Claudia Fleming is back with a new cookbook and this time around, it’s all about home baking. The legendary pastry chef and author is most known for her work at Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern, but North Forkers know Fleming best as the former owner of the North Fork Table and Inn, which she founded alongside her late husband Gerry Hayden in 2005.
It’s been over twenty years since the release of her first book, “The Last Course.” Reissued in 2019, the cookbook highlights innovative dessert recipes — like her legendary chocolate caramel tart — from her career as a pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern. Since then, the book has become a holy grail among pastry chefs with original copies reselling online for more than $200 each.
Her new cookbook, “Delectable: Sweet and Savory Desserts,” is an ode to home baking.
During the coronavirus pandemic, when restaurants shut down and people were isolated in their homes, many turned to baking for comfort. Cooped up in her own home, Fleming too used this time to experiment in her tiny kitchen. There, without any professional equipment, she found freedom in being able to bake without the constraints and standards of fine dining.
“I didn’t have to develop something fancy for a fine dining restaurant, it didn’t have to fit into a particular style, and it didn’t have to satisfy a particular need of guests,” she explained. “It was all just very selfish and what I wanted.” The result? A cookbook with over 40 of Fleming’s favorite sweet and savory recipes that can be made from almost any kitchen.
“The point of going to a restaurant is that it’s something that you can’t do at home,” said Fleming. “The point of this book is just the complete opposite — it’s things that you can do at home and hopefully they’re simplified enough where they’re not at all intimidating.”
The cookbook is also in part an exploration of Fleming’s Sicilian heritage. Pizzelles, taralles, and escarole pie are just a few of the Italian recipes featured in the cookbook, each adapted from the recipes of loved ones or inspired by her childhood. “My grandmother would make Caponata — every August or September we’d make a massive batch of that, so I made a tart out of it,” explained Fleming. “Being French trained and working in fine dining, I was pretty snobby about my approach to desserts. This kind of gave me the ability to go back to some of my childhood desserts that I had growing up.”
Fleming shared one of her favorite recipes from the book — savory pretzels with everything bagel seasoning.
A Note from Fleming:
I really like pretzels, but until recently it had never occurred to me to make them. As soon as the idea hit, I realized I needed to do some research. I learned that traditional Bavarian pretzels are dipped in lye before baking—that is what gives them their distinctive, slightly mineral-y taste. That seemed a little much in my tiny kitchen, so I was happy to discover that Harold McGee suggests a method for concentrating the alkalis in baking soda in his book On Food and Cooking. He bakes the soda, then adds it to the pretzels’ pre-bake water bath, successfully mimicking the effect of the acid. Start this dough a day ahead.
- 7 g active dry yeast (0.25oz)
- 1 T Molasses
- 320 g bread flour (11.2oz / about 2 cups + 31/2 T)
- 100 g rye flour (3.5oz / about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup sparkling water
- 28 g unsalted butter (1oz), diced, room temperature, plus extra for greasing
- 6 g Diamond Crystal kosher salt (2 tsp)
- 5 T baking soda
- 1 large egg, beaten
- About 4 T Savory Mixed Seeds or sea salt, for finishing
- Put 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast into the water and stir to dissolve it, then stir in the molasses. Set the mixture aside until the yeast activates and looks creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the bread and rye flours, sparkling water, diced butter, and kosher salt. Mix together with the paddle attachment, then switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, 5 to 7 minutes. Grease a large bowl with butter. Transfer the dough to the greased bowl, turn it over to coat all sides, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tinfoil, then spread the baking powder in an even layer and bake for 1 hour. Cool the baking powder completely. (The roasted baking powder can be stored in an airtight container for weeks.)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Flatten it into a square about 8 × 8 inches. Using a pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into 10 equal- size lengths each about 4/5 inch wide. Working one at a time and keeping the remaining dough covered with a damp cloth, use your hands to stretch and roll each dough length into a rope about 26 inches long.
- Cut each rope in half, rolling the ends a little to taper them. Again, working one at a time, form each rope into a U shape, gently stretching as necessary to maintain the length. Lay the rope on the floured surface with the ends pointing toward you. Lift the ends, twist them together once, then separate them again as you draw them up and press firmly to attach them at the top of the pretzel loop knot. (For pip- squeaks, stretch the dough into fourteen 18-inch ropes and cut them into 1-inch bites.) Butter two baking sheets and two large pieces of plastic wrap. Put the pretzels on the baking sheets, cover them with the plastic wrap, and set them aside to rise at room temperature until they have increased in size by half, about 15 minutes (pipsqueaks will be sufficiently proofed in about 10 minutes).
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large pot, combine the roasted baking powder with 8 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Set up a rack (or line a baking sheet with towels). Working one (or two) at a time, drop a pretzel into the simmering water for 10 seconds, turn it over, cook for 10 seconds more, drain with a slotted spoon, and then dry the pretzels on the rack for at least 5 minutes.
- Return the boiled pretzels to the buttered baking sheets. Brush them with beaten egg and sprinkle with mixed seeds or sea salt. Bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the pans front to back and bake until the pretzels brown, about 8 minutes more (cook pipsqueaks for about 10 minutes). Serve warm or at room temperature.