Baking instructor, cookbook author and generally very funny guy Nick Malgieri was in town last week, giving a talk at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Just for fun, of course, and as part of his current book tour. Malgieri's tenth book, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking is out this month from Kyle Books.
We caught up with Malgieri in Pasadena, where he fled from his hotel to the relative comforts of Euro Pane. (Monkey bread, chocolate croissant, whole wheat croissant, cappuccino. Because you were going to ask, weren't you?) Turn the page for the first part of our interview, in which the current director of the baking program at the Institute of Culinary Education, former executive pastry chef at Windows on the World, and 1996 inductee into the Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America talks about food bloggers, the problems of muffin recipes, and why he doesn't think you need to weigh ingredients. Gasp. And check back later, of course, for part two and a recipe from the new book.
Squid Ink: You've been writing about food for decades, so what do you think about food journalism and food blogs these days?
Nick Malgieri: One of the things we've been doing for this little publicity effort for the book, is that I've been meeting with some bloggers. And I have to say that 3 for 3, they've been so top notch. Serious writers. People with a real understanding of baking. Because, I guess it was two years ago, I wrote an article about baking bloggers for The Washington Post food section, and I was amazed at the dreck that I was reading. And the stuff with these little crocheted eggs, with little faces embroidered on them, that would go from one blogger to another. There would be photographs on the blog, saying “Me and the eggs baking chocolate chip cookies.” “Me and the eggs watching the Super Bowl.” And I said to myself, You are even way beyond needing to get a life. And it left me with a terrible impression of what's out there.
Now it was skewed, I have to say, because a friend of mine has one of those things where bloggers are baking through that person's book. And I've fallen victim to that too: somebody did that.
SI: Somebody baked through your book, like people have done with Julia Child's and Dorie Greenspan's cookbooks?
NM: Well, organized a whole bunch of bloggers to do it. And it's amazing to see how people can not follow the instructions in the recipes. Who make decisions based on I don't know what, either visual or emotional reasons and say, well, the crumb topping for the blueberry muffins was way too much.
And I want to write back and say, You know, I've made those goddamn muffins 300 times! It's not like this was a toss-off little idea at the end of the recipe: Oh, if you want to, use some of the crumb topping for the recipe for the eight blueberry pies…? It's not like that. It's an amount of crumb topping which can be divided equally between 12 muffins!
SI: And you probably measured it 300 times too.
NM: Oh, and then they were saying there was too much batter too! And there's a very nasty thing on Amazon from a woman who made the cupcakes in Modern Baker. From this I've come to understand, between her and the bloggers, that there is an entire population out there who thinks that a muffin or a cupcake should not come higher than the pleated paper that it's in.
SI: That's kind of baffling.
NM: Yeah, I mean, why would we have pans that bake only muffin tops? If that were the case, then the pans that bake muffin tops would be like, if there were a pan that just baked tuille. Then a muffin top would be 1/16th of an inch thick. Right? And then there would never have been that Seinfeld episode about the muffin tops.
There's an element of the totally unreasonable. If you're lactose intolerant, you can't eat Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Period, you know?
SI: So tell us about your book. This is number…
NM: Ten. How did I survive? Somewhat physically intact; mentally is up for grabs. What I wanted to do with this was to show techniques that are not necessarily difficult or complicated, but show them clearly. Because so many people are afraid of dough. Afraid of yeast. You know, all those fear-of-this, fear-of-that, that people have with baking. Here in the United States — oh, this is another big bone of contention — the benchmark of home baking is volume measure.
People have such an investment now in feeling that they have to weigh the ingredients. Look at Maida Heatter. All those hundreds of fabulous recipes. Nary a scale in her house. But people have gone to places like Chowhound, and because I don't agree with them that you have to weigh everything, they infer — and there was one really bitter post on one of those websites — that this guy knows nothing about baking. Just because they don't agree.
SI: People can get very militant about baking.
Check back later for the second part of this interview, and also a recipe from Malgieri's new book.