United Cakes of America
Warren Brown (Author)
Stewart Tabori & Chang, $29.95, 223 pgs.
Why I'm squeezing it into my overloaded bookshelf: When it comes to the food I make for my friends and family, I prefer recipes with a history over the latest trends in cooking. All of the recipes in United Cakes of America are inspired by baking traditions and bountiful crops within the borders of each state (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico). Baking these desserts gives us a special lens into the heart, tastes, and flavors of families across America and the opportunity to honor unique cultures in each state.
I especially love: The way Brown approached his subject matter. The book is divided into Northeast, South, Midwest and West sections with at least one quintessential recipe from each state. But I love that Brown took the liberty to defer to non-cake desserts when the local specialty was a more interesting story/recipe and a clear winner in taste tests. Also sprinkled throughout the book are American Classics- recipes that are perennial favorites across all 50 states, such as Caramel Cake and Strawberry Shortcake. I also love learning of traditional desserts that I've never heard of but are beloved memories to countless other communities.
What's a bit annoying: Most recipes have a substantial introduction and a story that references people and time or the importance of crops, but a few cake choices seem less well researched. For example, Baked Alaska is described as actually having nothing to do with the state, but it is still the selected representation for Alaska. While Baked Alaska is a dessert with its own unique evolution, I'd rather learn about a cake depictive of the people of Alaska.
The next recipe I'll make: I love New Mexico's offical state cookie - the Bizcochito - so I can't wait to try Brown's anise-flecked cake version served with peach compote. And because Harper Lee sings the praises of this boozy cake in To Kill A Mockingbird, I'm anxious to scoop up bites of Lane Cake from Alabama- white sponge cake layered with a pudding made with an entire cup of whiskey and pecans, all topped with Seven-Minute Frosting.
Caroline Ford is a food stylist, writer & recipe developer in Portland, OR. More of her writing can be found on her blog: Food. Write. Style.