Consider this a well-thought-out baking companion


October 08, 2003|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Some cookbooks are good for showing off and some are very practical. The must-have cookbooks are the ones that can do both.

The Williams-Sonoma line of cookbooks set the standard for this kind of dual accomplishment and the latest, Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking by Cathy Burgett, Elinor Klivans and Lou Seibert Pappas (Oxmoor House, 2003, $34.95), does not disappoint.

First, of course, it's beautiful. Filled with mouthwatering photographs of fresh-baked breads, cookies, cakes, pies and pastries, this is a book in search of a coffee table. Add the appropriate bakery smells and you would swear you could eat the pages.

But it's also an extremely well-thought-out baking companion. It includes virtually all the standard recipes from French baguettes to almond croissants and, for the more American sensibility, egg bagels to lemon meringue pie.

The more than 130 recipes are clear and obviously carefully tested. Most recipes are accompanied by a matching photo so you always know where you're headed. It's smart and to the point. Nothing here is outlandishly difficult, but the recipes are neither boring nor obvious.

Admittedly, this is not a place to find the exotic or new. Expect sturdy standards like coconut layer cake, tarte tatin, banana-nut bread, pizza margherita, and nothing fused, flambeed or more ethnic than French or possibly Danish.

But then if company is coming and it's time to whip up a menu, what you want is reliable and here's where Chuck Williams, the man behind the Williams-Sonoma kitchen supply stores and books, delivers.

Case in point is the recipe for chocolate souffle which was, in a word, perfect. Spectacular when presented hot out of the oven but surprisingly easy to prepare. (Just be sure to use bittersweet chocolate and not semisweet or else your souffle will come out too sugary.)

As is so often the case with the Williams-Sonoma books, the authors are nearly invisible (no personal reflections, anecdotes or asides can be found). They don't even write the foreword. For the record, Burgett is a San Francisco cooking instructor. Klivans is a pastry chef. Pappas is a bay area food writer with more than 40 books to his credit.

As much as it pains to see the Williams-Sonoma empire get even richer, this is a book that deserves a place on the pantry shelf, particularly for the beginner-to-intermediate baker.

Chocolate Souffle

Serves 6

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

6 large eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup sugar (divided use)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon Cointreau

whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees for a large souffle or 400 degrees for individual souffles. Butter a 1 1/2 -quart souffle dish or six 1-cup ramekins and dust the bottom and sides with sugar.

Place the chocolate in the top of a double boiler placed over barely simmering water. Heat, stirring often, until the chocolate melts. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thick and pale in color. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the vanilla. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate. Fold one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then gently fold in the remaining whites just until no white streaks remain. Spoon into the prepared dishes. Run your thumb around the rim of the dish to form a shallow groove along the edge. This will give the souffle a "hat."

Bake the souffle until set, puffed, and the center still jiggles when the dish is gently shaken, 25 to 30 minutes for the large souffle or 8 to 10 minutes for the individual souffles. Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

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