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May 31, 2018 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Stella Parks is a CIA-trained pastry chef and senior editor of Serious Eats, and the author of BRAVETART, "THE BEST BAKING BOOK WE'VE SEEN IN YEARS", "the new go-to baking book," "packed with clever upgrades of baking classics," that "celebrates the science of junk food," "a case for the american dessert itself."

Cookbook 'BraveTart' Explains Little-Known History Behind America's Favorite Recipes
Graham Crackers

From the late 1820s to his death in 1851, a Connecticut man named Sylvester Graham led a wild and crazy group of pro-fiber anti-sex crusaders known as the Grahamites. While lacking any sort of medical background, this Presbyterian minister made a career of dispensing advice on diet and nutrition. Sy Graham had quite the knack for baking, pioneering his own special brand of flour and writing a book on bread, but he would have despised everything about today’s graham crackers.

His 1837 Treatise on Bread and Bread Making categorically condemned commercial crackers, as well as any whole wheat flour that was finely milled.1 His lectures blamed overly processed flour for all manner of bodily frustrations, namely sexual desire and constipation. In an effort to, uh, relieve those issues, Graham urged his followers to abandon such “wanton” luxuries.

He considered white flour “contrary to both nature and reason,” and whole wheat not whole (or holy) enough. In those days, commercial bolting could remove up to eighty percent of a flour’s bran and still pass for “whole wheat.” Graham equated the practice with nutritional divorce, a clear violation of the Biblical mandate, “What God had joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Animal Crackers
Butternut Pumpkin Pie
Bagel Bites (with magic bagels)
Lemongrass Poached Rhubarb
One Bowl Devil's Food Layer Cake With Milk Chocolate Frosting
Fruit Roll-Ups
Sweet Potato Doughtnuts
Boston Cream Pie
Irish Soda Bread

many more recipies (3 musketeers! Fauxreos! Pawpaw Ice Cream!) and yet even more ( chocolate sprinkles! old-fashioned pre-Toll House chocolate chip cookies! pop-tarts!)
One of the most striking themes in your book is how many of America's iconic desserts were more or less born out of marketing gimmicks. Like oatmeal raisin cookies. We think of them as such a stodgy, church bake sale food, but you describe them as this trendy technological innovation.


It cracked me up—it's so hard to imagine oatmeal being trendy that way. There was a time when the Quaker Oats company sent out little sample packs to people. These days we take that for granted—you get something in the mail, you don’t pay attention to it, you throw it away—but in the time it was happening, think how innovative and exciting that must have been.
posted by the man of twists and turns (54 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
 
I look forward to trying the bitter almond croissants. Oh wait, the other CIA.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:04 AM on May 31, 2018 [25 favorites]


I can personally vouch for the cinnamon rolls from the book. They are outrageous.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:08 AM on May 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


My first thought when I saw this was “baking history? Sign me up!” which is probably a sign that I’m losing my cool guy edge.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:15 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


I got this book about two weeks ago, and want to make every single thing in there! The recipes are great, and so is the writing. My only quibble is that she didn't provide weights in metric as well as imperial.
posted by peppermind at 11:24 AM on May 31, 2018 [6 favorites]


Also her take on Irish soda bread looks great. I have a few recipe books that talk about soda bread at length, and all of them praise it for basically being a giant muffin. Her approach seems much more sensible (more so than Elizabeth David’s book about baking history) because she’s taking into account how it was described, the kind of flour used, etc.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:25 AM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


Just ordered this for my favorite baker. Thanks!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:29 AM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Stella Parks is a CIA-trained

Being acronym-challenged this briefly seemed like a "how to kill" with pastries...

(well seeing as how I fully expect one day to EOL by cinnamon rolls, what a way... perhaps should not delve too...)
posted by sammyo at 11:43 AM on May 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


Only came here to find out why the CIA trains pastry chefs, and am now disappointed.
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:52 AM on May 31, 2018 [28 favorites]


I can personally vouch for the cinnamon rolls from the book. They are outrageous.


