Monday, November 4, 2013

Bites Book Club: Mixer vs. No Mixer

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 5:56 AM

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I get a lot of cookbooks here at the Bites annex office in Hillsboro Village. Somebody remind me to tip my postman at Christmas for schlepping all those heavy packages ...

Since my review library has gotten a little backed up, I thought it would be good to do a few reviews to catch up, so fire up your Amazon Wish List and get ready for some literary enlightenment. First out of the gate are two cookbooks that are delightfully contradictory, The Mixer Bible by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder, and Baking by Hand: Make the Best Artisanal Breads and Pastries Better WIthout a Mixer by Andy and Jackie King. In this Kitchenaid battle, there can be only one!

Let's start with the pro-mixer camp. The Mixer Bible comes from Robert Rose, a publisher known for cookbooks chock-full of simple recipes, and this particular book fits right in their model. If you're a fan of lots of pretty full-color food photos, they are generally not the publisher for you. The Mixer Bible does have a 16-page insert of finished product shots, but they're not particularly instructive.

What is admirable, however, is the clear and concise way they write their recipes. Deeds and Snyder list the necessary equipment right at the head of the recipe, and I definitely appreciate the fact that they give all measurements in conventional cups, tablespoons, etc., but also in metric. Ever since I heard Thomas Keller speak last year, I always try to measure by weight whenever I'm baking.

This book is about more than just baking, though. There are sections that cover sausage and pasta-making and recipes are organized by the traditional sections of appetizers, soups, main dishes, sides, desserts, etc. Another full-color section at the beginning of the book gives tips on ingredients and techniques and clearly demonstrates many of the attachments that are available for your stand mixer. (And that are on my holiday wish list)

I love my Kitchenaid, and being the scientific cook that I am, I'm also sort of a equipment fetishist. So any chance to pull that heavy mixer off the shelf and on to my kitchen counter is always appreciated. With over 300 recipes, there are plenty of projects to keep me interested for quite a while, so The Mixer Bible has quickly become a welcome flour-dusted addition to my kitchen bookshelf.

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However, as with The No Recipe Cookbook that I reviewed in August, I've been trying to let go of my rigorous ways in the kitchen. There is certainly a nice release in kneading dough by hand on a dusted counter, although it also creates a lot more mess to clean up later. Baking by Hand is a perfect gateway book to help transition me from Alton Brown to Duff Goldman.

The Kings own a regionally famous bakery in New England, and have decided to share some of their secrets with the home baker. After a very useful primer on tools and techniques in the front of the book, I really like how they have organized their book like they schedule their work in the bakery. There are sections labeled "The PM Bread Baker," with sourdoughs, grain breads and hybrids of those two types, and "The AM Bread Baker" that focuses on morning breads and flatbreads. Also quite useful is the way they lay out the instructions in a schedule that indicates what you need to do 12 hours before the bake and the day of baking.

"The Bakers Lunch" section covers sandwiches with recipes for the fillings and suggestions of bread choices from elsewhere in the book. Finally, there are "AM Pastry" and "PM Pastry" chapters that offer recipes for croissants, puddings, sweet and savory tarts and crusts. In all, there are 100 recipes in Baking by Hand so it's not overwhelming to consider cooking your way through the entire book over time.

The Kings weave their story of learning the craft and opening their business among the recipes, techniques and tips to create a book that is quite the entertaining read. While I certainly haven't mastered all the tricks in the book yet, it has encouraged me to make a bit more of a mess in the kitchen every now and then. So if you see me out and about with some white powder in my mustache, I swear it's flour!

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