You buy the ingredients, maybe spending a little more than you should – but the recipe looks great and you’re having friends over you want to impress. Back home in your kitchen you start cooking following the recipe step-by-step. It should be perfect but it’s not. There’s too much liquid in the cake batter, not enough flavor in the soup and despite the amount of time cited for cooking the duck, it’s done and getting dry in half the time. In other words, the meal is a mess. That’s one reason why Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa of TV and cookbook fame, has always been one of my favorites. And so I was glad when my friend Carrie Bachman, who is a cookbook publicist in New York, told me she was representing Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust (Clarkson Potter 2012; $35).
“People look at a recipe and think if you just follow it, it’ll come out perfectly every time,” says Garten, who interestingly, majored in economics in college. “But every time you make something, the ingredients are a little different or you have another way you want to try it. So it’s a lot like driving a car; you have to make small adjustments along the way.”
That’s why Garten often tests each of her recipes 25 times and also has an assistant try them as well. She wants those who watch her shows or buy her cookbooks to always a meal they’re proud to serve and, even better, enjoy eating. Indeed, Garten wants her recipes to be foolproof.
Foolproof is her eighth cookbook and anyone who owns one or more of her Contessa books, is used to the style – sleek pages, vivid photographs (150 in this book) and flavorful and creative recipes written in a clear easy-to-follow style. As on her TV shows, Garten doesn’t just present recipes perfect for recreating successfully at home, she also shares how to plan a menu, coordinating food times so everything is done at once as well as notes on where a recipe can go wrong and how to make a dish in advance.
“I want recipes that I know will come out perfectly every time,” says Garten who is also now blogging at http://www.barefootcontessa.com/blog.aspx. “Cooking is hard, it takes a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. a lot of ingredients, you go shopping, you cook, you clean up. You can get free recipes anywhere, so why should anyone want to buy a cookbook? What makes it worthwhile and worth the price? It’s the level of confidence in the writer. One of the things I’ve always strived for is recipes that work every time. You feel confident that this recipe is good, but also that you trust it.”
Sticky Toffee Date Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Makes one 9 -inch cake
For the cake
¾ pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ tablespoons baking powder
For the sauce
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons good bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving (see note)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 x 2-inch round cake pan.
Place the dates in a deep saucepan with 1: cups of water. Bring to boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Allow to simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the baking soda (it will bubble up!). Set aside.
Meanwhile, in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl. (The mixture may look curdled.) Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer still on low, slowly add it to the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot date mixture in two batches to the batter, scraping down the bowl. The batter will be runny but don’t worry! Stir in the baking powder, which will also bubble up. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Meanwhile, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a 2-cup heat-proof glass measuring cup. Set aside. As soon as the cake is done, poke holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour three-quarters of the sauce evenly over the cake while still warm and allow it to soak in for 30 minutes. Turn the cake out bottom side up onto a flat serving plate and pour the remaining sauce on top. Cool completely.
Serve at room temperature with sweetened whipped cream.
For those willing to make the drive, Ina Garten will be signing copies of her book this Friday, Nov 30, 12:00pm-2:00pm at Barnes & Noble, Old Orchard, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL. For more information call 847-676-2230.