A Baker's Primer


We were talking about biscotti in the Daily Grind today. Val, who runs the Grind and bakes both for the Grind and the Star, is as obsessed with baking as I am, trying new recipes and perfecting techniques continually. Biscotti are her new thing.

Often professional cooks don’t bake, because the two disciplines need quite different mindsets to have success. A pinch of this and a bit of that does not work in baking, where in cooking the pinches and bits often make the difference in a dish.


An important part of managing people is recognizing the specific ways in which team members think and work, and then giving them the opportunity to use those talents to best effect. Valerie works best with a single focus and a controlled environment. Couple that with her love of food, and you have the makings of an excellent baker.

Another really important tool for the novice baker is a really good book. I discovered The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book on a discount table somewhere, and bought it on a whim. I have long been a fan of the PBS show America’s Test Kitchen, and thought the $15 would be well-spent. Since then I have bought several copies for business and gifts.

The best thing about this book is its thorough investigation of every type of baking genre. The bakers at America’s Test Kitchen test every recipe they can find for an item, modify the one they like best for optimum results and then run the recipe many times to make sure it is failsafe. A detailed explanation of their investigations is included at the beginning of every unit.


Every recipe in this book Val and I have tried is indeed failsafe. We occasionally make modifications based on our specific oven temperatures or in the ingredients list to meet a specific need, but we have had no failures when we follow the recipes diligently. As well, the book is focussed on family baking, which means the recipes use common ingredients and baking techniques, although if you want more sophisticated items, say a charlotte, brioche or puff pastry, you can also find the perfect recipe.

So if you like baking and see this book in your travels, even if you have to pay full price for it, buy it. You won’t regret it, I promise.