I’m joining The Novel Bakers with a review of
by Louise Miller
When 32-year-old pastry chef Olivia Rawlings finds her Boston career going up in flames, she leaves the big city for the country, seeking the comfort of pie at the F&G truck stop and her best friend Hannah, in Guthrie, Vermont. Broke with her dog, Salty at her side, she accepts a job baking desserts at the Sugar Maple Inn and moves into the sugarhouse. The inn’s owner, Margaret, has a personality best compared to Crème Brulee~ a hard, crusty shell on the outside, hiding a soft interior.
Olivia soon discovers Margaret’s motive behind hiring her~ to reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest:
“From the ceiling hung ribbons. Hundreds of them, all blue, their pointed tips swaying gently. They extended the entire length of the ceiling, each one emblazoned in gold with the same words: Coventry County Fair–First Place. In a large wooden display case hung larger ribbons, the heads fat with extra loops of fabric like petals of a sunflower. These ribbons were all blue as well with the exception of the last three. Those ribbons were red.”
This book was just the right combination of ingredients for me with its small town charm and idyllic setting, delicious dessert details, and colorful characters, including Livvy, with her ever-changing hair. . .from Manic Panic Atomic Turquoise to Electric Banana and Amethyst. Add some humor, mix with family, blend with hard decisions, and stir in a cup of romance and you have a novel that’s a perfect recipe of flavors, characters, and country life.
You’ll want to read this book with a fork and a slice of apple pie!
It’s obvious by the mouth-watering descriptions of desserts that the author is a pastry chef:
“I measured the almond paste, sugar and cocoa powder into the bowl of the stand mixer and set it in motion. The mixture began to make a swish-swish sound like maracas being shaken. The inside of the bowl sparkled like a black sand beach as the tide went out, the almond paste perfectly cut by the sugar and cocoa. After adding egg whites that had been whisked together with instant espresso powder and a drop of rum, I stopped the mixer, pinched off a piece of raw dough, and popped it in my mouth – the mixture melted on my tongue. All right, Guthrie bakers. Bring it on.”
This book sets the mood for autumn and will whet your appetite for a harvest dinner, a New England getaway, county fairs, apple picking and pie baking!
There’s a bake sale-fundraiser for the public library:
“The best bakers in the county donate several dozen cookies. It would be a chance for the people in town to try something you’ve made.”
“But it’s a bake sale, not a contest. Isn’t it?”
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t a winner at the end.”
Livvy makes her legendary macaroons. I looked for an award-winning recipe and found Maple Cookies from a 2014 Gold Medal™ Flour Cookie Contest.
The original recipe makes 7 dozen cookies. I divided the recipe in half and added dried cranberries. I thought the cookies were plenty sweet between the maple flavoring and the white chocolate chips, so I didn’t top them with the maple glaze in the original recipe. Here’s my contribution to the bake sale:
White Chocolate Chip Maple Cookies with Cranberries and Pecans
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies
1 1/2 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup softened butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
6 ounces white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350°F. In bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt, set aside. With a mixer, cream together shortening, brown sugar and butter on medium speed. Add egg, vanilla, and maple flavorings, mixing until incorporated.
Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until well blended. Combine white chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and pecans and stir into batter by hand.
Using a medium size cookie scoop (1 1/2 tablespoon size), scoop cookie dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, three inches apart. Bake at 350°F for approximately 10 minutes or until light brown in color. Allow cookies to remain on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.
In addition to some recipes, I’m setting the mood for life in the country with photos from a recent trip to The High Country.
We’ve never stayed at the Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis, but every time we pass it, I stop to admire the charming country setting, wonderful old barn and gardens.
The sunflowers and cosmos were blooming alongside the veggies in the garden.
The barn looks like the perfect setting for a harvest dinner!
You can’t read this book without craving apple pie. . .
“Nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom were added and subtracted by the eighth of a teaspoon. Crates of apples from the McCracken farm were peeled, cored, and sliced into several different pies, each with a different combination fruit. Chef Al and I spend the afternoon discussing the benefits and drawbacks of cornstarch versus arrowroot. By the end of the week I was left feeling like a deranged mix of Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Kimball, my palate completely numb.”
“I tossed the pile of apple slices into the cast-iron skillet with a couple of pats of butter and turned on the flame. The cinnamon scent of the McIntoshes mingled with tang of melting butter, reminding me of my old neighbor Mary’s kitchen where I wove my first lattice crust.”
There’s a recipe included in the book for Blue Ribbon Apple Pie by the author and pastry chef, Louise Miller.
“Pour-through, crumb crust, Dutch, and dried apple—I made them all. Hazelnuts in the crumb, in the crust, then pecans. I changed the spices, tried every variety of apple I could get my hands on, but in the end I couldn’t improve on what Margaret and I love best—Cortland and McIntosh, sautéed in butter and lightly sweetened with good old white sugar, with a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg, piled high and tucked in with a top crust. No bells and whistles. Perfect in its simplicity.”
I followed the filling part of the recipe included the book and a handy tip: To prevent the apples from shrinking in the pie and for a thicker filling, cook the apples briefly in skillet.
With the images of Autumn and harvest dinners, I couldn’t resist adding some pie crust leaves for decoration. I bought my spring-loaded leaf pie crust cutters at Williams-Sonoma several years ago. They have a new version available this year and I’ve seen some recently at Sur la table and at Michaels with the fall baking season around the corner.
I used a combination of a crumb topping with the pie crust leaves for a double topped apple pie, that I found at Blue Ribbon Kitchen for a First-Place Winning Apple Pie recipe.
“You should always do what you can to make life sweeter.”
~ The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
Visit Novel Bakers Jain, Michael Lee, and Linda for a taste of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
*Thank you to Viking Penguin for providing copies of The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living for our review.
This is the debut novel for Louise Miller, a pastry chef who lives and works in Boston. She’s a self-proclaimed art school dropout, amateur flower gardener, old-time banjo player, obsessive moviegoer, and champion of old dogs. :)