They're soo good! They were so good when my partner had them she came home and made me make them the next week.
posted by Carillon at 11:59 AM on May 31, 2018


Stella Parks is fantastically nice and also bakes amazing things. Make a cake today!
posted by dis_integration at 12:07 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Stella's Instagram story is basically must-watch.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 12:11 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can personally vouch for the cinnamon rolls from the book


On the other hand, her snickerdoodles likely organized drug flights from Honduras to Florida in the '80s, and her chocolate chiffon pie cannot account for its whereabouts during the 1973 coup in Chile.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2018 [24 favorites]


Stella is freaking amazing. She regularly answers random baking questions and helps people troubleshoot recipes on Twitter. Also, her brown butter ricotta cookies are some of the best cookies I've ever had, and they're incredibly simple to make. Oh, and her fudge frosting is the best chocolate frosting I've ever had; I could eat it by the spoonful, and I don't like frosting. Her brown butter yeast waffles are also a family favorite in our house.
posted by noneuclidean at 12:32 PM on May 31, 2018 [10 favorites]


Who knew the School of the Americas taught home ec
posted by zjacreman at 12:34 PM on May 31, 2018 [7 favorites]


Thanks to that Instagram link I found my new favorite cookie cutter.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:50 PM on May 31, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm sure mrs freecell will be on here shortly to rave about this. She's had several replies from Bravetart herself after posting pics of pies she made from the book . And as a consumer of these I can vouch for their awesomeness .
posted by freecellwizard at 12:53 PM on May 31, 2018


My favorite 'cookbook' is the not-actually-a-cookbook On Food and Cooking, which is all about the science and history of Every Food Ingredient Ever. I think I'm gonna love Bravetart. Just added it to my cart!
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:08 PM on May 31, 2018


Parks also uncovers the story of my favorite cookie, the snickerdoodle. (Haven’t you always wondered how it got its name?) Dusted with cinnamon and sugar, it descends from the snip doodle, a thin cinnamon-dusted cake that was cut into squares for serving (and, as a result, went stale quickly). The “snip” comes from shnipla, or “to snip,” in old Pennsylvania Dutch. Doodle derives from hoodle or doomel, which translates as “in a hurry.” The snickerdoodle cookie is an evolution of that cake.

So, there is a cake form of snickerdoodle? Or a potential cake form? Reader, I married it.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:35 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


"Stella Parks is a CIA-trained"

The culinary CIA was established a year before the killinary CIA, 1946 vs 1947.
posted by bz at 2:59 PM on May 31, 2018 [9 favorites]


oh god
why am I clicking these links while I'm hungry?
posted by schmod at 3:57 PM on May 31, 2018


This Bravetart is also "Iconic American Deserts", which I already have, right?
posted by mikelieman at 4:05 PM on May 31, 2018


This Bravetart is also "Iconic American Deserts", which I already have, right?

Yes
posted by noneuclidean at 4:36 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is of my favorite cookbooks, as much for the historical background of each dessert as for the recipes. The stories behind the desserts are interesting and often surprising, and the Key Lime Pie recipe does not play around.
posted by marshmallow peep at 4:38 PM on May 31, 2018


My mother was actually head of food services for the CIA that you probably thought of right away. I've met a few legit spies.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:51 PM on May 31, 2018 [8 favorites]


Those brown-butter ricotta cookies went over like gangbusters at work. If lawyers like them...
posted by praemunire at 5:32 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Huge fan of her and her recipes, which I discovered via Serious Eats. I pre-ordered her book and it's delightful. The brownies are SO GOOD. Her pie crust method hasn't failed me yet. And her sweet potato pie recipe is a smash hit every Thanksgiving. Yes, it's fiddly. Yes, you have to keep weighing the mixture. But it's so so good.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:35 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've met a few legit spies.

what are their favourite snacks, can you ask your mom
posted by halation at 5:35 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


