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Feb 3, 2011 02:19 PM

What are the steps to becoming a good dessert home cook?

What are the steps or building blocks to becoming a good dessert home cook?

I am not talking about becoming a professional pastry chef.

What are the steps you would recommend to improving as a dessert cook using self study techniques?

Book recommendations are fine but I am really more interested in actual skills needed.

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  1. I think knowing how to make the different butter crusts in an important skill--Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is great for learning that and most other French-based baking skills. I might not tackle the puff pastry right away, but the pate choux for eclairs and such is not difficult and very impressive.

    1. what a great start for a thread! i don't know the answer, but i would start with (very american bias)

      simple baked sweets: skills--mixing, decorating, proportions, execution speed

      cookies: choc chip, sugar, molasses, gingerbread, "christmas/holiday." peanut butter, oatmeal, hermits, classic "betty crocker" or "joy of cooking" favorites, specialty ethnic cookies

      brownies, other bar cookies

      pound cake, shortbread, simple cakes

      fruit crisp/crumble/slump, baked fruits

      skills--whipping, folding, more complex cake baking, working with eggs, leavening, rising:
      devil's food/angelfood cakes, sponge cakes, chiffon cakes, yellow cake, layered cakes, frostings and simple cake decorating

      regional or liked cakes ex: boston cream pie, fruitcake, upside down cakes, carrot cakes

      technique: simple pastry; showpieces, decorating:
      pie/piecrust, fruit pie, or regional non-pastry crust pie, ex: key lime pie, pumpkin pie, buttermilk pie, chess pie

      tarts/gateaux/ "fancy" cakes, cheesecakes

      coffee cakes, sweet breakfast rolls/sticky buns/ muffins/quickbreads, scones

      bread puddings, rice puddings, trifles


      classical pastry:
      choux pastry, puff pastry, filo

      chocolate technique:
      chocolate desserts, properly tempering chocolate, ganache, simple candies (fudge, caramels, truffles)

      dessert sauces, syrups, and jams, candied fruits

      mousse, creme caramel, panna cotta, creme brulee, cold pudding, etc, making pastry cream, creme anglaise, other custards

      subject to interest: doughnuts, flans, sweet empanadas, strudel, other ethnic pastries

      sorbet and ice cream

      i'd just go with what interests the cook and what the family likes. when i was little i loved a frozen strawberry dessert my mother made. i requested it often, though her pies were better. i was looking at the current thread on the new "martha stewart bakes" show (i know, i know, ya love her or hate her) and i was thinking it was a good intro course for a home baker. maybe check it out, one of the posters listed the show topics on the thread:

      1. What are you familiar and comfortable with making right now?

        1. Just a few thoughts off the top of my head:

          1. Working with chocolate (kinds of chocolate, when you need to temper, how to melt)

          2. Working with eggs (making custards, whipping, making souffles)

          3. Working with butter (when to use cold, when to use at room temp, how to incorporate)

          4. Different ways to use sugars

          5. Different kinds of flours and how they work differently

          6. How to work with yeast

          7. How to use cream (how to whip heavy cream, making custards)

          I know you're looking for techniques not books but I'll quickly mention one book you might like: Secrets of Baking. It talks about different "families" of desserts, with basics and then twists on the basics and lots of tips. I think it's good for understanding the relationships between things in the same dessert "family."

          1. What's your favorite dessert? Keep making it until you get it right, and be very observant about what you do each time you make it. Practice it, and practice it, and practice it some more, until you get it right. Then, what's your second favorite dessert?

            Take a class and learn about the processes you go through to make the things on the list above. Then apply the processes. Then practice, practice, practice.