The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cakes, Pies (crust!), cookies and such

rainwater's picture

Cakes, Pies (crust!), cookies and such

Okay! I'm on my way to becoming a full fledged home baker. I have three of Reinhart's books, and I'm having wonderful success so far....not just because of Reinhart's books, but the fine tuning I'm learning from "The Fresh Loaf". The great quality of Reinhart's formulas is that they work! Now! my quest/question. Who/Which is the definitive dessert author(s)/book(s) for desserts. I lean toward European pastries baking my cakes with Genoise batter, but also appreciate American style Chocolate, Carrot, Quick Bread cakes.......chocolate, coconut cream pies......etc............something that highlights special "chocolate" desserts too! There are so many chocolate type cakes and stuff out there that are so delightful.
I've traveled a bit, and let's just wave the U.S. flag a bit......the U.S. has the best cookies....period
We probably make the best pies also.....I would appreciate a really good pie book, with emphasis with butter instead of shortening/margarine/lard. I might add, that I actually have a great Apple Pie recipe, which took me years to find and quest for the perfect Apple Pie! ! !
Any help would be appreciated. Please, and Thank you very much.

Moriah's picture

Recently a friend turned me on to the secret of never fail, flakey, tender pie crust: Substitute the ice water for iced vodka! Just keep your vodka in the freezer and it will always be the correct temp.  The science, if that's what you want to call it is the water causes gluten to form when mixed with flour - vodka doesn't.  Always cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and chill in the freezer. Don't worry about the taste or the alcohol content - it cooks off in the baking. It's awesome.  It hasn't failed me yet.

cake diva's picture
cake diva

This is interesting;  I'd never heard of this before.  How do you use the vodka cubes?  I'm assuming you don't wait for the cube to entirely melt because by then, the temperature of the vodka would be higher, in which case you don't need to make cubes but simply keep vodka in the fridge for this purpose.  I am thinking maybe take double the volume of the vodka ice needed and use only what's necessary while the rest of the cube is still in the solid phase?  Then you can use the remaining vodka to make martini.

gaaarp's picture

Vodka doesn't freeze.  Because of its high alcohol conent, it won't freeze at the temperature in a normal freezer.

LindyD's picture

The November 2007 issue of Cooks Illustrated featured the foolproof pie dough - vodka being the secret ingredient.

You have to have an online membership to CI to access the recipe, but it also is all over the Internet at various cooking sites.  Here's one from the horse's mouth, so to speak.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Some of my favorite things :-)

Looking over your list, Rose Levy Beranbaum's books are first to come to mind. The Cake Bible is a great reference for information as well as recipes that fit the European style category. And the Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte is a "special chocolate dessert." The Christmas cookie book is beautiful too, but I confess I haven't baked from it yet. I don't have her pie or bread books, but they are also very popular.

Click here: rose levy beranbaum: Books

For American style cakes (soft, light, fluffy?), Delores Casella's out-of-print, A World of Baking, is my favorite. The Ice Water White Cake is the best of any white cake I've tried (I didn't care for Rose's). For American style chocolate, similar to a devil's food, the Ice Water Chocolate Cake---but there are several other chocolate cakes to choose from too. The Angel Food Cake is moist and cloud-like. I'm afraid I haven't gotten past the cakes yet. I think there must be 80 recipes in the cake chapter, but there are also chapters on cookies, pies, quick breads, yeast breads, ...

Click here: a world of baking: Books

Chocolate makes me think Marcel Desaulniers' "Death by Chocolate" series. I only have the cookie book (and love Franny's Big Bottom Pies---a chocolate chip-studded whoopie/moon pie).

Click here: marcel desaulniers: Books

cordel's picture

Moriah, I heard about alcohol many years ago. It really makes flaky, tender, crisp piecrust, and it is so easy to roll out. I rarely use vodka, actually, usually just add 3 tbsp. of brandy or rum to the crust, depending on what kind of pies I am making. I always get raves on my pastry, and I totally believe it is the extra moisture the alcohol gives that makes the pastry perfect.

rainwater's picture

I have to say something about pie dough. I, for some reason, have found that the opposite of conventional wisdom is true for me....and I don't know why. Cold water, cold butter has never worked for me. The dough is always a little hard...tasty, but not as soft as I'm looking for. I use....hmmm.....butter that has been out of the refrigerator for a while....just a few degrees cooleer, or room temperature. I also add just a bit....not too much....high quality vegetable oil.....a very little bit (I have found that a little oil softens the final water is room temperature, and I use as little water as possible to form the dough...... If the dough is too warm to roll out, I rest it in the fridge, but usually I just let it rest for about 10 minutes and use flour to roll it always comes out soft and flaky......but pie dough is the eternal can always be better.
hmmmm.....I'll have to try a little hootch in my next batch of pie.......wouldn't it be appropriate to match the alcohol with the pie? A hard cider for apple pie? or apple brandy?.....a little kahlua in the crust for chocolate cream pie? Amaretta with a peach cobbler crust?......
A friend brought his moms buttermilk pie to work to share with us......oh my god....her crust was thick and soooooo soft....melt in your mouth kind of stuff.....we were hiding pieces of pie from each other to steal another piece of pie......

symplelife4me's picture

I have the grater attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer. I freeze the butter then run it through the grater right into the bowl of flour. All I have to do is stir the shredded butter in and I get nice uniform pieces with very little work. Works great for pies, biscuits, anything that needs butter cut into it. I'll have to give that Vodka tip a try!

Also, it's not a book but the site has some amazing recipes for cakes, frostings, cookies, etc and the bonus is usually you can get lots of input from the other bakers if you have an issue (just like here!) I've never made better cake since joining that forum. I do have a couple of Dede Wilson's books as well as the Cake Bible. Wilson's cakes are pretty basic and easy to use. I think the bonus with her books is she has some very creative flavor combinations and gets you thinking outside the box. Try your library for some of these and check them out before you buy them. I found my Peter Reinhart book at a Half Price Books near me for a steal! I also got a James Beard set: Beard on Bread and Beard on Pasta for just a couple of dollars. Both were exciting finds! My husband thinks I'm insane but hopefully you all understand. :D