For anyone who is truly brave, Stella has a pecan pie recipe that she voluntarily cut from her book because it is crazy difficult. Apparently it involves tempering eggs with 300F caramel. There are a few threads on twitter where she talks about it. If you email her, she might send you the recipe.
posted by noneuclidean at 5:54 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


What's the advantage of an insanely difficult pecan pie? I mean, I'm skeptical, but I'm also assuming the result must be completely mind-blowing to be worth all the effort.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:01 PM on May 31, 2018


I also super appreciate that almost all the recipes in the cookbook have gluten free adaptations, which someone had to tell me cause I would never assume I could use a cookbook like that. I made a couple awesome batches of cookies out of that book when I was pregnant and kept waking up at 4 am, which meant I might as well get up and bake!
posted by carolr at 6:10 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


What's the advantage of an insanely difficult pecan pie?

It looks like she uses the caramel in place of the corn syrup, which probably makes for a deeper, more-complex, less-sweet pie. I would bet it's super-good, actually.
posted by halation at 6:10 PM on May 31, 2018 [5 favorites]


From what I've seen on Twitter, people who have attempted it and are actually successful in making the pie say its the best pecan pie they've ever had.
posted by noneuclidean at 6:14 PM on May 31, 2018


I made her chocolate skillet cake a few weeks ago and it was delicious, even though I realized halfway through that I didn't have all the right ingredients.
posted by mogget at 6:34 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


A word of warning. The Irish Soda Bread recipe is... not what people are expecting.

Don't panic. Serve it with a stew or curry or a roast that leaves messy juices on the plate, alongside the little blue tub of "Land O' Lakes Butter and Olive Oil and Salt" left at room temp for an hour or two. A smear of "butter" and a bit of stew and. Well.

That bread, it's made out of miracles, as it simply disappears...
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:38 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


Apparently it involves tempering eggs with 300F caramel.


Shades of Derek Lowe's things I won't work with
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:40 PM on May 31, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've met a few legit spies.

what are their favourite snacks, can you ask your mom
posted by halation


I recall as a little kid, actually going to the home of one guy and being told not to ask about work. My dad was in the military so this wasn't that odd. But I do recall being told that utensils and dishwear had to be destroyed often to preserve security. Guess paper plates weren't a thing in government use then?
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:18 PM on May 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


But I do recall being told that utensils and dishwear had to be destroyed often to preserve security.

I guess they didn't want anyone dishing out sensitive info.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:50 PM on May 31, 2018 [5 favorites]


I expected more discussion of shark repellant
posted by b1tr0t at 8:03 PM on May 31, 2018


There are those of us for whom “insanely difficult” is the opposite of an avoidance phrase when it comes to cooking. I mean, yes, you wouldn’t do it all the time, and if you go to the trouble, the outcome had better be nothing short of excellent, but asking why someone who loves cooking would tackle a tough recipe is like asking a climber why she doesn’t just stick to indoor climbing walls, those are way easier than mountains and climate controlled.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:20 PM on May 31, 2018 [7 favorites]


I think I phrased my question badly, because I do understand the philosophical reasons for taking on a challenging recipe (I bake stuff almost daily, although I rarely rise beyond the indoor climbing walls). I was just wondering specifically what would be gained by taking on that much more work for a pecan pie, and the answer about caramel in place of corn syrup makes sense.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:37 PM on May 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


As a mostly gym rat climber, I have to say plenty of indoor climbs are pretty freaking complicated. But there’s a rating system, so I know better than to hop on a V10.

With baking— I am an ok baker, generally like difficult things, but mostly just bake for stress relief. But for baking, there’s no rating system. So, how hard is this pecan pie? Is it “you should have been trained as a pastry chef”, or just “you should be confident with a generic baking recipe”?

And what’s the failure mode? Is it “eh, not as tasty” , “throw it away, that’s vile/a solid rock/dangerous to eat”, or even “well you’ve now destroyed that pot” or “run for cover?”

