Food
10:00 am
Tue January 17, 2012

'Tuesdays With Dorie': A Community In The Kitchen

Originally published on Wed January 18, 2012 7:13 am

New Year's resolutions have notoriously short lifetimes, but for a blogger in Pittsburgh named Laurie Woodward, a promise to herself became an Internet sensation.

Woodward was inspired to bake one recipe each week from Dorie Greenspan's popular cookbook Baking From My Home To Yours. And she found plenty of company — more than 100 bakers decided to take up the challenge with her. Every week, they made a recipe and posted their cooking stories to the online community Tuesdays with Dorie.

After four years and more than 370 recipes baked and dissected, Tuesdays with Dorie's first chapter ended in December 2011 — when the online group polished off every one of the recipes from Baking From My Home To Yours.

Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan joins NPR's Neal Conan to talk about baking and the online community she inspired.


Recipe: Chocolate Armagnac Cake

From Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

This cake is an intensely chocolaty chocolate cake made with ground pecans and chunks of prunes soaked in fabulously aromatic Armagnac. The cake is a variation on a restaurant's specialty, which was made with ground almonds and whiskey-soaked raisins (see "Playing Around," below). That cake, in turn, was a slight variation on a cake created by Simone Beck, a French cook best known in America as one of Julia Child's co-authors on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I lost my job because of improvising on this cake, but I got to keep the recipe — a trade-off I now consider ample.

Makes 8 servings

For the cake

2/3 cup finely ground pecans (or walnuts)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 plump, moist prunes, pitted if necessary and cut into bits

1/4 cup Armagnac (or Cognac, brandy or Scotch whiskey)

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

3 tablespoons water

3 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

For the glaze

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, fit the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment or wax paper and butter the paper. Dust the insides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Whisk together the nuts, flour and salt.

Put the prunes and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, being careful not to scorch the fruit, until the water almost evaporates. Pull the pan from the heat and pour in the Armagnac, stand back and set it aflame. When the flames die out, transfer the fruit and any remaining liquid to a bowl and let cool. (If it's more convenient, you can flame and steep the prunes up to 1 day ahead. Pack the prunes and their liquid into a covered jar and keep at room temperature.)

Combine the chocolate, butter and 3 tablespoons water in a heatproof bowl, set it over a pan of simmering water over low heat and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; or do this in a microwave oven. Remove the chocolate from the heat just as soon as it is melted and not very hot—you don't want the chocolate and butter to separate.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Switch to a rubber spatula and, one by one, stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, the nut mixture, and the prunes with any liquid.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold firm, glossy peaks. Stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Turn the batter into the pan.

Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until it is puffed, firm on top and starting to come ever so slightly away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out streaky — the cake should not be wet, but you don't want it to be completely dry. Transfer the cake to a rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan. Invert the cake, pull off the paper and turn right side up to cool to room temperature. The cake should be absolutely cool before you glaze it.

GETTING READY TO GLAZE: If the cake has crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even the top. Turn the cake over onto a cooling rack— you want the very flat bottom of the cake to be the top. Put a piece of wax paper or foil under a cooling rack to serve as a drip catcher.

TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, or in a microwave oven. Remove it from the heat and, using a small spatula, stir in the sugar, then the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze.

Have a long metal icing spatula at hand. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to run down the sides, and use the spatula to smooth the top of the cake if necessary — usually the glaze is a self-spreader — and to even it around the sides of the cake. Let the glaze set at room temperature or, if you want to speed it up, slide the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Serving: The cake should be served at room temperature — chill it, and you'll diminish its flavor and compact its texture. That said, there are lots of people, my husband included, who like the cake cold, because then it becomes more fudgy. Cream, whipped or ice, is a welcome accompaniment.

Storing: The cake can be kept at room temperature for a day or wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring it to room temperature before serving.

