Anyone who knows me knows I love to bake. My obsession started with cake decorating, then quickly shifted focus to chocolate chip cookies and now knows no limits… OK, well I still don’t sculpt sugar or chocolate. So when a new cookbook comes out about baking I think “been there, done that”. There never seems to be much new in the world of good cookbooks on baking. Sure everyone has their twists but they all seem to offer up the same set up recipes, slightly tweaked. Because of this, I tend to steer clear of cookbooks about baking, that was until Stella Park wrote Bravetart.
Before I even get into everything I want to tell you about this cookbook let me start with saying if you know ANYONE who even remotely likes to bake this is the book for them. I have a core set of cookbooks I keep going back to and I have to say this is one that has quickly found it’s self in that category. Trust me when I say if you or someone you know likes to bake this is a MUST for your cookbook collection.
OK, so what makes this book so great? I could simply say “Homemade Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups” and that should be enough but if it’s not let me tell you more about this masterpiece. To tell this story accurately we need to go back a year. I set out on a mission to make cake for my husband and I to have a piece every night after dinner. The kicker? No two cakes could be the same. That meant I was setting out to make roughly 24 different cakes in a year.
This “cake project” sent me down a path of thinking about all the cakes that are out there. One thing I knew is I didn’t simply want different flavors but I wanted different cakes all together. I dug around and found tons of interesting cakes. That then got me thinking about the classics. In December of last year I thought it would be fun to make a true red velvet cake for my husbands birthday last year. I surfed the internet for ages trying to find an “authentic” recipe only to discover this cake has quite the sorted past with much disagreement to the story of it’s origins. I made the recipe I finally settled on and for the first time in my life I didn’t finish the cake. I was actually kind of repulsed by it but I wondered if there was a better recipe out there that explained why this cake was such a hit to stick with us for all these years.
So with cookies being my first love and cakes being something I am beginning to explore, love, and even hate I was intrigued by the title of this cookbook. My test? Did it have a recipe for Red Velvet Cake and would I try it? The answer? Yes! So, how did Stella Parks convince me to try her red velvet cake? Here’s the thing you need to know about this book… She has done her research and better yet she shares these in-depth discoveries with you about the history of the recipe. So before you even get to the actual recipe you get this lovely account of where the recipe even came from and it’s journey through American culture. Understanding the “why’s” to a recipe I find key. Stella spends time at the beginning of the book explaining a lot about the tools and ingredients she has chosen for her recipes. This means that if you are so inspired to change something you know why the item was there to begin with and what possible outcomes there might be if you change something.
When I finally had time to make a recipe from her book I chose a highly problematic recipe. Peanut Butter cookies. Now, I should tell you I have a preference for cookies that have a nice “softness” to them. I don’t like snap or crunch in a cookie. I looked over her peanut butter cookie recipe and saw some new tricks that peaked my interest. Better yet is that at the end of most of her recipes you’ll find twists and alterations. So if you want to change up the flavor she offer several ideas on how to do that, as well as some flavors that might work well. For the peanut butter cookie recipe she offers up a twist she calls E.T. cookies. This simply adds Reece’s Pieces to the cookies. This sounded like heaven! I even followed her call out for commercial peanut butter even though I try to minimize my use of commercially processed foods. She explains the importance so I heeded her advice and bought Skippy!
As I was adding the various ingredients I was unsure of how it was going to “handle” but sure enough in the end I had a cookie that is not a permanent member of my cookie arsenal. Here’s the thing I will always tell anyone who loves to bake or cook. If you are doing a recipe that is familiar but knew and there are steps or techniques that you feel are not how you have learned to do something don’t be afraid to do what makes sense to you. If it doesn’t work they try it again the way it’s written but often your instincts in the kitchen will pay off. I have a set size I like cookies which are always way smaller than any cookie recipe calls for so this also has taught me how to tell if a cookie is done since I have to change the bake time. So feel free to do what works for you just try to stick to the spirit of the recipe.
After the success of the cookies I knew I had something good here. As I dug further into this cookbook and discovered just how well researched this book is and how she nails so many great American classics I knew I would be baking many treats from this. High on my list are Homemade Snickers Bars, Homemade Cinnamon Rolls, Homemade Hostess Style Cupcakes, Homemade Twinkies, Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies, and yes, the Red (wine) Velvet Cake! There are tons more I am eager to try as well…
So if you’re intrigued pick up a copy of her wonderfully nostalgic cookbook and get baking!