Baking tips from Alice Medrich herself :)

I have some very exciting news that I just couldn't wait to share! Unfortunately my comp has been acting up and this is the first chance I got to post my fabulous, wonderful experience.
If you've been here a while, you know that I have a slight obsession (Ok, a full blown one!) with my favourite cook book author Alice Medrich! Well, this week end I had my chance to meet her!Finally! 

I have been dying to attend one of her classes and had even signed up for one last month but couldn't make it because T was sick that week end. Then I heard she was going to be doing a demo and book signings over at the wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco organised by CUESA on saturday. For one week all that I thought about was "Alice Medrich!" T would ask me if I'd want something on his way back from work and I'd reply "Alice Medrich!" Jellybean would look up from busily chewing on his favourite green elephant and I'd say "Alice Medrich!" They both think I'm nuts of course.

Thankfully all went well on Saturday and we reached San Francisco in time and found the venue pretty easily.We were even an hour early! So I had a place right in the front row and hence felt like Alice was baking just for me :)
Since I was early, I even got to watch her prep for the class, measuring everything for the meticulous mise en place. She even double checked if the eggs were large or extra large!

Since she was there to promote her new book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies she demo-ed two recipes from it:

Lemon bars: recipe here
Fruit and nut bars: recipe here

She gave a lot of tips in the short hour or so:

Weigh & Measure: She started the class by introducing herself as a Baker not a Cook and emphasizing the importance in baking, of measuring  ingredients accurately. For example while measuring a cup of flour, spoon the flour from the bin into the cup, without packing it or shaking it. Then level it with your finger. Packing the flour into the cup may cause you to add too much flour which will then make cookies too tough.The best way is to weigh it. She uses 4 1/2 oz as the weight equivalent for 1 cup of flour and stressed that a digital scale is essential because weighing is the most accurate measurement.

Lining Pans: I was impressed by the speed and efficiency with which she moved, turning a pan over and covering it with foil to mark the lenght and width, cutting off the desired piece then turning it back and plopping the cut piece of foil neatly within- all in one graceful smooth motion! She mentioned that foil helps to brown the cookies and helps lifting the bars and brownies off a pan much easier as well as helping cleanup of course. After the bars were baked she did this neat trick of pushing the baked crust off the foil with the edge of her knife, while carefully sliding the foil out from under it.

Tips for Tarts & Pie Crusts: Here are some great tip for all kinds of tart and even pie crusts which she mentioned while baking the crust of her Lemon Bars:

She mentioned that the crust toward the edges of the pan has a tendency to cook faster- but to not overcompensate for that by making the edge thicker, but atleast as thick as the center portion.

Don't par bake- bake fully!: She said that she doesn't belive in par-baking a crust because when you put the filling over it, it stops cooking and then you end up with a soggy crust. That is so true! It always happens to me when I bake my pumpkin pie so from now on I'm going to follow her recommendation of baking the crust fully, until well brown, then putting the filling on. She said here in America people are afraid of a few brown spots whereas in Paris you'll see tarts with browned- even burnt off edges and that gives it a lovely caramelized flavor.

She also said that when baking her lemon bars the dough is just enough for an 8 by 8 pan so if you are baking in even a size like 9 by 9 make sure to proportionately increase the dough.

For the lemon bars she recommended zesting the lemons right into the bowl avoiding the white, bitter pith and whipping the eggs gently with the whisk hitting the bottom of the bowl to avoid getting too much air into the mixture and  creating a foam which was undesirable in these lemon bars but which might be the aim while whipping whites etc.

Her fruit and nut bars calls for very little four, but this doubles and fills the gaps between the fruit while it bakes. It is a very forgiving recipe too. In the middle of the demo she accidently spilt some of the sugar, but without missing a beat said "Oh I have always wanted to try this recipe with less sugar- nows my chance!" And they turned out wondeful!

Experiment with flavors: Alice said that the source of new recipes is often older ones, classics, that you may have made many times before.She encouraged us to try experimenting with her already wonderful recipes, welcoming my question about using orange juice instead of the lemon and saying that would require cutting a little of the sugar and also finding the right amount of thickener-either flour, cornflour or event rice flour which she said might even bring out the flavours of the fruit the best.
She mentioned a snicker-doodle recipe in the book which instead of rolling cookies in cinnamon, calls for rolling them in garam masala!
She also incorporates freeze dried fruit in meringues to flavor them- how brilliant!

Tips for brownie lovers- You should pick up her new book theres a dozen awesome brownie recipes and some neat tricks involving water baths and stuff! She mentioned that since today brownie recipes call for less and less flour and more and more chocolate, to beat the flour well and combine it well in the batter. Whereas in traditional brownie recipes with more flour, over mixing may activate the gluten in the flour and make the brownies too tough.

See it's details like this, that may be obvious to an expert baker so much so that they may not even mention it, that I love about Alice's recipes. They are so thorough, reducing your chances of goofing up.

