At my friend Emily’s recommendation, I purchased Baking Illustrated recently and fell in love with the book.
I love how they explain what kind of consistency or taste they are trying to go for, what they did to try achieving that, and how it turned out. After reading the preamble for each recipe you can be sure of what to do in order to get the taste you want. For example:
We made four batches of pastry cream, using 3 or 4 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour in each one. Four tablespoons of either starch made gummy, chewy, gluey messes of the pastry creams. Three tablespoons was the correct amount; any less would have resulted in soup. In equal amounts, cornstarch and flour were extremely close in flavor and texture, but cornstarch inched out in front with a slightly lighter, more ethereal texture and a cleaner and purer flavor; flour gave the pastry cream a trace of graininess and gumminess.
Yesterday, I made a Fresh Fruit Tart with Pastry Cream (pg. 225), which turned out fantastic although hard to serve (the pastry cream would be EXCELLENT for something like a cream puff, however) because the cream didn’t hold its shape and I ended up with strawberry and kiwi slices drowning in blobs of pudding atop a barely visible golden brown crust. In short, it tasted better than it looked. But boy did it look awesome before I broke into it!
One more note: it was necessary to blind bake the crust for this tart, which is the process of baking the crust before a pie or tart is filled and involves lining the dough with some sort of weight while in the oven to prevent the sides from sliding to the bottom before it has had time to become crisp. The book recommended using pie weights in a bag or pennies on top of aluminum foil, but I had neither and used aluminum foil filled with a few cups of rice instead. FYI, this works just fine!