JCAKES - I believe Maida Heatter may be missing from my cookbook library. I have used Rose Levy Beranbaum for some of these basics with good results, but would like to check out Maida Heatter since she is still referenced so much. Do you have a recommendation on which of her books to start with?
Also, I agree on Francisco Migoya - I have had success with some of his recipes. The creme fraiche cake is great and I have used it in many desserts.
You might want to check out Antonio Bachour. He is on Instagram and Facebook, so you can see if his style appeals to you. I have two of his books and have had luck with the recipes I have tested. His style is very modern.
When I was young my grandmother made hard candy. Even though I was used to my mom cooking dinner, I somehow had the notion that candy came from a factory. It just seemed so magical to see her working with the hot sugar to shape it into pieces. I became fascinated with the idea of making things that people didn't usually buy themselves.
I agree with Phatch, that is a great recipe to start with. If you don't have a Dutch oven, you can split the dough and bake it in two loaf pans. I often double the recipe, then slice, wrap and freeze the extra bread and it holds great.
I think a good next step would be one of the breads from Shirley Corriher or Rose Levy Beranbaum. The recipes are well tested and clearly explained. You can probably find the books at your local library.
I hear how hard it is to find good kitchen help in some cities and often wonder why some places don't offer a decent schedule as an incentive. I know I would be willing to take a pay cut if I could work a sane schedule somewhere.
I received a bottle of coconut vinegar as a gift and am at a bit of a loss. On its own, it tastes quite delicious, but the coconut flavor isn't one I would normally pair with foods that I use vinegar on. I am not sure I really want it on my salad, so I am thinking something Asian with fish, maybe.
I have made them with both. Though ones with brown sugar have amazing flavor, the texture is quite different. If they are slightly over-baked, the cookies becomes a little hard to eat. Make your friend the one with white sugar as those are easy and more forgiving. You can test out the ones with brown sugar when there is no pressure.