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COOKBOOK REVIEW: WARM BREAD AND HONEY CAKE

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 14 DECEMBER 2009 Warm Bread and Honey Cake is a cookery book to drool over on a stormy winter evening, curled up on the sofa in front of a crackling fire. This wonderful book conjures up mouthwatering goodies from around the world, intensified by the abundance of beautiful colour photographs. Easily imagined wafts of newly baked bread, from spiced Dutch loaves to Filipino enseymadas vie with tantalizing aromas of drunken apple cake and a not-so-homely banana loaf packed with walnuts and chocolate. The title alone brings a smile to one's face.

On the cover, a delectable pineapple tart, more cake than pie, urges the most reluctant beginner into the kitchen, ready to launch into a series of recipes each more tempting than the next. Comfort food well within the scope of the amateur cook precedes a variety of more unusual and exotic delicacies, fascinating to read about, but which I, for one, know I will never make!

However, baking is one of life's most basic pleasures, and Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, a Guyanese Hindu of Indian ancestry educated in North America and currently living in the Netherlands with her European Jewish husband, has used her multicultural background and passion for cooking to produce this attractive book. It is as lovely to look at as the recipes are to eat.

Authentic childhood souvenirs mingle with recipes springing from her well-researched ethnic culinary travels and in her introduction, she mentions how she spent a week-end in Vienna simply sampling Sachertorten, while "Black Cake" was learned by information on the telephone. The very many historical and anecdotal texts ensure that this is a book to keep, to treasure, and to offer.

However, despite priding myself on my own culinary capabilities (being known as Granny Cake  by my small grandson), my first attempt at one of Mrs. Pagrach-Chandra's recipes fell far short of expectations. Her "Ricotta Tart" had my unfortunate family groaning with indigestion, so either I did something wrong or the recipe was…not to our liking.

Unlike Elizabeth David, whose advice is to keep to the pastry recipe you do best, and whose every recipe is one hundred percent successful, Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra had me experiment with some butter, almond, egg and baking-powder pastry, encasing a sugared ricotta filling, the result being neither wonderfully light nor succulent. Perhaps then, this book should be kept for all its practical advice, for the attractive presentation and for the more simple recipes, such as the aforementioned pineapple tart, leaving the more complicated apple strudels, white nut-layered thread pastry and various exotic baklavas to the more experienced cook.

Pineapple Tart

Pastry: five and a half ounces (or one cup) flour
 salt
 one tablespoon confectioner's sugar
 two and three-quarters (or three-quarters stick) butter, chilled
 one egg yolk plus two-three tablespoons cold water

Cake: five and one half ounces (or one cup) all-purpose flour
 quarter teaspoon baking powder
 quarter teaspoon salt
 three eggs, plus one white
 grated zest of half lime or quarter lemon
 five and a half ounces (or one cup) superfine sugar
 two and three-quarter ounces (or three-quarters stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly

Pineapple jam

Make pastry and line pan. Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
Make cake batter: whisk eggs and extra white, sugar and zest until thick and pale. Fold in sifted flour, add melted butter.
Spread pineapple jam over pastry and top with cake batter. Bake for 35-40 minutes.
Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Warm Bread and Honey Cake: Home Baking from Around the World
By Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra
Photographs by Vanessa Courtier

Hardcover: 320 pages
Interlink Publishing Group (August 2009)
ISBN-10: 1566567920
ISBN-13: 978-1566567923
$35.00

Patricia Boccadoro is a culture critic and senior editor at Culturekiosque.com

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