My cookbook shelves are groaning with baking books. I've got a few large tomes on desserts, bread baking, to go with the many individual baking books from Maida Heatter (baking's doyenne of desserts), Nick Malgieri (a great baking teacher), Rose Levy Beranbaum (a baking genius), the glorious Dorie Greenspan, and many others. But BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS BAKING: More than 350 recipes Plus Tips and Techniques (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $29.95; October 8, 2013; ISBN: 978-1-118-453261) arrived on my doorstep quite unexpectedly and with one look, I had a new baking crush for the season. In this big, gorgeously photographed, totally modern cookbook from trusted and well-established source, you'll not only get recipes for cakes, pies, cookies, and other desserts, but breads, rolls, focaccia, pizza dough and bread sticks.
Right on the cover is my mother's favorite cookie--Pecan Sandies. This seemed to be her cookie because I don't recall my brothers or me eating them very much. She always had a bag of them close at hand. A couple of years ago, in one of those odd nostalgic moments, I bought a bag. They were okay, but not worth the calories. I baked a batch of this shortbread cookie and the smell infused my house with joy for the rest of the day. I swear the house still smelled of Pecan Sandies the next morning. They are a snap to make and are an elegant cookie to add to a dish of ice cream. There's even a chocolate variation on the same page. The book has a substantial cookie section. There are the classic cookies such as Chocolate Chip and a divine Make-It-Mine Oatmeal Cookies, which allows many variations of this classic such as Fat (pick one--I loved combining butter and peanut butter), Sugar (brown sugar or a combination of white and brown sugars or molasses or honey), Spice (cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice or ground allspice) Flavorings (vanilla, coconut flavoring, maple flavoring), Flour (white, wholewheat, with the additions of wheat bran or wheat germ) and Stir-ins (raisins or mixed dried bits, snipped dried apricots or tart red cherries, semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips, white baking pieces, butterscotch-flavor baking pieces, peanut butter-flavor baking pieces, flaked coconut, or chopped pecans, walnuts or other nuts). This is the kind of recipe to unleash your creative side, as long as you stay within the guidelines of the recipe. You can bake Giant Ginger Cookies (or Make it Mini variations) Snickerdoodles, Lemon Walnut Biscotti, or the latest French passion--Double Almond Macarons.
Bars are next with Fudgy Saucepan Brownies, Make-It-Mine Blondies (another recipe with lots of variations), Four-Layer Caramel Crunch Nougat Brownies (that photo made me weak in the knees), and numerous other brownie recipes, Maple Nut Pie Bars, Lemon Bars Deluxe, Pumpkin Bars and Oatmeal Jam Bars.
The cake section begins simply enough with a White Cake, and moves on through Chocolate Cake and Red Velvet Cake, Classic Carrot Cake, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and becomes more elaborate with Triple-Citrus Pound Cake, Hazelnut-Pear Torte with Dulce de Leche Filling. The decorated cakes section is anchored with a Make-It-Mine Birthday Cake with lots of customized variations. Some are very clever, such as the Cheeseburger Ice Cream Cake or a Spiderweb Cake. Classic Apple Pie launches the pies and tarts chapter, and you can have it with a Make-It-Mine Streusel Pie with its myriad choices (fruit fillings, crusts, spices, textures, and toppings). Shaker-Style Meyer Lemon Pie, may tempt you away from a Classic Pumpkin Pie, or a Mallow-Praline Sweet Potato Pie. There are lots of tart choices from a Rustic Chocolate Tart or a Country Peach Tart to a Double-Coconut and Pineapple Cream Tart and a Key-Lime Tart. For sheer sophistication, my money is on a Salted Almond Praline Tart. Become master of cheesecakes with no less than seventeen from Classic New York-Style Cheesecake to increasingly ambitious entries such as Blueberry-Topped Lemon Cheesecake, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Maple-Mascarpone Cheesecake, and Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake with Sugared Pepitas.
The desserts section covers cobblers (Granny Smith Cobbler with White Cheddar Biscuits or Cherry Cobbler with White Chocolate-Almond Biscuits), Chocolate-Walnut Bread Pudding with Coffee-Kahlua Cream Sauce, Toffee-Pear Sticky Pudding, Brownie Pudding Cake, and Hot Cocoa Souffle with Coffee Ice Cream.
The bread section is worth the price of admission. I'm dying to make Make-It-Mine Artisan Bread, a no-knead beauty with options for various types of salts, stir-ins, and flours. A Mock Sourdough Bread dispenses with the need for a sour-dough starter, and a Whole Grain Caramelized Onion and Kale Bread is packed with good things. Quick breads, coffee cakes, breakfast sweet breads, Danish, doughnuts, and muffins provide warmth, while the "Coffee Shop" chapter will answer the question: homemade or store-bought? There are holiday treats and other special occasion recipes, all adding up to a substantial cookbook you will be baking from for years to come.
I'm selecting the Vanilla-Scented Orange Cheesecake because orange in cheesecake is a favorite flavor marriage. Clear instructions that keep you on track, beautiful photography, and of course, the Better Homes and Gardens brand, all add up to the kind of baking excellence we all aspire to. With Christmas just around the corner, it's time to get baking. BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS BAKING will take good care of your baking needs throughout the whole year.
Vanilla-Scented Orange Cheesecake
prep: 40 minutes
bake: 45 minutes at 375°F
cool: 2 hours
chill: 4 hours to overnight
makes: 12 servings
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 8-ounce carton sour cream
11/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers or chocolate wafer cookies
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
Few drops orange food coloring
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1. Allow cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for crust, in a medium bowl combine crushed graham crackers, pecans, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 375°F. If using vanilla bean, use the tip of a small sharp knife to scrape out seeds; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese, sour cream, the 1 cup sugar, and the flour with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Using a fork, lightly beat eggs. Add eggs to cream cheese mixture, beating just until combined. Divide batter in half. Stir orange peel and food coloring into half of the batter. Stir vanilla seeds or vanilla bean paste into the remaining batter.
3. Pour orange batter into crustlined pan, spreading evenly. Spoon vanilla batter over orange layer, gently spreading evenly. Place springform pan in a shallow baking pan.
4. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes for the 8-inch pan, 40 to 50 minutes for the 9-inch pan, or until a
2 1/2-inch area around outside edge appears set when gently shaken.
5. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Using a small sharp knife, loosen crust from sides of pan. Cool for 30 minutes more. Remove sides of pan; cool completely on wire rack.
6. Spoon marmalade over top of cheesecake; carefully spread to outside edge. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.
per serving: 431 cal., 28 g fat (15 g sat. fat), 134 mg chol., 293 mg sodium, 40 g carb., 1 g fiber, 6 g pro.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt from Baking by the editors at Better Homes and Gardens. Photographs by Better Homes and Gardens, Blaine Moats, Jason Donnelly, and Kritsada Panichgul. Copyright 2013.