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While the leaves changing might herald the arrival of fall outside, inside the test kitchen, there’s another surefire sign: the growing stacks of cookbooks on our food editors’ desks. Autumn is the high season for new releases, and while it can be a challenge to keep up, it’s exciting to have so many fresh sources of inspiration. One tome the 42 Burners team has been looking forward to is “Rose’s Baking Basics,” the eleventh book by baker extraordinaire Rose Levy Beranbaum. Beranbaum has garnered a dedicated following for delving into the minutiae of baking, both on her blog and in her meticulously tested books on cake, bread, pie, and pastry. She stopped by the test kitchen recently along with her longtime collaborator Woody Wolston to whip up a batch of the flaky cranberry scones from her latest baking bible.
Beranbaum is a famously exacting baker, and this book is no exception. Her attention to detail is all over the scone recipe. The dough is unique in that it calls for butter and whipped cream, and she recommends chilling both the cream and mixer beaters before whipping to get the peaks just right. She is very specific about the type of flour (Gold Medal) and baking powder (aluminum-free) in the ingredient list because she knows from experience how much that can affect results. She also provides measurements in grams in addition to cups, as she’s always been partial to the precision of weighing.
She uses small scissors to cut the dried cranberries in half. “The distribution is better—it’s the perfect hit of cranberries in every bite,” says Beranbaum. “I always go by how I want to eat something and how it’s going to taste.” She swears by washing lemons with dish soap and hot water before zesting to remove any wax or residue, which can impart bitterness. She also bakes the scones on two baking sheets stacked on top of each other because the bottoms tend to brown faster.
Beranbaum adds, “If I were going to be more of a perfectionist than I already am, I would position the points of the scones in the same direction, then cover the points with strips of aluminum foil because they always get browner.” While she doesn’t actually do this, it demonstrates the tremendous amount of thought she puts into each recipe.
Beranbaum also uses an instant-read thermometer to test the doneness of the scones (it should read 212 to 215 degrees) but concedes that it’s not as necessary here as it is for something like caramel. Her most important tip for scone success is not optional: the butter and the dough must be well-chilled. Cold butter is key to a flaky texture, while refrigerating the dough helps maintain the shape of the scones.
“Rose’s Baking Basics” is Beranbaum’s first book for novice bakers, and like Martha, she is a teacher through and through. She says, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do a book for beginners because bakers of all levels use my other books, so I said I’d only do it if I could have a picture for each step, which has always been a dream of mine, and my editor said yes.” The book contains 600 step-by-step photos styled by Beranbaum and Wolston, capturing each stage of baking for almost every recipe.
And while the food editors certainly aren’t beginners, they did learn an invaluable technique from one of Beranbaum’s previous books: reverse creaming, which refers to beating butter into dry ingredients. Editor at large Shira Bocar says, “I’ve been in this test kitchen a long time, and there have been few real aha moments, but the reverse creaming method was a revelation. It makes cakes so tender.” Based on how many Post-its the 42 Burners crew stuck onto Beranbaum’s new book, there might just be another aha moment waiting to be discovered.
Watch this throwback video of Rose baking a whipped cream cake with Martha: