The press release for the brand new Better Homes and Gardens Baking begins with “Whether novice or pro,…”
That is the perfect summary for this very accomplished all-in-one baking tome. Baking is an encyclopedia covering literally every aspect of home baking. It’s the size of an encyclopedia too: over 520 oversized pages, 350+ recipes, and 600+ photos. I’m fond of cookbooks rich with photos. While a recipe title may entice me, a photo will seduce me. There is seduction aplenty in Baking.
The pathways of our daily lives have guideposts that are important and often icons. When I go out on the street in the morning, I can turn north and see the Empire State Building. For better navigation, I use my iPhone with that perfect design. As the cars zip by, I may see a Thunderbird and recall the heyday of the “real” Thunderbird. Do any of you remember 77 Sunset Strip from 1961?
In our kitchen, we have icons. One certainly is the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. “Where’s that recipe?” Suzen will ask me. “Purple book, two rows up and over from Better Homes,” I will answer. Even unopened, the red-and-white checkerboard cover is our kitchen compass.
Baking has the potential to be that fundamental a cookbook. It’s strange actually to page through it — which I did — and just see the perspective about contemporary American baking. Compared to cookbooks of two or three generations ago, Baking has an amazing spectrum of recipes. And a very different perspective on what people will be baking at home.
There are 17 chapters including:
- Bars and Brownies
- Decorated Cakes
- Holiday Baking
The difference between “old” and “new” baking attitudes is easily seen in comparing those first two chapters: Cookies versus Bars and Brownies. The cookie chapter is good but slim. I suppose that is a reflection that we all bake cookies less than we did — I know that I more frequently go for something “big” instead of wafer thin. If you want richness and goo, you hit that bars and brownies collection that includes:
- Cream Cheese Marbled Brownies
- Best-Ever Bourbon Brownies
- Triple Chocolate and Espresso Brownies
- Dulce de Leche Marshmallow Fluff Brownies
- Fudgy Saucepan Brownies
If you think those titles sound interesting, you should see the full page photos. Lickable.
Other chapters offer new ideas that are certain to intrigue:
- Chocolate-Walnut Bread Pudding with Coffee-Kahlua Cream Sauce
- Brown Sugar-Bacon Monkey Bread
- Potato-Bacon Batter Bread with Caramelized Onions
- Chile-Cheddar Casserole Bread
- Rustic Chocolate Tart
- Butterscotch Cream Pie
The casserole breads, for example, are ones that a novice can undertake but that any pro will be proud of. These are literally new bread ideas that would make a full warm meal on a crisp fall night.
Baking is filled with hints, ideas, suggestions for recipe options to “make it your own,” and of course many instructional photos. The recipe for Fudgy Saucepan Brownies is a mini-course in brownies, telling you the impact of changing the proportion of ingredients and how, in this case, you don’t want to do that “toothpick in the center” test for doneness.
There’s a wealth of detail in Baking, but gracefully packaged. You won’t be overwhelmed by Baking. But you will be awed.
There are things I just always confuse: baking powder versus baking soda. Gee, I wonder why those buttermilk biscuits failed?
I’m always confused about concrete versus cement. One contains the other, but which is which? Right now there is a rumbling noise outside my window as a cement mixer is spinning so that the sidewalk can be repaired. No, actually, it is a concrete mixture. Concrete is made with cement. The cement is effectively the “paste” that holds aggregates of different kinds together. The Romans were the first masters of using concrete, not cement, creating structures that still stand.
Which leads me to my real topic: cornbread muffins. Especially the oversize ones you can encounter from those street carts selling bitter coffee, stale doughnuts, and gazunta cornbread muffins. Those street muffins have the structure of, well, concrete. Or maybe cement. They are not impossible to bite through so concrete may be too strong a term. But the muffins are inevitably dry and pasty, so I think comparing them to cement is perfectly legit.
Cement is good for us and our sidewalks. “Cementy” cornbread muffins are bad. Disgustingly bad.
When it comes to muffins, I am now trained to think of “big” as automatically “bad.” It’s not possible to make a muffin that is huge, tender, and tasty. Impossible.
And then there came along the book Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple by David Muniz. Right there is a recipe for Texas Corn Cream Muffins. It’s suggested that although this recipe is for 12, you can bake it oversized in a pan that holds only 6. I suppose that is where the “Texas” label comes from.
But this recipe is intrinsically different, not just in name but in composition. First, you add a cup of corn [or creamed corn!]. It has double the liquid of a typical recipe and that liquid is heavy cream not buttermilk. And over twice the flour, 2 ⅓ cups, instead of just 1. For me, the “typical” and very good cornbread muffin recipe is found in The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon.
How can you have 3 cups of more stuff — corn, flour, and cream — and still get only 12 or 6 muffins? Won’t they all be gigantic? Isn’t this the pathway to denseness and that very pasty feel I hate?
No. These muffins are a miracle. Soft, tender, lazily falling apart as you apply butter and jam. The perfect consistency in your mouth, offering that warm cornbread flavor that seems endlessly homey. My perfect breakfast is one of these muffins, of either size, and hot chocolate. There’s enough sugar and caffeine there to get me to at least 10:30.
When we make these again, we are going to use the batter for 12, not 6. That picture above shows a 6-sizer and it is as big as one of those streetcar muffins. But a thousand times better.
If the Romans had had this recipe, the Empire surely would not have fallen. We would all still be speaking Latin. No NFL on Sundays, but we’d all buy muffins from stands outside the local coliseum as we await the arrival of the gladiators.
I love these muffins. So will you.
Texas Corn Cream Muffins
Yield: either 12 or 6
- 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup fresh or canned corn [or creamed corn]
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 6 jumbo or 12 standard muffin cups with melted butter or pan spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the melted butter, cream, and eggs. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and mix just until the ingredients are combined and not lumpy. Add the corn or creamed corn [you can used dried fruit here, too].
This batter is quite thick, so don’t be alarmed. Use a large ice cream scoop or spoon, divide it evenly among the prepared cups.
Alternatively the batter can be made ahead and refrigerated in a covered container for up to 3 days. Just remember to add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking time to compensate for the chilled batter.
Bake larger muffins for 30 to 35 minutes and smaller muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Don’t panic if the edges are darker than the middle. That’s the way a cornbread muffin should look.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning them out to cool on wire racks.
Source: Piece of Cake by David Muniz
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 18-55MM Macro lens, F/2.8 o 1/100 sec at ISO 1600