It’s as if I’ve been asleep all these years and I’ve suddenly woken up. I’ve gone about my day, all tra la la, taking comfort in the fact that I’ve grown into a rather confident baker, but a baker reliant on measuring by volume. Up until recently, I’ve always measured my ingredients using fanciful stainless steel cups + spoons and I’ve only just transitioned to weighing. There are so many variables when you embark on a new recipe and no two loaves are ever, ever exact. From the heat in your kitchen to the mill of your flour (and how humidity can affect it) to the grain of your salt, creating consistency is a battle I wage every time I set foot in the kitchen. And if I can control one of those variables — weighing — life suddenly becomes a little less complicated, so to speak. Also, it starts to create a much more tactile relationship with your ingredients. Suddenly you can visualize weights of flour, sugar and spices, and this allows for a deeper level of experimentation.
When I first started baking I had to train myself to be exacting and methodic. There’s little room for improvisation, and amidst a hectic job and frenetic workday, this repetition and methodology provided comfort. I’ve also determined that I’m the sort of baker who will never turn out a precise cookie or a perfectly-piped pie, rather I’m rustic, deconstructed, messy. A baker of loaves, cakes, muffins, cookies and pies — rather than one of confection and perfection, and I’m finally okay with this level of artistry in the kitchen. The fact that I don’t need to be newfangled and flash to be good.
Getting on the scale wave changed my baking game, and I encourage you to get a small scale, master the art of the “tare” button so you can measure ingredients as you’re placing them in your bowl, and this will inevitably afford you a sense of play, a whole other place you can venture that you hadn’t anticipated.
On recommendation from an astute foodie and fellow colleague, I broke my one-cookbook-per-month rule and ordered Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, and it’s well worth the investment. This was a cookbook you’ll want to read, not because of the heartfelt personal stories, but it gives you lessons in technique. When I want to connect with a cook, I’ll read the Rachel Khoos of the world. When I want to master craft, I need a book that will marry plain speak and visuals, and the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook does just that. From pages of the basics to step-by-step levain-making (agent for baking bread) to visuals on puff pastry technique to flour recommendations, I’ve only glossed the surface of the book and already I feel the game has so wonderfully changed.
I’m starting off with a simple gingerbread recipe that is full on flavor and aromatics. This will make the perfect accoutrement to any Thanksgiving or holiday table. Enjoy!
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery Cookbook, however, the addition of chocolate is my own
340g (2¼ cups + 2 tsp) unbleached, all-purpose flour
8g (1½ tsp) baking soda
7g (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) ground ginger
4g (1½ tsp) ground cinnamon
1g (⅜ tbsp) ground cloves
2g (½ + ⅛ tsp) kosher salt
220g (1 cup + 1½ tsp) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
340g (1 cup + 2¼ tsp) unsulfured blackstrap molasses
214g (¾ cup + 3½ tsp) canola or grapeseed oil
100g (¼ cup + 2½ tbsp) or 2 large eggs
336g (1¼ cup + 2½ tbsp) boiling water
8g (1 tbsp + 1 tsp) grated lemon zest
90g (½ cup) dark chocolate chips
2 8½-by-4½-by-2¾-inch loaf pans
Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Spray the loaf pans with nonstick spray. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, then spray the parchment. The tendency is to avoid this step, as I’ve done for years, but you’ll find that this easy prep will yield a smoother bottom free of crumbles and grit. Set the pans aside.
Place the flour in a medium bowl, Sift in the spices (ginger, cinnamon, cloves). Add the salt and whisk together.
Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed to break up any lumps. Add the molasses and mix for one minute until smooth. If you’re using cups, spray the cups with cooking spray so the molasses will easily flow into the batter. With the mixer running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream ad continue to mix for 1 1/2 minutes, until completely combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs and mix for one minute, or until the mixture is smooth.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the dry mixture in two additions, mixing on low speed for 15-30 seconds after each so that all the flour is mostly incorporated. With the mixer running, add the water 60g, 1/4 cup at a time, incorporating each addition before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl again. Fold in the lemon zest.
Divide the batter equally between the two pans. Bake for an hour, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Set the pans on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the pans and parchment and cool completely upside down. I’ve tried the cakes after they’ve been cooled and then this morning, and I assure you that these are cakes best made in advance so the flavors have a chance to thicken and meld.
The cakes can be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to one week. Defrost in the fridge and warm up if desired.
Bouchon Bakery Cookbook collage image courtesy of Eater.com.