The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook – Review

Note from Chef Gwen: Linda Avery’s back with another review. And all of a sudden, I’m adding another book to my wish list.

The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook:
The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion

by John Barricelli

Facts: Clarkson Potter, 288 pages, $35.00 (or Amazon at $19.95)

Photos: Over 90 as only Ben Fink can shoot

Recipes: 125 not counting variations

Give to: A new homeowner as a housewarming gift (bake something from the book to accompany the gift) or as a shower gift for the bride or groom.

Reviewed by Linda Avery:

Acronyms abound! NOMI… TRIBECA… SOBE… and the great grandfather SOHO are just some of the “geographic” abbreviations we’ve come to recognize.

(I have to interject here that one of the most curious t-shirts I’ve seen read “Ride the SLUT”. Hmmmm… Turns out that one of Seattle’s streetcars was named South Lake Union Trolley – it has since been changed to South Lake Union Streetcar but the acronym stuck.)

SoNo of The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli is short for South Norwalk, the town in Connecticut where he opened his bakery in 2005. He is a third generation baker with experience at River Café, Le Bernardin, and the Four Seasons Restaurant. He is now a regular on Martha Stewart Living and hosts Everyday Baking on PBS.

I’d give his book four stars. Flipping through the pages of sweet and savory items, it was easy to envision an old fashioned bakery where the aromas melt together… morning smells of bread, coffeecakes and scones, then transitioning to the aromatics of focaccia, quiche and tarts. Remarkably, his recipes are written for the home baker – nary an intimidating one.

Maybe it’s my left-brain approach to life but I like it when the steps are numbered. He includes some variations on recipes and some technique tips like “blueberries in this are tossed with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom” (that one never really worked for me but some people live by it.)

I had a difficult time choosing recipes to test. Choosing a recipe should be about more than the appeal of the photograph, but when Ben Fink is the photographer, it’s difficult to not be swayed. Plus, having a goal to shoot for – i.e., can I make this look as appealing? – is a nice thing.

When summer fruits are abundant, this book will have plenty of sticky splashes on the pages, but for now, I was able to talk my husband – Mr. Cereal & Bananas – out of a couple bananas to make Banana Streusel Muffins. Wow! Wow tender and wow tasty. Next I had to make Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting. I hesitated when the direction plainly stated that the buttercream “mixture will break but become smooth again as you continue to beat.” Oh, me of little faith – but it worked.

Watch this clip showing the affable Barricelli making Blueberry Nectarine Buckle with Al Roker, and at the end, there’s a money shot of the gorgeous SONO cheesecake.


Photo © 2009 Ben Fink

From The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook by John Barricelli

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

We put this dense, moist spice cake on our menu at SoNo Baking Company in late August, when local Connecticut apples are just starting to come into season. It’s an ideal choice to bring to a picnic or potluck meal, as it can easily be transported in its pan. Here the cake is frosted with a brown sugar buttercream frosting. For more intense flavor, you can use dark brown sugar, rather than light brown as written here. This cake can also be removed from the pan and then iced on the top and sides with the buttercream, and decorated with Apple Chips.

Makes one 8-inch square cake; 16 servings

For the apple cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups grated peeled and cored apples (from any red baking apple, such as Cortland or Rome), about 1 pound
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)

For the buttercream
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, firm but not chilled, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the cake
1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray an 8-inch square cake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone baking mat.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, eggs, grated apples, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and fold with a rubber spatula until the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake on the prepared baking sheet, rotating the sheet about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a few crumbs adhering to the bottom, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Make the buttercream
1. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg whites with the brown sugar and the salt over (not in) the simmering water until warm to the touch, 1 to 2 minutes. (Be careful to not let the bottom of the top of the double boiler touch the water.) Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until stiff peaks form. With the machine running, gradually beat in the butter, piece by piece. By the time all the butter is added, the mixture will break, but it will become smooth again as you continue to beat. Beat in the vanilla.

2. Spread the buttercream over the top of the cake. Cut into squares.

Bonus recipe:
Banana Streusel Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

For the streusel
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

For the muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk, sour cream, or whole-milk yogurt
1 1/2 cups whole walnuts, chopped (optional)

Make the streusel topping
1. In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the cubes of butter, and using your fingertips, work it into the dry ingredients until pea-size crumbs form; set aside in the refrigerator.

2.Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Spray a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, or generously butter with softened butter; set aside.

Make the muffins
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then add in and beat the vanilla and the bananas.

3. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients, beating until the flour is absorbed. Beat in the buttermilk. Fold in the walnuts, if using.

4. Use a 2-inch (1/4 cup) ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the muffins, pressing some of the mixture into pea-size clumps with your fingertips, for added texture.

5. Bake, rotating the pan about two-thirds of the way through the baking time, until the tops of the muffins spring back when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes.

6. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Use a small offset spatula or a table knife to gently lift and turn the muffins on their sides in the muffin cups. Let cool completely in the pan.

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