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Baking for All Occasions

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Written by Carolyn Jung   
List of viewable recipes from "Baking for All Occasions" by Flo Braker

ImageIf you take only the quickest scan through "Baking for All Occasions'', it might not grab your attention immediately. The new book by Flo Braker isn't filled with super modern, newfangled baked goods, with unusual ingredients or curious flavor combinations so in vogue now.

But like Braker herself, who has taught baking for nearly 35 years and written for the San Francisco Chronicle Food section for 19 years, the book is a classic that's filled with recipes that have stood the test of time.

From "Any Day All-Occasion Snack Cake'' to "Red Velvet Cake Roll'' to "Triple-Ginger Gingerbread'' to "Dee-luscious Lemon Meringue Pie,'' these are recipes that have universal appeal and carry a seal of approval because of the pedigree of the woman who penned them.

More than 200 recipes are included, with exacting directions. There's even a 40-page baking primer at the front of the book, filled with detailed information on everything from the importance of letting many baking ingredients come to room temperature to the best way to compress a cake roll to why airtight metal containers are best for storing crisp cookies and why airtight plastic ones are the better choice for storing chewy cookies.

I decided to try making "Nancy's Brown Butter Buttons'' because Braker described them as "one of the most unusual cookies I've ever tasted.'' I also was drawn to them because the recipe originated from the Swedish aunt of Braker's good friend, Nancy Kux, former owner of Nancy's Fancies, a specialty baking company in San Carlos. I had high hopes for these cookies because of all of that, and because Kux created my unforgettable wedding cake - a tiered almond cake slathered with her signature buttercream that not only couldn't I get enough of, but neither could many of my guests, who ended up eating three slices of it.

The cookies didn't disappoint. The dough is very crumbly, so much so that you really have to work it with your fingers to make it come together for individual balls for the cookies.

The texture of the cookies after baking and cooling is quite surprising. It is very sandy, almost like a smaller, thicker version of a Chinese almond cookie in the way it shatters, then dissolves in your mouth. The nutty flavor of the browned butter is quite prominent. Indeed, the taste lingers on your palate long after the cookie is gone, much like a fine wine does.

There's something familiar, homey, and comforting about these cookies. It's a feeling and character that imbues the recipes throughout this book.

Note: Read what Carolyn has to say about Nancy's Brown Butter Buttons on her blog Food Gal.

Nancy's Brown Butter Buttons

From Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books, 2008)

One of the most unusual cookies I've ever tasted, these homey delights were introduced to me by my good friend Nancy Kux, owner of Nancy's Fancies in Burlingame, California, for over two decades. The heirloom recipe originated with Nancy's Swedish aunt, who called them Dream Cookies (and they truly are a dream come true). Showcasing the nutty flavor of browned butter, the cookies bake into puffy buttons with cracked tops. When you bite into them, they're indescribably rich and crumbly, melting luxuriously in your mouth.

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (9 ounces/255 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams) granulated sugar  

Before baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Following the directions for making brown butter, melt the butter in a heavy 1 1/2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat and heat just until it begins to turn a delicate brown, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium bowl. If you like, you can strain the butter through a fine-mesh sieve, but I prefer the golden specks in the batter. Set the butter aside to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sift together the flour and baking soda onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside.

Add the vanilla to the butter, and then stir in half of the sugar, blending well before adding the remaining sugar. Add the flour mixture in two additions, blending well after each addition. Set the mixture aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the ingredients.

To shape each cookie, measure about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the dough, or scoop up the dough with an ice cream scoop about 1 1/4 inches in diameter (#70). Work the crumbly dough between your palms to form cohesive balls, and place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart.

Bake the cookies until they puff up, crack a bit on top, and are golden on the bottom, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool on the pan for about 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
 
Stack the cooled cookies in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 3 1/2 dozen cookies

Chocolate-Vanilla Swirl Cookies

From Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books, 2008)

The first word that came to mind when I saw these intricately swirled cookies was Rorschach: every one expresses something different, just like the famous inkblot test. The recipe is from my dear friend Nora Tong, owner of Nora's Patisserie in Colma, California, about six miles south of San Francisco. She uses a special method of stretching and twisting the dough into two-tone logs, so that when the cookies are sliced, each is a unique work of art. For seasonal variations, customize the sugar coating on the outside of the logs, from red and green for Christmastime to spooky black and orange for Halloween. I always have one or two of these dough logs on hand in my refrigerator or freezer so I can slice and bake on demand.

This recipe exemplifies how weighing ingredients is more accurate than measuring by volume. For example, if you measure different brands of cocoa powder in a cup measure and then put them on a scale, you will discover they weigh differently. But if you use weight as your measuring method, you will always end up with the same amount of each ingredient and your cookies will always have the optimum amount of chocolate flavor.


