Excerpt: In the Sweet Kitchen
The Definitive Baker's Companion
Regan Daley's first encounter with a vanilla bean was an epiphany. The heady aroma was intoxicating and the bottled stuff she was used to paled in comparison. Why had she never noticed the considerable gap between these two forms of the same ingredient? Naturally, a crème anglaise made with vanilla extract could not compare to one infused with the dark seeds of a fat, sticky bean.

Regan shows us that anyone, from complete culinary virgins to accomplished dessert-makers, anyone can make a fantastic dessert. The secret is in the ingredients. Her more than 140 original recipes, straightforward enough for any home baker to prepare, focusing on simple techniques with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients, range from the awfully impressive, Guava Cheesecake or Quince and Brioche Bread Pudding with Dried Sour Cherries, to the familiar, Really, REALLY Fudgey Brownies or World's Sexiest Sundae.

For experts, this book will serve as a comprehensive, professional-quality reference of ingredients from basic to rare and an incredible collection of unique flavourings. For the novice, it's a practical and palatable guide to the once mysterious art of baking.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpt

My first encounter with a vanilla bean was an epiphany. Strange, perhaps, but for me it marked the moment when I realized the difference good ingredients can make. The heady aroma was intoxicating, and made the bottled stuff I was used to seem briny and stale. Why had none of the books I'd read prepared me for this? How had I managed to go through a rigorous and, I believed, thorough professional training program with master pâtissiers from all over the world and never experience the considerable gap between these two forms of the same ingredient? Naturally, a crème anglaise made with vanilla extract could not compare to one infused with the dark seeds of a fat, sticky bean.

After graduating from cooking school, I came under the wing of chefs David Van Den Driesschen and Chris McDonald at the Delisle Bistro and Wine Bar. These two visionaries encouraged all of us to explore the different facets of food preparation, and I honed my skills in both the sweet and savoury areas, eventually fitting into the role of pastry chef. David and Chris were the very best mentors and guides-both fanatic perfectionists, demanding only the best from their staff, they were especially fanatical when it came to the ingredients used in their kitchen. For me, it was a culinary utopia: pungent fresh truffles, smuggled in their rice cloaks; herbs I had never even heard of; raw-milk cheeses; magnificent wines. And on the sweet side of the kitchen, perfect fruit, stone-ground cornmeal, glorious crème fraîche and chocolate to make me forget every chocolate I had known before.

Later, when Chris opened the now-celebrated Avalon restaurant, I was encouraged to develop a short, simple dessert list that would complement the constantly changing menu of exquisitely prepared, but ultimately pure and unornamented ingredient-driven food. It was food that relied solely on an expert hand in the kitchen and the very best raw materials, and the desserts had to be in kind. Fortunately, this suited my dessert style perfectly. I was given carte blanche to experiment. If the best vanilla beans came from Mexico, then those were the ones I used. I quickly discovered that some ingredients were more appropriate for certain preparations, and not for others: for example, the slightly sweeter Callebaut bittersweet chocolate was actually better for Really, REALLY Fudgy Brownies than the more expensive extra-bitter Valrhona. We would order both, and then use the Valrhona for the desserts where it would be most appreciated, as in my Molten Chocolate Cakes.

My senses awakened, I began to actively explore the realm of ingredients open to the pastry cook, both amateur and professional. It became clear that this was the variable, the element that made the greatest difference between a nice dessert, and one that was explosively flavourful and truly memorable. But I was surprised by how little information was available to even a professional in terms of navigating the sea of choices. There was virtually no reference, no handbook or guide, aside from a few pages in the better books on baking technique, available to bakers to define and explain ingredients and their functions.

A familiarity with the vast range of ingredients and raw materials is an integral part of great baking. Identifying these ingredients and selecting the most appropriate variety, however, has been something that until now only the very obsessed or highly trained could do. Of course, a knowledge of the techniques and basic processes is necessary, and there are many excellent books on baking and pastry that clearly and expertly explain these. Some of my favourites are listed at the back of this book, and I encourage you to read and experiment with as many as you can. Good technique allows the baker to expand the complexity of their repertoire, to prepare more elaborate desserts and more delicate constructions. But without the proper and preferred ingredients, even the most sophisticated dacquoise will be mediocre, at best. To that end, I've included many of my own dessert creations, sumptuous yet simple recipes that use ingredients to their best advantage.

For those already expert in the sweet kitchen, this book will serve as a comprehensive, professional-quality reference for ingredients from basic to rare. For the novice, it's a practical and palatable guide to the once mysterious art of baking.

* * * * *

Pecan-Caramel Sandwich Cookies

The year I made these as Christmas gifts, fights literally broke out among my normally well-adjusted friends and family. Even my father claims he innocently "forgot" the batch he was supposed to deliver to my best friend; and of course after the opportunity had passed, what could he do but eat them? Well, who can blame him: buttery pecan shortbread cookies concealing a creamy, chewy caramel filling -- these are indescribably good. Make them small, as they are rich, and so special.

COOKIES:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup rice flour (or substitute cornstarch)
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh pecans, coarsely chopped

FILLING:
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons tightly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons condensed milk
1 1/2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Prepare the cookies: preheat the oven to 325°F and move the racks as close to the centre as possible. Line two heavy, not non-stick, baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, rice flour and salt and whir just to mix. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse until the mixture resembles a rough meal. Add the pecans and process until the mixture comes together in clumps when you squish it together. Depending on the size of the processor bowl, you my have to scrape the dough down the sides several times. Turn dough out onto a large sheet of parchment paper and press into a compact disc. The final dough will be dense and crumbly, but should hold together well when pressed firmly.

2. Roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper to a 1/4-inch thickness. Using a small 1- to 1 1/2-inch cutter (I use a little star-shaped cutter for these cookies), cut the dough into shapes and carefully transfer them to the lined baking sheets with the help of a palette knife. Space the cookies about 3/4 inch apart. Chill the filled sheets for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the dough is very firm. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are just firm and the bottoms are just barely beginning to colour. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer the cookies to wire racks and cool completely. (The cookies can be made up to this point up to 2 days ahead and stored at room temperature in airtight containers.)

3. Prepare the caramel filling: in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for the filling. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over low heat, stirring constantly, until bubbles break the surface. Keeping the mixture at a gentle boil, and stirring constantly, cook the caramel for 2 minutes from this point, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. (The caramel can be made up to 1 day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Return it to the stove and bring it slowly back to just below the boil, stirring constantly, then allow to cool to room temperature just before proceeding.)

4. To assemble the sandwiches, spread a scant teaspoon of the room temperature caramel on the underside of a cookie with a small palette or butter knife. It can be a sticky job, and I ususally end up using a finger to secure the glob of caramel onto the cookie. Keep your fingers clean and dry, and the caramel shouldn't stick too badly. Top the caramel with a second cookie, underside down, lining up any points or edges on the two cookies. Repeat until all of the cookies are sandwiched. Although they are best within a day or two, the filled sandwiches will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.


From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: Random House Canada