Cookbook Review

Cookbook Review: Quinntessential Baking

Frances Quinn was the winner of the 4th series (or 2nd season, here in the United States) of The Great British Bake Off  in 2013. On the show, Quinn stood out from her fellow competitors through her creative sense of style and design that imbued all of her recipes. In one early challenge, she was inspired by how classic bread sticks look like fireplace matches, so she flavored them with ginger, dipped them in chocolate, and tucked her bread/matchsticks away in an over-sized match box. In another challenge that required the contestants to bake a Victorian sandwich cake, she used a baking tin to make her cake in the shape of sandwich bread, making clever use of fondant as a parchment sandwich bag. Quinn’s aesthetic sense of design found its way into every challenge and into her new cookbook, Quinntessential Baking.

The cookbook is ingeniously separated by recipe where each basic recipe, like Vanilla Cake, is given a makeover only Frances Quinn could produce: a fanciful take on the classic Strawberry Shortcake, Wimbledon-inspired cupcakes, and Fish and Chips cupcakes, to name a few. I was especially impressed by her chapter devoted to Tiffin, a brownie-like cake that contains chopped chocolate, crunchy treats, and other creative add-ins. Quinn uses the basic idea of a Tiffin cake and transforms it into cake pops, seed cakes, and a Malted Milk and Cookies Tiffin.

As I was flipping through the cookbook, I had to stop at the Coffee Shot ‘Cup’ Cakes recipe. This was it. This would be the first thing I made from her cookbook. Baked in paper coffee cups and adorned with whipped mascarpone, the treats are  the perfect coffee cup doppelgangers – they certainly impressed me and my lucky coworkers! Quinn’s treats are high-style and high-substance, with every ingredient well thought out. Below, a sprinkle of cocoa or a dusting of cinnamon add to the flavor, appearance, and overall design of the ‘Cup’ Cakes.

One note for any baker in the United States: Quinn’s recipes are based on traditional English measurements and temperatures, so expect to break out your kitchen scale and Google some Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion.

Frances Quinn’s Quinntessential Baking is an absolute joy to read and peruse as you debate what treat you and some friends (or you and your children) might want to tackle this weekend. I would highly recommend this book for any cookbook lover or any baker for it truly represents the Quinntessence of whimsical, joyful baking.

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Cookbook Review

Cookbook Review: BraveTart

Stella Parks loves American baking: from Oreos to Wonder Bread, her cookbook, BraveTart shines the light on classic American cakes, cookies, and candies. In truth, Ms. Parks – one of the top Pastry Chefs in America according to Food & Wine magazine – wrote the cookbook I hoped to someday write, a cookbook that codified American baking in ways that sets it apart from our culinary forebears. And she succeeds.

To Chef Parks, S’Mores aren’t guilty pleasures; rather, they are simply pleasures. And she encourages us to have the same attitude towards treats as she shows us how to make everything from homemade fudge and doughnuts to pies and Pop-Tarts to Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cookies:

BraveTart provides not only delicious recipes but also unapologetic explanations of her decision-making process for using one ingredient or another, like how White Lily flour and King Arthur flour act the way they do in recipes and why she uses a pinch of nutmeg in her Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies. Additionally, each of her recipes is followed by variations, from gluten-free versions of nearly all of her treats to unexpected ideas like Brown Butter and Sage Marshmallows (a transcendent flavor combination when paired with white chocolate in a S’Mores).

After having read BraveTart, I feel I can confidently say, “I am a classic American baker,” and I now have a tome defining what that means. I would highly recommend you read her book, BraveTart and enjoy taking the guilty out of your pleasures.

Cookbook Review, Cupcakes

Prohibition Baking

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Recently, a particularly thoughtful friend gave me a copy of the Prohibition Bakery Cookbook.

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I have used alcohol in baking before — a little bourbon vanilla frosting here, a moist rum cake there — but the Prohibition Bakery Cookbook by Leslie Feinberg and Brooke Siem doesn’t hold back: the flavors are bold, and the alcohol content of their cupcakes is heroic.

The cookbook is divided into chapters based on alcohol, and the mini-cupcakes found within are based off of cocktails featuring said alcohol. One would find a Dark and Stormy cupcake, for example, under the Rum chapter. The sheer quantity of cocktails that the authors have transformed into cupcakes makes this cookbook an impressive tome filled with brilliant tips for incorporating alcohol into cake batters, frostings, and fillings.

What struck me about this book is that the recipes are surprisingly versatile. I may only make the Old-Fashioned mini-cupcakes a time or two, but I guarantee I will make the bourbon-infused cherry garnish many times over, both for the cherry itself and the delicious cherry-flavored bourbon it creates. The author’s recipes have a life outside of mini-cupcakes, and I think that is part of the treasure found in this cookbook.

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The Prohibition Bakery Cookbook is intently focused on its subject; this is no well-rounded all-encompassing bakery 101 cookbook. It contains only recipes for cocktail-based mini-cupcakes. However, from the ingenious way that alcohol is woven into recipes and from the brilliant use of garnishes and fillings, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys baking. If nothing else, the authors’ creativity will lift your spirits*.

If you’re planning a trip to New York or just curious about their current menu, visit the Prohibition Bakery’s website.

Buy the Prohibition Bakery Cookbook here.

*I had to use that pun at least once, otherwise the University of Kentucky would revoke my English degree.