just starting out, this is probably even better than `Baking With Julia' as a collection of really useful recipes.
Highly recommended for its excellent recipes of standards.