You’re at a friend’s brunch, eyeing rows of her homemade puff pastries on tiered platters, and you think, I can make that. How hard could it be? Then you turn your kitchen upside down and end up with a mushy mess. Sound familiar?
Houston-born baker (and former Houstonia contributor) Russell van Kraayenburg is passionate about pastries, and he understands how intimidating it is to craft them. So much so, in fact, that he locked himself in his kitchen for six months to test recipes and techniques to find the easiest—and best—way to perfect dozens of recipes. The result is his new book, Making Dough: Recipes and Ratios for Perfect Pastries, a guide to help others demystify the dough-making process.
“The science behind making pastries, the technicalities and the attention that’s required has always fascinated me,” van Kraayenburg says. “I wanted to make doughs and pastries easy for the home cook. I didn’t want people to be afraid of baking.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when preparing pastry dough? According to van Kraayenburg, it’s impatience. “People rush a lot of steps. If the instructions say let the dough rest for two hours, people might skip that step thinking it’s not important, when really, it is vital.” Even though van Kraayenburg cooks entirely from scratch, he knows there are lots of folks who don’t. “If my readers want to bake from scratch, I give them the tools and information necessary to do so.”
Making Dough targets both novice pâtissiers and those with more experience. It contains diagrams, recipes and detailed instructions on key steps like measuring, bakers' math and mixing. Van Kraayenburg says there’s plenty of information in his book that will make experienced pastry bakers say, “Wow, I didn’t know that. I’m so glad I read about it.”
Long before he started working on Making Dough, van Kraayenburg made a point to uncover hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Houston. “Going out of my way to find those was my favorite adventure for a while,” he says. “That contributed to my style, which is sometimes different from what a lot of people are doing, but is grounded in traditional and old-school home cooking.” He also credits his dad for teaching him how to bake. “Growing up, my father was always a big fan of cooking so we had a lot of home-cooked meals. I was always in the kitchen helping him when I could.”
Making Dough is van Kraayenburg’s second book. He published Haute Dogs in 2014, which started out as a joke between him and his editor. They were both hot dog fanatics and van Kraayenburg decided to turn his obsession into a book. “But after I wrote Haute Dogs, I wanted to focus on what I’m really passionate about, and that’s pastries.”
When van Kraayenburg isn’t writing, he’s putting his pastry-making skills to work at Rebecca Masson’s Fluff Bake Bar in Midtown Houston. He started working there as a pastry cook around the time he started writing Making Dough. He says his job in a professional kitchen helped him perfect his pastries. Now, readers can follow suit in the comfort of their own kitchens.