My friend the Glorious Baker Flo Braker

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Flo Braker is one of those people for whom the expression "to know her is to love her" was invented. The first time I met Flo was at the second annual meeting of the International Association of Culinary Professional many years ago. In fact, the group was then called the Association of Cooking Teachers! Flo was doing a baking demo for the group. It was held at a hotel in New York and through some administrative food service mishap Flo discovered at the start of her demo that all the tastings of her miniatures she had prepared were locked in a walk-in frig to which no one had the key! To my amazement, instead of being either annoyed or flustered, Flo laughed with joyful amusement at the absurdity of the situation and proceeded to do the demo with what was on hand. I was utterly charmed. She did have a few finished samples that had escaped the lockout which she passed out to the rather large group and I was determined to land one of them. I got to try the exquisite little Drie Augen cookies, thus named because they have 3 little rounds cut into the top resembling 'eyes' which reveal the jam sandwiched between the two layers of the cookie.

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The next time I saw Flo was at the coming out book party for her first cookbook The Simple Art of Perfect Baking. It was held at Peter Kump's cooking school in the upper east side. When Flo described the desserts she had prepared from the book I was confirmed in my initial impression that she was the most charming person I had ever met. I was, at the time, in the process of writing my own first cookbook--The Cake Bible--and in the taxi going home I confided to Richard Saxe (also an esteemed baking author who is sadly no longer alive) that I saw no reason to continue writing my book as Flo's cakes were absolute perfection. He gently contradicted me reminding me that there is room for many voices and approaches to cake and baking. But this story is only to illustrate how deeply I was impressed by Flo's work--her sense of style and design, her divine combination of flavors and perfection of textures. Since this time, more than two decades ago, Flo and I have shared many delicious meals and moments and I always bask in her warmth and generosity. Hardly a year goes by that we don't exchange birthday cards--easy to remember as we share the same birthday month. So I'm now sharing with all of you a little of our history and a recommendation for a fantastic chocolate cake recipe from her newest book Baking for All Occasions. It was the dessert I made for this past New Year's dinner for Elliott and me and it is so lusciously moist we have been eating it for dessert every night since! (I did share some with my favorite neighbors the Meneguses.) I knew it was going to be terrific when I tasted the batter! The brown sugar lends the most delightful tangy sweetness and the unsweetened chocolate contributes the cocoa butter that delivers a full melt in the mouth hit of chocolate. I know it would be fabulous filled with the billowy Divinity Frosting and gilded with Milk Chocolate Paint (photo in book) but it was completely satisfying unadorned as well. Knowing me you will not be surprised to learn how reassuring and delightful it was to bake from a recipe that had all the weights listed in ounces and grams as well as the usual volume. And how enjoyable it was to follow the clear and precise directions and see yet another so effective way of expressing the various processes that I myself give expression to in my books. I kept thinking: "yes, I like that...yes that really works...!" For Flo, as for all of us born to be bakers, baking is love, and with her great heart you can just imagine how great her baking has to be. Next I plan to make the Prune Plum-Apricot Oversized Frangipane Tart. What a terrific combination of elements. Fellow Blogger Rachel B has posted the recipe on her blog along with a small correction of when to add the melted chocolate (should you be working from the book). click here