Playing Around

CHOCOLATE WHISKEY CAKE. The original cake by Simone Beck featured raisins and Scotch, rather than prunes and Armagnac. If you'd like to use that combination, put 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup Scotch whiskey in a covered jar and shake the jar a few times. Let the raisins steep for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day), turning the jar upside down and then right side up from time to time. When you add the raisins to the batter, add whatever whiskey remains as well.


Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

A New Year's resolution often has a short lifespan. But for a blogger in Pittsburgh named Laurie Woodward, a New Year's vow became an Internet surprise. She took her determination to bake one recipe a week - from a book by Dorie Greenspan - to the Web, and she created a group of followers who joined her once every week, Tuesdays with Dorie. After four years and more than 370 recipes, the project ended last month.

If you followed Tuesdays with Dorie or pored over the book "Baking: From My Home to Yours," share your baking adventures with us - 800-989-8255; email, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Dorie Greenspan is the author of "Baking: From My Home to Yours," the bible for "Tuesdays with Dorie," and joins us from a studio in Paris. Nice to have you on the program.

DORIE GREENSPAN: Nice to be here with you - well, kind of.

CONAN: Kind of, I guess. You could be out having a good meal in Paris instead of wasting time on the radio.

GREENSPAN: I'm happy to be with you, Neal.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: In any case, how did you find out about this group?

GREENSPAN: You know, it was such a surprise. Laurie wrote to me and told me that she wanted to start baking through my book with two other friends, and they would post the recipe that they baked and the pictures of what they had baked, and would that be OK with me? And I just - first of all, I mean, it was so polite of her to ask because, as we know, so many things happen out there on the Web that, you know, we don't know about. And I thought, hmm, this is so interesting. Sure. And, you know...

CONAN: Did you ask your publisher if it was going to be OK?

GREENSPAN: I asked my publisher. I asked my agent. And they were really behind it. Of course, we had questions. I mean, to - as an author, to know that every one of your recipes was, at some point, going to be available on the Web, was does it mean? But it just seemed like such a great idea, and Laurie was so nice when she wrote. And, of course, none of us had any idea that Tuesdays with Dorie would grow from three to a four-year project that hundreds have participated in.

CONAN: Each of...

GREENSPAN: It's fabulous.

CONAN: Each of your recipes would not only be available on the Web, there would be people saying: I tried to cook this, and it was absolutely the worst tart I've ever made in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: Yeah. And Dorie put raisins in it. She used raisins again; enough already.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: You know, I didn't know the world doesn't love raisins as much as I do - but it is a very high-powered microscope to be under. You know, as a writer - and, you know, I write cookbooks, but I'm sure this is true for all writers - we work alone. And I mean, I have my recipes tested by others and, of course, I share everything that I bake. But you create the book and, you know, in the days before the Web, you send it out into the world and you hope that somebody other than your mother bought it.

And I mean - my mother didn't even cook or bake, you know - and actually used it. And to see - to actually be able to see the way your book is being used, to know that people are making your food, that they're sharing it with families - that they're celebrating Thanksgiving with your pumpkin pie and Christmas with your ginger cookies - it's really remarkable. But it is a microscope. There are people who, you know - of course, there are people who don't like certain recipes.

But what's been so interesting is how kind and generous and wonderful - I got really lucky with Tuesdays with Dorie. They're a wonderful group of people, and they formed a real community. Real friendships have been formed through this group. People have helped one another. Careers have changed. It's been a remarkable journey, and one that - as I said, I never could have imagined this would happen.

CONAN: Have you ever met Laurie Woodward?

GREENSPAN: I've - oh, I want to so badly. No, I've never met her, but I keep a picture of Laurie and her husband and three boys on my refrigerator. I think of her as my muse, my kitchen angel, watching over me as I work.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: But no. In fact, I don't think we've talked on the phone more than twice.

CONAN: And through this process, you not only got - I assume when you share your recipes with friends and family and others, when you ask other people to test it, people say: It was just terrific. In this, did you find out, you know, that process of measuring and then adding and folding, that was, you know, that was a little difficult. I wish she had done it this way. You were really inside the process here.

