Author Dorie Greenspan is a one-woman cookbook industry. Over the past thirty years she’s written fourteen cookbooks, won five James Beard Awards for them (and was nominated eleven times!), and endeared herself to countless readers who adore her warm, friendly personality as much as her warm, buttery baked goods. Our group has been in Dorie territory before: we baked Dorie’s Cookies in December 2019, and cooked our way through Everyday Dorie in January 2021. This month’s title, Baking With Dorie, is her newest, and promises recipes that are “sweet, salty, and simple.” This book received rave reviews when it was released, and continues to receive gushing praise from reviewers and users of every stripe, so expectations were high. How did it go for us in the kitchen?
Though most members of our group consider themselves cooks rather than bakers, everyone approached this month’s challenge with gusto (or at least a lot of butter and sugar!). The first chapter covers breakfast bakes, so let’s start there: one person, an experienced bread baker, made english muffins. This version was “better than some” and the dough was easy to work with. The recipe contained lots of helpful information for any novice muffin makers. Two people made grain and seed muffins, a “really delicious,” not-too-sweet, hearty combination of whole wheat flour, seeds, and raisins. Fruit and nuts were also featured in pecan cranberry loaf. The pecans were “the star….loved them.” But there could have definitely been more cranberries. Iced honey apple scones with spelt sounded divine, with orange, apple, and honey playing starring roles; but somehow they were “a bit boring.” And they weren’t as flaky as our baker might have wished. On the sweeter side of breakfast, breakfast in rome lemon cake had that classic and delightful flavor combination of lemon and raspberry. It was “very poundcake-y” and kept well. Unfortunately, despite the thick batter, the raspberries sank to the bottom of the pan, a sadly common problem!
And speaking of cakes, mocha walnut torte was a “huge hit.” This incidentally gluten-free treat was wonderfully fudgy when cold, and had beautiful chocolate flavor accented by ground espresso. Cranberry spice squares weren’t as impressive; they were “good….nothing special.” But they did showcase “nice warm spices.” Also featuring a “nice mild spice taste,” swirled spiced sour cream bundt cake was “very tasty….spice went well with the chocolate.” On the downside, the half-cup of sugar in the swirl made the cake stick stubbornly to the pan. Though steph’s bakewell tart appears in the pie chapter, it’s really more of a cake, or perhaps a mashup of the two. This classic British treat is swoon-worthy: a rich, sweet, and tart combination of crust, jam, and tender almond cake. We can only hope that Dorie’s recipe brings it the attention it deserves on this side of the pond. Szarlotka appears in the pie chapter too, and this torte is also a combination of cake and crust. The torte is filled with apples and has a crumble topping; it was tasty although the apples never did get quite tender, despite over an hour in the oven! The method for this dessert was also somewhat cumbersome and convoluted, “I have a recipe for something similar that is much easier and that I like better.”
Ms. Greenspan is known for her cookies, and these were a popular choice for many in the group. Cocoa caramel biscotti were a big “thumbs up.” The simple chocolate glaze was the perfect accent. Probably one of the simplest recipes in the book, brown sugar oat squares were a caramelly, toothsome combination of ground oats and brown sugar, and were, as advertised, “easy and fast.” Two people baked olive oil brownies which were “rich but not dense,” although “[I wasn’t] sure about the raisins.” Neither the olive oil nor the half-teaspoon of black pepper were very obvious in the finished product, but it was still a good, if not outstanding, version of brownies. Iced spiced hermits were soft, pleasantly chewy, and spiced with the usual suspects of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg (and black pepper!). This traditional New England cookie features dried fruit, and sometimes includes nuts, though this version doesn’t. The recipe made plenty, so fortunately they kept well. Devil’s thumbprints were a chocolate variation of thumbprint cookies; our baker filled the indentations with ganache, “I would make again!” The timing seemed off on this recipe; it definitely “needed more” time in the oven. And mokonuts’ rye cranberry chocolate chunk cookies were a delicious and unusual combination of rye flour, dried cranberries, chocolate, and poppy seeds. These were sweet, tart, chewy, and chocolatey all in one go. A keeper!
The “salty” chapter of the book covers savory bakes, and we checked out some of those recipes as well. Cheese puffers, a riff on popovers, were “very easy….really good.” The optional mustard powder really kicked it up a notch and moved these puffs into keeper territory. Two people made spinach mozzarella pie with parm crumble, which was a hit for both. It was “very easy” and tasty. The crumble topping in particular garnered high praise. Another tart, free style mushroom, herb and ricotta tart was a bit less successful. The onion-y ricotta and mushroom topping was savory and delicious; but the crust was completely flat, so the toppings weren’t well contained. And it made a poor leftover, since the ricotta’s moisture made the crust mushy. But this would be a great appetizer for a group; its cracker vibe seemed tailor-made for people to break off pieces at will. Whip it up quick cornbread was “fantastic” with all of its optional add-ins (bacon, jalapeno, cheese, scallions, herbs); it was “a meal in itself.” Sounds like a keeper! Another quick bread, goat cheese black pepper quick bread also hit the spot with its nuggets of creamy cheese and assertive black pepper. The chopped fresh mint added a bright herbal note, making for a lovely snack or pre-dinner nibble.
As is true of other Dorie Greenspan books, this one is overall a solid choice. The recipes and the book itself have obviously been crafted with care, and the author’s voice comes through loud and clear in her warm and amusing headnotes. The book has top-notch production values, with heavy, glossy paper and copious, drool-worthy photos. A few complaints were voiced: the ingredient lists were in too-small print; some recipes had overly complicated methods; too many recipes contained nuts; and it might have been nice to provide total prep times. The positives, though, generally outweighed the negatives, which was reflected in our group rating of 3.77 (out of a possible 5).
Please join us for our next meeting on Friday, January 27 at 11 AM in the Fireplace Room. We’ll be discussing our adventures with Grains For Every Season by Joshua McFadden. Copies are available at the main circulation desk or via curbside pickup. See you then, and Happy New Year to all!