Thomas Keller's knack for detail is on display in his new cookbook,… (Courtesy Artisan Books )
Baking is the most punctilious of the culinary arts and Thomas Keller is among the most punctilious of the culinary artists. Put the two together and you might wind up with a cookbook that would make strong cooks quake in fear.
Happily, that’s not the case with the “Bouchon Bakery” cookbook that’s now available for pre-order with a fall publication date. Written by the French Laundry boss and his pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel with help from baker Matthew McDonald (his bread section is definitive), along with Keller’s usual gang (writer Michael Ruhlman, recipe tester Susie Heller, photographer Deborah Jones and project manager Amy Vogler), it manages to be at the same time rigorous and friendly.
No, Keller hasn’t gone soft, at least beyond the recipe headnotes and descriptions, which tend to be in the Cuddly Thomas mode from 2009’s “Ad Hoc at Home” -- mugging for the camera and in this book he seems to be very much into demonstrating how many of the Bakery’s sophisticated treats stem from his childhood snacks.
And there’s certainly no compromising with the recipes. So many “finesse points” are demonstrated and explained that one could conceivably start a bakery by cooking your way through it. From simple pâtes brisée and sucrée to laminated doughs and (gasp) croissants, you’ll find detailed recipes and step-by-step photographs explaining all of the basic techniques. The croissant section alone is nine pages.
Furthermore, the recipes are delivered professional-style, with measurements given in grams and volume amounts offered only as options (and rather complicated ones at that since they tend to translate into amounts like “1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon”).
Given all of that, “Bouchon Bakery” seems oddly workable and even pleasurable, even for the most recalcitrant baker (that would be me). In part, of course, that’s because of the meticulous explanation of process, and the photographs that go along with it.
But, I realize now after spending several days with the book, in part it’s due to some sneaky arranging. "Bouchon Bakery" sucks you in by arranging the topics in progressing order of difficulty. You start by looking at pretty straightforward oatmeal-raisin cookies, then before you know it you’re into scones and muffins. And then it’s on to cakes and tarts, pâte à choux and brioche.
And before you even have time to duck, you’re where the wild things are, paging through puff pastry constructions and levain breads and thinking “Hey, maybe I could do that.”