‘The Vintage Baker’: Modern Takes on Classic Recipes

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Photo: Chronicle Books

If you’re like many people, you’ve inherited some of your family’s old cookbooks. Personally, I have several of my grandmother’s, including her little pamphlet on cooking for a family while using WWII rations. I also have some random booklets put out by food manufacturers and the like. Sometimes the recipes in these old cookbooks are fantastic and hold up well with today’s ingredients and culinary developments. Others fall flat. Sometimes literally.

Photo: Chronicle Books

Baker Jessie Sheehan decided to modernize and revamp some of these vintage recipes from her collection of vintage cooking booklets from the late 1800s to the 1950s, and the result is The Vintage Baker. If the original recipes were simplistic, the new versions in this book are much more sophisticated and/or complicated, for better or for worse. Covering plenty of baked goods—such as breakfast foods, cookies, pies, and cakes—and a few non-baked items—such as refrigerator desserts and candied confections—Ms. Sheehan has elevated vintage baking and cooking to a fancier standard. (Though she does include a little mini booklet inside the book containing a couple dozen original vintage recipes for people to try, or just to appreciate.) Some of the recipes that caught my eye are Molasses Doughnuts with Chocolate-Ginger Glaze, Cornflake Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle (because breakfast cereal belongs in everything, or did during the mid-century), Deep-Fried Cardamom Cookies, Lemon Chiffon Pie with Coconut Whipped Cream, Devil’s Food Sheet Cake with Sea Foam Frosting, Coconut-Chocolate Icebox Cake with Toasted Almonds, and Peanut Butter-Marshmallow Kix Trees (again with the cereal).

Photo: Chronicle Books

I tested a couple of the recipes in the book already, and look forward to trying more.

The popovers popped up nicely. Photo: Jenny Bristol

First, I made the Cacio e Pepe Popovers. I don’t like eggs, but when I’ve had popovers in the past, they were pretty tasty and not too eggy. I made these in a muffin pan since I don’t have a popover pan, and they worked really well, though it made 8 or 9 popovers instead of the stated 6. These were, according to the cookbook, pretty typical popover ingredients, but with added fresh ground pepper and grated Romano cheese (I used Asiago). They were easy to make and the baking instructions were perfect, even when using a different type of pan. I thought the temperature and baking time would be too much and that they’d burn, but they didn’t. The popovers did turn out to be quite eggy, though, too eggy for me, but also very cheesy and peppery, and were well liked by my group of tasters. In the future, I’d decrease or leave out the pepper, since it made them a bit spicy.

The finished popover. Golden brown. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Next, I made the Milk Chocolate Malted Pudding. I had high hopes for this recipe since chocolate pudding is one of my favorite things ever. But I’d never cooked with malted milk powder before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since the powder went in both the pudding and the whipped cream topping. Process-wise, the recipe worked great. The pudding thickened up quite a lot because of the whole milk, heavy cream, cornstarch, and malted milk powder, and the cocoa/chocolate combination sounded delicious. The whipped cream also held up extremely well, even for days afterward, due to the use of powdered sugar and malted milk powder in it. But the flavor of the recipe wasn’t to my liking. I felt it was both too sweet and too salty, the latter probably due to the malted milk powder. My kids seemed to enjoy it, though, happily scarfing down the leftovers. The recipe was good in general, though, and I’ll be making this one again, but without the malted milk powder and with less sugar.

Thick, rich chocolate pudding. Photo: Jenny Bristol

Next, I think I’ll try the Fig Pillows! Fig Newtons are a family favorite, and being able to make them at home would be a plus. Then I’ll be working my way through the refrigerator cakes.

In general, most of the recipes are a little more involved than I’d like, but if you really like to cook, bake, and prepare food, there’s nothing too challenging. The formatting of the pages—with ingredients in one column and instructions in another—often causes part of the ingredient list to be pushed to the next page where it’s easy to miss. This took some getting used to. And many of the recipes don’t have photos (though the ones that do are well-photographed), which is disappointing for this kind of cookbook.

So, in short, The Vintage Baker is filled with a lot of interesting modern takes on days-gone-by recipes that I definitely want to try, but I’ll be making my own changes to a number of them when I do. I doubt I’d make any changes to the Silver Cake with Pink Frosting recipe, though. You can’t go wrong with ’50s style.

Note: I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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