I’ve made the confession before and I’ll make it again: I am not a baker. Real bakers like recipes that are construction projects -- works of art that may take days to prepare and end up looking like they belong under a glass case. I’ve got about a half-dozen rudimentary baking dishes in my repertoire and that’s about it. If you don’t want a tart or a crumble, don’t come to my house for dinner.
That number may have just increased dramatically. Zoe Nathan’s “Huckleberry,” based on the cooking of her well-loved Santa Monica bakery, is chock-full of recipes that I immediately want to try. They are homey and approachable and based on pure flavors and seasonal ingredients.
Baking purists may sniff that these recipes are just too simple, to which I’ll reply, “That’s exactly my point.” These are delicious things that I can actually make, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
The book is organized quite sensibly, starting with muffins and proceeding through biscuits and scones, cakes and teacakes, breads, flaky dough and on to fried stuff (doughnuts!), pancakes and so on. The recipes are clearly and concisely written.
There are a few drawn-out descriptions of techniques, but there are few techniques called for that require drawn-out descriptions. The step-by-step photographs by local photo wizard Matt Armendariz (he also shot Aarti Sequiera’s “Aarti Paarti”), convey as much information as is needed.
And there’s a bonus -- Nathan is actually quite a good writer. Each section is introduced by a short essay that, taken together, add up to her quirky, wry take on the life of a baker.
“There comes a time in every cook’s life when they get obsessed with the fryer. It comes from boredom, fatigue, or the simple understanding that fried things are good and generally sell really well,” she writes, before listing frying disasters -- croissant and cake dough, biscuits and strawberries (who’d ever fry a strawberry?). “There are certain things that the fryer turns into works of art, and other things that it makes into toxic waste.”
While the “real” bakers out there may be lusting after Dominique Ansel’s “The Secret Recipe” and planning on spending three days perfecting the home version of his Cronut, I’ll be quite happy eating my way through Nathan’s.
My dad’s pancakes
Makes about 12 pancakes. This recipe was not tested by the L.A. Times Test Kitchen.
1 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
2 cups (250 g) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 eggs, separated
If using the vanilla bean, split lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the milk and toss the pod in, too. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally to help break up the vanilla bean. Allow to cool, or refrigerate overnight. Discard the pod before proceeding.
Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter, egg yolks and vanilla milk (or milk and vanilla extract). Whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks with an electric beater on medium-high speed, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold the whites into the batter.
About 5 minutes before you’re ready to make the pancakes, preheat a greased griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat; the griddle is ready when a few droplets of water sizzle and dance across the surface.
Drop 1/2 cup of batter onto the hot griddle. When bubbles set on the surface of the pancakes and the bottom is golden, flip and cook about 1 minute longer. Serve immediately, while hot.
Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1.