If you’ve ever tried to improvise while following a baking recipe, you know first-hand the results tend to be catastrophic. The science behind baking can be quite tricky for some, especially compared to the experimental nature of cooking. So how do all the professional bakers do it? We connected with Elizabeth Falkner, Food Network star, award-winning chef and James Beard nominee, who shared her tips and tricks for becoming a better, more intuitive baker.
What are some perfect recipes to tackle regardless of your skill level of baking?
The most basic stuff one has to learn is a custard or Crème Anglaise—it’s such a foundational tool for so many things. Also, short dough for things like shortbread cookies, biscuits and scones is always a good place to start.
What desserts or pastries would you recommend a novice baker attempt to make?
I make a lot of crumbs and streusel type things for desserts and even for savoury treats. Tip: I always taste that stuff raw—just to see if it’s at the crunchy, salty, cheesy level that I like. So much of pastry has to do with temperature — and not shocking one ingredient into the other. When one is working with fat and flour, you want to keep it cold. It’s always good to measure it all—double check your mise en place before you start assembling it so you get used to organization.
What about an intermediate baker?
I’d say the next layer of knowledge would be meringues or trapping air bubbles and things. Something like meringue is a good thing for an intermediate baker, because I think beginners are probably terrified to attempt a meringue or anything like that. They’re kind of a good base. Just understanding how to bake and use them—one can use them in all sorts of recipes.
What desserts would you recommend for an advanced baker?
I think a thin layer of dacquoise and a mousseline, or some crispy thin layers of chocolate, gets things really exciting. My advice for people is that once you understand certain recipes, try making them with 50 percent less sugar than what cookbooks recommend. I’d really like to tone down sugar in desserts—I think if there wasn’t so much sugar I could actually taste the blackberries. Sometimes people think they need to add a lot of sugar, but for a lot of recipes you really don’t.
How can a more experienced baker push their limits to take their baking skills to the next level?
In my Demolition Dessert cookbook, some of the desserts in there, or some of the components, might be really simple, but it’s the combination of textures and temperatures that I think makes them well suited for the sophisticated baker—that’s where you really start having fun. It’s more in plated desserts, really, because you get to put a sorbet next to something hot, or a totally different texture, and it’s not just a regular bakery item. In cake making,I’m a person who likes pretty sophisticated layers in cakes (more European I would say than Americana). I don’t really like red velvet cake and frosting, it’s just the most boring thing I can possibly think of… I don’t even understand how people eat that! For more experienced bakers, pushing yourself in the architecture of plated desserts or cake making is where it’s at.
Check out Elizabeth’s delicious recipe for Maple, Pecan and Bacon Stud-Glazed Kale Donuts.
Elizabeth Falkner returns to Food Network Canada as a celebrity chef judge on the new show Sugar Showdown, premiering January 6 at 9 E/P.
If you’d like to see Elizabeth Falkner along with more Food Network personalities including Lynn Crawford, Corbin Tomaszeski, Ricardo Larrivée and Marcus Samuelsson, don’t miss the KitchenAid Cook for the Cure Culinary Showdown taking place in Toronto on Saturday November 14, 2015. Hosted by Noah Cappe, watch the celebrity chefs compete in this epic cook-off to help raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
Learn more about the event and where to donate at www.culinaryshowdown.ca.
This interview has been edited and condensed.