I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking Hardcover – Oct 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Less a cookbook than a course book on baking, this entertaining and certainly educational follow-up to Browns Im Just Here for the Food offers up formulas for basic cakes, muffins, pies, custards and breads, as well as information on the components of each. Like a quirky, affable professor with a mad scientists flare for facts and figures, Brown takes readers through the "Molecular Pantry," examining the properties and functions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Those familiar with his Food Network show, Good Eats, will be well-versed on these building blocks, and those who arent will find his explanations and diagrams easy to comprehend. Unlike other baking books, this one is organized by "mixing method" rather than by food type, which means that recipes like Banana Bread, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Buttermilk Pancakes are clustered together under the same umbrellathe Muffin Method of mixing. According to Brown, this is because "mixing is more important than ingredients and even cooking method." While some bakers would be quick to counter this claim, Brown supports it well, using diagrams to illustrate how mixing and over-mixing the same ingredients can yield different results (i.e., by over-mixing muffin ingredients, one can end up with cupcakes). As Brown states early on, this isnt a recipe book. Rather, its an instruction manual for people who want to be better bakers. Those looking for appetizing photos of sumptuous dishes wont find any here, but they will find plenty of practical tips (use a food processor instead of a traditional flour sifter) and sidebars that can be both informational and anecdotal (Browns story of his struggle with a 50-pound blob of dough bent on expansion is particularly amusing). Anyone who has a yen to learn the science and methodology behind good food will find this a fascinating read.
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If you watch his show, you'll realise that many of the recipes in this book are highlighted in "Good Eat," so although this may seem repetitive, it will at least give you a visual example.
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Just as the master recipe technique is not new, the proper classification of baking techniques is also not entirely new. Good writers on baking have been grouping quick breads with pastry crusts and cheesecake with custard pies for a generation. What Alton has done is similar to Mendeleev's achievement in building the periodic table of the elements. Before Mendeleev, chemists were all very familiar with families of elements corresponding to horizontal and vertical clusters in the full table. It was obvious that fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine had a lot in common. Mendeleev gave us the organization that brought out all those similarities. This was a stepping stone to the early atomic theories which identified electron rings that went on to explain periodic table behavior. This explanation of why different mixing methods give different end products is at the heart of Brown's contribution to the literature on baking. None of this is new. Great baking writers such as Flo Braker, Nick Malgieri, Sheri Yard, Peter Reinhart, Joe and Gayle Ortiz, and Shirley Corriher have been writing about this stuff for years. Alton does the true scientist's job of tying it all together.
I am just a bit suspicious of the fact that there is no bibliography and there are no acknowledgments to baking writers in the book, as I sense a strong family resemblance between Alton's book and Sherry Yard's recent excellent book `The Secrets of Baking'. The difference is that Sherry is a world class baker who happens to have a knack for explaining. Alton is a journeyman baker who has a genius for classification. If science and AB's jabbering about using a food processor to sift flour doesn't interest you, you can do much worse than to get Yard's work.
The eight mixing methods which are the heart of the book are for muffins (soft chemically leavened quickbreads), biscuits (scones, grunts, dumplings, crackers, streusel), pie crusts (a variation on the biscuit method), creaming (cakes, cookies, brownies, bran muffins), straight dough (yeast breads, including pizza, brioche, focaccia, and all those other things the French and Italians do so well), egg foam (meringues, souffles, angel food cake), custards (quiches, caramels, zabaglione, mousse, cheesecake), and miscellaneous (mostly pate a choux). The high point in all these chapters for me is the exercise that shows the underlying similarity between pizza dough and brioche. On the surface, they seem quite different, but by a series of demonstrations, AB shows how they really use the same basic method and differ only by the change of a few major ingredients such as butter, eggs, and milk.
In practical terms, the most valuable part of the book is the excellent illustrations of really great techniques, done with well-chosen words and very effective line drawings. I have seen AB do his rolling a pie crust in a plastic bag trick and the next procedure of fitting a crust to a 9 inch pie tin, but I have never had the guts to try it using nothing but my memory of a scene from `Good Eats'. Seeing it all in black and white and color gives me the courage to try it now.
Alton is a great exponent of both metric measurements and of weighing in place of volumetric measurements. I cannot agree with him more completely. In spite of being a klutz around most things manual, I am a very good novice baker because I was a professional chemist and can sling kilograms and milliliters with the best of them, and, I have great practical experience with making accurate measurements. So, if you are unfamiliar with metric measurements and weights, I can testify to their efficacy. Once you get used to them, they are really easier and give a greater chance of good results.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see recipe amounts written in the form of formulas, as a professional baker may use. If you are familiar with Joe Ortiz' `The Village Baker' or Peter Reinhart's `Crust & Crumb', these should be very familiar to you. The best part of these recipes is they give all major components measured by volume and both metric and English weights.
I must say that many people will not bother to read this book unless I assure you that all of AB's classic humor is here to be enjoyed. This mix of self-deprecation, scorning ignorance, and obscure pop culture references is eminently entertaining. I challenge you to find the rather cleverly hidden reference to the movie `Blade Runner' hidden among the Star Wars references and Waffle Iron recommendations.
If I were to take issue with anything in the book, it would be the analogy between baking and architecture and the elevation of classification as the ultimate role of science. Baking in theory is much more like chemistry than it is like taxonomy and baking in practice is much more like metallurgy than like architecture.
Otherwise, this book is a hoot I will check out Nick Malgieri or Flo Brakker for a new baking recipe, but I wouldn't miss this book for the world to help me make sense of it all.
I say this with all honesty...both of Alton Brown's cookbooks are MUST haves for any aspiring chef. They are superb teaching tools. They are a great gift for someone who wants to learn how to cook.
Highly, highly recommended!!!!!
The editorial errors are endless and frustrating. The recipe fixes were available online on Alton's site, but the last time I checked his new site, they hadn't shown up. The page with the changes was still available, but was not linked to his new home page. You can find them online with a quick search--one of the easiest ways is to input the mysterious "tk" found in the brownie recipe with other good key words. There are some inconsistencies where he seems to contradict himself from section to section of the book, and some vagaries in a few of the recipes can be frustrating if you don't have a lot of experience in the kitchen.
That being said, I wouldn't go without this book. I've always been great at improvising with food, because I go off of taste and adjust and play--not so with baking, because all the leavenings and ratios can seem like a mysterious formula. I'm not making up new baking recipes, but with the great science and explanations that Alton gives, I can now take a baking recipe and adjust it to how I like it without throwing it off so it no longer works. The whys and the hows and the science still can't be beat--that's all classic Alton. I love the cracker recipes and my son calls Alton's pancakes from this book his favorite pancakes of all time. I changed the 'base' of the chicken dumpling recipe, because we prefer a thicker--more gravy-- base than broth, but the dumplings themselves were heavenly. We were so content after the meal that we were seriously contemplating if world peace could be achieved if everyone sat down together and had a dish--
Don't buy this book for the recipes, but definitely enjoy the recipes within. The techniques learned will make all of your other baking endeavors so much better.
What I got from the book was a greater understanding of which methods were appropriate for which type of baking product. I've found this useful when following recipes from other cookbooks. Both of AB's books have helped me to cook more flexibly, sometimes winging it, because I know what the ingredient or process is meant to do and can make appropriate substitutions.
If you give this book as a gift, make sure to mention that corrections are available on AB's website.