Friday, October 22, 2010

Nick Malgieri sits down with The Great American Bakery Hunt in Santa Monica

Imagine my delight when I was recently contacted to arrange a meeting with Nick Malgieri, a legendary American baker who is currently visiting Los Angeles to teach some local classes and spread the word about his latest book Bake!.  We met for lunch at Huckleberry during an uncharacteristically rainy Wednesday in Santa Monica.  While Santa Monica's outdoor exercise and tanning enthusiasts might protest this sentiment, I appreciate that the weather gods provided the perfect setting for enjoying a cozy cafe lunch between two baked good devotees.  

One thing I truly appreciate about Malgieri is that he encourages readers to ignore the intimidation factor associated with various doughs, baking techniques, and kitchen tools. Whether you put on a chef's coat every day or not, you should feel empowered to craft food that is elegant, delicious, and special-- and his writing really speaks to that.  And while there are many times when my passion for baked goods has led me to consider studying pastry professionally, I also love the idea that each day in my studio apartment kitchen is an opportunity to learn.  And this explains my immediate connection to Malgieri's newest book, as the title "Bake!" is imploring me to do so.  Good baking takes commitment, and Malgieri's advocacy for the home baker and his willingness to teach us quality baking is just the encouragement we need.       

In our convenience-driven society, many people turn away from baking either due to the time involved or the techniques, which they may assume are too complex.  Malgieri hopes to ease the worries of home bakers who sometimes "pick up their rolling pin as if it were a grenade." Bake! features beautiful step-by-step photography to confront any inklings of this pastry-related apprehension.  Bake! also offers handy tips including how to store your creations, which is an incredibly helpful bonus if you're serious about leftovers.

One standout recipe is definitely his quick version of homemade puff pastry, something I hope will start somewhat of a puff pastry paradigm shift.  This recipe is particularly symbolic, since frozen puff pastry has become such a standard in American recipes.  "No one makes their own puff pastry," you always hear people say.  And perhaps that will always be mostly true, but it's another frustrating reflection of our convenience-obsessed society and lowered expectations when it comes to baked goods.  As one more example, consider that it is rare to find a coffee house or cafe that serves a non-appalling version of a scone-- more often than not, they are dry, soulless, and attempting to mask their lack of freshness with an icing drizzle.  In Bake!, Malgieri similarly laments the commercially made muffins sold in airports, and provides alternatives for us via much more fulfilling recipes.  In Malgieri's earlier book, "A Baker's Tour", he will tell you that scones of the less- than- fresh variety are not acceptable for serving to guests.  Therefore, The Great American Bakery Hunt asserts that such scones should be illegal to sell to the public.  The man has standards, and we should too.

Aside from our mutual reverence for fresh scones and our passion for baking, I also learn that Malgieri and I have another thing in common: an avid cookbook collector, he has over 9,000 cookbooks in his apartment.  While my collection falls short of 9,000, I love cooking and baking so much that this amount is in no way excessive to me.  In fact, all I can think to myself is that I should strive to someday call my own an absolute minimum of 9,000 cookbooks.  Like Malgieri, I hope to travel enough so that I too can interpret my cooking texts in many languages beyond English.  As he advised, knowing just a few basic words opens up new worlds in baking and cooking, and these are worlds I believe I am destined for. 

Among everything else, we discussed with excitement a Danish meatball recipe I've been craving ever since 2005.  This topic naturally came up since I was eating lunch with an author and chef known for pursuing recipes all over the world and incorporating these into his food writing.  While Malgieri travels to Switzerland most frequently,  he has an enviable list of culinary experiences from his many travels across the globe. In my personal travels, I experienced the perfect meatball, a meatball made so lovingly in a Danish family kitchen that it's worth writing about and hopefully one day, recreating.  Since studying abroad in Copenhagen and living with a host mom who is an outstanding chef, her frikadeller (meatball) recipe is one I have ached for ever since my now 5 year absence from Scandinavia. And with Malgieri being an advocate of savory baking as much as sweet, who knows if he might one day translate such a recipe into a savory tart-- a Los Angeles bakery blogger can dream.  (Note: If this meat and pastry combination appeals to you, make sure to reference the empanada recipe he includes in Bake! using leftover puff pastry.)

Bake! is truly a wealth of recipes I look forward to experimenting with and it was a true pleasure to meet the man behind so many great recipes and compelling food writing.   If you're lucky, perhaps you'll catch this modern baker in your own city as he spreads the word of Bake!  Now if you'll excuse me, I have some baking to do...
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