Monday, January 14, 2013

Guest Post: Abby Dodge & Giveaway!

A while ago I began flipping through Fine Cooking Magazine and finding great inspiration for my savory and sweet table.  Naturally I gravitated toward their Facebook feed for a more instant satisfaction. 

I noticed a fun feature one day, shortly before the holidays, where facebook fans could join in a live one-hour chat with Abigail Johnson Dodge, contributing editor.  The chat involved holiday baking questions.  In addition to picking Abby's brain, each question earned an entry to win Abby's newest cookbook, Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets published by The Tauton Press.
Aww!  How approachable is SHE?

photo © Winnie Abramson

I just wanted to ask Abby why my cakes are always dry.  So I did.  And she gave me some great tips...and shortly thereafter I found out I was one of the lucky giveaway winners!

photo © 2012 Miki Duisterhof
I started to do a little more research on Abby, and noticed the feature in Fine Cooking on Abby in her kitchen.  After dreaming about what it might be like to bake in her beautiful space, I thought I really should be sharing all this with my Sweet Teeth readers.  So, I asked Abby if she'd join me here for a guest post after I'd had a chance to review her book.  It all came together and we have Abby here today sharing a recipe from her cookbook - just in time to share for Valentine's Day!

Sharing.  Valentine's Day.  Hand-Held.  Love. 

Abby and I could not share this post without sharing the love and doing a giveaway.  Worldwide.

Read on to learn more about Abby, baking, and the prettiest looking Double Ginger Pavlovas I've ever seen!  Giveaway rules follow the recipe.

ST:  Tell me about #baketogether – what made you want to reach your audience this way and what is most rewarding about it?
AJD:  Baketogether began as a Twitter conversation amongst some friends/ bakers from around the globe. We all wished that we could be in the same kitchen and, well, bake together. What I love about this virtual bakers' kitchen is its way to encourage bakers of all abilities to try a new technique, stretch their creativity and, ultimately, put their own twists on the original recipe. I find it wonderfully rewarding to see so many different variations of my recipes!

ST:  Along with access via social media, you have opened your kitchen door to baking questions through your “Ask Abby” forum.  What are some of the most common questions you are asked by the home baking audience and what basic tips would you give to cover those answers?

AJD:  I encourage readers to reach out with any questions they may have. I'm honored to receive so many emails and I'm always happy to help. The questions range from fruit/flavor/baking pan size substitutions to troubleshooting recipe missteps. Over the years, the most discussed topic is about measuring ingredients. Everyone measures ingredients in different ways and this can and will lead to a wide variety of results - not all of them good. This is why I encourage bakers to use a scale for weighing their dry ingredients. I include weights in my recipes and if folks at home use those amounts, their results will be more consistent with mine and each time they make the recipe.
ST:  Can you cure me of my Hollow Macarons Disease?  I think I’ve tried everything.

AJD:  This is a complex question with no one simple answer. Here are two thoughts. Try them one at a time until you find success. 1) Macaronage needs to be just-so - the batter should flow like thick lava - or the meringue will have too much spring when it hits the oven. Solution: Watch some videos on this process and PRACTICE! 2) Like with all baking, the oven temperature needs to be just. For macarons, a too-hot oven can cause a puffed and harden shell and a cool oven can result in a underbaked shell with the center collapsing as it cools. Solution: buy a mercury oven thermometer and adjust the temperature dial as needed.
ST:  You love asking your audience to add their own twist to your shared recipes and take on their feedback.  What kind of things have you learned with this kind of interaction?

AJD:  I love reading about everyone's variations. Between the different flavors, shapes and pairings, I get an idea of what folks here and around the world like to see in their desserts. This input is invaluable as I strive to create even better recipes.
ST:  Tell us a secret.  Any dessert disasters?  Fess up!

AJD:  Oh.. of course I've had disasters - many of them, in fact - in both professional kitchens/bakeries, recipe development and in my personal baking! Like all mistakes, I think it's essential to learn and build from them and, honestly, I think my desserts have benefitted from those trials. It's what you make of them, right?A few years back, I was making an extra long buche de noel and I had concocted an extra long board to serve it on. Turns out the board wasn't sturdy enough and as I was carrying the beauty, the middle of the board collapsed and the whole buche nearly went two ends to the middle! Luckily, I saved enough of the cake and with the help of extra merinque mushrooms, wine goblets, whipped cream and a bottle of dark rum, I re-created a sort of tiramisu-meets-eton mess meats- buche de noel!
ST:  I found myself wishing every recipe in Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets had a photo to guide me.  What advice can you give me as I attempt those recipes without the visual safety net?

