Pillsbury book and others may give your baking a boost

February 27, 1994|By Peter D. Franklin | Peter D. Franklin,Universal Press Syndicate

Another Pillsbury Bake-Off come and gone and still no gold medal? Perhaps what you need is an Olympic-size assist.

"The Complete Book of Baking" (Viking, $25) could well provide the winning formula inasmuch as it is a product of the Pillsbury Co.'s test kitchens. It is more than 500 pages of baking, from A to Z, with emphasis on the C's and D's -- cookies, cakes and desserts.

The experienced home baker undoubtedly will discover some new tricks of the trade as well as more than a few inviting recipes to explore among the more than 700 packed into this hefty volume. Because it is so comprehensive and crystal-clear in its approach and presentation, however, the less experienced at baking will gain even more from a thorough read.

The book assumes nothing, taking the reader through all the basics, such as the prime ingredients and emergency substitutions (i.e., baking soda and cream of tartar for baking powder), equipment, terms, freezing, high-altitude conversions, which come with every recipe, and the winning techniques.

More than three-fifths of the book is devoted to cookies, cakes, pies, pastries and other desserts, so be prepared to exercise the sweet tooth. Even the chapters on quick breads and yeast breads lean to the sweeter specialty rolls and loaves.

You don't have to worry about blatant commercialism here. Pillsbury does not push its Doughboy products in the book, not even in detailing the various types of flour, but there are a few former Bake-Off winning recipes.

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"The Country Living Country Baker," by the editors of Country Living Magazine (Morrow, $35), is a neatly boxed set of four 88-page volumes: "Cakes & Cupcakes," "Breads & Muffins," "Pies & Tarts" and "Cookies & Crackers." Because the books are so nicely packaged as a set, they make a lovely gift for any home baker.

Combined, there are nearly 250 recipes, or about 60 in each volume. "Pies & Tarts," for example, includes such traditional favorites as rhubarb, fresh strawberry and peach pies, as well as the likes of a peanut-butter pie, spinach and tofu quiche and a vegetarian Cornish pasty.

Within each volume are equivalency and conversion tables, conversions on measures, and many, many tips that make the preparation that much easier or more interesting. A very nice effort all around.

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Finally, for the true professional, there's the second edition of "Professional Baking," by Wayne Gisslen (Wiley, $42.50). Mr. Gisslen's audience is Olympic-class bakers.

This revision of his popular 1985 edition now includes ice cream, sorbets and fancy desserts, a 16-page color insert and more step-by-step details on the procedures. What I personally found helpful is seeing the proper braiding of three, four, five or six

strands of bread into a loaf.

If you are at Mr. Gisslen's level of expertise, you are ready to go for the gold at the Pillsbury Bake-Off next year.

This recipe from "The Complete Book of Baking" is sure to win you praise from family and friends. Only 50 calories per serving, too.

So-easy sugar cookies

Makes 48 cookies

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened, or shortening

1/3 cup oil

1 tablespoon milk

1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract

1 egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl, beat 3/4 cup sugar, margarine, oil, milk, almond extract and egg until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt; blend well. Spread evenly in ungreased 15-by-10-by-1-inch baking pan; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Cut into bars or squares.

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