Vanilla Dough

  • 2 3/4 cups (11 ounces/310 grams) cake flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 ounces/115 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Dough

  • 2 1/4 cups (9 ounces/255 grams) cake flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 ounces/115 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (2 ounces/55 grams) unsweetened natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (about 15 ounces/430 grams) nonpareil sprinkles for decoration


To make the Vanilla Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on the lowest speed just to blend. Stop the mixer, place the butter on top of the flour mixture, and wrap a kitchen towel around the back and sides of the mixer bowl, or use a bowl shield to contain the mixture in the bowl, since even the lowest speed causes this amount of flour to fly out of the bowl. Resume mixing on the lowest speed and mix just until the mixture starts to appear lumpy. You should see small clusters that are just beginning to show signs of coming together. Stop the mixer, add the vanilla, and resume mixing on the lowest speed just until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Wash the bowl and paddle attachment and proceed to make the Chocolate Dough.

To make the Chocolate Dough: In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt and mix on the lowest speed to blend. Stop the mixer, place the butter on top of the flour mixture, and wrap a kitchen towel around the back and sides of the mixer bowl, or use a bowl shield to contain the mixture in the bowl, since even the lowest speed causes this amount of flour to fly out of the bowl. Resume mixing on the lowest speed and mix just until the mixture starts to appear lumpy. You should see small clusters that are just beginning to show signs of coming together. Stop the mixer, add the vanilla, and resume mixing on the lowest speed just until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To form into logs: Remove the Vanilla Dough from the refrigerator and divide it into thirds in the bowl, with each piece about 7 1/2 ounces (215 grams). Remove the Chocolate Dough from the refrigerator and divide it into thirds in the bowl, again with each piece about 7 1/2 ounces (215 grams). On a clean work surface, flatten each of the dough pieces with your fingertips into a 7 x 5-inch rectangle. Place a chocolate rectangle on top of a vanilla rectangle, and then tear the stack in half, to create 2 pieces each about 3 1/2 by 5 inches. (A dough scraper will be helpful in lifting the dough from the work surface.) Place one-half on top of the other half to create 4 layers. Pat the stack into a 9 x 4-inch rectangle. Using a dough scraper, cut the stack in half lengthwise to create two 9 x 2-inch pieces. Place 1 piece on top of the other to create a stack with 8 layers.

To marble the logs: Using both hands, twist the dough about three times and at the same time gently extend the dough package. Have each hand at a different point on the dough package as you manipulate it into a swirled pattern. (The exterior will look similar to a barber pole, only in black and white.) Set nearby on the work surface. Repeat the process with the remaining dough to form 2 more logs. Then, to make the logs easier to handle, cut each log in half crosswise. You will have 6 logs in all. Compress each log so it is rounder, more uniformly shaped, and about 8 inches long and 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

Spread the nonpareil sprinkles in a large rectangular pan, such as a 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan (quarter sheet pan). One at a time, roll each dough log back and forth in the sprinkles to coat the outside of the log evenly. Set the coated logs on a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm enough to handle without disturbing the shape, about 1 hour. Then wrap in plastic wrap and return to the refrigerator until firm, 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer. For longer storage, overwrap with aluminum foil, label with the contents and date, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw in the refrigerator for several hours or up to overnight before baking.

Before baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 1 or to 2 large baking sheets (depending on how many cookies you want to bake) with parchment paper.

Using a sharp knife, cut 1 or more chilled logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1/2 inch apart.

Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, just until they are no longer shiny on top and are lightly golden on the bottom, 10 to 12 minutes. Don't let them color on top. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

Stack the cooled cookies in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 10 days.

Yield: about 12 dozen cookies

Flavor Variations: To create a spicy cookie with a sweet kick, add 1/8 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (a smoky pepper) to the chocolate dough, mixing it with the dry ingredients. For a minty accent, substitute 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract or a few drops of peppermint oil for the vanilla extract in the vanilla dough.

About Baking for All Occasions

Image Baking expert Flo Braker rises to the occasion with more than 200 celebration-worthy recipes for baked goods. Whether it's an impressive Dark Chocolate Custard Tart to wish someone a happy birthday, a blue ribbon-worthy batch of Fresh Mint Brownies for the annual family reunion, or an Old World Braided Coffee Cake to impress the Bridge Club, each recipe is custom-crafted to commemorate life's special events. Lots of introductory information on techniques and ingredients ensure that each treat will be baked to perfection, making this a fabulous reference for any cookbook library. "Baking for all Occasions" makes each day something to celebrate.

Available at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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