Mark Bittman's newest cookbook title: "How to Bake Everything: Simple Recipes for the Best Baking," says it all. Bittman's not ego-tripping; he means e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, or at least everything he can squeeze into 625 pages (not including the 75-page index).
If you don't already know, Bittman is the master of "Everything" cookbooks beginning with his first million-seller in 1998: "How to Cook Everything." He followed that winner with "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian," "How to Cook Everything: The Basics," and "How to Cook Everything Fast."
There are numerous cookbooks aimed at home bakers. In fact, there are more than four feet of my office bookshelf devoted to baking books. What could Bittman possibly write about baking that hasn't already been written?
For one, Bittman brings an ease of effort to his recipes; something missing in some well-meaning, but clinical home-baking books. Plus he offers side ideas with a twist on making many recipes into something different — for example, pancakes.
You'll find 14 pages focused on pancakes, from Mother Hubbard Pancakes (no eggs) to Gluten-Free Pancakes. In those pages, you'll find out the many ways a pancake batter can be corrected — thicker, thinner, fluffier and richer to heartier.
I loved Bittman's recipe "head notes" (a paragraph or two leading the reader into the recipe ingredients). About Parker House Rolls, the ubiquitous roll served at many holiday meals, he writes: "The quintessential dinner roll (not surprisingly, given all the butter, both in the dough and brushed on top). Use coarse salt for sprinkling at the end; the extra crunch is fantastic." For me that salt crunch makes the strawberry preserves I love smearing on a warm Parker House Roll even sweeter and magnifies the strawberry's flavor. Yummm.
Bittman gives a brief explanation at the book's beginning about sometimes going beyond "baking." He writes that his book includes: " … all the recipes I'd want to find in a big baking book." There are more than 2,000 recipes in this book.
Once you get past the 50 pages of Kitchen Basics, preparing the reader for making any recipe included in his book, you'll find quick breads, muffins and biscuits; pancakes, waffles and doughnuts; cookies, brownies and bars; cakes, pies and crisps; frozen treats, puddings and candies; crackers and flatbreads (like pizza crust); yeast breads; savory baking (such as a spinach soufflé); and finally, frostings, fillings and sauce.
Just from skimming through Bittman's book I learned a lot; like about cake soaks. Cake soaks? A cake soak is a combination of sugar, water and butter that can be brushed over a baked cake's layers before frosting; making cakes "irresistibly moist and tender."
I also learned how easy it is to make crackers from scratch. Bittman's Simplest Crackers have three ingredients: flour, salt and butter. Carefully following his well-written directions produces crisp crackers that beat any store-bought cracker.
You'll have as much fun reading Bittman's newest cookbook as I did. Be careful though, you'll end up in your kitchen baking as soon as you put the book down.
One of my favorite quick breads is one made with poppy seeds and fresh lemon. Not only will your kitchen be filled with mouth watering aromas, you may burn your fingers lifting out a slice before it's thoroughly cooled. (The nutritional analysis is mine; there are none in Bittman's book.)
Don Mauer my be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lemon Poppy Bread
1 stick butter, melted and cooled, plus softened butter for greasing
2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with softened butter and dust with flour.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and poppy seeds until distributed evenly.
Whisk together the melted butter, lemon juice, milk, eggs, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix; it's OK if the batter is not perfectly smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost entirely clean. Cool the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, and then carefully turn it upside down to release the loaf. Serve warm or at room temperature or wrap it in plastic and keep at room temperature for a couple days.
Makes 1 loaf, about 8 servings
Nutrition values per serving: 366 calories (37.3 percent from fat), 15.2 g fat (8.1 g saturated fat), 52.6 g carbohydrates, 26.3 g sugars, 2 g fiber, 6 g protein, 48 mg cholesterol, 261 mg sodium.
Text excerpted from How To Bake Everything, copyright 2016 by Mark Bittman. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.