Maida Heatter, the great doyenne of American desserts, taught me how to bake. Not personally, mind you, but prior to Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1965), my dessert making was confined to pies with frozen crusts. Heatter, whose classic, detailed recipes are now collected in three volumes under "Pies & Tarts," "Cakes," and "Cookies," (Andrews McMeel Publishing) turned me into a good home baker. But where once I loved making glossy chocolate tortes, airy charlottes, heavy cheesecakes, icky-sweet dacquoise, and other “fancy” desserts, today I lean more towards rustic baking such as cobblers, gallettes, tea breads and cookies.
Not too long after moving to Portland, I came across Grand Central Bakery, a wonderful and very popular Pacific Northwest bakery and cafe credited with the revival of artisan bread. For the past twenty years, Grand Central Bakery has produced terrific breads, cinnamon rolls, cookies, tarts, and other baked goods in their mobbed Portland and Seattle locations. Finally, many of the from-scratch recipes that have made them famous, have been collected in THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson (10 Speed Press; ISBN: 978-1-58008-953-1). One of the first recipes I made from this fine user-friendly cookbook was the Orange Nutmeg Cookies, which I took with me to a friend's large Christmas party in December. Orange and nutmeg are two of my favorite flavors, so making these cookies was a no-brainer. Those fragrant shortbread cookies with crunchy turbinado sugared-edges, disappeared shockingly fast. My host complained he had been unable to try one! As it was, I inhaled four of them before they had cooled to room temperature. Since I'm told they are not currently available in the bakeries, this is your only chance to sample these heavenly treats.
Then on Christmas Eve, I was invited to a dinner party at a French friend's home. He requested that I bring a Tarte Tatin, the classic and much-loved French upside-down caramelized apple pie. I had made Tarte Tatin before, but discovered a recipe in this new book. It featured a crust made of rough puff pastry, something I'd never attempted to make before. Frankly I had come to believe that frozen puff pastry found in supermarkets is just as good with none of the hassle. How wrong could that be! Most commercial puff pastry isn't made with real butter and if you find it with butter, it's very costly (there was a feature in the Oregonian about puff pastry, and Grand Central Bakery does sell their own all-butter frozen version at a reasonable price). THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK has a particularly lucid, step-by-step recipe illustrated with good color photos). If you are a baker, making rough puff pastry is a very satisfying experience. I've never used puff pastry for this rustic dessert and the recipe photo showed the apples had a less deeply golden color than the Tarte Tatins I've made in the past. No matter. This was still a handsome Tarte Tatin with wonderful flavor--a rich, buttery and flaky crust, under a layer of tender, caramelized apples. With a little dollop of crème fraiche, this was a spectacular yet rustic holiday dessert. Another recipe I loved making was Grand Central Bakery Jammers--a kind of "thumbprint" biscuit with a spoonful of jam. It doesn't get any homier than this.
The book is loaded with many excellent sidebars that enhance the baking experience. Along with the "Rough Pastry Workshop," there is a "Flaky Pastry Workshop," a detailed, photo-specific tutorial on how to mix and roll out pie dough. Other workshops include "Birthday Cake," (with instructions for essential equipment, mixing, frosting and writing birthday script), "Cookie Decorating," and so many other illustrations and tips that demystify the baking process.
Like it's equally outstanding east coast counterpart--The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread (Wiley), THE GRAND CENTRAL BAKING BOOK doesn't feature much in the way of breads (only Corn Bread, Buttermilk Biscuits and a dinner roll), which means there will probably be a bread book from them in the future. I have a large number of wonderful baking books in my collection, but I had no problem adding this fine new collection to my baking library.
I published the recipe for Grand Central Bakery Jammers in my Valentine's special recipe feature.