Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: The Secret Lives of Baked Goods




Most of us like things from the bakery. At least bread, if not a brownie. And everyone likes secrets. Which is why secrets are so fragile. The information gets out, eventually and often rapidly.

Perhaps the information here deserves exposure. After all, if the NSA … Nevermind. Anyway, Jessie Oleson Moore has written The Secret Lives of Baked Goods, a compendium of clever facts and shattered myths.

Here’s a fact. That Red Velvet Cake pictured above owes its color to the Depression. Facing reduced food coloring sales during the Depression, the Adams Company developed a recipe that calls for lots and lots of red food coloring. Jessie has a recipe to match each story in this charming book. Her Red Velvet recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of red food coloring. That’s probably more than any recipe you’ll ever encounter. And the velvet? The cake does have a velvety texture reflecting its ingredients: buttermilk, cocoa, vinegar, and baking soda. And cake flour.

Cakes, pies, cookies, old favorites, lost ones, and commercial giants are all featured in Secret Lives. You’ll learn about evolution and enterprise:

  • Carrot cake began as pudding, then was commercialized on a grand scale in the early 1900’s when there was a glut of carrots. But, the cream cheese frosting only came into play in the 1960’s.
  • German chocolate cake is, of course, not German but named after a Texan named German who invented German chocolate which, in turn, was a stepping stone to today’s milk chocolate. And that distinctive green box from Bakers Company? That American firm began making chocolate in 1765.
  • The next time I have leftover apple pie for breakfast and Suzen mutters at me, I have a defense. It’s an American tradition. Apple pie was once dinner for kids and breakfast for farmers. I think I’ll have a slice of pie and pull a few weeds.

I could rattle off enough facts and tales to take you through three cappuccinos. But then you would not buy the book, and the author is a lovely person and Sasquatch is great publisher so I will leave you with a series of questions that can only be answered by reading the book. You’ll thank me, trust me:

  • Who do doughnuts have holes?
  • What state has the Whoppie Pie as the official state treat?
  • Where did croissants really originate?
  • Is Banana Cream Pie a pie or a cake and why?
  • Which Queen Elizabeth first ate gingerbread cookies and why did the Brothers Grimm start the craze for gingerbread houses?

None of these answers should remain secret any longer. The truth deserves to be known. And you should probably start baking the recipes right out of this book.

The Red Velvet Cake is really good. That’s no secret.

Cookbook Review: Ottolenghi The Cookbook


You might have seen Plenty in 2011. And surely you saw Jerusalem published in late 2012. Jerusalem has become a cult cookbook akin to Around My French table.

What you probably have not seen before is the first book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. That book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, was published in Great Britain in 2008. Now, thanks to Ten Speed Press, that first impressive volume is available to the American audience.

Ottolenghi is as exceptional as its siblings and should be added to your cookbook collection. Most of us do not regularly eat in Middle Eastern restaurants or sample cookbooks from that region. The names of dishes and ingredients alone can be mysterious to us. The combinations can give us pause. You can cook this with that?

Yes, you can. Ottolenghi proves, with every recipe, that culinary surprises and pleasures are just a few steps away. The regional dishes here, often presented with lovely close up shots, are traditional treasures ready for us to incorporate into our lives:

  • Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad
  • Grilled Cauliflower with Tomato, Dill and Capers
  • Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Eggplant and Pomegranate Molasses
  • Sardines Stuffed with Bulgur, Currants and Pistachios

Suzen has already prepared two of the dishes here: Koseri a rice and lentil dish and Beef and Lamb Meatballs Cooked in Tahini. We made these two the centerpiece for a dinner party that had everyone returning for seconds. The dishes in Ottolenghi are very likely to become part of your “regular recipe rotation.” You’ll find these recipes in the blogs here on the next two days.

Authors Ottolenghi and Tamimi have an entwined history. Both were born in Jerusalem, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Both migrated to London for education and there to discover their passion for food. They met on a London street, they formed a friendship and then a partnership. The result is history for them and important food contributions for us.

And not just Middle Eastern food. These men are not shy and have embraced the cooking of the Western world just as much as they invite us to their native cuisine. They like sweets. I had to chuckle when I read the half page devoted to how to cook a brownie to achieve that they believe to be the proper texture. Two guys from Jerusalem describing the right level of gooiness and how to measure it? There are, it turns out, real benefits from globalization.

Some of the desserts combine both Western and Middle Eastern flavors into one lovely extravaganza. For example, they offer their Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing. Imagine palm trees growing in Maine.

Perhaps that is the essence of this important book: imagination. Suzen and I are planning much of our Thanksgiving feast from this book. That apple cake, a lovely Sweet Potato Gratin, the grilled cauliflower. And for the day after Thanksgiving, they have Turkey and Corn Meatballs with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. How can you say no to that?

Whatever your culture. Whatever your food preferences, if you page through Ottolenghi then somewhere you will pause. You will wonder just what that dish must taste like. And probably you’ll be gracefully seduced into cooking from Ottolenghi. I was.