Is there a baking rating system? Because I would be much more interested in both this book, and the mysterious pecan pie recipe, if I had an idea of what sort of mess I was going to make ahead of time.
posted by nat at 1:15 AM on June 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


As freecell foretold I am come to confirm that BraveTart’s book is a worthy investment, even if you have a house full of cookbooks already. Her brownie recipe, her chocolate chunk cookie recipe (brown butter variation highly recommended), her method for toasting sugar, her angel food cake, the chocolate pie, the fruit-flavored whipped creams....she is truly an American treasure. Super friendly and responsive on social media to boot, she is genuinely invested in helping folks with their baking.
posted by little mouth at 4:07 AM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


See, now I'm in this place where I wonder if I should wait for Father's Day or just go buy one. I'll probably just go buy one.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:10 AM on June 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


And what’s the failure mode? Is it “eh, not as tasty” , “throw it away, that’s vile/a solid rock/dangerous to eat”, or even “well you’ve now destroyed that pot” or “run for cover?

I don't have the recipe (although I'd love to see it!) but there are a couple of places tempering eggs with caramel could go awry. You could very easily scramble them, which is always a risk when tempering eggs but a very high risk with caramel, since it's molten sugar and it's hotter than most tempering liquids; you'd have to pour and whisk very carefully and quickly-but-not-too-quickly. Caramel itself is generally a hassle, since it can easily burn or seize. And pouring caramel is even more of a hassle, and can be dangerous since you can easily burn yourself.
posted by halation at 7:07 AM on June 1, 2018


The Irish Soda Bread recipe is... not what people are expecting.

It's very much like the Darina Allen recipe I've used for years (so it''s very much what I expected anyway). Allen is one of the authorities on Irish cooking. (In other places, Allen also mentions that for special occasions you could add an egg to the dough for richness, and/or some dried currants or golden raisins.)
posted by dnash at 8:42 AM on June 1, 2018


I've met a few legit spies.

what are their favourite snacks, can you ask your mom


Sneakerdoodles?
posted by banshee at 8:52 AM on June 1, 2018


caramel in place of the corn syrup, which probably makes for a deeper, more-complex, less-sweet pie

Using Lyle's golden syrup 1-for-1 instead of corn syrup gets you some of this advantage with hardly any of the risk. I like caramel, but the burn scars last a long time.
posted by clew at 3:10 PM on June 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh that’s funny, I was wondering about just that. I saw golden syrup on the shelf last night and was wondering if it would make a decent substitute for the hot caramel. I’d imagine it’s still much sweeter and less complex than a true caramel, but certainly less risky to use, and tastier than corn syrup. In my experience, maple syrup also works really well in place of corn syrup, but it’s pricy for the amount you have to use.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:59 PM on June 1, 2018


I love her one-bowl baking recipes on Serious Eats, and was lusting after this book. One of the highlights of my year: getting out of the elevator in the lobby of my building and finding it in a bag marked FREE!!!
posted by sometamegazelle at 4:21 PM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


YES! That soda bread recipe was transcendent. Flavourful and tender and shockingly foolproof.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:43 PM on June 1, 2018


I really want this book now. I may buy it for myself even though it’s my birthday soon!

Some Amazon reviews mention errors in the recipes, and “problems” with the salt — can anyone here comment on that? Is it a deal-breaker or something minor to ignore?

Man, this looks so good.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:37 AM on June 2, 2018


Some Amazon reviews mention errors in the recipes, and “problems” with the salt — can anyone here comment on that?

I haven't noticed any errors in her recipes yet. As for the salt, she uses Diamond Crystal kosher for all her recipes, and measures by volume; the recipes indicate to use half volume if using iodized salt. If you're using one of Morton's salt, your best bet is to probably covert from the iodized measurement using their conversion chart.
posted by noneuclidean at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh, and per this tweet, apparently there are issues with anti-caking agents in other salts.
posted by noneuclidean at 8:46 AM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Am satisfied, book ordered!
posted by wenestvedt at 6:51 PM on June 2, 2018


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