Read up on some of 2014’s most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.
You already know that this is a great cookbook -- it’s Rose Levy Beranbaum for heaven’s sake. I'm only here to tell you why.
First off, Rose (I can call her Rose, now that I have cooked her food) asks that you use the specific ingredients listed in each recipe, but doesn't ask for you to follow her blindly. She explains exactly why in her "Golden Rules" section: Flours have different protein levels -- even the same types vary among different brands; baking powder and baking soda are hygroscopic, which means they take up water and therefore are better measured than weighed. I did not know these things, or many of the other nuggets of wisdom that were sprinkled throughout the book, like how to ensure a better cheesecake or tricks for oatmeal cookie success. What's more? The recipes are presented in both weights and measures; I baked using both methods, and they each worked just fine, but precision-oriented bakers will especially appreciate the option to measure their dry ingredients by weight -- a detail that's often omitted from American baking books.
On to the recipes: The first recipe I made was the Almond Coffee Crisp Cookies, which were impossibly thin, crisp, and irresistible. You'll have to give a bunch away lest you eat them all in one sitting. You bake the dough in thirds, baking off the first batch while the other two rest in the fridge -- a smart and efficient method. That being said, my third batch was the best, so I will chill all of the dough before baking them next time.
Next up, I tried the English Dried Fruit Cake. There were no strange electric green and red orbs of candied fruit here -- this cake is made with fresh apples, dried fruits, and nuts. It is a snap to mix up, and the cake is incredibly moist and pleasantly spiced with cinnamon and orange. I made it in two rounds, soaking one in rum for the adults, and topping the other with cider caramel for a kid-friendly version. Both were happily consumed by a crowd of Food52ers at a Christmas lunch.
More: Still not sure about fruit cake? Let us change your mind.
Now on to the scones. Oh, the Irish Cream Scones. I would have bought the cookbook for this recipe alone. Do as Rose says, and use the correct flour, as it will affect the quality and texture of the finished product. As it happens, I couldn't find the Gold Medal bread flour that the recipe calls for, but Rose includes instructions for how to substitute a blend of standard flours to achieve the same result. When I made a batch to put in Christmas baskets for our neighbors, I ate one, then immediately made a second batch. After that, I went to the store for more cream to make a third batch. They are unbelievaly light and tender, perfumed with lemon, and studded with plump raisins. Every neighbor declared them to be the best scones they had ever eaten. Once you have the base down, feel free to mix it up: I tried orange zest and currants in one of my batches, and I am contemplating making a savory version as well. These will be in my regular rotation -- forever.
More: We can't wait for summer to make Rose's Fresh Blueberry Pie again.
My final feat (up until now -- I am not done with this book!) was the Lemon and Cranberry Tart Tart. My crust did not behave as nicely as the one in the book. Instead of being beautifully rolled and crimped as pictured, mine was only semi-rolled and pressed into the tart pan. But no matter -- everything went smoothly after that. This tart was a show-stopper with its bright yellow curd and crimson cranberry swirl. It elicited the response, “YOU baked THAT?” (Should I be insulted? Nah.) Once it was cut, there was just a whole lot of yums and happy tart-eating sounds.
I have never considered myself much of a baker, but with my friend Rose’s expert guidance, I am certainly getting better!
First photo by Mark Weinberg; scone photo by James Ransom