A baking diary
Claire Saffitz’s Malted “Forever” Brownies. “Another brownie?” says Rhys, who has sampled brownies made from at least eight different recipes in the last year. “But this is Claire Saffitz’s brownie,” I say. He has seen me, watching every one of her YouTube videos, poring over single pages of her book for half an hour. “Who?” he asks. Despite all my batches, I’m still looking for the Platonic ideal. Well, I think this is it. There’s cocoa and melted 62% in the batter; there’s a forearm-building stage of whipping; there are crystals of Maldon on top. There’s no bible-paper-thin top layer, but all is forgiven because of the miraculous chewy-fudgy texture. We eat it all in three days.
Joan Nathan’s Challah. I wanted a soft loaf that didn’t involve any butter or milk, because it’s hard to buy anything right now. I rang Mum. “What about challah?” she said. She knew what she was talking about. After a battle with some half-dead yeast and discovering, aghast, that we’d bought mixed-size eggs rather than standard 7s, I was braiding golden dough into a chubby plait and tossing sesame seeds with all the pep of a wedding confetti-thrower. I rang Mum. “It’s such a nice dough!” I said. “Don’t overbake it,” she replied. Reader, I overbaked it. “That looks ready,” said Rhys, when I checked it at seventeen minutes. Surely an entire loaf couldn’t be baked through at seventeen minutes, I reasoned, and slid it back in for another five. It emerged distinctly dark. We ate it for dinner with an unkosher combination of fancy butter, cold chicken, roast capsicum, and that bitter old horseradish, I told you so.
Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies. Rhys’ birthday and we’re out of eggs. These cookies, a particularly delectable (and well-named) example, happen to be eggless. They’re a tender cocoa sablé; both traditionally ‘sandy’ in texture, and almost fudgy; irregularly cragged with dark chocolate and plenty of sea salt. The dough firms in the freezer before being sliced and baked, after the birthday dinner. “I mean, they’re basically another brownie,” says the birthday boy, who has the unimaginable condition of brownie fatigue. Still, he eats another three.
Alison Roman’s Lemony Turmeric Tea Cake. The turmeric-spiked batter of this cult favourite cake is photogenic going into the tin. It contains both sour cream and butter, which seems like a promise of tenderness. I arrange the whole lemon slices, lovely as windowpanes, along the spine of the loaf. But when it emerges, although it’s delightfully squishy, there’s only a little lemon flavour. The lemon slices along the top are basically inedible, because the pith is so bitter. Also, the cake is so brightly yellow as to be almost green. “That looks radioactive,” says a thoughtful Rhys, protecting my feelings. He declines to have any, which is the nail in the coffin. I freeze most of it for a day when I can face my failures.
David Leite’s Chocolate Chip Cookies. These are unquestionably the best cookies in the world, chewy and butterscotchy and perfectly salty-sweet. Every time I make them, I am convinced two people will never get through the whole batch and freeze half the dough — but I’m always wrong, the stash vanished by the end of the week. “Why can’t we bake them now?” asks Rhys, who asks this every time. I explain again about the dough’s mandatory rest in the fridge overnight — although we sneak spoonfuls all evening. The next morning, there are no spoons for cereal, but I start baking at 7am, and the house smells all day of joy.
Torta Santiago. I make this recipe after sub-editing it in the latest issue of dish. It’s a difficult recipe to sub, so by the time I’m finished trimming it, I basically know it by heart: many eggs whipped with sugar until impossibly light, folded in ground almonds, orange and lemon zest, the merest hint of cinnamon, baking powder. Baked long and slow. It emerges somehow both rich and light, intensely fragrant, and just sweet enough to match a cup of tea. “It’s no cookie,” says Rhys, forking a wodge into his mouth. “Then again, it’s no brownie.”