Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Photo-Madeleine Dee


Kentucky Sweets: Bourbon Balls, Spoonbread & Mile High Pie
By Sarah Baird
History Press

Review by Chef Madeleine Dee

Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Chef Madeleine Dee. All rights reserved.

There is nothing worse when testing a new recipe than buying all the necessary ingredients, following each step perfectly, and ending up with a failure because the recipe doesn’t work. It’s frustrating, disheartening, and just plain annoying. It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t use recipes when I cook and why I don’t do a great deal of baking. Being tied to a book or a piece of paper while I’m in the kitchen just isn’t my style. I like to add a pinch of this, a squeeze of that… When it looks right or smells a certain way, it’s done. However, recipes must be followed when baking. If you’ve ever experienced the heartache of wasted ingredients because of directions that simply don’t work, have no fear – Kentucky Sweets is here!

Written by Kentucky native Sarah Baird, a food writer and culinary anthropologist, Kentucky Sweets is a fantastic read full of fun facts, tips, and scrumptious recipes. The illustrations from Chase Chauffe add a whimsical and very cute touch throughout the pages, leading you through the book, in part, just to see what he has drawn next. Baird is impressive in her historical knowledge. She is an authority on Kentucky’s sweets, yet she writes in such a way that I feel like I’m talking to a friend as I read. I mean that in the best kind of way – this cookbook is just plain fun and I remembered everything that I read after going from cover to cover only once, which isn’t typical with instructional books.

The historical tie-ins accompanying the recipes were especially fascinating. For instance, did you know that Chocolate Gravy originated during the Great Depression? Also known as “soppin’ chocolate”, it came about because meat was in short supply, making traditional gravy very difficult to prepare. Obviously, chocolate was hard to come by in those times, as well, but cocoa powder was given out as part of the relief effort rations. In order to continue enjoying biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and in order to get their chocolate fix, Kentuckians invented chocolate gravy. It has been widely enjoyed ever since with fresh-baked tea biscuits. There are recipes for both the gravy and the biscuits inside this book, as well as plenty more history to discover. Be sure to read about Appalachian Stack Cakes and Modjeskas!

Another interesting addition to this cookbook is the interviews the author conducts with Kentuckians who share her love for Kentucky sweets and ingredients. Most are professionals who have a direct connection with an ingredient or a dessert in this cookbook. One man is an expert on hickory nuts. Another woman is the co-owner of a historic bakery where Transparent Pie is said to have originated. Sarah even interviews her father, who fondly shares his memories of life in Kentucky during times gone by.

Now for the recipes! That’s what you really want to know about, right? Well, as I said earlier, they work. THEY ACTUALLY WORK!! I tested three of them: Brown Sugar Oatmeal Hickory Cookies, Buttermilk Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and Shaker Lemon Pie. Each one was simple to make and absolutely delicious! The soft cookies were laced with warm spices, the bread was spectacularly moist, and the pie was a wonderfully strange dessert full of lemon slices. Once you get over how odd it is to be eating lemons rind and all, it is an amazingly flavorful treat that I will make over and over again. I like to call it a lemonade pie! It’ll be the perfect summer treat.

Honorable mention recipes that I will have to test as soon as possible: Apple Butter Pie with Oatmeal Pecan Crust, Mint Julep Brownies, Pawpaw Ice Cream, Homemade Marshmallows, Hummingbird Cake (with the recipe for the Creamy Coconut Cocktail), Kentucky Butter Cake, and the Bourbon Ball Cocktail. There are plenty more recipes, but I can’t wait to make these!

Besides being extremely informative and easy to use, I learned about new ingredients like hickory nuts, the cushaw, and pawpaws. Connections between treats/ingredients and historical songs, cookbooks, and quotes were great touches, as well. Not many kitchen tools are necessary in order to prepare the recipes, and I believe that anything she suggests using is fairly standard in the average home kitchen. Useful tips and tricks are scattered in an organized fashion on nearly every page, explaining why or why not to do certain things.

I am pleased to have discovered Kentucky Sweets. I know that I will use it many more times, especially because the friends who helped me taste the treats I prepared will undoubtedly be very cross with me if I don’t! This little cookbook would be a perfect gift for anyone you know who loves history, baking, or both. Highly recommended in every way, and that’s a big deal coming from someone who doesn’t like using recipes!



[box_light]10474734_541127315998916_1870961083076259318_nChef Madeleine Dee is Executive Chef and Owner of No Place Like Home in Louisville, KY. Writer, actress, chef, professional cook and professional eater.[/box_light]