The Model Bakery Cookbook begins with the story of how Karen Mitchell took over the bakery in St. Helena in the middle of California Wine Country, and with her daughter transformed it into what it is today – a two-location baking supplier for the local area, including businesses and restaurants in addition to their retail locations. The photos by Frankie Frankeny are mouth-wateringly beautiful, and the mix of history and baking guide make this cookbook a must-see for the serious home baker.
The book is divided into several sections, according to what the bakery produces (recipes reduced to home baking proportions, of course). There are several recipes listed under each section: breads, yeasted sweets, breakfast favorites, cakes, pies and tarts, and cookies. The recipes are a mix of traditional American favorites and European-influenced imports, but all should be familiar to an American audience – they’re the kind of thing you find in your local bakery. I, for instance, made the Irish Soda Bread to test the recipe, and I can report that it’s a solid, no frills approach to the seasonal favorite.
The best things about the cookbook are the great ingredient & equipment advice (I’ll be taking notes when pie-season arrives… basically, in a week or two!), an array of delicious recipes ranging from simple to difficult-to-replicate-at-home, lovely photos – some offering step-by-step visuals for the items requiring assembly, local and historical anecdotes of both the Hansens’ story and the location in St. Helena, and classic recipes done to perfection.
I had few quibbles with the cookbook, and they are minor. The first is the small type used for instructions portion of each page. I have good eyes, but if I didn’t it would require bending very close to the page, which is not necessarily something you want to be doing with floured hands. The tips on the ingredients and tools also make it clear that this is not a cookbook for the frugal baker. While I agree with the writers that the best food comes from the best ingredients, it isn’t an inexpensive proposition, especially if you count some of the specialty flour and chocolate mentioned. Finally, you won’t find any truly unique items (so don’t go in expecting them!). This baking book is about the classics, and they done very well.
In all, I’m glad to have this cookbook – it’ll work perfectly as a reference guide alongside my Joy of Cooking, and I intend to dip into it for holiday baking ideas as well. And if I scrape up the cash to get a stand mixer in the near future, I know I’ll be consulting these recipes again and again.
Recommended for: the intermediate home baker, anyone who enjoys playing in the kitchen and is planning a trip to Napa in the future, and as a primer for favorite/standard American baked goods.
Interested in other food-related recipes? Check out Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking!
Fine print: I received a finished copy of The Model Bakery Cookbook from Chronicle Books as a contest prize. I didn’t get paid for this post, and I chose to write the review of my own volition (it was not required or suggested).