GREENSPAN: Really inside the process. I learned, you know, it's like any - well, it's like any, you know, teachers - any educational process. I think the teacher always learns more than the students. And I learned so much and was able - the great part was that because Laurie started - and then Julie Schaeffer, who began helping her about a year and a half ago - because she had a website that all of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers could go to, I could - the week before they would make their recipes, some people who had made them would write in little comments about - well, about the raisins, of course...

CONAN: Yeah. Right.

GREENSPAN: ...but any problems they had had. And I could pipe in and say oh, do it this way; or, you know, I discovered - after I wrote the book - that if you roll the dough before you put it in the refrigerator, it's - so there was this real back and forth, and it really helped me. And I also - I feel like a proud mother. I've watched hundreds of bakers go from being scaredy cats to becoming really, really good bakers with confidence in their skills.

And the letters that I've gotten from people who have said that learning to bake, which was something that frightened them, that they did kind of as - you know, a self-improvement; you said a New Year's resolution. But many people do take up baking as a - at New Year's, when they're not dieting. But they - people who started without the skills have become so confident of what they can do. And it's gone to other areas of their lives, that this has really given them - I think of this as the power of baking, the power of community - it's really given them the confidence to do other things. It's been so exciting.

CONAN: Dorie Greenspan, whose book "Baking from My Home to Yours" was the bible of Tuesdays with Dorie. If you followed, give us a call. Tell us about your baking adventures - 800-989-8255; email talk@npr.org. We'll start with Amy, Amy with us from Charlottesville.

AMY: Hi, Dorie. Hi, Neal.

GREENSPAN: Hi, Amy.

CONAN: Hi.

AMY: I actually came a little bit late to Tuesdays with Dorie because I had discovered her through her cookbook "Around My French Table," and had used it to prepare dinner for several friends for my 40th birthday. So I did a five-course dinner using nothing but Dorie's recipes. And I was really, really scared I was going to fall flat on my face. But they were so well-written, they all turned out really well, and I had a great birthday because of it. And I just wanted to say thank you.

GREENSPAN: Oh, no, thank you. I wish you could see the grin on my face. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

AMY: Well, it was sort of my 40th birthday present to myself so I had a very, very good time doing it. And...

CONAN: What...

AMY: ...I love your cookbook so much that I give it to all of my friends as gifts now.

CONAN: What was the star of the evening?

AMY: I would have to say, probably - I'm not going to try the French pronunciation, but the beef on a string recipe was the main entree. That was pretty popular.

GREENSPAN: Oh, (foreign language spoken). That's a dish I - we always have a New Year's Eve party in Paris, and that's a dish that I often make for it because you can make it ahead. And you can make it for four people, or you can make it for 20 people. And it's always delicious, and it has vegetables in it, and I always think the French should eat more vegetable. So that's my little...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: ...that's what I'm doing to help French society.

CONAN: Have you told the French that?

GREENSPAN: I think I just did.

CONAN: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Amy, and congratulations on the successful dinner.

AMY: OK. Bye.

GREENSPAN: Thank you, Amy.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Matt in Durham, North Carolina: Baking with Dorie is far and away my favorite iPad app. With Dorie on my side, I've tackled previously intimidating projects like making a pie crust and baking the perfect scones. Everyone needs a Dorie in their kitchen.

Yes, the iPad app. You've gone from the Web to now being on tablets.

GREENSPAN: I'm on tablet. It's not quite like being on tap, but almost. Yeah, we - the iPad app came out in September, and it's really - I feel that it's made the title, "Baking from My Home to Yours," come true, now that I can sit on your kitchen counter. I'm really there with you, or you're there with me.