Some more pics of the whiz in action!

Here are a few questions that was asked by the audience and her answers to them:

What was her favourite recipe from the book:
She said she liked her ultra thin chocolate chunk cookies, the maninas, a date and orange peel cookie that a face book friend from Egypt sent her which inspired her to play with those exotic flavors.

What was her favourite types of vanilla:
She said that she enjoys working with quality ingredients and mentioned a bard I didn't catch, and she also said she liked Tahitian vanilla for some uses as well as bourbon vanilla.

Favourite restaurants in San francisco/ Bay area
Mentioned Chez Panisse, The Slanted Door iin the Ferry building. Tartine..
After the demo I was standing in line at Boccalone to try their awesome salumi cone and sandwich and saw that she was just ahead of me- so it looks like we had the same lunch!
She also apparently went to to Scream for their pistachio sorbets. 

Did you always know if you wanted to be a Baker?
 She replied that she didn't, but that her whole family loved to "taste everything" They would go to farmers markets and try every type of apple, etc. just to see what each tasted like.She narrated how when they were older the siblings got their father 3 types of Scotch for his birthday, and their father was not too happy that the bottles had all been opened and tasted before he got them!

What kinds of formal training she would recommend to an aspiring pastry chef
she said that while she was self taught mostly, she would recommend pastry school to those who can afford it, but she thought the best training can come from gaining internships or working under someone knowledgeable.She also warned to be prepared to work really hard!

She revealed that she had a fun learning experience trying out gluten-free and dairy-free baking and I hope this means an allergy friendly cookbook from Alice will be coming soon.

At the end of the session she was signing her books, of which only 5 copies were avaliable to be bought there because they are all sold out in most book stores! There is a second print coming out soon and you can still buy them on Amazon. I was there all star-struck and giddy-excited gushing about how much I love her books. She graciosuly signed my copies of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

Following her was a demo by Isa Chandra Moscowitz another  cook book authors who seemed to be extremely popular in San Francisco and there suddenly was a throng of people for her vegan cooking demo.
Isa was there to promote her new book Appetite for Reduction: 125 Fast and Filling Low-Fat Vegan RecipesBy the time I came back from having my book signed by Alice, a teenage girl with face piercings and a don't mess with me look had already taken my seat so I went hunting for T and Jellybean who were waiting for me over at the wonderful Market place with its lovely little stores ranging from Miette, Michael Recchiuti chocolates and the Cow girl creamery which I've heard great things about.

Wish I could have stayed for Isa's demo too. I have both her Cupcakes take over the world and Vegan Cookies invade your cookie Jar and they are brilliant. A must for vegan and also food allergic bakers. I was hoping to get them signed too but the line was crazy long and so I decided to leave. And besides, after being completely star struck by Alice, I didn't think I could handle meeting Isa too!
I had an awesome day at the Ferry Market place and then driving down to the lovely Sausalito and an amazing lunch at Poggios.

Here are some pictures I took while wandering around the lovely marketplace:

I will leave you with a link to Alice's video demo for crispy chocolate chip cookies on fox tv: click here
Also an older baking with Julia episode where she makes an awesome layered raspberry genois cake which I just have to attempt someday: click here
If you want a taste of her recipes here  are some of the recipes I have tried from her books, including my favourite low fat chocolate mousse, buttermilk pound cake and easiest chocolate brownies  and here is a treasure trove of cookie recipes at purplehousedirt from her first cookie book, which were then revised and improved for her new book Chewy, Gooey.. 
For more Alice Medrich trivia here is an article which talks about her introduction to dessert making. 


  1. Wow, Magpie, you are a delight! After reading your story it felt like I could see the thrill of your excitement. Thank you for the positive energy and for sharing all these wonderful tips from Alice Medrich! I wish I could get hold of one of her books and start baking, er, something :)

  2. Amazing Rose !!! I felt like I watched Alice Medrich demo by myself while reading your detailed presentation.

  3. Thanks Nasheera & Sneha- You guys are the best :)
    Nashi in case you can't get hold of her fab books- I have posted a few recipes plus if you want to try her cookies the second last link above has about 50 of her original recipes, from her older book.
    She is also featured in a lot of magazines which are available online so you might be able to find many recipes on google.

  4. WOW!!! I can feel your excitement.It sounds like you had a great time.Thanks for sharing these baking tips...I'm sure they'll be very helpful.

  5. This is my very first time on your blog. Really interesting. Loved your useful tip about not beating the flour too much as it activates the gluten (most of us do not realise this when we begin to bake and end up with tough brownies).

    Shilpa (

  6. Hey,

    Lovely post...Very informative...:)


  7. Hey Rose,I really njoyed reading this post.
    I really feel like I was actually there in the demo along with Alice n you:-)
    The baking tips wil sure come handy:-)
    Thank u...

  8. Lucky you to have attended her class! And thank you so much for sharing this! :)

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