Books and Cooks: Rose to the Rescue
Pound for pound, Saturday's 2009 National Book Festival on the Mall was mightier than Baltimore’s 14th annual book festival, which was held Friday through Sunday. For cookbook fans, though, Charm City was the place to be. (The Mall event seems to host fewer cookbook authors each year; no public sampling is allowed at food demos, so maybe that’s a factor. Boo to that.)
Baltimore’s event put on 22 food-related presentations over the course of three days, including Ingrid Hoffmann of Food Network’s “Simply Delicioso,” Tara Mataraza Desmond, author of “Almost Meatless,” and Dale DeGroff of “The Essential Cocktail.” Some lasted a full 90 minutes, not counting the book signing afterward – with lots of sampling.
Ace baker Rose Levy Beranbaum came down from New York to demo a recipe from her just-released “Rose’s Heavenly Cakes," a beautiful volume organized into chapters of butter-and-oil cakes, sponge cakes, cheesecakes and mostly flourless cakes, baby cakes and wedding cakes.
She attempted her Whipped Cream Cake, an interesting recipe because it is butterless (the cream more than makes up for the missing fat content). Now, Rose is a pro and therefore used to rolling with whatever circumstances hand her. On Saturday, that meant sideways rain drenching the edges of her late-afternoon crowd of 120, and a kitchen setup that was less than ideal.
She said the recipe took her 10 years to perfect; because I have gotten to know her a little bit over the past few years, I know that a decade’s worth of testing on her part is believable. While Rose was trying to locate the flour, asking for the right-size whisk, figuring out the ingredients in unlabeled containers and trying to get a small sifter to work (it never did), she seamlessly worked tips and quips into her act, including:
• When her recipes call for bleached flour, use bleached flour. (She described unbleached flour particles as ball bearings that can sometimes fail to support the center weight of a cake. That might keep the middle of your next cake from falling in on you.)
• Use oil instead of butter to grease a cake pan (before dusting it with flour). The butter has a water content that may in fact cause the cake to stick. Rose prefers using Baker’s Joy spray.
• Whisk together the dry ingredients before sifting. She says sifting them together won’t mix them as well.
• Wondra flour is good for baking genoise-type cakes and ladyfingers – not, however, for a chocolate sponge, whose taste can be adversely affected.
• It’s hard to tell whether some cakes are done, so use an instant-read probe thermometer. Shoot for 190 to 205 degrees.
In the end, stage assistants did manage to find the flour, and Rose got a decent-looking batter into the oven. The audience got to taste small samples of a cake made from her recipe, but not made by Rose.
Just as she was heading over to the tent to sign her new book and some “Cake Bibles,” Adam Ried showed up to meet her: “I’m a big fan!” he said, shaking off the rain. The Boston-based food writer is best known as the equipment master on the culinary TV series “America’s Test Kitchen” and was scheduled to demo milkshakes on Sunday for his first solo cookbook, “Thoroughly Modern Milkshakes.”
Ried managed to pack 110 recipes into what was supposed to be a 50-recipe collection. He got the book done in an impressive four months’ time. Some of his tips:
• Let ice cream from the freezer soften at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before using it to make a milkshake; it should look melted just at the edges.
• Blend liquids and viscous flavorings (honey, cashew butter, molasses, etc.) before adding the ice cream.
• Blend just until the mixture moves freely in the blender jar; try not to overblend.
• Great ingredients will make a great shake. (That means no skim milk.)
No matter how the demos go, crowds always appreciate the hands-on approach and the chance to quiz the cookbook authors. Here's hoping more of that returns to the book festival on the Mall next year.
-- Bonnie Benwick
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