Love of baked goods but fear of baking is a common kitchen story. If you’re one of those people who is intimidated by baking’s precision or thinks the exactness is boring, think again. Former pastry chef and cookbook author Abby Dodge believes there’s an inner baker in everyone. And she hopes to inspire people to break out the flour and turn on the oven with her newest book, The Everyday Baker (featured in our holiday cookbook gift guide).
Read our interview with Dodge below to find out which recipes she’ll be making this season, the kitchen tools she can’t live without and her biggest baking pet peeves. Plus, grab her recipe for Rosemary-Cornmeal Shortbread (pictured above), her go-to cookie for all occasions. Like all the other recipes in her book, it includes step-by-step photos and thorough twist ideas, so you can be confident in (and have fun with) your holiday cookies this year.
Some people don’t like the precision of baking. Are there any types of recipes where measurements don’t have to be exact? Or is accuracy key for any baked good?
Abby Dodge: I’ll put this right up front. It’s true that some precision is necessary to ensure that your baked results are as similar to mine as possible. I believe that the solution to any disgruntlement is to weigh your dry ingredients. It’s faster, easier and way more accurate than volume measuring. As an added bonus, there’s less cleanup.
That said, it’s important to remember that baking is more than a science assignment. Once you get past the initial measurements, there are so many ways to improvise and make a recipe your own. In the “Twists” section of each recipe, I offer up flavor and, when appropriate, size variations. And I encourage you to experiment with your own ideas. Whether you are baking something sweet or savory from this book, I know you’ll discover the confidence to bake it your way.
What advice do you have for beginners or people lacking confidence in their baking skills?
AD: A few things are important for newer bakers to keep in mind:
1. Perfection is unattainable, so let’s agree to let go of that goal right now. What matters is that you handcrafted something with care and love, and it will taste delicious!
2. Before diving full speed into a recipe, make sure you choose one based on the time you have available. Trying to squeeze too much into a limited time will only make you feel crazed; your results will suffer and, undoubtedly, you’ll be less inclined to bake again.
3. It’s important to have all the ingredients prepared and measured before you start baking. Mise en place — French for “put in place” — is the process of organizing and prepping your ingredients (and equipment too) so that you are 100 percent sure you have everything and can work through the recipe smoothly, efficiently and with more confidence.
What’s one tool every home baker should have in his or her kitchen?
AD: A scale for weighing your ingredients is tops on my list, followed by a simple ruler. For accuracy and consistency, weigh your ingredients (weights are included in the ingredient lists). Volume measuring varies widely and will wreak havoc on your baking. Using a ruler to measure your lengths, widths and slices is the only way you’ll know that your pan or pastry/cookie dough is the same size that’s called for in the recipe. This affects everything from making the recipe to baked consistency to overall yield.
What’s your biggest baking no-no or pet peeve?
AD: The one thing that disappoints me is when folks tell me they are “scared” to bake or that baking is “too hard.” My goal with this book is to demystify baking and empower bakers of all skill levels with all the techniques, skills and information that I have culled through my personal and professional baking life. Baking is a process to be enjoyed and shared — not feared. Armed with the 1,000 technique images in the book along with the detailed recipe instructions, you’ll be fully prepared to be a confident and happy baker.
Do you have a favorite recipe from Everyday Baker?
AD: With over 176 recipes plus flavor variations, I have too many to mention! Instead, here’s one from each chapter that I plan on making during the holidays:
- Best-Ever Crunchy Maple Granola Cluster
- Rosemary Cornmeal Shortbread
- Buche de Noel
- Banana Rum Truffle Tart
- Toasted Coconut Souffles with Ruby Red Cranberry Sauce
- Rich and Delicious Dinner Rolls
- Spicy Cheese Grissini
- Toasted Walnut-Allspice Shortcakes with Dried Fruit Compote
You can order your own copy of The Everyday Baker here.
Recipe and how-to instructions reprinted with permission from The Everyday Baker copyright 2015 by Abigail Johnson Dodge, published by The Taunton Press. Finished dish photography by Tina Rupp. How-to photography by Sloan Howard.