"Baking is a science" is a phrase that begins many baking books, but Malgieri (Modern Baker; Perfect Cakes) warns not to "buy into the fallacy" and claims that "Baking needn't be any more difficult than making a phone call." This approachable attitude makes this an ideal selection for beginning and intermediate bakers. In 20 chapters, basic recipes and techniques are introduced for each category including flaky pastry dough, butter cakes, and quick breads. Once home bakers master the main recipe, they can move on to variations. Recipes include numbered steps, extensive headnotes, serving and storage notes, and often step-by-step photographs. Sidebars with essential tips are placed throughout the book. Classics including New York cheesecake, tarte tatin, and an old-fashioned cornbread are offset with less familiar selections like the British Bakewell tart; ekmek, a Turkish flatbread, and a Russian punch cake. Though sweet Danish and French pastries take up their rightful number of pages, savory dishes including spinach and bacon tart; ground beef empanadas; and pizza alla campofranco are included. Comprehensive and fun.
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Lemon Ginger Bars
These are about as gingery as you can get, so consider yourself forewarned if you're not a ginger lover. Actually these bar cookies make a lot of converts to the pleasures of ginger, because they have a strong ginger flavor but, since they're made with dried ground ginger and crystallized ginger, they have little of the burning spiciness that fresh ginger can impart. Lemon zest in the bars and lemon juice in the glaze add a note of contrast.
Makes 24 bars
21/2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into a dry-measure cup and level off)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring
3 tablespoons lemon juice, strained before measuring
One 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan lined with buttered foil
1 Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 375˚F.
2 Mix the flour, sugar, ground ginger, and baking powder in a medium bowl.
3 Melt the butter over medium heat and immediately add to the dry ingredients; use a large rubber spatula to stir to a smooth, shiny dough. Add the egg, crystallized ginger, honey, and lemon zest and beat vigorously to make a smooth dough.
4 Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and use the palm of your hand to press it evenly over the bottom of the pan.
5 Bake the bars until well risen, firm, and lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
6 While the bars are baking, use a small rubber spatula to beat the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice together. If it's too thick to spread, thin by adding 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until it's right.
7 As soon as the bars are baked, place a cutting board on the pan and use oven mitts to invert the hot bars to the board. Remove the pan and foil and replace with another board. Turn right side up and remove the top board. Immediately brush the lemon glaze on the bars so that it sets as the bars cool.
8 Use a ruler to mark, then cut 2-inch squares.
Serving: Arrange the bars on a platter; the icing is dry, so they can be stacked.
Storage: Keep the bars in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid between sheets of wax paper.