Bullish on Greenspan

I finally had a chance to take a good hard look at Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Baking: From my Home to Yours over the weekend. If you don’t know Dorie like I know Dorie, she’s a cook, baker and author best known for her collaborations with others: Baking with Julia with Julia Child, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud Cookbook and other forgettable titles by third-rate lunch counter hacks. While she has penned a few baking books of her own over the years (notably Paris Sweets) to my mind she’s never really stepped out and attempted anything definitive under her own name. Baking: From my Home to Yours changes all that.

I’ve had it for about a week now, but didn’t really have a chance to pour over it until last Friday night. The wife was gone to Seattle for a conference and the nipper was in bed. I took the phone off the hook, opened up a cold bottle of suds, and the evening was mine, mine, mine. Yet the first pass through the thing wasn’t terribly inspiring. Not much more than a lot of simple basics: muffins this, cookies that, pies and tarts the other thing. So what? It’s only when you actually start reading that the true genius of the book is revealed. Yes Baking is a lot of corn muffins, brownies and bundt cakes, but what it really is is a very sly little technique book, in which Greenspan takes apart classic home baking and reassembles it — inserting some of what she’s learned from the cooking and baking A-list along the way.

Hermé’s salty chocolate chip cookies and lemon cream are standouts, but then there’s plenty of other good stuff, inclulding a lesson on tea-infused butter from the folks at Mariage Frères, an interpretation of Katharine Hepburn’s famous brownies, the list goes on. What you come away with is the sense that Greenspan has actually succeeded in updating classic home baking, something pretty much everybody who writes a classic recipe book claims to do but actually never does. The reason, because they lack Greenspan’s knowledge, meticulousness and patience, qualities that have made her probably the greatest sidekick in the baking book world, a supreme interpreter the Bouluds and Hermés of the world. No, she may not be a visionary or inventor in quite the same way they are, but unlike your typical food celebrity, when Greenspan hands you a recipe, you know damn well it’s going to work.

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