The Perfect Cookbook For Newbie Bakers

A new cookbook for low-tech bakers

In these strapped-for-cash times, even noncooks are heading into the kitchen to test their culinary skills. It's a state of affairs that makes the new cookbook Baking Unplugged mandatory reading. Author Nicole Rees's recipes are not only decidedly low-tech and low-budget–her pull-apart Southern biscuits and maple-frosted banana cupcakes require only tools your great-grandmother used–but they're also low-stress.

Getting over the fear of the oven is exactly what this Portland, Oregon-based pastry chef wants home cooks to do. No expensive stand mixers and fancy silicone baking-pan liners are needed to master her recipes; if you own a rolling pin, measuring cups and parchment paper, you're set.

Rees's recipes are comforting, too: caramel-pecan sticky buns, coffee-toffee dream bars, sour-cream crumb cakes and bittersweet-chocolate-pudding pie. These are the kind of forgiving, make-it-sloppy-and-it'll-be-just-fine foods that even the most infrequent of bakers can feel confident assembling on a Sunday morning.

Southern-Style Pull-Apart Biscuits

Adapted from Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees (Wiley, 2009)

Makes 15 biscuits

1½ cups cake flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup cold unsalted butter, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the biscuits

1½ cups cold buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, stir together the cake flour, 1½ cups all-purpose flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the salt and the baking soda.

2. Using medium-size holes on a box grater, grate the cold butter into the flour, tossing often to coat the butter with flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until it forms ¼-inch pieces.

3. Gently fold in the buttermilk until the flour is mostly incorporated. Don't overmix; the batter should be thick, sticky and lumpy.

4. Place the remaining ½ cup all-purpose flour in a small bowl. Scoop about ⅓ cup of dough into the flour, rolling the dough to coat it evenly. Gently roll or pat the dough into a round ball and drop it into the baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough, so that 5 biscuits line up along the long side of the pan and 3 across the short side; leave small gaps between the dough balls. Flatten the tops slightly and brush with the melted butter.

5. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 18 to 22 minutes or until no longer doughy in the center and browned on the tops.