We can’t seem to stop buying new cookbooks. I mean, after that list of our favorite 12 of 2010, we should be done for a bit. There are plenty of meals to be made in that towering stack.
However, the lure of another good cookbook is powerful. On the other hand, we can’t go broke on cookbooks.
Solution? I’ve been buying all our “new” cookbooks at thrift stores.
I’m all for the lure of the new, the polished, the gorgeous photographs. Still, some of my favorite cookbooks of all time have dusty pages and not even a hint of illustration, not even a line drawing once in awhile. In the end, the best books come down to the recipes.
Maida Heatter is one of the most talented and generous pastry chefs I have ever encountered. I’ve never met her in person, but if I ever have the chance, I’ll want to give her a big hug. She writes unfailingly clear recipes, precise without being fussy, evocative without being too writerly, and guaranteed to work.
I’m learning so much from her.
Several of Maida Heatter’s recipes showed up in The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century and deservedly so. When Amanda Hesser was in Seattle for a book event, she told this story. Maida Heatter’s manuscript was ready to go to print. Everything written, tested, and complete. However, just as she was about to let go, she realized that her oven temperature was off by 25°. So, she re-calibrated her oven, told the publishers to wait, and made every single recipe again, just to make sure they worked the way she said they would.
This is someone I trust.
(If you don’t have one, buy a thermometer for your oven. Your oven could be off by as much as 50°! If you’re wondering why those cookies are burning or sagging in the middle, it’s probably the oven, not the lack of gluten.)
And so, even though we had a full list of cookies planned for you all, I switched in the middle again. I simply could not bake through this holiday season without my 1975 copy of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts cracked open on the kitchen counter. Luckily for you, Andrews McNeel did a re-print in 1999, so you can have Maida in your kitchen too.
And these date-prune-walnut bars, gluten-free.
Would you like to win a copy of our cookbook? I can tell you that we tested every recipe again and again, particularly the ones that involve flours. These are recipes you can trust too.
As well, we’re giving away a copy of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, because you need one if you are serious about making cookies, tarts, and cakes.
Leave a comment about the recipe writers you trust, the ones that always work. (Let’s refrain from commenting on the ones who do not.) Which cookbook authors have been your teachers?
GLUTEN-FREE DATE-PRUNE-WALNUT BARS, adapted from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts
These fruit and nut bars will be in our long after the holidays are done. I love the chewiness, the taste of walnuts like summer in the woods, the different kinds of sweetness in dates and prunes mingling, the crackly top, the softness of it all.
Next time, I’ll play with different fruits, different nuts, and possibly flax seed in place of the eggs. Who knows? Maybe the butter will become coconut oil and we can just call these healthy breakfast bars. Whatever we call them, we’re thanking Maida Heatter over here.
140 grams gluten-free all-purpose flour mix
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon guar gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
115 grams (1 US stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
225 grams (about 1 cup) dates, chopped
225 grams (about 1 cup) prunes, chopped
195 grams (about 2 cups) walnut halves, chopped slightly
powdered sugar for dusting
Preparing to bake. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with one piece of aluminum foil long enough to let a few inches hang over either end. Grease the aluminum foil with butter or oil, tucking the aluminum foil into the corners of the pan as you go.
Combining the dry ingredients. Pour the flour, xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Whisk to combine them and aerate the flour.
Making the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand, if you don’t have one), beat together the melted butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, letting the mixer run between each egg until it is fully incorporated, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 at a time. When all the dry ingredients are incorporated, turn off the mixer. Fold in the dates, prunes, and walnuts with a rubber spatula.
Baking the bars. Pour the thick batter into the prepared pan. Press it in place and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.
Slide it into the oven and bake until the top is light golden brown and set, about 35 minutes. Allow the bars to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Put a baking sheet on top of the pan and quickly flip the bars onto the baking sheet. Remove the pan and aluminum foil. Cover the warm bars with another baking sheet (or plate, if you only have one baking sheet, like us) and flip it again.
Allow the bars to cool completely, not even a hint of warmth under your fingertips, before cutting into them. Slice into the bars with a very sharp knife. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. (We didn’t do that for the photo. It’s optional.)
Makes about 24 bars.