Thomas Keller’s latest volume, Bou-chon Bakery (Artisan, Oct. 23), weighs about as much as two 5-pound bags of flour. It’s a beautiful monster of a baking book that brings together recipes from the five locations of his patisseries-boulangeries in California, Las Vegas and New York. And while in stature alone the book might be initially intimidating, Keller and his collaborators, pastry chef Sebastien Rouxel and head bread baker Matthew McDonald, have assembled a guide that sets those with a passion on a path to elegant and expertly crafted breads, candies, pastries and desserts.
Chatting with Keller and Rouxel makes it clear that Bouchon is not for reluctant bakers. When asked about the fear of baking that plagues so many, Keller responds, “People are afraid of food. I don’t understand that. It’s the one thing that gives us nourishment. It’s the one thing that we can really share with others that we love, a tool for seduction. It’s so dynamic and affords you so many opportunities to do so many different things with so many people, and they’re afraid of it.”
As you might imagine, Keller was never afraid of food.
“Baking falls under the same umbrella as all of it,” he says. “People are afraid of food in general, so they’re afraid of baking. Baking is one of those things that brings so much pleasure to any age group. It’s eggs and butter and flour and sugar, right? Fruit and chocolate and coffee and vanilla, all of those wonderful things that we really love.”
Keller and Rouxel agree that if the desire is there, the best place to begin is someplace simple: a pecan sandy, a poppy-seed muffin — something where the failure factor is minimal. “The more you’re successful, the more encouraging it is,” Keller says. “Courage and success breed confidence.”
The recipes within Bouchon are organized to do just that, beginning with cookies and muffins and then moving on to more involved endeavors like croissants and baguettes as well as sugary confections like pâtes de fruits and marshmallows.
While all the recipes are laid out in a way that breaks them down into plain-English steps with plenty of gorgeous process photos for guidance, the one thing that sets Bouchon apart is that Keller and company insist on measuring by weight and not volume. This oft-overlooked technique makes for a far more exacting and successful finished product, whether it’s something as simple as a sugar-coated shortbread or a daintily footed macaron.