Am I one of those types of people referred to as an “old soul”? Probably. When I was a kid I was obsessed with the past — music, fashion, movies, books, food — if it happened before the present, before my consciousness came into being then I was interested. I felt more comfortable listening to Glenn Miller than Madonna or watching I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver reruns. After watching enough classic television I started to notice that after school June would always offer cookies and most meals were usually finished by dessert, whether it was a cake, pie, or some other tasty-sounding treat (Baked Alaska anyone?). All of this lead up is really to say how excited I was when Jessie Sheehan’s The Vintage Baker finally was published! Here is a gorgeous book about baking recipes inspired by recipes from vintage recipe books.
Sheehan began collecting these pamphlets and booklets over a decade ago — covering the period from around the 1800s to the 1950s. I really appreciate how each recipe has a photo of the booklet or pamphlet that Sheehan used for inspiration. I have a few of these types of booklets and I really love the colours, illustrations, and the history. Included with the book is a small “Vintage Recipes” booklet glued into the introduction. This booklet is full of what she calls the “behind the scenes” — the actual recipes that inspired some of the ones in her book. What a great idea and I love that extra bit of layering here — it gives you a lot of insight into what a period recipe looked like. She does a really good job of incorporating historical information into the recipe head notes; and I realized while making up the “Everything” Buttermilk Biscuits that chemical leaveners were only introduced into baking in the late 1800s (not that long ago when you thing about it!). It was this bit of history which Sheehan included that made me thankful to not have to vigorously beat the dough to try to achieve the same effect that baking powder or soda would offer. I’m certain that some baking pre-1890 probably didn’t have a really nice texture!
The book is organized into 6 chapters: Sweet & Savory Morning Treats, Cookies, Pies, Cakes, Refrigerator Desserts, and Confections. I found there are recipes to suit almost any occasion as well as any skill level (there are even a few recipes to entice and challenge even the most seasoned baker). While I’m yearning to try her Vanilla Yogurt Coffee Cake and the Cottage Pudding with Vanilla Sauce I’ve found myself waiting for an occasion (such as a birthday or anniversary) to try them. However there have been many smaller, single-serving treats that I’ve baked up for my family to enjoy — Cornflake Macaroons with Chocolate Drizzle and the Butterscotch-Potato Chip Balls for example. The cookie recipes yield anywhere from a little over one dozen to three dozen and what I really appreciate is that her yields are very accurate. I always feel like I’ve done something wrong when I can’t make the amount the recipe tells me I should be able to make. I’ve tried 5 recipes so far and have had five recipes turn out perfectly! What this tells me is that Sheehan really took the time to test these recipes well.
The recipes themselves read well and the ingredient lists are not very long with ingredients that are easy to source (butter, eggs, milk, etc) — save for the Malted Milk Powder used in the pudding and whipped cream recipes (for those of you who live in Canada, like myself, I’ve done a jerky thing: bought Malted Milk Powder while on vacation in the US, made Sheehan’s pudding and will tell you how utterly delicious it is! It’s near impossible to find here so I do apologize for this). I made the Milk Chocolate Malted Pudding for a Father’s Day treat (my husband is a chocolate fiend!) and it was the first time I’ve ever had or made homemade pudding! Such a beautiful glossy and smooth texture and it was so simple to make! It was just a matter of cooking the ingredients for a short time on the stove, pouring the pudding into containers that would then set in the refrigerator. Easy-peasy! The time for the pudding to set was a couple of hours so there was no instant gratification baking here!
Speaking of which, what I’ve found with the recipes I’ve tried is that there is a time investment — whether the dough needs to be chilled or the pudding needs to set — there was considerable time devoted to it. But if it made cookies easier to scoop or give biscuits a better texture as they baked then it was totally worth it. I found I used the time while my baking projects were in the fridge or freezer to clean up the kitchen so that when it came time to put the treats into the oven everything was taken care of and I could sit and enjoy a coffee and a cookie without looking at a messy kitchen.
What I’ve really enjoyed about this book is the fact that it really lends itself well to baking with children. My four-year-old daughter was able to help me with all of the recipes I tried — mixing, scooping, decorating (who wouldn’t want a cookie that looks “super sparkly” like the Sour Cream Jumbles do??) and most certainly with the taste-testing part. I also think that when the holidays roll around I’ll be using this book to organize a cookie baking/cookie exchange party. I love how the recipes keep the vintage-y vibe but keep the flavours modern (Cinnamon Red Hots Popcorn!!) by using spices, fresh herbs, even booze.
Full of great vintage-inspired recipes and photos The Vintage Baker is one baking book that I’m glad to have added to my cookbook library. Whether you want to try baking up old school treats like fritters or doughnuts or something a bit more challenging like a pie or cake there’s something for everyone. If you’re curious to see what I’ve been baking up check out my custom Instagram hashtag #thevintagebakeriseatworthy or my dedicated Facebook post (As I keep trying recipes, I’ll keep updating).
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Chronicle Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.