Yeah. It's - it was really interesting to do the recipes, to do video for them and to really be able to explain everything and, you know, break a cookie apart and hear the crunch or - do you know, when I'm writing recipes, if my husband comes in as I'm writing, he often giggles because he sees I'm pretending to be rolling out dough over the computer...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: ...or I'm trying to figure - because I try to - I like to - when I'm writing a recipe, I think that I'm kind of sitting on a baker's shoulder. And I want them to know everything that needs to be done in the recipe. I mean, the reason we share recipes is so that people can make them be successful and be happy - like Amy - and, you know, share them with people and have them be delicious. And so I work very hard to give visual clues and to say OK, the batter may curdle, dash, don't worry. It's all going to come together when you add the dry ingredients. And so being able to do this in video was really fun. I didn't have to pretend to be rolling the dough.

CONAN: When they were making every recipe in the book - and I'm sure you're proudest as can possibly be of each and every one of them - but was there one in the back of your mind - boy, maybe they could just skip the blueberry crumble?

GREENSPAN: No, no, no, no, no. It was the apple breakfast cake that I was worried about. It's kind of a muffin cake, and I liked it - I wouldn't have put it in the book if I didn't - but I just was worried about it. And you know what? It was fine.

CONAN: We're talking...

GREENSPAN: It was fine.

CONAN: We're talking...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...with Dorie Greenspan. Her most recent book is "Around My French Table." You may remember her, also, as ALL THINGS CONSIDERED's baking companion.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And let's see if we can go next to Lenny; Lenny on the line with us from San Francisco.

LENNY: I am. Hey, I'm just calling to say that my girlfriend and I share a blog called Chez Us. And when she was part of the group Tuesdays with Dorie, she didn't know how to bake at all, and so she eventually learned how and became quite good at it, to a point where I actually had to ban the group, and I called it Tuesdays with the Devil because of the food.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LENNY: These delicious - sort of pastries every Tuesday or Wednesday like, on the counter for me to eat. And given that I have no self-control, I said that this group is no good, actually. We have to stop this.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LENNY: But it was a great group, and she has become a great baker as a result of that, so. And now I feel terrible, after listening to Ms. Greenspan.

CONAN: Oh, well.

GREENSPAN: Dorie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: Thank - it's so great to hear from you. You know, it's - I feel like I know so many of the bakers. When I was on book tour for "Around My French Table," people would come up and say, I'm a TWDer. And - or often, groups of Tuesdays with Dorie bakers would plan to be together at one of the readings, and it would be the first time they would be meeting one another. Or my son and I have a cookie business, CookieBar, and we do pop-up stores. And it's just fun - you know, I don't get out much, right? I'm in my kitchen, working; I'm writing, I'm baking. So when I - it was fun to get out and have somebody come over and say, hi. I'm Whisk and Spoon, and I knew them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: I knew them. You know, I knew whether - you know, I knew Naptime Chef's child. You just - you really come to - it was remarkable because it became a real community. And I think that's really thanks to Laurie, who wanted the group, as it grew, to be a group that would help one another. And it's been so great to see them. And as Lenny said that, you know, his wife became a baker. I've gotten so many letters. I spend a lot of time crying because the letters are so sweet.

CONAN: Well, I assume it's all help when you get the kickbacks from the bundt pan industry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENSPAN: But, you know, Food Librarian went through a whole month of baking only bundts. I don't get any kickbacks.

CONAN: I didn't think you did. Dorie...

GREENSPAN: Nah.

LENNY: Lenny, thanks very much for the call. And Dorie Greenspan, thanks very much for your time today.

GREENSPAN: It's been great being with you. Do you bake, by the way?

CONAN: I don't.

GREENSPAN: You know, they're starting in - they're starting on "Baking with Julia" in February. It's not too late.

CONAN: That's your new book. It's not too late.

GREENSPAN: Well, actually, it's not too late for you to start. Tuesdays with Dorie is moving on.

CONAN: Well, Dorie Greenspan, thanks very much for your time, and go have a wonderful dinner in Paris tonight.

GREENSPAN: Thanks so much, Neal.

CONAN: Dorie Greenspan, by the way, the inspiration for the group of baking enthusiasts on the Internet. You can bake with Dorie as well. Her recipe for Chocolate Armagnac Cake, the cake that got her fired, is on her website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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