Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook 
Authors: Cheryl and Griffith Day
Publisher: Artisan (2012)

It’s commonly said that while cooking is an art, baking is a science. To me, that evokes pictures of white-coat, tyrannical chefs weighing out every speck of flour and spooning out the quarter-teaspoon of sugar that pushes the tare that milligram over the “appropriate” amount. That is no way to fall in love with the glorious art of the kitchen and really enjoy the time you spend baking treats for your loved ones. Thankfully, Cheryl and Griffith Day share the same happy, hearty approach to baking, and together they opened the Back in the Day Bakery – “the best little bakery in the South” – in 2002. Ten years later, the couple penned the bakery’s cookbook and won over the stomachs and hearts of those who knew the establishment as well as Back in the Day newbies.

Brown Sugar Tomato Jam (p. 238)
The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook is very much attuned to the “down home” comfort food we all know and love. At the same time, the Days have upped the ante on many recipes, bringing new and delightful twists on tradition. With chapters devoted to Breakfast; Coffee Cakes, Quick Breads and Sweet Yeast Breads; Cupcakes and Cakes; Pies, Cobblers, Crisps, and Tarts; Puddings and Custards; Cookies; Brownies and Bars; Confections; and Savouries, there is something to love for every age and disposition. The introductory section of this book is dedicated to the historical story of the Days and the Bakery and is beautifully written – a theme that continues throughout the remaining pages. Every portion of Back in the Day flows in a way that feels like Cheryl or Griffith is speaking with you in casual conversation, the passion they have for their craft silently infusing itself into the reader. The commentary is not excessive, but is enough to drive home the “small town” feel of the Bakery and make the reader feel comfortable.

The first section also includes a list of the key tools for any baker and the spices the Bakery values in their work, but the most critical (and interesting) portion of the first 10 pages is The Method to the Magic (p. 5). This six-part segment details the areas to pay careful attention to when preparing to bake in order to achieve consistent success. These tips range from the common sense (read the recipe through before starting, make sure you understand it, and take out all the ingredients) to the scientific (why and when eggs are needed, leaveners and ingredient temperatures) to the “hidden tricks” the Days have found helpful in practice (like moving the batter from the mixing bowl to another bowl). While not in the introduction, Back in the Day also has a section of ingredient and supply Resources (p. 249) that is a welcome boon for those in small communities or who are loath to shop around in person.
PB & J Bars (p. 195)

Readers will note that there is a lot of instruction involved with Back in the Day. This is not to say the book coddles the would-be baker – while there are simpler recipes (like Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 172) and Blackberry Cobbler (p. 121)), the recipes in the Confections chapter (p. 207), as well as the infamous Salted Caramel Apple Pie (p. 118) involve candy-making techniques and require a candy thermometer. Secondary recipes and hints (called “Sweet Notes”) pepper the pages, from making simple syrup (p. 87) to colouring sprinkles (p. 67), and recipe-specific tips are included where relevant. There is even a page dedicated to ideas for packaging the treats as gifts (p. 186), many of which I plan to use for the holidays.

Of course, a cookbook is nothing without good, solid recipes to stand behind – and Back in the Day delivers in this respect as well. While the majority of the book is at home in the sweet kitchen, there is a chapter dedicated to Savouries (p. 223) as well as a few saltier inclusions in with the Breakfasts (p. 13). I fell in love with the Brown Sugar Tomato Jam (p. 238), especially after adding a dash of ancho chili powder. It took perfectly to canning in small jars for Christmas stocking stuffers, and I saved a small pot of it to top extra-old cheddar and walnut gougères. On the sweeter side of things, the PB & J Bars (p. 195) were a huge hit both as written and in a smaller, veganized batch that I made with oat flour, ground chia seeds, flaked almonds and crab apple jelly. Of all the recipes I tried in Back in the Day, the crowning glory was by far Cheryl’s Brownies (p. 190). These rich, fudgey-cakey bars deserve a special mention not only because they were simple to prepare and easy to modify (expample: I left out the nuts for our plain-Jane brownie family), but because they garnered the approval of my most discerning taste-tester: my supertaster sister. Not only did these get a thumbs-up, but the empty pan returned with her on her first weekend home from university with a note signed by all her housemates requesting “more, please!”. Considering that requests for a remake of anything not originating from a package mix are as common as an ostrich in full flight, this book would be worth a buy for that recipe alone. The Creole Brownies (p. 193) are another stellar chocolate option, perfect for the bittersweet connoisseur, the base a dense block of baked cookie-cake peppered with cacao nibs layered with a decadent coffee-laced ganache. While I haven’t had time quite yet, the Brown Sugar Banana Bread (p. 45) and the aforementioned Salted Caramel Apple Pie are definitely on my must-make roster.
Cheryl's Brownies (p. 190)

If you love the experience of bringing a comforting, decadent bakery experience to your home kitchen (and reading the tale of two determined bakers who could), you’ll adore The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. From charming stories to handy hints and sinfully delightful goodies, the pages are packed with feasts for the eyes and stomach.