Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nerds Bake

Hi, my name is Annie and I am a nerdy baker. Yup, you heard me. Nerdy. Baker. To most people, those two words don't seem to go together. However, I think they are a little bit like sea salt and chocolate chip cookies - on the surface, it doesn't sound like a good thing. Underneath - they are made for each other. Try the smallest pinch of sea salt on the tops of your next batch chocolate chip cookies... trust me (and the New York Times, who came up with the idea in the first place).

My life as a nerd used to stunt my creative development as a cook. I was so dedicated to following the recipe that I never tried anything new. But then, I had a revelation. I discovered that nerds make great (and creative) cooks. How did I come to this stunning conclusion? I found two companies made up entirely of nerds. Nerds who are some of the best bakers and cooks in the world. Meet my friends at Cooks Illustrated and King Arthur Flour. As a side note, I don't actually know them, but I figure that I can call them friends if I heartily endorse them and pander shamelessly.

Let's talk about Cooks Illustrated first. You may have seen their editor, Christopher Kimball, on PBS. America's Test Kitchen? You know, the guy with the bow tie and apron? Anyway. These guys are great. They produce a terrific magazine that accepts NO advertising. If they tell you it is good, nobody is paying them to say it. Why I love them: They believe that cooking is a science that can be refined. Some recipes taste better than others, some ingredients work better than others, and when put in the right combination, you can achieve something pretty darn close to perfect. CI continually tests recipes, equipment, and ingredients to find the very best ones. The part that nerdy me loves - they tell you why they made the adjustments. Articles about how recipes are developed - not just the recipe. They rule.

King Arthur Flour produces some of the best flours around. They also have a cookbook that is one of the best out there - The King Arthur Flour Bakers Companion. Each section begins with in-depth info on why things work the way they do.

Okay, so you might not be a nerd. Why should you care about these two nerdy companies? If you skip all the info that they provide and just cook they way they tell you to cook (clear, direct instructions) you can't fail. You heard me. You can't fail. They are that good.

If you are a nerd like me, you might be wondering how these companies make you a more creative cook. Well, they experiment. And experimentation makes you better. Just remember that it is better to fail spectacularly than to skate along without trying. The dog will eat the failures.

If Megan and Laura let me stick around, I will be blogging about food. I bake all of our bread (buns, bagels, sourdough, baguettes, muffins, etc). I lean pretty heavily on CI and KAF... but there are lots of great cookbooks in the world (more on some of them later)! Once you get started baking, it is pretty hard to quit. I suppose you could say I am addicted. My name is Annie and I am a nerdy baker.

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