AJD:  Everyone, including me, wishes that every recipe could have at least one image but, most of the time, that isn't possible. That's why I go to great lengths to include as many visual and sensory clues for doneness throughout the recipe. This way, the reader has a clear "sense" of what to see, smell and taste along the way.
ST:  You were the founding test kitchen director at Fine Cooking Magazine and continue as a contributor there.  What did you learn in the test kitchen that you carry with you in every recipe?

AJD:  Great question. We touched on this a few answers up but it's worth mentioning again. When I develop and write a recipe, I always keep two things in mind. First is my reader: who are they? what do they like? what are they expecting? Secondly, I want my bakers to learn to trust their instincts and become empowered bakers. I always include sensory tips along with a range of time so that home bakers are judging doneness with their senses (see, smell, touch and taste) and using the timing as a guide.
ST:  I’ve found in the baking world that those deeply involved have strong foundations with relatives who taught them or baked with them as children.  Do you think there is a “Baker’s Gene” that perpetuates this?

AJD:  I'm not sure I'd call it a "Gene", it more like a passion. Regardless of when some is introduced to baking, they either love it or leave it.
ST:  Do you think this was a driving factor in your cookbooks that involve baking with kids?  What tips might you share about working with little ones in the kitchen?

AJD:  Working with kids in the kitchen is a mutually rewarding time - such quality time with delicious results! I tell people to include their kids in the baking/cooking process at a very early age. There are plenty of tasks that even very young kids can accomplish successfully. As they grow and their skills improve, they will become confident cooks and bakers and you will have shared wonderful moments of success and conversation that will be remembered for a lifetime.
ST:  Is there anything in the pastry world you find to be a huge challenge?

AJD:  I'm lucky that my career has been varied and I have trained in many areas of desserts and pastries. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm perfect at everything! Here's an example.. even though I've made countless detailed and intricate wedding cakes, I think I'm a lousy cookie decorator. Truth is, when I need decorated cookies for an event, project or even edible thank-you 'notes' (really), I turn to Gail Dosik of One Tough Cookie. We all have our strengths, right?
ST:  Valentine’s Day is coming up soon.  What essential ingredient says “love” to you?

AJD:  This Valentine's Day, I'm telling chocolate to step aside and make room for vanilla! I adore the heady scent of pure extract and I'm crazy for vanilla bean paste - all those zillions of tiny seeds are just too wonderful!
ST:  Speaking of “love”, what current or past cook/pastry chef would you most love to have with you in your kitchen today?

AJD:  This is impossible to answer! I have been very fortunate to have worked with many talented folks but, as there are so, so many wonderfully talented authors and chefs, past and present, that I'd be thrilled to work with, I just can't pick one.. it would be more like a hundred!
Well, I know that I'd love to have Abby in my kitchen overseeing my macaronage technique...but she's here now sharing another meringue-style treat for your Valentine's Day table!  Check out this recipe and ways to follow Abby for your own baking advice!
photo © 2012 Miki Duisterhof
Double Ginger Pavlovas
From Mini Treats and Hand-Held Sweets: Abigail Johnson Dodge
Makes about 5 dozen pavlovas

For the Pavlovas
1 cup (7 ounces) superfine sugar (see Kitchen Wisdom tip below)
5 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of table salt
1⁄2 cup egg whites (from 4 large eggs or 41⁄4 ounces), at room temperature
1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon vinegar (distilled white, white wine, or white balsamic)
3⁄4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Ginger Whipped Cream
1-1⁄3 cups heavy cream, chilled
2⁄3 cup (25⁄8 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (sifted if lumpy)
3⁄4 teaspoon finely grated
fresh ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups assorted, cut-up fresh fruit, such as kiwi, raspberries, pomegranate arils

With their tutu-like appearance, “pavs” are said to have been invented by either an Australian or New Zealand chef in honor of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Regardless of their heritage, I love the soft, billowy texture of these meringues—
so much so that I think I have included variations of this recipe in every one of my books. For this version, I’ve packed the mini meringues and whipped filling with ginger (crystallized and fresh). In keeping with this dessert’s “Down Under” roots, I top these bites with a slice or two of kiwi and a few raspberries, but any fresh, seasonal fruit will taste delicious.

