I find that there's something extraordinary about cookbooks, whether you walk through the cookbook aisle of a bookstore or visit a store solely dedicated to food writing or just sifting through your own cookbook collection at home. Cookbooks are so much more than recipes with pretty photos and illustrations; they're a window into the author's life, their journey, their stories, the places they grew up, or the countries they've traveled to. Sometimes a cookbook goes deep into the theory displaying the practicality, making us wiser in the kitchen. I adore cookbooks and the authors behind them for these reasons and many more and when I get to chat with them, it's so very special.
Synonymous with baking and especially known for her cookies, Dorie Greenspan is a beloved household name for many cooks across the globe, and it makes me so happy to welcome her to This Is A Cook Letter. (Maybe in the future, newsletters will have a sound feature built-in to match the mood of the text because now would be a perfect time to 👏🏽)
Dorie is also one of my fellow Bulletin writers, and if you haven't already, I must urge you to quickly sign up for her lovely biweekly newsletter;XOXO Dorie. It's a hug wrapped up in an email, kinda like a parcel of Dorie's signature cookies delivered straight in your mailbox. In addition to her newsletter, Dorie writes a regular column for The New York Times and is the author of 14 cookbooks and she is the recipient of multiple awards. I'm thrilled to add her latest book, Baking with Dorie, to my library.
The recipes in Baking with Dorie are inspired by her travels across the world, from Santa Barbara, California, to New Zealand. I've already got a bunch of Dorie's recipes bookmarked that I need to make asap: Miso Maple Loaf, Lisbon Chocolate Cake (seen on the book cover), Swedish Fika Cake, Szarlotka, French Riviera Lemon Tart (because I LOVE any lemon or sour fruit curds), Double Corn Tomato Crisp.
What I find incredibly endearing about Dorie and her recipes is that even when we're unsure or trying out something for the first time, her recipe instructions guide us with ease, all the while making us confident along the way. There's no confusion, it's straightforward, and even if you falter, she steers you back on the right path.
I recently chatted with Dorie about her new book and the world of cookbookery and here's what she had to say.
This is your 14th cookbook, a monumental achievement. Congratulations! What did you want to convey and teach people in your new book, “Baking with Dorie”?
How has cookbookery, as you and Julia Child call it, changed since you started out? What’s the one thing you’ve noticed changing with cookbooks?
Did the pandemic in any way change your initial ideas for this book? How did it affect the evolution of the recipes?
How important is intuition in the kitchen, especially with regards to baking? What should novice or experienced bakers pay attention to?
What is the one tool you turn to the most in your kitchen?
I must ask, out of pure curiosity, is pumpkin spice popular in Paris?
I've got a special little treat for you. Dorie's been kind enough to share the recipe for her cranberry squares from her book Baking with Dorie. These squares are delightfully fragrant from the all-spice, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and it gets warmth from the molasses and rye. It's perfect for your fall and winter parties and, of course, your Thanksgiving table.
Dorie's Cranberry Spice Squares
Warm and cozy, the way gingerbread is, with the ping of fresh cranberries, these cake squares taste a bit earthy too because they’re made with three flours: all-purpose, whole wheat, and rye. They look sweet, plain, and old-fashioned, but their flavor turns out bright, sassy, and tough to pin down. They’re terrific with cream-cheese frosting or for something a bit more offbeat, lemon or cranberry curd.
A word on measuring molasses: To make getting the molasses out of the measuring cup easy, measure the oil in the (glass) measuring cup first and then measure the molasses – the slick from the oil will help the molasses slide out of the cup.
Makes about 16 squares
For the cake
1/2 cup (68 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (68 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) rye flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) unsulfured molasses
1/4 cup (60 ml) flavorless oil, such as canola
1 large egg, preferably at room temperature
3 tablespoons buttermilk, well shaken before measuring
3/4 cup (75 grams) halved or coarsely chopped cranberries (if frozen, don’t thaw)
For the frosting
3 ounces (85 grams) cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces; 42 grams) unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature
About 1 cup (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
To make the cake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F/200C. Generously butter an 8-inch/20 cm square baking pan or coat it with baker’s spray; line the base with parchment paper.
Whisk the three flours, the baking soda, salt and spices together in a bowl.
Working in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the sugar, molasses, oil and egg together on medium speed until smooth. Add the dry ingredients all at once and pulse the mixer to start blending them in. Beat on low speed only until the flour disappears into the batter, then pour in the buttermilk and mix until it’s incorporated; you’ll have a heavy, sticky batter. Stir the cranberries into the batter by hand.
Scrape the batter into the pan, using a knife or offset spatula to get it into the corners.
Bake for 26 to 30 minutes, or until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, wait 10 minutes, run a table knife around the edges of the pan and unmold the cake; peel away the paper. Turn the cake right side up and let it sit on the rack until it comes to room temperature.
To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter together – you can do this in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, in a bowl with a hand mixer, or by hand (if you’re working by hand with a flexible spatula, let the cream cheese and butter soften a bit more before you beat them). When the mixture is very smooth, gradually beat in the sugar, stopping when the frosting is the consistency you want and just as sweet as you’d like it to be. Spread the frosting over the top of the cake. You won’t have a thick layer; you’ll have just what the cake needs.
You can cut and serve the cake now or wait – spice cakes are nice after they’ve had a day to rest.
Storing: This cake is a good keeper. Wrapped and refrigerated, it will hold for at least 4 days; wrapped airtight, it can be frozen for up to 2 months. If you can wait, serve the cake at close to room temperature – you get more of the spice flavors when the cake is warmer.
Disclaimer: There might be a couple of affiliate links in this newsletter, which means that I might get a small commission, at no extra cost to you, from every purchase you make via the link.
Coming up next week: A lot of Thanksgiving stuff, be prepared!
What I'm listening to: Yeah, I went and turned on the Christmas radio station, All I Want For Christmas plays a few times every day in this house. Though I'm still flipping back to this writer's music radio station, that's very calming and the Whitney Houston Essentials that I can belt out to when I'm cooking.
I wanted to take a special moment to thank all of you who are regular readers of This Is A Cook Letter. Scores of you have participated in the live Q and A sessions on both Facebook and Instagram, your enthusiasm is positively infectious. I learn so much from you. You make this a fun and wonderful experience for me and I can't thank you enough!