Do you hear that?
It’s the sound of all that holiday baking coming your way. While I am not one of those people that starts decorating the house for Christmas in July, I am one of those people that starts thinking about Christmas baking in … oh … say April.
And while I don’t actually start my Christmas baking until about two weeks before the holiday, it’s just never to early to start thinking about what beautiful things will soon issue forth from your oven.
To help get the baking juices flowing (mine and yours), I want to tell you about a cookbook that I had the pleasure of reviewing: Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More.
How I wish I would have taken the time to learn more about her prior to this book as she’s clearly an amazing writer and baker! This cookbook is a gem filled with foundation recipes for all sorts of cakes, breads and more. There are some lovely photographs to compliment the more than 200 recipes for old-fashioned favourites and more modern interpretations of classics. Of particular interest to me were the chapters dedicated to old-style baked goods like strudel and danish pastry.
The book is well-written and well-organized. While many of the recipes are straightforward, some of them are also fairly dense and involved so for the beginner, I would recommend reading the recipes a few times.
Not that an inexperienced baker should be put off. These recipes work! Each entry is accompanied with an “At a Glance” section that tells you the degree of difficulty of the recipe, the baking time and the equipment you’ll need among other things.
Present throughout the book is an element that I always look for: the author’s voice. I’ve written about this before and often wonder if people think I’m a little nutty but my favourite cookbooks are the ones where I can very clearly sense the author’s voice and personality coming across. Carole Walter, as accomplished as she is, comes across as an excited baker who loves the task. There’s a sense of camaraderie created in the book that makes you feel like you’re baking with a good friend. For me, that’s an elusive quality and often the difference between a good cookbook and a great one.
As I always say, though, the proof of a cookbook’s quality is in the recipes. So what did I make?
Butter Pecan Pound Cake
Yes. That’s right. A pound cake that has an unbelievable butter pecan flavour. I could write about this cake for days but instead I will say that based on this cake alone, you should buy the book. I’ll stop there.
Nut-Crusted Orange Pound Cake
I made this cake soley because I was intrigued by the idea of baking a cake in a pan that was dusted with ground nuts! I’d never done that before and the results were delicious!
Dimpled Sugar Cake
I couldn’t wait to post this review simply because of this cake. Made with one of the most versatile (and easy) yeasted doughs I’ve ever come across, this cake is heaven in a pan. After dimpling the surface of the dough (the way you would dimple focaccia), you spoon brown sugar into each dimple and top it with butter. What you end up with is a caramelized crust on top of a soft, rich bread. So good!
Swedish Tea Ring
What I love about the foundation recipes in this book, like the yeasted dough mentioned above, is that they’re structured to yield enough to make two recipes. So with the other half of my dough I made this Swedish Tea Ring. Butter and nuts wrapped in a rich dough.
If this is what people in Sweden eat, I want to go there. Now.
Irish Whiskey Cake
I’d come across recipes for cake with whiskey before and always hesitated. I hope you don’t think less of me for admitting this but I’m not the biggest fan of whiskey. But Carole Walter convinced me to give it a try and I can honestly say that my world is a better place. This cake was moist and delicious with a boozy flavour that was pleasant, but not overwhelming.
“Too Good to be True” Bran Muffins
To me, the phrase “too good to be true” is like an open invitation for a baking smackdown. Too good to be true, eh? We’ll see about that! While I never imagined that I’d be waxing poetic over bran muffins of all things, these ones really are delicious. They’re spicy and surprisingly moist. And they’re healthy!
Scalloped Chocolate Pecan Strip
With yet another recipe for a yeasted dough I created this lovely braided coffee cake. I’m not good at the creation of braids in baking. Generally they come out looking very … unbraidlike. But I’m telling you, people, this dough is incredible! The chocolate and pecans also help.
Old-Fashioned Apple Walnut Strudel
The experience of making this strudel made the entire cookbook more than worth it for me. If you would have ever told me that I would make strudel by hand, including the dough, I would have never believed you. But there I was stretching strudel dough over my kitchen table until it was so thin I could read a newspaper through it. The end result was a strudel that if I may say so myself, puts to shame most of the “strudels” you buy in commercial bakeries. What an incredible experience this was!
Glazed Orange Ricotta Cookies
While there is no picture of these cookies (I was too tired to take a picture), they’re representative of the cookie section in this book which is short, but excellent! These were soft cookies made with one of my favourite cheeses (ricotta) and finished with a lovely glaze and pine nuts!
If I had the time, I would have happily spent day after day baking from this book. Alas, work and family beckon so it’s not possible to bake all the time. But even if you bake some of the time, this book is a worthy companion.
I suggest you bring it along for the Christmas ride that is soon to begin!