Welcome to the first post in a year-long series examining Abby Dodge’s The Everyday Baker. Each month I will look at one chapter (at over 600 pages, 170 recipes and 1000+ step-by-step photos, its a little too hard to “review” in just one post) in detail, examining the recipes and techniques covered and making a few of the recipes along the way too!
This month, I’m starting at the very beginning, where Abby talks about:
Everyday Baking Basics
That’s right, sorry to disappoint but there won’t be any recipes this month. Because Abby says:
No matter whether you’re a newbie or a pro, read through this section before you even start baking.
I can’t tell you how much I love that these are the first words in the book. I have been (and still am, on occasion) guilty of diving head first into a recipe without 1. reading it the entire way through (uh huh, I see you nodding out there…) and 2. not reading the notes at either the beginning or the end of the book which outline ingredients, techniques and equipment the author recommends. The more I get into baking, the more I realise the importance of a little pre-reading before one even steps foot in the kitchen. Interestingly, teaching kids to cook has made me re-think a lot of the way I cook and bake and has shown me that these things (and mise en place) are SO important in setting up novice bakers and cooks for success. A little organisation and forward-planning go a long way to ensuring things go smoothly.
Abby lists ingredients you’re going to need on hand so you’re “ready to bake at a moment’s notice” (because you never know when the urge might strike you, right?). There are pantry items (with detailed definitions of the different types of flours, sugars, salts and oils the recipes call for) as well as items you’ll keep in the fridge and the freezer. Abby walks you through choosing fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs and discusses how the different fat contents of milks, creams and butters and explains why some are definitely not able to be substituted for others (so, don’t go using skim milk in baking – Abby’s recipes call for full fat milk, for example). There’s a handy guide to eggs (no, an egg is not an egg – there are different sizes which weigh different amounts) and bakers from other countries using this book will appreciate the guidelines Abby provides and what we consider a “large” egg here might not be what others do. Weighing ingredients it so important in baking and can really make a difference between a recipe being successful and not working out at all.
Equipment and tools
Just as important as the ingredients in baking are the tools and equipment you use. Abby says:
I’ve developed and tested these recipes with specific pans and while it might seem like I’m being a stickler, it’s imperative to your success that you use the same size and shape listed in the recipes.
Go Abby. I sometimes use different size and shape pans than a recipe calls for on the understanding that the recipe might not work as well (if at all) but not everyone understands how important ingredients and equipment are in ensuring the success of a recipe. Abby covers baking pans and dishes, cookie sheets and half/ quarter sheet pans, hand tools and equipment (including bowls, spatulas, whisks etc..), power tools and equipment, measuring tools (there’s that all-important kitchen scale as well as information on digital thermometers and how to check their accuracy), pots and pans, knives and other cutting tools. Abby also covers specialty equipment (such as for cookie decorating, pizza and bread making tools). Bonus? For many of the items there are detailed photographs showing what they look like. So helpful for the novice baker (or people unfamiliar with North American terminology).
Create a Foundation for Success
The final part of this important chapter outlines some simple guidelines for making baking “successful and fun.” Abby encourages good baking practice such as making sure you have adequate time to finish a recipe once you’ve started, reading the recipe three times from start to finish before you even begin setting your ingredients out and following the recipe. At least for the first few times you make a new recipe, Abby says to follow it to a “T”. THEN (and only then!) experiment (wise advice I try to impart in my own baking classes…) and make the recipe your own. Abby also suggests checking the temperature in your oven, fridge and freezer (and tells you how!) – such an important factor in food preparation and one that is often ignored. This part of the chapter gives a lot of golden advice about prepping your ingredients to bake – from quickly softening butter to separating eggs when they are cold but leaving them to come to room temperature before they are whisked, Abby has all the tips and tricks to help you be the best baker you can be.
Ready to bake? Join me next month when I’ll be chatting Morning Food!
Please note: The product links from Amazon and The Book Depository are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: Abby is a friend but she has not asked me to write about this book. In fact, she didn’t even know I had a copy of the book until I told her! As always, I only write about products/ books I can personally recommend and all opinions are 100% my own.
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