The Edible Reader: Thoughts on Food and Fiction (and a recipe!)

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite some time (I’ve had that title saved for quite a while), and what better time than just after I’ve done a bit of book inspired comfort baking on this self-isolation Saturday?  More about that, and the recipe I cobbled together, later.

Whenever I read a book that mentions food, I find myself wanting to taste the food that is mentioned.  Almost more when it is something I’ve never had, but become instantly curious to try and sometimes even to make (kind of like when I watch what is called here The Great British Baking Show).

secrettohummingbirdcake_thomasnelsonI have a big sweet tooth, and I’ve been wanting to make all manner of old-fashioned layer cakes, especially Southern cakes, for the past few years.  It all began with a book that Thomas Nelson sent to me for review, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale.  It’s a story of friendship and the highs and lows, and after using up several tissues I was left with a burning curiosity about this cake.  I’d never heard of it, and neither had anyone else I mentioned it to here in Oregon.  It quickly became a favorite, and even a pregnancy craving for one of my nieces, and I still make the Southern Living magazine recipe (available online) from time to time.

sometamegazelle_pymIn a similar vein, I’m always curious to try any manner of classic English stodginess like a Treacle Tart mentioned in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (but not haggis, never haggis, and it’s Scottish anyway), or Cauliflower Cheese after reading my first Barbara Pym novel, Some Tame Gazelle (review). I’ve even purchased The Barbara Pym Cookbook written by Hilary Pym and Honor Wyatt. It’s sitting unused among my cookbooks, but I have hopeful plans for using it as I continue to read Pym’s novels.

arefugeassured_bethanyhouseMany authors are aware that smell is the most evocative sense they can invoke, which explains the hunger that takes over when fresh baked bread is mentioned.  In A Refuge Assured by Jocelyn Green, sent to me for review by Bethany House, all manner of French breads are baked by the lace maker who becomes a refugee of the French Revolution.  It wasn’t long after reading it that I gave in and went to the local patisserie/boulangerie for a hearty Vol au Vent.  Which I am now craving.  Sigh.

I’ve been not-so-subtly teasing this throughout the post, but one of my favorite books of 2019 is also one of the best books I read that year, All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner (which I stalked & pounced on when review copies were offered by Revell). Not far into this novel of small town Michigan during the Vietnam War, the Dutch pastry Banket is mentioned and I immediately had to search online to know more about it.  I love almond flavored desserts (even more than almonds, I enjoy almond flavored things) and in order to taste it I knew I would have to make it myself.  I have been thinking of making it off and on ever since. Today, I finally did.

allmannerofthings_revell

What made me wait so long?  Simple – the cost of almond paste has increased since I last bought it and I decided I would just have to make it, then proceeded to put it off.  It just seemed like a lot of work for my small food processor to finely grind 2 cups of almonds.  But then I had a small epiphany – I could use almond meal, something I’ve purchased from Trader Joe’s in the past.  Then I had another small epiphany – the banket recipes I’d looked at had filling recipes that included almond paste and more of the ingredients already in the almond paste.  Why not, I thought, skip the step of making the almond paste first and just add the two amounts together for those ingredients?  So, using various sources for reference (a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, and websites allrecipes.com, food.com, solofoods.com, and recipes.howthingswork.com), my shortcut version of Banket was born:

BANKET – Bookworlder Style
Filling:
2C almond meal (or 2C blanched almonds you’ve ground until fine)
2-1/4C sifted confectioners sugar
1 whole egg + 2 egg whites
2-1/4 tsp almond extract
white sugar, for dusting (optional)
Fully mix together the almond meal and sugar in a medium sized bowl.  Stir in the eggs and almond extract until fully blended.  Cover and refrigerate.
Dough:
2C all purpose flour
1C butter, cold
1/2C cold water
Cut the butter into the flour until you reach a crumb-like texture.
Slowly add the cold water, mixing just until it forms a ball.  Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for approx. 1 hour or until well chilled.
As the dough and filling chill, preheat oven to 450F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
Divide the dough & filling into 4 parts each.  When working on a portion, keep the remainder refrigerated.
Roll 1/4 of the dough out into a strip approximately 14 x 3 inches.  Spread 1/4 of the filling down the center of the dough, leaving at least 1/2″ uncovered on each side.
Moisten along one long end of the dough with water then roll towards the wet end.  Seal ends by pinching.
Repeat with the remainder of the dough and filling.
Place the rolls 2″ apart on the cookie sheets, brush with the yolks (dilute the yolks by whisking in 2T of water) & sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 15-20min or until golden.  Can be served sliced, warm or cold.
Optional: Substitute frozen puff pastry (defrosted) for the dough for a quicker, flakier crust.

Not 100% authentic, but then I’m only a smidgen Dutch myself.  This recipe has only been tested once, in my kitchen today, and I’ve been the only taster.  It was worth the effort and I’ll be making it again sometime before the rest of the almond meal reaches it’s use by date.  If you give it a try, or read any of these books, do let me know how you get on.

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Edible Reader: Thoughts on Food and Fiction (and a recipe!)

  1. Wow, sound good Yvette. I love trying recipes from books and cozy mysteries are chock full of them. You have given me the baking bug and I am going to make something this afternoon while in isolation.

    Liked by 1 person

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