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.

Mixed Berry Cobbler

After my recent trip to the farmer’s market, I had to find something to do with this beauty (and a quart of its friends):

I recently purchased Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, which I have been dying to try out, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. There is a recipe for mixed berry cobbler on pages 416-17. I’m a huge cobbler fan, so this sounded like just the ticket. I happened to have some blueberries in the fridge, which I thought would pair well with the blackberries.

As with most cobblers, this recipe came together quickly, I mixed the topping ingredients — flour, baking powder, sugar, salt. butter, and cream — then tossed together the filling. The recipe called for berries, sugar, cornstarch, zest of lemon or lime, and black pepper. I didn’t have any citrus on hand, so I substituted a few drops each of lemon and lime oil. I went heavy on the sugar, as the blackberries and blueberries were both a bit on the tart side.

I rolled the crust out to roughly the size of the pan, then put it on top of the fruit. I cut several slits in the dough, as well as a steam hole in the center.

I baked the cobbler at 375° F for about an hour. It looked and smelled amazing.

We waited to eat it until later in the evening, as we had company coming over. Everyone loved it, especially the citrus flavor. We all agreed that it had just the right balance of sweet and tart. This is definitely a recipe to repeat, and I think I’ll continue to substitute citrus oils for the zest.