As I first read through “Baking Style,” Washington cookbook author Lisa Yockelson’s new effort (Wiley, $45), the words of catcher Crash Davis came to mind. In the 1988 baseball film “Bull Durham,” the character simplified things for pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh by saying: “Don’t think. Just throw.”
That sums up the best approach to Yockelson’s recipes. We the readers do not have to think. We should just follow. If you’re prone to substituting ingredients, you need to fight those impulses. If you’re too busy to scan the notes, you need to pull up a chair and focus. Do as she says, and you’ll be rewarded with success.
Yockelson, a Washington native and longtime contributor to the Food section, is known for the exactitude inherent in her cookbooks, which amount to a baker’s dozen (not including a compilation) that spans almost three decades. The diary-style “Baking Style” took her 10 years to produce. And although she can’t quite resist the temptation to add “cozy” and “warm” when a simple “soft” will do, the impression and end result are unmistakably hers.
On average, every one of the 200 recipes in “Baking Style” was tested six or seven times; more for the cheesecakes and coffee cakes, she guesses. A surprising number of the recipes are simple and savory. Her whole-wheat soda bread is indeed “lush,” as she calls it, and comes together with not much more effort than do scones. Her subtle cinnamon popovers prove that even a little bit of butter can yield spectacular breakfast fare.
Drop biscuits merit their own chapter. Dried cranberries, buttermilk and cornmeal make for one particularly nice rendition. Yockelson specifies stone-ground (coarse) yellow cornmeal and tells us why: The finely ground kind “will cause the biscuits to flatten somewhat.” I happened to have both cornmeals on hand and was keenly interested to see how the finer stuff, purchased on a local road trip, would perform.
The difference between the biscuits was just as Yockelson had described.
Don’t think. Just throw.