Dear Bakers and Friends,
Welcome to the February 2021 issue of Betterbaking.com!
Most of the time, when I pop up in your mailbox on the first of the month it can seem like ages since the last month. On other occasions, it seems like barely four weeks have passed and here we are again. But these days just a month is a whole world ago. Lately, things don’t just change in thirty days, they transform by the hour. This hastened pace really plays with my take-things-a-day-at-a- time philosophy and adjusting to it takes double the meditation, yoga and winter walks which is why I like baking – it’s nice and slow. Like Baking for Godot, in a manner of speaking: no one comes, no one goes, and nothing changes which is not a bad tonic for turbulence.
For instance, when I started baking professionally, there was flour and yeast and there was also just flour and yeast for centuries before that. From when I entered the pastry scene, the Berlin Wall came down, men and women have gone to the moon and back several times, we now talk into our watches, there’s a pandemic making us party like it’s 1918 and there’s a hashtag for everything making anything a #thing. Even my endocrinologist despairingly said the other day on wondering to prescribe or not prescribe me calcium said: “Everything keeps changing. One day they tell us this and the next day it’s the opposite. We don’t know what to tell our patients”.
All I can say is I’m so glad I chose a profession that I didn’t have to keep up with. How smart was I?
But in baking, yearly milestones keep rolling along and no matter how the world keeps churning, flour and yeast (butter, vanilla and sugar) remain the same. Ok, the yeast is of a finer granulation and of a heartier stock, you can now easily find organic flour or gluten-free blends but admit it, baking is the most stable game in town unless of course we’re talking about the one thing older than baking which is Love itself. Yes, ah Love – the theme word of February.
The cast of characters in your love life, save a few (like cherished chosen family and friends) may come and go and Love’s expression may waver with social trends. But Love itself, like nuclear energy (and baking) which can change its state but never quite disappear, stays it course. That’s what I love about love. It marches to its own drummer and scoffs at hashtags; like a stubborn sourdough starter, Love hangs in. In this brave new world of late, with so few things to be sure of there’s baking and love and of course, there’s still Valentine’s Day.
Faced with the February food onslaught (Purim, Heart Heathy Month, Black History Month, Super Bowl/Snack Day, American Pie Month, Mardi Gras, Poutine Week among many other food holidays) you knew I’d wind up crooning about Valentine’s Day. To a baker, each day is Valentine’s Day and just when you might have been experiencing some holiday post partem, February 14th gives you another opportunity to strut your stuff.
Traditionally Valentine’s Day means chocolate and the Red Velvet Brownies I created are certainly chocolatey. This is the sort of brownie that if you strip away the red velvet element and the cheesecake center you are left with one of the best brownies ever created. I must however be honest. I’m not a fad of intense red food coloring which is what Red Velvet baking relies on. So when I do use it, I’m sparing so in this recipe, you’ll see how I’ve managed to keep the red velvet theme going but not overwhelm you with the red dye.
Not all lovers want their sentiment sweet and for them, I did my own rendition of Detroit Pizza. Pizza Hut just announced they’re launching Detroit Pizza and once I read the description of Motown’s prized pie, I was all in. This is the sort of thing btw that has recipes for it aplenty online but none of them quite add up. Either that or it’s the same single recipe, slightly distorted all over the Internet. Anyway, I think I got the gist. In case I missed the boat, mea culpa to my Detroit readers (and pizza parlors) who have this Sicilian style pie in their blood. Nonetheless I’m delighted to share my version of Detroit Pizza. It’s a beautiful recipe plus Pizza Hut’s Detroit Pizza won’t land in Canada anytime soon and neither will I be visiting Detroit in the short while. This is also just the thing to tuck into on Super Bowl Sunday.
The number three recipe of the month is a red-and-white Strawberry Scone that’s sweet and buttery and dressed up in Valentine’s Day colors. Serve this as is or buttered with saved fresh preserves you made in the memorable summer of 2020.
And last but not least, what is Valentine’s Day without a Tollhouse Cookie Recipe? This time I’m sharing my version of David’s Chocolate Chunk Cookie, which I auditioned with for one of my first pastry chef jobs. I was reminded of it recently when I read about Mrs. Biden handing out chocolate chip cookies to the National Guard as a cookie thank-you. Of course, since I am wont to do these things, that got me looking up presidential pastry chef cookie recipes (I only found the purported recipe of Chef Roland Mesnier) and trying to contact the White House pastry chef, Susan Morrison (I believe). No word back yet but I promise you, if Ms. Morrison shares the recipe created for the hand-out, I will let you know.
On the home end, like you, I’m doing more winter walks than I ever have, taking Modo Yoga Zoom classes with their teachers around the globe (yes, that was me in the flow class in the Brooklyn Modo class last Thursday), coaxing my tomatoes in my indoor garden and chuckling as I listen to the Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes on the podcast Smartless . I’m sure I’m doing more than all that but my life, like my breads, is in a definite slow rise mode. Let me just say as a baker and a person, I was made for this lane.
Happy whatever you’re celebrating but find something to celebrate because if you’re reading this newsletter, you’re in a good place.
Master Baker, Author
This recipe is almost like "David's Cookies" and an audition cookie I replicated in order to get one of my first pastry chef jobs. It’s an upscale Tollhouse cookie and a must-add to your CCC collection.
Without the glitz of the cheesecake layer and the red velvet tint, this is a stand-alone show-stopping brownie. But put it altogether and you have a Valentine’s Day homerun.
There’s all sorts of pizzas but Detroit’s is a cut above. It’s Sicilian style and features a unique dough and topping pile up and a unique way of baking the pie so that it results in addictive crispy edges. Use your own marinara sauce or tweak a store-bought one with extra spices and garlic – the sauce really has to shine in this recipe.
These are crisp, buttery clouds of scone goodness replete with a Valentine’s Day red and white theme. These are sweet and sassy and the dairy goodness of ricotta sets them apart.