Make the Pavlovas

1. Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment (nonstick liners don’t work with this recipe). For the best meringue volume, be sure to start with super clean equipment (see Kitchen Wisdom tip below ).
2. Put the superfine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until well blended and there are no lumps. Set aside.

3. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the clean bowl. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until the whites are frothy, about 30 to 45 seconds. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites form firm peaks, 11⁄2 to 2 minutes. Continue beating while gradually adding the sugar mixture by tablespoonfuls. This will take about 3 minutes. When all the sugar mixture is added, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and add the crystallized ginger, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until blended, about 30 seconds.

4. Using a 2-tablespoon mini scoop, arrange meringue mounds about 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Using the back of a 1⁄2-teaspoon metal measure lightly coated with water, make a small indentation in the center and about halfway down each meringue. Re-wet the spoon every few uses. Don’t worry if the meringues aren’t all perfect.

5. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F. Bake until the outside feels firm and the meringue moves only slightly when nudged with a fingertip (the centers will still be soft), about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. (The temp is so low there’s no need to switch placement of the cookie sheets during baking.) Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool in the oven for 1 hour, then move the sheets to wire racks and let cool completely. Carefully lift the meringues from the paper and stow in an airtight container until ready to assemble and serve.

Make the Cream and Assemble

1. Put the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until it’s thick enough to hold firm peaks when the beater is lifted, about 2 minutes. Add the grated ginger and vanilla and beat on medium until well blended.

2. Spoon or pipe about 1 tablespoon of the whipped cream into the center of each meringue and top with the fruit.

Do Ahead

• The baked and cooled meringues can be stowed in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day.

• The filled pavlovas can be assembled and stowed in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours before serving.


• Make the filling lemon: Spoon homemade or store-bought lemon curd into the meringue wells and top with fruit.

• Give it a flavor: Omit the crystallized ginger from the meringue and add 1⁄4 teaspoon pure peppermint oil along with the vanilla. Instead of using the fresh ginger in the whipped cream, add 4 table­spoons unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed style
is preferable for this recipe, but not mandatory). Instead of topping with fruit, sprinkle the piped cocoa cream with finely chopped peppermint candies.

Kitchen Wisdom-Superfine Sugar

If you can’t find superfine sugar at your grocery store, make your own by whizzing the same amount of granulated sugar in a food processor until the granules are pulverized. These finely ground sugar crystals dissolve quickly in whipped whites to make silky, sweet meringues.

Kitchen Wisdom -Why A Clean Bowl and Beaters Matter

To make sure you get the maximum volume from beaten egg whites, you need to start with a very clean bowl and beaters without any trances of grease. Put the whisk into the bowl, add a good splash of white vinegar, and fill with some warm water. Swirl the bowl to coat the whisk and the inside of the bowl. Pour out the vinegar water, rinse with fresh cold water, and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.

Would you like to know more about Abby?  Let us count the ways:
Click HERE for Abby's Website
Follow Abby on Facebook HERE
Feast your eyes with Abby on Pinterest HERE
Follow Abby on Twitter @abbydodge
Join #Baketogether - click the widget

Want a book of your own?
Want some inspiration for your Valentine treats? 
Follow the Giveaway Rules for your chance to win a copy! 

Contest closed.  Congratulations Barb K! 
1.  Comment on THIS POST* with your own "twist" on Abby's Double Ginger Pavlova recipe.
2.  Want another chance to win?  Follow Abby on Twitter @abbydodge and leave a separate comment on THIS POST* telling me you did.
3.  Contest will close Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 9pm EST. 
4.  Giveaway is open to anyone with a valid mailing address.  Winner will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by email.  Winner will have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.  *Please make sure your entry/comment leaves me a way to reach you!


  1. Could I switch out the ginger for chocolate? That'd be more up my alley! :)

  2. My twist could some of the ingredients be changed for people who are vegans? I am not Vegan. There seems to be more and more people who are.

  3. I follow you on Twitter.


Play nice in the sandbox, please!