Bakers across the world rejoice when Dorie Greenspan comes out with a new cookbook. Her newest, “Baking Chez Moi” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40), is the 10th one she has devoted to the magic synergy of oven, flour, sugar and butter. With the publications, her Baking with Dorie app and the devoted Web followers who bake their way through her books on the Tuesdays with Dorie site, you could argue that Greenspan has claimed the country’s carb-loving heart as her own.
Greenspan lives in Paris, New York and Connecticut, and “Baking Chez Moi” is the work of her Paris persona. Despite what you probably think of French pastry, Greenspan maintains that French home baking is the opposite of fussy, demanding little time and a minimum of ingredients.
Even so, readers might at first find these recipes daunting. Greenspan’s style is to test exhaustively: terribly hard on herself, but a boon to others. She offers meticulous instructions on what to watch, listen and smell for so you don’t stray from the flour-strewn path of virtue.
The recipes are long, but they hold your hand and go by quickly; if you pay attention, the rewards can be great.
Moka Dupont is merely an icebox cake of petit beurre cookies, dipped in espresso, stacked up and mortared together with the world’s easiest buttercream (no mixer!). Even if your frosting technique is slapdash, everything’s hidden under an elegant scattering of chocolate curls.
Equally easy are pailles made with store-bought puff pastry, slivered and arranged crosswise. If you’re comfortable with Legos, it’s no trouble at all. In the end, you have little cross-grained pallets, which you sandwich together with jam. Eating pure puff pastry might be a little one-dimensional, but that’s never stopped me.
A mini-muffin, Greenspan observes, happens to look like a very, very small pie. With a tiny mince of apples, apricots and raisins within, and tiny vents in the top, her Apple Pielettes are doll-size and charming, gone in two bites. The dough — a simple galette dough smoothed with the smashing hand motion known as “fraisage” — threatens to misbehave, but it all comes together in the end, in a mini-muffin pan.
The heady perfume of pears blends with the benzaldehyde sweetness of almonds in a tart; the egg white-almond topping bakes in a manner suggestive of nougat: sweet, crunchy yet also barely chewy, and almost obscene over the ripe, collapsing pears. Don’t be surprised if your pears don’t caramelize, or if after the prescribed five minutes in the pan they’re bathing in their own juice. (This might have something to do with how your fruit is; better to choose pears that are firm, just shy of ripe.) Just keep reducing till the pan’s nearly dry, and all will be well.
A lime tart has only six ingredients (if you don’t count the sweet, yolky tart dough). Although the filling is just a simple lime curd, Greenspan’s instructions are painstaking, and I second-guessed myself. I pulled out my thermometer, looking out for signs: 180 degrees and the telltale bubbling of the curd. But the bubbling began at 160 degrees; what to do? I held my ground, stirring, till 170, at which point I lost my nerve and pulled it. Good thing, too, as the custard showed traces of cooked egg when I strained it. Once set, the filling was unctuous and barely solid, silky and magnificent on the tongue, but I’m still wondering about those last 10 degrees.
I can’t resist a financier (the confectionary kind, not the human kind) and fell headlong for the “Chez Moi” pistachio and raspberry version, baked in mini-muffin molds instead of the traditional and hard-to-find ingot molds. Apart from a mysterious optional ingredient (framboise) suddenly popping up in the middle of the instructions, the recipe behaved beautifully, yielding up a shiny batter thick enough to scoop when chilled and swooningly buttery when baked.
Bubble eclairs are nothing but cream puff or choux dough, piped into little mounds of three. Despite a queasy moment when my piping went off course, the misshapen blobs took airy form, round and golden, just as they should have. I couldn’t tell whether they were hollow enough to fill in one smooth piping, so I hastily filled each segment with its own burst of cream. Moments later, they were demolished, anyway.
Greenspan calls the dough for croquets — little more than egg whites and nuts — a “misbehaver,” but mine was, strangely, not. Did I over-chop the macadamias, so that their fine particles coated the dough and made it less of a sticky proposition? Regardless, the biscotti-like fragments made for a fine sweet nothing to nibble on with tea and coffee.
By the end of a week, our house was stuffed with sweets. For a moment, I thought about packing some up for the Reserves — seasoned friends who have helped me clear out many an overdose of testing. Then I thought of the week ahead, and my kids loading up on Halloween candy while I watched.
I kept the leftovers. In the end, “Baking Chez Moi” could be deemed a success. But Eating Chez Moi was even better.
Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe, NPR and the cookbook-indexing Web site Eat Your Books. She lives in New England and is the author of “A Spoonful of Promises: Stories and Recipes From a Well-Tempered Table” (Lyons Press, 2011). She blogs at Cookbooks for Dinner.