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Dorie Greenspan Part Two: Julia Child, Cookbooks, and How to Write a Recipe (Recipe Included)

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Dorie Greenspan has had quite the career. The six-time James Beard and IACP award winner has worked with some of the biggest names in food: Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, pastry chef Pierre Herme, and Julia Child, to name a few. Though she has widely explored the world of fine French food, her most recent title, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes From My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere, is all about simple French baked goods anyone can make at home.

In part two of our two-part Q&A, Greenspan talks Julia Child and writing recipes, and she shares a recipe for macaron biscotti.

See also: Author Dorie Greenspan on Pastries, Writing, and Women in the Industry

Clean Plate Charlie: You've worked with some huge names in the industry. How did that come together for you?

Greenspan: I met Julia [Child] when Sweet Times came out in '91. I was invited to Boston University to do a demonstration of one of the recipes in the book. I don't know how this happened, because there was me, little me, Julia Child, Jacque Pepin; I was truly the new kid on the block. She really kind of took me under her wing. After that, we kept in touch, and when Jeff Drummond, who was the producer of Baking With Julia, Master Chef, and later, the Julia and Jacques series, came to me and said he and Julia wanted me to write Baking With Julia; was I interested? I actually turned the job down, because I had just started working at the Food Network. I thought, I have a new career in TV; I'm not writing anymore, sorry! And then I realized, I missed writing. So I called Jeff and asked, "Who did you find to write the book?" He said, no one. I said, "Sign me up!" I was really, really lucky. I would have missed what was an experience of a lifetime.

I had met Pierre [Herme] when I was in Paris; I was researching a story for the New York Times, and we just kept in touch. After I worked on Baking With Julia, I was [at] sixes and sevens; I didn't know what I was going to do. So I wrote to Pierre, "Want to write a book?" And we ended up doing two books together. It was wonderful. First of all, he's an extraordinary person, and he's crazy, crazy talented and inspiring. Working with him was life-changing. It really was also a terrific education for me in French pastry. At that point, I already had a background, but I was translating all of his recipes and making them work in America. I learned everything, so I could write the recipe and teach others to do it. It was a tremendous experience.

How did the two works differ?

The Julia book was completely, completely different, because those were the recipes of 26 French pastry chefs. In a sense, the work itself was kind of similar, in that I was taking professionals recipes and translating them for home bakers. With the Pierre books, it was really professionals who were most enthusiastic. It ended up being the prime audience, but when I'm working, I'm always thinking of home bakers. I always want them to be able to re-create the recipes. I'm an evangelical in that sense: I want everybody in the kitchen baking. So in a way, it was the same.

I had the recipes from the pastry chefs and bread makers who were coming on Julia's show. Each one was different; each one had a different technique. Again, fabulous learning experience for me. I did more bread baking then than I had ever done.

But it was interesting working with Pierre. We did two books, so over 200 recipes, to really get to know one person's style, one person's way of doing things. It was really an immersion into another person's creative mind, in a way.

In both cases, I worked alone with encouragement. But just spending time with Julia, I mean, I was up in Cambridge with her for two months, and we talked on the phone every day for years after that. She was just so smart and so curious about people and everything around her. And she was really a good friend. She was so supportive and so encouraging and so interested. I loved her. She was the same person on camera as she was in real life. When the light on the camera would go on, nothing changed about her. She had a way -- I shouldn't say a way, because it was just how she dealt with people -- she would look you straight in the eye for the time that she was talking to you; there was no one else in the world. I always loved being there watching her be interviewed or watching interviews she had done. Because the interviewer is there asking her question after question, as he or she the interviewer, is supposed to do, and at some point... she'd turn to the interviewer and say, "Well, what do you do in that situation?" Or "What do you think about that?" "Has that ever happened to you?" It was because she was really interested in people. She was so great.

You mentioned you and Julia both write long recipes. Why do you write recipes of the length you do?

Because I want people to succeed. I don't want anybody to have a surprise. I want to be able to tell people, especially, first-timers or people who might be timid about baking, what's coming. Like, when a mixture curdles, that's OK. Or when the sugar turns really brown and starts to smoke, when you're making caramel; I want them to know, this happened, it's all right, pull the pot off. Whatever it is. So I think of myself as a teacher and a cheerleader. I try to make sure at each step, I'm kind of there, getting you through the recipe, so you can be successful. Because what's better than following a recipe and having it turn out just the way you want it to? I feel my job is to make sure that happens. And I need more words than most to get that done.

