Warm Bread and Honey Cake: Home Baking from Around the World
by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra
Publisher: Pavilion (UK), Interlink Book (US)
Country: UK/US
ISBN: 9781862058415 (UK), 9781566567923 (US), Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Food historian Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra takes us on a gastronomic journey to more than twenty countries with the recipes she’s collected from her friends and artisan bakers around the world during her colorful life. For many of the recipes, she provides the history and shares the experience of tasting the authentic article. With plenty of beautiful photographs, the book will transport you out of the rut of your usual French and American breads and pastries and take you to less familiar locales.

Full review

Structure of the book

Warm Bread and Honey Cake has more than 105 recipes in 11 sections:
9 flat breads (paratha, roti, bazlama and pide)
21 yeast breads, cakes, and rolls (includes potica, lardy cake, duivekater, vatroushki, enseimada, and simit)
7 fruit cakes
7 spice cakes (includes kue lapis, boll de mel, and speculaas)
6 chocolate cakes (includes Sachertorte, Rigo Jancsi, and Lamingtons)
7 nut cakes (includes basbousa, Gerbeaud slices, and Yom Tov Tik cake)
4 coconut cakes (such as pone)
7 other cakes (such as revana and torta de tres leches)
2 cheesecakes
18 small cakes, pastries, and savories (such as polvorones, ma’amoul, conkie, samsa and baozi), and
18 leaf and thread pastries (such as baklava, sarmasi, kadayif, and strudel).
The book is printed on matte book paper and several recipes have accompanying full-page photographs. The measurements of the American release are in US customary measurements, in both weight (ounces) and volume (cups and spoons).

About the author

Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra is a food historian and freelance translator. In her own words, she is “a Guyanese Hindu of Indian ancestry, who was educated in North America and Europe and subsequently married into a European Jewish family.” She received the Sophie Coe award for food history in 2000 for her paper, “Damra Bound: Indian Echos in Guyanese Foodways”. She is the author of Windmills in my Oven (Prospect Books, 2002), a book on Dutch baking. She currently lives in the Netherlands.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

You would think that with the rapid growth of cookbook sales, there would be a considerable variety of baking books. Unfortunately, in US and UK markets, books for home baking are usually the same old familiar cake and cookie books, and books for classic French pastries. When it comes to home baking from other countries, we have to find them tacked on the end of general cookbooks for a particular cuisine. Those who have been fortunate enough to travel to another country soon learn that there is usually a wealth of local baking books that covers the breads and pastries of that particular country, though they may be written in a foreign language. Only a few titles, such as Alford and Duguid’s Home Baking, Patent’s A Baker’s Odyssey, and Malgieri’s A Baker’s Tour have sought to compile baking recipes with a wide geographical scope.

Warm Bread and Honey Cake gives US and UK audiences a feel for those local books, with recipes that come from the life and travels of Pagrach-Chandra. There is an impressive diversity of sweets here from the Caribbean (where this book has a clear advantage over the other titles mentioned above), Southeast Asia, China, Latin America, Central Europe, the Middle East, India, the Mediterranean, as well as favorites from the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, and Turkey. The author’s skill as a researcher gives many of the recipes an interesting history, and throughout the book she recounts many of her experiences baking around the world and witnessing artisan bakers at their craft. For classic recipes, she shares the characteristics of a perfect, authentic specimen.

The recipes are easy to follow and most don’t require more than commonly used equipment and ingredients. The pastries tend to be very rich (10 ounces or 285 grams of almond paste used for the filling of a Gevulde Speculaas, 7 ounces or 200 grams of butter in a 9-inch Pastel de Santiago), since Pagrach-Chandra has opted for authenticity over moderation. Some recipes, such as those for paratha, lardy cake and baklava, have step-by-step pictures (the last even has them from a professional bakery).

The photographs are quite beautiful and show the breads and pastries in a rustic setting, though some are pictures taken from actual bakeries and street vendors. These pictures, together with the light-hearted prose, the history, the authentic recipes, all contribute to the charm of this unique book.

What problems/flaws are there?

The diversity of cultures that Warm Bread and Honey Cake presents in 320 short pages is also a source of disappointment. Since Pagrach-Chandra draws from her life experiences and the heirloom recipes of her friends, the book reads like little less than a best-of of a few dozen countries. Why puto and enseymada from the Philippines, and not something more popular like bibingka? Of all the Italian pastries available, why was Ricotta tart chosen to be its sole representative? There is a bias towards the countries closest to the author’s heart (Guyana, India, the Netherlands, Turkey), while some countries with a rich baking tradition are ignored completely (Sweden). You can’t open the book expecting to find a specific recipe; you have to let the author guide you through her experiences and show you her favorites (in the hope that you will be inspired enough to try them). In other words, the book isn’t a reference work — you have to let it inspire you and tell you what to bake.

Every now and then, the author presents a short essay about the history, or her personal experience tasting or making a dessert. While most are interesting, entertaining, or educational, a few can be a little twee or barely funny (you had to be there, I guess).

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Home bakers bored of the same old breads and desserts and looking for more exotic treats will most benefit from the book. The book will also be of interest to food historians, seekers of authentic home recipes, and those wishing to travel to unfamiliar lands with their palates.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Warm Bread and Honey Cake, Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra | 2010 | US, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 06 Jan 2010 at 19:59 | Permalink

    That looks like quite interesting. It kind of reminds me of Tessa Kiros’ books, in that it shares the author’s personal experiences, rather than being a definitive reference book.

    The pictures look lovely too!

    xox Sarah

  2. Posted 18 Oct 2010 at 10:31 | Permalink

    This is one of my favourite baking books. I have read it a number of times, and baked both sweet and savoury items from it. I just wish there were even more recipes!

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