The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri {Review}

“If you have an oven, you need The Modern Baker.”  ~ Maida Heatter

First published in 2008, Nick Malgieri‘s cookbook, The Modern Baker: Time-saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, and Cookies, has just been reissued in paperback.

Like most home cooks, I own a lot of cookbooks. Some I turn to all the time; others I rarely touch. The Modern Baker never leaves my kitchen.

This book contains over 150 recipes, both sweet and savory, with everything from quick breads to savory tarts to cookies, cakes, and pies. I have been baking from it for about a year and a half, and even started the Modern Baker Challenge to encourage others to bake with me. In that time, I’ve made — and blogged about — almost 100 recipes. (If you want to read any of the blog posts, use the search box on this page to search for {ModBak}, the tag I use in all my Modern Baker posts.)

I have really come to appreciate the clarity with which the recipes are written, how easy they are to follow, and the consistent results I get when making them. But what really sets this book apart from other cookbooks is the way Nick takes the mystery and intimidation out of baking. Through his helpful, step-by-step instructions and photos, he shows how to make perfect pie crusts, “instant” puff pastry, bakery-quality cakes and pies, and company-worth tarts.

I originally picked up The Modern Baker in hopes that I could finally overcome my mental block when it comes to pie crusts. As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, both with cooking and baking, I had never been able to make a decent pastry crust. It wasn’t that I didn’t try; I just could never seem to get it right. My dough would be gooey or too dry, and when I baked it, it would turn out tough or dry and crumbly. So I was delighted when I made Nick’s quick pastry crust and it turned out perfect the first time. And the second. And the third. And every time since.

The puff pastry is another breakthrough in this book. It mixes up in minutes and doesn’t require rolling in butter in “turns” as in most puff pastry recipes. After mixing the ingredients in the food processor, you pat it out, fold it over itself envelope style, roll it up, and pop it in the fridge. And the resulting puff pastry surpasses anything you can buy. Since I discovered Nick’s technique, I always have homemade puff pastry in the freezer. And the book has taught me countless ways to use it.

If you fancy yourself a cook, but have always been intimidated by baking, you need to own this book. And if you are a seasoned baker and want to find some new, streamlined techniques for the recipes you love to make, you’ll find them here. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at homemade bread or layer cakes, you will feel like a real baker after trying just a few recipes.

In fact, whatever your level of baking experience, you will learn amazing tips, techniques, and tricks from Nick Malgieri and The Modern Baker.

Pumpkin Dinner Roundup

Welcome, Fall! This is, by far, my favorite season. And one my favorite things about this time of year…

Pumpkins!! Sure, they’re fun to carve, and they make great decorations. But what I really love to do with pumpkins is cook and bake with them. So, I rounded up some of my friends for a Fall-welcoming pumpkin dinner.

Renee over at Every Pot and Pan got dinner started with not one, but two recipes: Pumpkin Curry Soup and three varieties of Pumpkin Fries. She preferred the cinnamon fries, but I’d love to try the herb and spicy versions, too!

Nancy from The Dogs Eat the Crumbs rushed back from her daughter’s wedding to make another soup for us, Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Cider Cream. Mmm, mmm good!

Di over at Di’s Kitchen Notebook decided to test a new recipe on us, and we’re so glad she did. Her Pumpkin Brioche Rolls look both cute and delicious!

Marthe of The Baking Bluefinger made a delicious entrée of Pasta with Mushrooms and Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Sauce.

And nothing goes better with a big bowl of pasta than slice of fresh, warm bread. Margaret at Tea and Scones knows this, so she provided us with this beautiful, yeasty Braided Pumpkin Bread.

Mel from Mel’s Home Baking Adventure also shared two dishes with us. First, she made Pumpkin Ravioli, combining recipes from Wolfgang Puck and Giada.

And as if that wasn’t enough, she also made these amazing looking Pumpkin Scones.

Heather, over at Tease-spoon of Sugar, made this wonderful Pumpkin Risotto as an elegant, savory side dish.

My contribution was another side dish (although I could easily eat this as a complete meal): Stuffed Pumpkin.

In addition to providing the jack-o-lanterns at the top of the page, Kayte of Grandma’s Kitchen Table also gave us these wonderful Pumpkin Cookie Bites for dessert.

And last, but certainly not least, Abby at Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it! got the whole family involved in making these amazing Pumpkin Muffins!

I’m sure these Pumpkin Muffins will go fast, but I’m hoping there are a few left for breakfast tomorrow morning!

Man, am I stuffed. I think I’ll have to wait a bit before I drink my pumpkin coffee with a slice of good, old fashioned pumpkin pie.

I hope you enjoyed this pumpkin dinner as much as I did. Be sure to check back in a few weeks for our Thanksdiving Dinner Roundup!

Individual Coconut Cakes {Bake!}

It was Kayte‘s turn to pick our Twitterbake recipe this week, and she surprised us all by choosing something other than a lemon-based recipe. Of course, once I read the ingredients, which included grated lemon zest, I was no longer in shock. She loves coconut, too, so I guess it’s the perfect recipe for her to have chosen.

