A good cook book is like a map. It takes you to places in the kitchen you couldn’t have gone with out it. A great cook book is like a navigation device. It not only gives you the maps, but shows you points of interest along the way and tells you how to get back on track if you veer off course. The Sono Baking Company Cookbook is a great cookbook and it's on sale March 9th! From its thick, glossy pages to its gorgeous photos and instructive recipes, this book is an inviting and engaging kitchen travel companion.
The first thing you notice about the Sono Cookbook is its beautiful photos. Much credit to Ben Fink, who makes the food pop off the page and look so stunning and real you’re surprised you can’t reach into the book and pick up the pastry brush to glaze that tart on the Table of Contents page. When we decided to do a tasting as part of the book’s review, the photos were no help in determining which recipes to make; they all looked so wonderful.
The next feature that makes this book stand out even before you begin baking is the backstory that precedes each recipe. These short anecdotes give the book warmth and depth and set a conversational tone that is carried throughout, including the recipe directions. After whittling down the list of recipe possibilities, I spent more time reading these introductory notes and felt like I was in a cooking class, with John Barricelli introducing the confection we were about to bake: “Now let me tell you something about these Jam Tartlets…”
Glossy photos and warm stories aside, what makes this cookbook great is its instructive nature. The Baker’s Pantry section at the beginning of the book includes detailed notes on how to store everything you might make, including the type of wrap or container to use and how long different items will keep. The Equipment Glossary at the back of the book is useful, as it includes the “why you need it” along with the “what you need.” On the final page through, before any serious flour started to fly, I noticed the Technique Tips included as sidebars on many pages: How to efficiently sand scones with sugar, why it’s important to toss blueberries with flour before adding them to a batter, how to coat baked goods with cinnamon sugar so it doesn’t clump. There is a lot of knowledge packed on each page. I bake frequently, and still, I learned a lot just looking at the tips in my short list of recipes. John’s tone is so approachable and helpful that even reading tips I don’t follow, (don’t use a microwave to bring butter to room temperature – I have) I felt guided rather than chastised. John imparts information with a light touch.
Since the proof is in the pudding, or in this case in the cookies and bread, it was time to bake. In the end, I choose 9 recipes: cookies because I knew I could make them; tarts, bread and sticky buns because I wasn’t so sure. I found John’s recipes easy to follow and clearly written, with the intent to share all his insight. In the recipe for Cinnamon-Swirl Bread, he notes that the dough should be tacky and damp enough so it sticks to the sides of the mixing bowl. If it’s too dry it will collect around the paddle. Sure enough, my dough came together and clung to the paddle like a terrified toddler to his mother. I went back to the recipe, and thanks to John anticipating this problem, I was instructed to “add water by the tablespoon”. Two spoonfuls later my dough was tacky and damp and gently slapping the sides of the bowl! I found with all the recipes, if I followed the steps and the tips, I was rewarded with dough that was easy to knead (in the past, I’ve felt like a duck with dough-webbed fingers), that rose to new heights and that rolled out without a fight. When we toured Sono Bakery, we marveled at the feel of the different doughs and yes, used the phrase “like a baby’s behind” more than once. It was a kick to be able to replicate that good dough feeling fairly closely at home. Of the recipes I tried, the only baking failure was my sloppy scones. I was excited to make John’s Lemon Currant Scones – one of my favorites – and after placing the fluted 2” rounds in the oven, I was disappointed when I pulled out 12 leaning, spreading golden globs. Then, I noticed how plain they looked. Apparently, forgetting to put in the currants is like leaving out the support structure - they do more than add taste.
And speaking of tasting, many thanks to my friends, who all came with a diets-be-damned attitude and ate baked good upon baked good. Here’s what they thought:
The crust on the French Blueberry Tart was “amazing” and the custard was “not too sweet.” Personally, I wish it were a little creamier, and I’m certain it’s because I boiled the custard for more than the specified “10 seconds.”
My friend Sophie is a self-described “total addict” for Sono’s Cinnamon Bread. She thought the home version was not as indulgent (I used less butter and cinnamon sugar on top), but didn’t feel “at all deprived.” “Yummy” was a frequent descriptor here and everyone found the bread fluffy and soft on the inside with a nice chewy crust. The bread was not difficult to make, as the dough handled so beautifully, and was definitely worth the wait time for rising.
The Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins were a hit. People found them “moist,” “light” and “fluffy.” Happily, these were very easy to make.
I’m going back to the drawing board on the scones – enough said.
The 4 cookies: Double Chocolate Chunk, Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Coconut, Meltaways and Pecan Squares were all great and the tasting comments varied based on personal preference. One of our young tasters didn’t want his mother to leave without the recipe for the Meltaways and a few of us found it hard to resist the Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies.
The most labor intensive item was the Sticky Buns. There is a lot of butter pounding and dough rolling, chilling, rolling, chilling that must be done here. While my husband loved them (they didn’t get done in time for the group tasting), they didn’t look nearly as good as they do at the Bakery, and here is where ignorance is bliss: You really don’t want to know how much butter is in that dough.
The Sono Baking Company Cookbook: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion is true to its long subtitle. There are recipes that can be made and enjoyed in an hour’s time and others that take 3 days. The savory items can enhance a dinner (Gougeres) or be one (Pulled Pork Empanadas); the sweets range from simple (Meltaways) to complex (Hazelnut Cake with Praline and Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting). In all, there is something for everyone, experienced and novice bakers alike. My guess is that this will become the go-to cookbook for more than one thing you or your family loves; you’ll enjoy the discovery process and definitely learn a few things along the way. The book hits the shelves on Tues. March 9th.