The pastry chef does it his way in a new cookbook | Food and drink


For the baking world, this is an unthinkable suggestion that borders on profanity: when preparing certain desserts, it is quite okay to use imitation vanilla extract.

That’s what Helen S. Fletcher, author of “Craving Cookies: The Quintessential American Cookie Book” says. This might just be the best cookie cookbook you’ll ever see.

Fletcher is the pastry chef at Tony’s, one of St. Louis’s top-rated fine dining establishments. For over 20 years, she owned Truffles at University City, a bakery that supplied restaurants, hotels and caterers, and also worked extensively with weddings. She therefore knows a thing or two about baking, even when it comes to imitation vanilla.

“At work, at Tony’s … I use vanilla which costs $ 400 a gallon,” she said, demonstrating in one short sentence the difference between professional bakers and hobbyists.

Even small bottles of what she considers the tastiest and most aromatic vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, can cost $ 35. And she doesn’t want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of cooking.

“My mantra is: I want people to cook. I want people to love to cook. I want people who have never cooked to bake, ”she said.

And that means using an imitation vanilla when the vanilla flavor doesn’t show up on its own, like in recipes that also use a lot of spices or chocolate. She usually uses a professional vanilla imitation herself, but she also recommends McCormick’s.

Fletcher, 81, has had no formal training as a baker. So she has developed her own way of doing things, tips and tricks and tips that work wonders but that other bakers don’t use.

“Sometimes when you’re trained you get stuck on how you’re taught or how the book taught you. Well, I wasn’t trained and I didn’t have the book, ”she said.

Her new, self-published cookbook contains tips for cooking the way she does.

For example, she recommends something she calls the double pan method. When making croissants, she noticed that when the outside was golden and perfect, the inside was still undercooked. If she extended the cooking time, the insides would be cooked but the bottoms would be burnt.

So she put one baking sheet on top of another and baked on it. The result was perfect croissants every time – and not just croissants, but cookies and other pastries made with brown sugar, honey, molasses or chocolate, or containing a lot of butter or spices.

Cookies and pastries baked on a double pan will take a little longer to bake; probably around 10-15% beyond the original time.

If you’re cooking something that sticks to the sides of the pan and is difficult to remove, she recommends a very simple solution: turn the pan over over a board or platter and heat the side of the pan with it. a hair dryer. Brownies or caramels or lemon bars will fall off easily.

“At work, I use a propane (torch). I modified it for a high intensity hairdryer. It really works for a lot of things. I use it for cheesecakes, anything that needs to be released with heat, ”she said.

Lemon bars, which she writes “are as American as chocolate chip cookies, and equally popular,” are particularly prone to stick. As the bars cook they move away from the sides of the pan and when the lemon filling is added it fills the space and sticks to the pan.

She developed another technique to prevent this from happening. She calls it spooning the crust. As soon as the crust is taken out of the oven, while it is still soft, it goes around it with a tablespoon and gently pushes it back against the sides of the pan.

The idea of ​​using bread flour to make fluffier, chewy cookies isn’t hers alone, but she embraces it fully – while suggesting that it’s also best to refrigerate the dough overnight, which allows the flour to hydrate completely.

She also cannot claim the idea of ​​adding corn syrup to make caramel to keep the sugar from granulating (although she did have the idea of ​​heating the cream to prevent the caramel from solidifying temporarily). . And other bakers are also using a food processor to make pasta, though that seems counterintuitive.

Shortbread, for example, is “the easiest thing to cook in a food processor.” You use cold butter and you just cut it into the flour until it’s like sand. That way it comes out of the food processor cold and ready to use, ”she said.

“Craving Cookies” is Fletcher’s second cookbook. The first, “The New Pastry Cook”, was released in 1986.


12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

2 teaspoons of almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, preferably Tahitian

1 7/8 cups (9 1/4 ounces or 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1/2 cup sanding sugar, see note

Note: Sanding sugar is coarse sugar that will not melt in the oven. It can be found in some grocery stores, big box stores, kitchen supply stores and online.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Put aside.

2. Beat butter and sugar together until very light. Add the egg yolk and beat until completely combined. Add the almond and vanilla extracts and beat well. Add the flour all at once and mix until the dough forms a ball.

3. If using cookie cutters, divide dough in half (290 grams or 10 ounces each). If it’s too soft to work with, refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Place between 2 sheets of waxed paper and roll with a rolling pin to approximately 1/4-inch thick, and cut out the cookies. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Collect the remaining pieces and re-roll if necessary.

4. If you are rolling and slicing, divide the dough in half as shown in step 3. Roll each half into a 10 inch log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until stiff. Slice approximately 1/4– One inch thick. (Logs can be frozen, thawed and sliced ​​as needed. Cook as directed).

5. Place about 1 cookies1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake an additional 6 to 7 minutes if it is very small or 10 to 12 minutes if it is larger, until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

6. While the cookies are cooling, prepare the quick tempered chocolate. Combine chocolate and shortening in a bowl. Melt either by placing the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stirring until combined or by placing the bowl in the microwave and heating in bursts of 10 seconds, stirring between each, until combined. ‘that everything is combined.

7. In a separate bowl, mix sanding sugar with salt to taste. You want to be able to taste the salt, but the sugar should be the predominant flavor.

8. Holding a cookie upside down, dip the top half of the cookie in the chocolate. Sprinkle with the sugar / salt mixture. Let the chocolate harden firmly at room temperature.

Per serving: 60 calories; 3 g of fat; 2 g of saturated fat; 8 mg of cholesterol; 1 g of protein; 7 g of carbohydrates; 4 g of sugar; 1 g of fiber; 3 mg of sodium; 2 mg of calcium

Recipe from “Craving Cookies: The Quintessential American Cookie Book” by Helen S. Fletcher

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