New 'Joy of Cooking' will erase any reservations about past editions

Tribune News Service

When asked which recipe to share with this story, John Becker named apple dumplings immediately. The recipe’s headnote says: “This is, hands down, one of our favorite recipes in this entire book. On the first chilly autumn day, there is nothing that can compete with these warming pastries.”

If you grew up consulting “Joy of Cooking,” revisions over the past many years may have left you with mixed feelings. But the newest edition, due Nov. 12 from Scribner, will delight you. And if you’re not familiar with “Joy of Cooking,” the new edition will become your go-to resource.

First, it’s a whopper of a book, with more than 1,000 pages. It features more than 600 new recipes, as well as more than 4,000 favorites that have been revised and updated. At $40, it may be an investment — but it’s one I think you’ll be willing to make. I know I will.

Second, the newest edition accurately reflects the way we eat today. While Irma Rombauer’s original book featured mostly American favorites, the new edition includes a wealth of international recipes — reflecting our more culturally influenced palates.

In this way, I think the newest revision would delight Mrs. Rombauer, as my mother used to call her. (Any cooking question? “Let’s see what Mrs. Rombauer has to say,” Mom would mutter, picking up her well-thumbed 1943 edition.)

Rombauer’s goal, as far back as the original 1931 edition, was to fortify cooks with confidence and knowledge. This new edition stays true to that mission in the most delightful ways.

With tons of new information — there’s a chapter on fermentation, much-expanded food safety knowledge, tips on how to streamline cooking and economize, instructions on making stock and other dishes in the Instant Pot, and much more — the newest edition will give both beginning and experienced cooks a great deal to work with.

I caught up with John Becker, Rombauer’s great-grandson, at his Portland, Oregon, home. When we spoke by phone — he was “portioning out chicken stock for the freezer,” he said — he agreeably paused his work for a chat.

Becker and Megan Scott, his wife, spent more than nine years on the revision, he said.

“We started testing from the 2006 edition,” he said. “We first wanted to trace each recipe back to which edition it first appeared in.”

Although Becker is an only child, his father, Ethan, was careful to let him know that he wasn’t bound by family law to revise “Joy of Cooking.” (Marion Rombauer Becker was Ethan’s mother, and daughter of Irma; all of them worked on editions.)

“My father was clear that if I chose not to be a part of the book, I didn’t have to,” Becker said. “But at a certain point, I decided I had to.”

Such a huge book almost automatically requires a tiny typeface to squeeze everything into a book with limited pages.

“It’s literally the family curse,” Becker said. But in this edition, “we’re using a wider serif font to improve readability.”

Additionally, he said, the new edition is “not quite as tall, but it’s wider, and it was upgraded to a sewn binding. The sewn binding and wider pages mean the book will lay flat, even when you’re looking at the index.”

As it has since the 1936 edition, the new “Joy of Cooking” features the idiosyncratic “action method,” in which the recipes are written with ingredients placed in the instructional text at the time of their use.

APPLE DUMPLINGS

Servings: 6

1 recipe cream cheese pastry dough (see below)

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously butter a baking dish large enough to hold the dumplings with 1-2 inches between each one, such as an 11-by-7-inch dish or a 12-inch oval gratin dish.

Peel and core (leaving them whole):

6 small apples (about 4 ounces each)

Or peel, halve lengthwise and core:

3 large apples (about 8 ounces each)

Mix with a fork in a small bowl until blended:

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Add and mix well:

4 tablespoons butter, softened

Fill the whole apples with the mixture, and pat any remaining mixture on top of the fruit, or, if using apple halves, fill the hollows with the mixture and reserve any remaining. Set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 18-by-12-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into six 6-inch squares, then roll each square a little larger, into a 7-inch square. Lightly brush with:

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Place an apple in the middle of each square. If using apple halves, place cut side down and spread the remaining sugar mixture on the rounded tops of the apples. For each square, bring the 4 corners of the dough up around the apple and pinch the corners and sides of the dough together. Prick the top of each pastry several times with a fork. Place the dumplings in the baking dish, and bake for 10 minutes.

While the dumplings bake, make the syrup. Combine in a small saucepan:

1 cup water

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 small lemon, thinly sliced and seeded

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir until the sugar is dissolved, bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Pour the boiling syrup over the dumplings when they begin to color, 10 minutes into the cooking time.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake until the apples are tender when pierced with a small knife, 30-35 minutes more. Baste the apples with the syrup every 10 minutes or so to form a glaze and flavor the crust. If the dumplings start to brown too quickly, loosely cover with foil. Let cool slightly.

Serve warm with:

Heavy cream (softly whipped, if desired) or vanilla ice cream

CREAM CHEESE PASTRY DOUGH

Makes a 9-inch single pie crust or eight 3-inch tart or individual pie shells

Whisk together in a medium bowl:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut in until well blended:

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into cubes

Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

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