You have 11 cookbooks under your belt. What do you think is the biggest mistake you see in other cookbooks?

I have a huge collection of cookbooks, and I keep buying them. I don't cook from them; I read. I don't know. I think it's easy -- and I think everyone who writes recipes has this happen -- it's easy to use short hand to assume that readers know everything, and I really try not to. I had a recipe tester baking recipes for me, and she wrote to me and, I can't remember what the question was, but it was something to do with shallots; she didn't understand it. It was one of those things where if you worked in a kitchen, you'd know what it was, but if you cook at home, you might not know it. So I think that because cookbook authors know so much and because they've made the recipes and so many have worked in kitchens that it's easy to not explain things fully. In recipe writing, less is not more.

When you first started working on recipes, how did you work out the process?

I worked thinking of myself as a teacher. So I was always writing to teach. I imagined myself sitting on your shoulder. My husband has walked by and seen me at the computer moving my hands in a funny way, and he says, "What are you doing?" I say, "Oh, sorry, I was just shaping the dough." I always try to describe a movement, and I've always had people retest my recipes after. Do they read properly? Are they easy to understand?

Click to the next page for Greenspan's macaron biscotti recipe.

Excerpted from Baking Cez Moi, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Macaron Biscotti

Makes as many as you want.

I bought a bag of double-baked macarons from Sadaharu Aoki in Paris not knowing what they were, just because they looked so snackable. A couple of bags later, I learned how the small, buttonish cookies were made: Macaron shells--the cookies before they're sandwiched--are dipped in butter and then baked again. What you get are crunchy almond cookies that crack at first bite. It's hard to find a name for them, but biscotti is close.

This is not really a recipe, because there are no real quantities to give. All you need are some unfilled macarons and some butter. Having a little Champagne or sherry on hand is nice too.

  • Unsalted butter
  • Macaron shells (see below), freshly baked or days old

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Parchment is better than a silicone baking mat here.)

You need enough melted butter to dip and coat the macarons, so take a guess at the amount and put it in a small saucepan or skillet (to melt it on the stovetop) or in a microwave-safe bowl (to melt it in the microwave). Melt the butter. (Clarified butter would be ideal, because it won't give you specks of milk solids on the shell. I leave it to you to clarify or not. I don't; I bet Sadaharu Aoki does.)

One by one, dip the mac shells into the melted butter to coat them completely and place on the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the macs are golden brown and firm. There's really no overbaking here, just overbrowning, but if you underbake them, they'll be uninteresting. Transfer the sheet to a rack and let the biscotti cool to room temperature. As they cool, you'll see that they absorb any butter that might have been bubbling around their craggy feet when they were in the oven.

Serving: These simple cookies are so grown-up that they should be served with Champagne, sherry, a dessert wine or strong espresso.

Storing: Like other biscotti, these are good keepers. In a cool, dry place, they'll be fine for at least one week.

Macaron Shells

Makes about 90 macaron shells.

About twenty years ago my friend Anne Noblet brought me a box of beautiful chocolates from her home in Angers, in the Loire Valley, and told me that the chocolatier was also a pastry chef, a very good one. I quickly asked if he made wonderful macarons, and she just as quickly answered, "Macarons! Only Parisians care about them!" She was right then, but wouldn't be at all right now. The macaron craze has spread across France and even jumped to America.

These are not double-O macaroons, not Passover macaroons, coconut macaroons or even amaretti types. They are small, sweet almond meringue cookies that, when properly made, puff into a smooth-topped matte round with a craggy ring on the bottom, referred to as "the foot." The foot is the grand prize of macaron making and, like the smooth, uncracked top, it's a sign of a job well done. There's one more sign, which only becomes visible when you break into the cookie: a chewy interior beneath that outer shell.

The shells themselves--made of confectioners' sugar, almond flour, egg whites and a sugar syrup--are always beautifully and fancifully colored but never have much taste. Taste is not their primary job. They were created to look pretty, provide crunch and sandwich a filling, the star of the show and an element that invites fantasy and fun. Some pâtissiers have dozens of flavors, and no matter how many there are, each week there are new ones. Go wild with these--everyone else does.

This recipe is long, not because there's so much to do or because what you have to do is difficult, but because there are so many things to look for. I've provided the best instructions I can, but you still might have to make these a couple of times to get them just right. You've got to learn about the batter and your oven. Much of what you have to do goes against established practice, so experience and trust are your best guides. Happily, most less-than-perfect macs still taste good.

