Tony’s pastry chef does it her way in new cookbook


For the baking world, this is an unthinkable suggestion bordering on blasphemy: when preparing certain desserts, it is perfectly acceptable to use imitation vanilla extract.

So says Helen S. Fletcher, author of “Craving Cookies: The Quintessential American Cookie Book.” This might be the best cookie cookbook you will ever see.

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

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

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

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

And that means using imitation vanilla when the vanilla flavor just isn’t enough, like in recipes that also use lots of spices or chocolate. She usually uses the professional imitation vanilla herself, but she also recommends McCormick’s.

Fletcher, 81, has had no formal training as a baker. So she developed her own way of doing it, tips and tricks and tricks 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,” he said. she declared.

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

For example, she recommends something she calls the double panning method. When baking croissants, she noticed that while the outside was golden and perfect, the inside was still undercooked. If she lengthened 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 that contain lots of butter or spices.

Cookies and pastries cooked on a double skillet will take a little longer to cook; probably about 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: Invert the pan onto a board or tray and heat the side of the pan with a hair dryer. Brownies or caramels or lemon bars will fall easily.

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

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

She has developed another technique to prevent this from happening. She calls it spoon the crust. As soon as the crust is out of the oven, while still soft, she rounds the edge with a tablespoon and gently flattens it against the sides of the pan.

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

She also can’t 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 keep the caramel from solidifying temporarily). And other bakers also use a food processor to make some doughs, although that seems counterintuitive.

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

“Craving Cookies” is Fletcher’s second cookbook. The first, “The New Pastry Cook,” came out in 1986. Someone has a copy for sale on Amazon for $253, she said.

“What moron would pay $253 for a baking book? says the author of this pastry book. “Two hundred and fifty-three dollars, and that doesn’t make sense.”

The new book, “Craving Cookies,” focuses solely on American cookies. It was originally supposed to be twice as long as her 80 recipes and would also include European cookies, but she didn’t want to have to overcharge for that.

“It wasn’t so much the number of recipes as the number of pages,” she said.

Thus, a second book, as yet untitled, will be released next year. It will focus on European cookies.

“There’s so much to learn. I think that’s what I love most about food. There’s no end, there’s always more.”


Yield: About 35 servings

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks, 170 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup (100 grams, 3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons of almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, preferably Tahitian

1 7/8 cups (260 grams, 9 1/4 ounces or 2 cups less 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour

6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1/2 cup granulating sugar, see note

Sea salt to taste

Note: Sanding sugar is a 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 egg yolk and beat until completely blended. Add the almond and vanilla extracts and beat well. Add the flour all at once and mix until the dough comes together into a ball.

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

4. If rolling and slicing, divide dough in half as directed in step 3. Roll each half into a 10-inch log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Slice about -inch thick. (Logs can be frozen, thawed and sliced ​​as needed. Bake as directed).

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

6. While the cookies are cooling, prepare the quick-tempering chocolate. Combine chocolate and shortening in a bowl. Melt either by placing the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stirring until combined, or by placing the bowl in the microwave and heating in 10 second bursts, stirring between each, until it is combined.

7. In another bowl, mix the 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 into the chocolate. Sprinkle with the sugar/salt mixture. Let the chocolate set firmly at room temperature.

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

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


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