Claire Ptak’s story is basically a b-level Disney tale – Bay Area native with Chez Panisse experience meets guy, moves to London, starts a hip bakery in the Dover St Market and ends up feeding the Queen. And by the Queen I mean Doria Ragland although Elizabeth was also present when Ptak’s wedding cake was served to Harry and Meghan.
So was my baking from this book fit for royalty, or at least a Netflix-ABC Family knock-off? Sort of. I can sum up all of the issues I had with this book in one word- moisture. I had too much of it in basically every recipe, but once I figured that out and corrected for it, everything worked out. A fairy tale of some kind.
The recipes here are solid, but must be followed to a T, and I’m not convinced that the over temperatures translated properly so if you’re baking in the US you’ll need to use your own judgment and keep an eye on what’s in the oven.
Between her mentor, Alice Waters, and the most British obsession with gardening, Ptak has developed a fruit-forward style that I really appreciate. There are plenty of nods to chocolate and caramel, but this is a book to get if you gravitate toward cobblers and crumbles and want to add more finesse and technique to your seasonal desserts. There are also glances at lowering sugar, using natural sweeteners, and doing without gluten, although it’s not a main focus – and paging through might just be depressing for those who need to avoid carbs.
Weirdly enough, the fruit was not the source of my moisture woes, and any time she managed to wedge some berries into a scone or muffin, it worked well for me. The almond-cornmeal muffins, though, just completely fell apart into a delicious mush, and I don’t understand how she manages to get a full cup of cream and cheese mixture into a single savory galette without drowning it. (For that one, I kept an eye on it and drained the excess halfway through, and was shocked to end up with a bottom crisp enough for Mary Berry.) And my scones managed to melt the butter out of themselves as they were baking. Many of the other recipes I made – cupcakes, cobbler, crumb muffins – seemed to have their roots in America, and Ptak knows what she’s doing with those. A tray of Devil’s food cupcakes with alternating blackberry and coconut icing disappeared in minutes at a party, and the cherry cobbler was one of the rare desserts my partner and I didn’t throw out any of.
In the liner notes, she’s very frank about how she manages to run her business in a tough market and very tiny space, and the photos also reflected the everyday realities of kitchen life. I love seeing real implements that look like they get a lot of use, dirty towels, sticky jar lids. Ptak also has some food styling experience and these photos feel like a reaction to the excesses of a perfectly-done magazine shoot. I liked the matte gallery style, too.
On the whole, next time I’ll use more discretion and follow my judgement on baking times and temps and moisture levels, but I’ll be baking from this book again. I can’t wait to get into the fall season with it, and then spring, and then it’ll be summer again just in time to face off with those cornmeal muffins again.
make this one thing:
Devil’s Food Cupcakes with Coconut Milk Icing
for 24 cupcakes, or one 8-inch cake:
220g (1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp) AP flour
100g (1 cup) cocoa flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
450g (2 1/4 cup) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g (3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp) buttermilk or plain yogurt
100g (7 tbsp) vegetable oil
225g (1 cup) hot water
Preheat the oven to 320F. Butter and line an 8-inch cake pan with paper, or line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Measure the dry ingredients, including the sugar, into a large mixing bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to distribute the salt, baking soda, and baking powder evenly throughout the other dry ingredients.
In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (except for the hot water). Once they are well whisked together, slowly whisk in the hot water.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in half of the wet mixture. Starting in the middle of the bowl, whisk in a clockwise, circular motion. Don’t switch direction or you’ll end up with lumps. Gradually add the remaining wet ingredients until you have a smooth, liquid batter.
If you are making a large cake, pour the batter into your pan right away and bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the top is springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. If you are making cupcakes, scrape the batter into a container that will fit in your fridge and place a lid on top. Chill the batter for at least 1 hour. This will thicken it and make it easier to spoon into your cupcake liners. Bake the cupcakes for 18 to 20 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
While the batter chills, make the icing:
100g (1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp) full-fat coconut milk, well shaken
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp white rum
190g (3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
500 to 750g (3 1/2 to 5 1/3 cups) confectioners’ sugar
a pinch of salt
Measure out the coconut milk into a bowl and stir in the vanilla and rum.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and 250g (1 3/4 cup) of the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Gradually add the coconut milk mixture, scraping the bottom of the bowl as needed. Add another 250g (1 3/4 cup) of confectioners’ sugar, and cream together on low speed for at least 3 minutes (set your timer). Add the salt, then gradually add more sugar as needed until you get the consistency you want.
I topped mine with toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes for texture and color.