It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

N things about me

Professionally, I am a database-backed web site developer, not a baker.

I have a degree in math.

This is unrealated to my ability to multiply metric conversions in my head; that comes from having to calculate sales tax on my book purchases as a pre-teen.

My soft serve cone has jimmies on it; worder comes from a fawcet; Kandy Kakes and Krimpets are delicious; 55 is only a suggestion for the Sure-kill aka the Expressway. In short, I'm a Philadelphian.

I hate to cook.

I'm not thrilled with Thanksgiving, either.

Christmas has been my favorite holiday since childhood; I wrote my Confirmation Class term paper on it.

Valentine's Day is least favorite. Those expectations will mess you up for life.

I am a massive nerd. I've been a Dr. Who fan since my mother turned it on when I was nine, and now I go to conventions and cosplay (that's me in L.A. dressed as Sarah Jane Smith). I game. On line.

When I lived in Germany, I learned to drive a manual transmission, and much prefer it over an automatic.

Since 2008, I've had my motorcycle license. I ride a 125 cc scooter.

I also bike.

Other drivers make me very, very nervous.

Favorite way to kick it up? Crystal Hot Sauce.

Favorite way to spice it up? cardamom.

Favorite nut: my wacky family.

Favorite nut, non-family, actually edible: hazelnuts, in cookies and cakes.

Least favorite nut: I try not to discuss fringe politics.

Least favorite nut, edible: walnuts. For years I thought I hated nuts. No, I just hate this bitter, nasty thing.

Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry? Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

Tone deaf. This physically pains my husband, who had perfect pitch before he listened to all that metal in high school.

I do 99 percent the work on the website.

I rarely drink soda, but when I do, it's San Pellegrino Chinotto, which tastes like sweeter, non-alcoholic Campari.

Le Cordon Bleu Professional Baking and The Culinary Institute of America Baking and Pastry

My final go-to volumes for basic cakes are two textbooks from Le Cordon Bleu and The Culinary Institute of America given to me by my aunt-by-marriage, food writer Anne Mendelson. Both focus on basic technique and recipes &emdash; building blocks &emdash; rather than a specific dessert. Meant to be used in a retail or commercial bakery, the yields are usually triple a home recipe (six dozen cupcakes or six nine-inch cake layers). Very useful for wedding cakes, and other situations calling for insane amounts of cake.

Interestingly enough, they don't have the same recipes. From Gisslen's book, I bake the spice cake and angel food cake. From the CIA cookbook, I bake the lemon chiffon cake, creme anglaise, German buttercream, and cream cheese icing (which is equal weights of cream cheese and butter, and less powdered sugar). I refer to both for basic research when I need a new cake or sweet yeast bread recipe; they provide me with good ideas and point me in the direction to go.

From these basic recipes, both show how to build ever-more complex pastries up to architectural wonders.

If you don't want or need six dozen cupcakes (or you need twelve dozen, or four fifteen-inch layers), Professional Baking has a chart of how much batter to use for any size layer. Both teach scaling (how to increase and decrease a recipe for more or fewer servings) and basic recipe ratios. The also cover most baking ingredients, from all-purpose flour through lychees, and equipment from measuring spoons through steam-injection ovens.


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