It will soon be said--if it hasn't been already--that one could learn everything one needs to know about cooking by simply having and using James Peterson's books. This latest addition to his every-impressive collection fills in the previously missing piece--baking--with gusto and thoroughness. It has already become my go-to-all-purpose baking and pastry reference when teaching my own students and also when I'm baking at home.
--Peter Reinhart, baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University and author of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
Bakers rejoice! At last, James Peterson has turned his talents to the subject dearest to our hearts. Clearly written and beautifully illustrated, Baking brings the classics of the canon within reach of every serious home baker.
--Dorie Greenspan, author of Baking from My Home to Yours
Trust me--you need this book! With groundbreaking clarity, James Peterson masterfully demystifies baking in this visually mesmerizing, user-friendly manual that guarantees any baker a more intuitive, confident approach to the art.
--Flo Braker, author of Baking for All Occasions and The Simple Art of Perfect Baking
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James Peterson is the premiere go-to source for home cooks of every level. His newest book and the second in a series of instructional tomes, Baking teaches all the essential basics--how to make fail-proof tender pie dough, a fabulous birthday cake, sourdough starter that actually works, legendary babka, and more. In
Step-By-Step Photographs from Baking
by Naomi Fisher
Prior to the release of his previous cookbook,
Cooking, I had the pleasure of speaking with James Peterson--teacher, chef, and the award-winning author of fifteen cookbooks, including his newest, Baking. His enthusiasm, warmth, and adventurous spirit was exhilarating.
Jim comes from a large family. His aunt, great aunt and uncle were well-traveled and adventurous in the kitchen. “They took a special care with food” at a time when that was not the way people generally approached cooking. Jim recalled one visit when his aunts and uncle told him that he could have anything he wanted for dessert. Jim chose Crêpe Suzettes because it was the most exotic dish he could think of. It took them two days to make the dessert, but they did it, and it left a wonderful impression on the young boy.
As a child Jim was fascinated with chemistry. He enjoyed making weird mixtures of things in the garage. In the 70’s he studied chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley before moving on to culinary pursuits. I asked him if his chemistry background has been useful in the kitchen. “There is an affinity between the two. I was always fascinated with matter. I would think about how proteins, carbohydrates, peptides and amino acids behave differently when exposed to heat.”
'After [his] stint of chemistry studies at Berkeley… he took off for India in search of a guru. The guru search was a flop--at least the search for the kind of guru Jim was looking for--but the journey led Jim, over land by bus, train, and thumbing, to Paris. By this time funds were low and Jim managed to find work on a vineyard with a family near Carcassone. It was while living with this family of wine growers and sharing their meals that Jim realized there was a whole culture who appreciated food on a level he never expected. Food and wine became such a passion that Jim returned to France two years later, after saving money from his job as a short-order cook.'1 Experimentation and the journey itself infuse the spirit that drives Peterson.
Once in France, Jim took some classes at Paris’ Cordon Bleu (he felt they could teach him pastry skills and the rest he could figure out on his own…), but he soon found a more valuable education by taking on work as a cook in various restaurants. He first cooked in the (then) 3 star restaurant Vivarois, and eventually secured a position at the revered Georges Blanc in Burgundy. He couldn’t afford a formal education--but books and practical experience provided a substantial base for his career.
Another major influence on James Peterson’s career was his mentor, Richard Olney. The breadth and enthusiasm of Olney’s writing was engaging. James recalled a time when Olney’s Simple French Food was always on hold at the library. “Alice Waters, Jeremiah Tower and I were always fighting over it--putting our names on it” to reserve the book.
When Jim finally had the chance to visit Richard Olney in the South of France, he arrived one day unannounced. Olney was sitting under a grape arbor at his home, typing. When he saw his visitor, he stood up, completely unclothed. He said: “Allow me to receive you,” grabbed his bathing suit, and put it on. They then spent a leisurely afternoon together and lunched with wine. I asked Jim what his top cookbook choices are. He rated these as his favorites (qualifying them as within the French paradigm, his own reference point):
1. Simple French Food “This would be number one”
2. Sauces “I know it’s mine, but I would have liked to have had this book when I was learning.”
3. Larousse Gastronomique
5. 18th century manuscripts
His favorite of the many cookbooks he has written? “I put my heart and soul into Glorious French Food. In that book I shared everything I knew about cooking.”
I was curious about how such a prolific author comes up with a theme for any given project. He explained: “An idea bubbles up to the surface. As I am finishing one book, the next idea happens.” Once he has his subject matter, the creation of a cookbook is quite a process. His two story house has a kitchen on each floor. While colleagues are testing recipes in the first floor kitchen, Jim and an assistant are upstairs on the second floor shooting food photography. When he is not shooting, he is writing. There is balance in this process. The photography is collaborative while the writing is solitary.
What advice would James Peterson offer to home cooks and young chefs starting out? “I would encourage them to read… Read what other people are doing, then improvise. I think of jazz musicians… Use a similar paradigm--study flavor combinations, then use this knowledge to improvise… Be adventurous!”
We look forward to joining him on his culinary adventures in Baking and beyond.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Makes 1 Round Layer Cake (9 by 1 inch), or
1 Round Layer Cake (8 by 1 1/2 inches)
A flourless cake is essentially a mousse that's baked and, like a soufflé, allowed to fall in on itself after baking. Virtually all flourless cakes are made with chocolate, because the chocolate functions somewhat like flour and allows the cake to hold its shape. And like a chocolate mousse, air is incorporated by beating egg yolks with sugar, and beating the egg whites separately. Don't worry if the cake cracks--it should--or if it's a little runny in the center.
- 1/2 cup almond flour, or 2/3 cup blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 5 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 egg whites
- Pinch of cream of tartar, unless using a copper bowl
- 2 tablespoons Cognac (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use a round cake pan either 9 by 1 inch or 8 by 11/2 inches. For a springform pan, coat it liberally with butter and flour; for a regular cake pan, line 1 bottom with a round of parchment paper. If using blanched almonds, grind them to a powder in a food processor; set aside.
Combine the butter and chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water. When the mixture has almost completely melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir until smooth.
While the chocolate is melting, beat the egg yolks in a stand mixer on high speed with 1/4 cup of the sugar for about 8 minutes, or until the egg yolks become pale and quadruple in volume. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg yolk mixture with the chocolate-butter mixture.
Using a stand mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar (if using) for about 1 minute, or until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and beat for about 1 minute more, or until medium peaks form. (Beating will take longer if you are using a whisk or hand mixer.)
Add the Cognac to the chocolate mixture and fold in the almond flour (or ground almonds). Stir in one-quarter of the egg whites to lighten the mixture, then fold in the remainder. Fold only long enough to make the mixture homogeneous.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan, and bake for about 20 minutes. The cake is supposed to be loose in the middle, so a toothpick inserted in the center won't come out clean.
Before you take the cake out of the pan, let it cool completely. Just before unmolding, place the cake pan over a burner on high heat and move it back and forth for about 15 seconds to loosen the cake. You can frost this cake with buttercream, but a dollop of whipped cream, passed at the table, is lighter.
Copyright © 2009 by James Peterson. Reprinted from Baking with permission from Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
Click here to download this recipe along with step-by-step photographs.
Other Classics by James Peterson: