This cookbook in graphic novel form is terrific. The premise is that Sage, a young graduate of the Wizard Academy, wants to get picked for a “cool” apprenticeship but instead gets assigned to Wizard Korian, a baking master. She’s heartbroken; how can baking count as “magic”? Needless to say, she soon finds out otherwise; that in fact, baking is very much a form of the alchemy she wanted to study. (Alchemy was the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. Practitioners were hoping to create gold from base metals.) Indeed, Sage is about to learn that bakers can take simple basic ingredients and magically transform them into something delicious.
In the process, we learn, along with Sage, all the mysterious properties of common baking ingredients, from flour to sugar to fats and flavorings.
Don’t be fooled by the format. This is a sophisticated guide to cooking, and one that will be valued even by experienced cooks. And for those like me who are always taking shortcuts, this book explains exactly why, from the point of view of chemistry, that isn’t always a good idea.
Want thin and crispy cookies? Use less flour.
Want thick cookies? Use more flour.
For soft cookies, use cake flour, which has less protein.
Why does the amount of protein make a difference? Because one of those proteins, gluten, traps air. This can help bread dough rise without collapsing, but can also make dough tough and chewy.
Egg proteins work differently. They don’t trap air but add strength to the mix. If you use egg whites, they are even stronger because their strength isn’t diminished by the fat content from the yolks. But yolks help hold the flavor. Using only whites can also make your baked goods drier, because it is the fat that makes baked goods moist, not the liquids.
Who knew! (I use only whites, being hypersensitive to cholesterol. Yes, the baked goods are drier, but now I understand why and CAN TELL EVERYONE when I am making excuses for the lack of moistness!)
And here was something very exciting I learned. I make scones all the time, which require one to “cut” the butter into the flour. What does that technique do, and does it matter if some pieces of butter are bigger than others? Most importantly, how does that affect the gluten content, which will, as indicated above, affect the texture? This book has the answers!
Illustrations are done by the author. Recipes are included.
Evaluation: There’s so much richness in this small book. I’m so glad I found this featured on “Weekend Cooking” over at BethFishReads.
Published by First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing, 2019