A word on egg whites: Some pros leave their egg whites at room temperature for a few days before using them--you get a better meringue with old (more liquidy) whites. I leave them out overnight. If that makes you uncomfortable, separate the eggs and leave the whites in the refrigerator for a day or two.

A word on almond flour: The almond flour has to be absolutely free of lumps, so you must sift it or press it through a sieve. Never skip this step--it's imperative.

A word on measuring: If you have a scale, use it to measure the ingredients for this recipe. You want equal weights of almond flour and confectioners' sugar. You also want 150 ml of egg whites. That's about 5 whites. Just turn your glass measuring cup around to the metric side, you'll have an easy time of it. It's also easier to use the metric measure should you have to divide the egg whites in half.

A word on tools: Because you have to beat the egg whites and, at the same time, pour hot sugar syrup into the bowl, it's best to work in the bowl of a stand mixer. You'll also need a candy thermometer. And while you can certainly bake the macarons on parchment-lined baking sheets, this is a case in which silicone baking mats do a better job.

And finally, a word on timing: Filled macarons need to soften in the refrigerator for at least one day. Sorry, it's the rule.

  • 2 cups (200 grams) almond flour (made from blanched almonds)
  • 1 2/3 cups (200 grams) confectioners' sugar
  • 150 ml egg whites (about 5 large egg whites), at room temperature Food coloring (optional)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar ¼ cup (60 ml) water

To make the macarons: If you are going to bake the macarons on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, you might want to make a template. Using a cookie cutter as your guide, trace circles about 1½ inches in diameter on each sheet of paper, leaving about 2 inches between them, then turn the papers over on the baking sheets. If you're using silicone mats, there's nothing to do but line the baking sheets with them. Fit a large pastry bag with a plain ½-inch tip. (Alternatively, you can use a zipper-lock bag--fill the bag, seal it and snip off a corner.)

Place a strainer over a large bowl and press the almond flour and confectioners' sugar through the mesh. This is a tedious job, but much depends on it, so be assiduous. Then whisk to blend.

Put half of the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Add food coloring, if you're using it, to the remaining egg whites, stir and then pour the whites over the almond flour and confectioners' sugar. Using a flexible spatula, mix and mash the whites into the dry ingredients until you have a homogeneous paste.

Bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. If there are spatters on the sides of the pan, wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Insert a candy thermometer and cook thesyrup until it reaches 243 to 245 degrees F. (This can take about 10 minutes.)

Meanwhile, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold medium-firm peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing until the sugar syrup comes up to temperature.

When the sugar syrup reaches the right temperature, take the pan off the heat and remove the thermometer. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the hot syrup, trying to pour it between the whirring whisk and the side of the bowl. You'll have spatters--it's impossible not to--but ignore them; whatever you do, don't try to incorporate them into the meringue. Raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the meringue cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes--you'll be able to tell by touching the bottom of the bowl.

Give the almond flour mixture another turn with the spatula, then scrape the meringue over it and fold everything together. Don't be gentle here: Use your spatula to cut through the meringue and almond mixture, bring some of the batter from the bottom up over the top and then press it against the side of the bowl. The action is the same as the one you used to get the egg whites into the almonds and sugar: mix and mash. Keep folding and mixing and mashing until when you lift the spatula, the batter flows off it in a thick band, like lava.

If you want to add more food coloring, do it now.

Spoon half of the batter into the pastry bag (or zipper-lock bag) and, holding the bag vertically one inch above one of the baking sheets, pipe out 1½-inch rounds. Don't worry if you have a point in the center of each round--it will dissolve into the batter. Holding the baking sheet with both hands, raise it about eight inches above the counter and let it fall (unnerving but necessary to de-bubble the batter and promote smooth tops). Refill the bag, pipe batter onto the second sheet and drop it onto the counter.

Set the baking sheets aside in a cool, dry place to allow the batter to form a crust. When you can gingerly touch the top of the macarons without having batter stick to your finger, you're ready to bake. (Depending on room temperature and humidity, this can take 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes more.)

While the batter is crusting, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake the macarons, one sheet at a time, for six minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another six to nine minutes, or until the macarons can be lifted from the mat or can be carefully peeled away from the paper. The bottoms will feel just a little soft. Slide the silicone mat or parchment off the baking sheet onto a counter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the second baking sheet of macarons.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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