'Tis the season, once again, to ponder which Northwest cookbook to ship off to Aunt Minnie in Minneapolis. You have to, it's a family tradition. You became part of it when you received your first “Alligator Recipes Made Easy” from the cousins in Florida: You send a book about the place where you live as a gift to faraway relatives, so they feel closer to you. So here are a few crowd pleasers. And if you've already sent Minnie a rolling pin or a Chihuly replica, buy these for yourself.
Tom Douglas is like a big, friendly, rumpled bear of a man, impossible to ignore, impossible to dislike. He has kind words for everyone, including his competitors in the restaurant business. Leslie Mackie, on the other hand, is almost elfin in stature, with good humor and grace, creativity and resolve. This season, they've both got fine books about baking.
As a young baker from Portland, Mackie got her start at Gwen Caldwell Bassetti's Grand Central Bakery. She started Macrina, in Belltown 20 years ago, and her second cookbook, More From Macrina, has now come out. Among the changes since the first volume was published: Mackie turned over control of the company to the local foursome that owns Pagliacci Pizza and DeLaurenti's, and moved into a new production facility in a century-old building in SoDo.
The best part of the book is its lack of pretension. Want bread with deeper flavors? Roast your seeds and nuts. Want to keep your cupcakes firm, yet moist? Mackie suggests Xantham gum, an ingredient (made from fermented corn syrup) that most cookbooks are afraid to mention, let alone recommend. Want an artisan bread you can make without kneading the dough? Mackie tweaks a famous New York Times recipe from 2006 by adding ½ cup of rye flour.
“Leslie Mackie is the goddess of bakers in Seattle,” says none other than Tom Douglas.
The Douglas saga is well-documented. Since his first restaurant, Dahlia Lounge, opened on Fourth Avenue in 1989, he has created a local restaurant empire with a dozen restaurants and nearly 1,000 employees. His first cookbook, Tom Douglas's Seattle Kitchen, won a James Beard Award for books in 2001, and earlier this year, Douglas won the James Beard Award as America's best restaurateur.
At this point in his culinary career, T-Doug (as everyone calls him) realizes that his strength does not lie in the day-to-day business of operating a restaurant or a bakery. He has a trusted operating partner in Eric Tanaka, and a down-to-earth ceo in Pamela Hinckley. And even as his company prepares for a huge expansion through the South Lake Union neighborhood, Douglas and longtime collaborator Shelley Lance have published The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. Inside the covers are 125 recipes, from a triple coconut cream pie to a doughnut with cinnamon sugar and marscapone that Food Network star Giada di Laurentiis has called the "best thing I ever ate."
T-Doug admits he's not a baker. “Bakers are crazy, bakers are irrational, bakers are perfectionists,” he writes. Cooks, on the other hand, are "a scrappy lot." But over the past quarter century, the line between fine dining, casual café and down-home bakery has blurred tremendously. His Dahlia Workshop, where the goods for the Dahlia Bakery are produced, is a compact factory, turning out an assortment of muffins, doughnuts and breads.
Delightful anecdotes fill the pages, none more touching than the story of T-Doug's parents saving up for a full year to afford a 1954 Wedgewood gas range. Good advice as well: Don't skimp on equipment.
It wouldn't be Seattle if there were not also an earnest, unadorned vegetarian cookbook to put all those passive-aggressive diners and self-centered fusspots to shame. This is where Michael Natkin comes in. His blog, Herbivoracious.com, may be a tongue-twister, but he comes by his enthusiasm honestly: He quit his software job at Adobe after 12 years to concentrate on cooking and photography, but not before he spent months working in professional kitchens.
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