This seemed like a strange recipe to me as I read over it. For 24 mini-muffin size cakes, it only calls for 1/2 cup flour. There are four egg whites, so as first I thought it would be more like a meringue. But as I read the recipe, I saw that the egg whites are only lightly beaten, not whipped into peaks. Puzzled but curious, I started to mix up the ingredients.

In one bowl I mixed sugar, flour, and coconut. The recipe called for unsweetened coconut. I looked in the cupboard and had no less than six bags of coconut, all sweetened. I wasn’t about to buy more coconut until I used some of this up, so I used what I had and cut the sugar back a bit.

In a separate bowl I whisked the egg whites and a pinch of salt until smooth, then mixed in lemon zest and melted butter. After this was well mixed, I whisked in half of the flour mixture, then folded in the rest. I spooned the batter into mini muffin pans. I got 24 minis, each about 3/4 full. After filling the tins, I topped each cupcake with a pinch of shredded coconut.

I baked the cakes for 15 minutes at 375°F, until they were slightly puffed and the coconut was nicely toasted.

These mini cakes were delicious! I didn’t measure the lemon zest — I just zested the lemon right over the bowl — and I think I probably ended up with more than the recipe called for, as my cakes were more yellow than those pictured in the book. But I didn’t mind the extra lemon flavor at all. Combined with the coconut, the lemon gave these cupcakes a wonderful, fresh flavor. It was lighter than I expected and paired perfectly with a cup of afternoon coffee.

Our Twitterbake is a casual affair. Several of us who have Nick Malgieri‘s most recent book, Bake!, get together virtually every week or so to try a new recipe from the book. We bake. We Tweet. Sometimes we blog. Mostly we just have fun trying new recipes. 

If you have Bake! and want to join us, jump right in. We’ll even let you pick your first recipe.

Irish Soda Bread Muffins {ModBak}

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the Quick Breads section of The Modern Baker is that the breads really are quick. For example, in the 15 minutes it took to bake the ginger scones, I mixed up the butterscotch scones and had them ready to go into the oven as soon as the ginger scones came out.

So even though I usually save my baking for the weekends, the other night after work I decided to throw together Irish soda bread muffins. I got back from walking the dog at 7:30 was relaxing in my chair by 7:50, having mixed up the muffins and cleaned the kitchen. Yes, kids, when Nick Malgieri says “quick”, he means it!

This simple recipe consists of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, caraway seeds, unsalted butter, sugar, egg, buttermilk (I substituted buttermilk powder and half-and-half), and currants. After assembling the ingredients, I lined the muffin tin with paper liners and preheated the oven to 350° F.

Next, I mixed the dry ingredients (other than the sugar) in a bowl, then whisked the butter and sugar in a separate bowl. I mixed in the egg, then half the cream, half the flour mxture, then the rest of the cream. I tossed the currants with a little flour, added them to the batter, then folded in the rest of the flour.

I found that an ice cream scoop was the perfect size to fill the muffin tins. I baked the muffins for 30 minutes, then cooled them in the pan.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was another wonderful recipe. The muffins were delicious — slightly sweet and very flavorful. I especially enjoyed them with a little butter and fig preserves.

Cocoa Banana Muffins {ModBak}

The Modern Baker Challenge will be kicking off in a few weeks. I’m very excited about this challenge for several reasons. I have quite a sweet tooth, so a challenge including cakes, pies, and torts seems right up my alley. And speaking of pies, I’ve never been much of a pie maker, and I’m hoping this challenge will change that.

But the thing I’m most excited about is that I asked my 12-year-old to bake along with me, and she said yes! I love baking with my kids, and the thought of making 150 recipes over about two years with her thrills me to no end. I’m hoping that, in addition to us both developing some mad baking skills, I’m able to impart a few things to her, most especially the importance of using mise en place and of cleaning up as you go. Tall order, I know. But as I said, I have two years to accomplish it.

We are both so excited about the challenge that we started baking out of The Modern Baker about a week ago. So far, we have made Fennel Fig & Almond Bread (the first recipe in the book) and the subject of this entry, Cocoa Banana Muffins.

We started the muffins with our mise en place.

Although the recipe calls for quite a few ingredients, they are mostly things you probably already have on hand. The only thing I had to buy was Dutch process cocoa powder, not because I don’t normally keep it but because I was out. That and a few overripe bananas, and we were good to go.

While Molly mixed the batter, Abby and I prepared the muffin pan. The recipe makes 16 muffins, so we used our 12- and 6-cavity muffin tins. If you only have two 12-cavity tins, remember to fill the unused tins about half full with water to keep them from scorching.

We baked the muffins in a 350 dF oven for 30 minutes, until the cake tester came out with just a few moist crumbs.

The house smelled amazing, and the muffins looked great. We waited until they cooled, then began devouring them.

The dark cocoa made a huge difference in both the appearance and taste of these muffins. They were very moist and tasted more like cupcakes than muffins. Perfect with a cup of coffee or tea, these muffins would make a great addition to a weekend brunch with friends.