The most appealing aspect of John Barricelli’s new cookbook “The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes From My Home Kitchen to Make Year-Round” is the reassuring conversational tone of his introductions and tips, which are not just sprinkled, but dolloped throughout the book. The title is a mouthful, but accurate, with the emphasis on the home kitchen. If you want to recreate the multi-layered Chocolate Ganache Cake or Crème Brulee Tartlets from the Sono Baking Company’s repertoire, go to John’s first cookbook of the same name. The Seasonal Baker is a go-to resource of thoughtfully selected and approachable recipes, both sweet and savory, meant to be prepared in a home kitchen. They will dazzle the diners, and not daunt the baker.
The book is well organized, dividing its 135 recipes into 9 clear sections from Muffins, Quick Breads and Breakfast Treats through Crisps, Cobblers and Other Fruit Spoon Desserts to the savory Tarts, Quiches, Pastas and More, and finally Focaccia and Pizza on the Grill. With few exceptions, the recipes are designed for everyday baking and John’s heartfelt introduction sets you up for all you will encounter in the book, essentially a mash-up of food and family. As he states: “The recipes in this book are conceived with family – mine and yours- in mind.”
Produce is featured in every recipe, so the book begins with a section entitled: The Shopping Guide to Fruits and Vegetables, in which John illuminates how to choose and store produce so you are using the very best you can find, whether you shop at a farmer’s market or a local grocery chain. This comprehensive guide begins with apples and describes over 20 additional fruits, with separate groupings for berries, citrus, melons and stone fruits. The vegetable reference spans from asparagus to zucchini and includes a few paragraphs on selecting and storing fresh herbs as well. The index is cross-referenced, so you can find Lemon Souffle Tartlets if you are searching for something to do with lemons or if you’re in the mood for a tart.
We refer to cookbooks for the recipes, but they need to offer more than just measurements and directions or we would simply dial up an on-line resource. If Epicurious is the MapQuest of home baking, John’s cookbook is the townie, whose knowledge doesn’t just get you from point A to B, but tells you the best route to take and what to watch out for along the way. John’s text has the unique ability to engage, as if you were having a running dialogue while you’re turning the pages. Some of his tips appear to come with a polite nudge or wave of his hand as if to say: Before you proceed, try it this way. I enjoyed flipping through the book just to read the tips that appear, like hidden treasure, in different places, lengths and call-out boxes throughout.
The title page of each chapter lists the recipes that follow, which I find much easier and more pleasant than scanning an index to select recipes. The chapters also begin with an introduction that may include an anecdote from John’s childhood, will include tips for the type of baking required, and occasionally include a warning: “Cake making requires concentration and a little skill.”
Equally entertaining are the introductions that accompany each recipe and provide you with its provenance, substitution tips and useful information, like how long the prepared dish will keep. I made 3 recipes that were simple to prepare and proved to be crowd pleasers. The Peach and Raspberry Crisp was the easiest to make and a fabulous dish for a large dinner crowd. The topping was crisp and the fruit perfectly sweetened in its own creamy juice. The Tomato, Smoked Mozzarella and Pesto Pizzette is prepared in a tart pan, so it looks prettier than a pizza, and allows you to showcase the season’s tomatoes and basil in a delicious pastry crust. It served as a lovely seasonal appetizer.
The recipe that was as much fun to make as it was to eat was the Blueberry Cheesecake In Glass Jars. Served, as instructed, in small jelly jars, the cheesecake was appreciated upon delivery for its unique presentation; then described as creamy, delicious, and smooth. More telling, however, was the ensuing silence that accompanied 6 metal spoons pinging off glass. One enthusiastic eater believed that spooning the dessert from a jar seemed less decadent than eating a slice of cheesecake – “more like eating yogurt than dessert.”
The Seasonal Baker is a fun read, an excellent baking guide and an inspiration for menu planning. I stuck with berries, peaches and tomatoes for the recipes tested because they are in season. While I am not looking forward to the fall, I am thinking that Focaccia with Butternut Squash and Ricotta Salata, and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cinnamon Cream, may help me adjust to the cooling seasonal change and the inevitable abundance of gourds that accompanies it.
John Barricelli is a regular on The Martha Stewart Show and a host of Everyday Food on PBS.
Since its opening in 2005, John’s SoNo Baking Company & Café, in South Norwalk, and his most recent outpost on the Post Road, in Westport – have become go-to destinations for artisanal breads, specialty cakes, pastries, cookies and more. His new book, “The Seasonal Baker: Easy Recipes From My Home Kitchen To Make Year-Round” will be available in bookstores on August 21, 2012.
John will be "in conversation" with CTbites editor Amy Kundrat and will be on-hand to sign your books on August 28 at 7 pm at the Darien Library.
Tues., 8/28/12, 7-8:00pm, Darien Library, Presentation and Booksigning with John Barricelli; http://www.darienlibrary.org/events, http://www.barrettbookstore.com/event/seasonal-baking-john-barricelli
Wed., 9/5/12, 10am; Westport Public Library; Presentation and Booksigning with John Barricelli,
Wed., 9/19/12, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT, Presentation and Booksigning with John Barricelli
Wed., 10/3/12, 6:30-7:30, Norwalk Public Library, Presentation and Booksigning with John Barricelli
Wed., 10/10/12, 7-8:00pm, Wilton Public Library, Presentation and Booksigning with John Barricelli