I received copies of The Sweetapolita Bakebook and Seven Spoons, courtesy of Appetite by Random House Canada, at book launch celebrations with a group of local bloggers and was under no obligation to review them. All opinions are my own.
It’s easy to think of successful food bloggers as surrounded by the communities they’ve built around their blogs, but it can be a lonely pursuit. That’s why the lovely people at Appetite by Random House Canada have been working with the equally lovely folks at Food Bloggers of Canada to hold book launch celebrations with local bloggers when food bloggers turned cookbook authors visit Vancouver on their book tours.
I was lucky enough to attend two of these gatherings this spring – one with Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita and another with Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons.
For those of us that were able to attend the events, it was a chance to meet successful bloggers and cookbook authors we admired, but it was also a chance to connect with local bloggers that we may only have met online. What I hadn’t realized was that the authors themselves were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them.
Rosie Alyea told us that the ten bloggers in that room were the greater part of all the bloggers she’d ever met and that it was a pleasure to meet people who were as excited as she was about baking and writing about it.
Tara O’Brady has been food blogging almost as long as it’s been possible to do so and has set the standard for the quality of writing in the genre. Even so, she was happy to connect with others who are building community and exploring their own foodways online.
The events were an opportunity to share food from the books, conversation, and a little bubbly together. The publishers, authors, and bloggers alike are passionate about food and cooking, so there was a lot to talk about.
As much as online community-building creates enriching and vibrant engagement, meeting in person feels like a solidification of those connections. Thanks again to the folks at Appetite for providing us with that opportunity.
And now that I’ve had some time to explore each of these cookbooks, I can share my thoughts about them with you:
The Sweetapolita Bakebook
I’ve been baking since my age was in single digits, but the things I made (at least until I joined French Fridays with Dorie) were homey and old fashioned. I loved going through vintage cookbooks and making cookies, squares, and cakes for my friends and family, but I didn’t think I was capable of bakery-style confections.
I’m still not there, but if any cookbook can help me with that, it’s this one. Rosie Alyea’s recipes are foolproof and her instructions are detailed and precise. They are also fanciful, as it says on the cover. From chalkboard cookies to perfectly charming chocolate robots filled with Pop Rocks to an elegantly tiered cake decorated with a watercolour finish, the book is filled with desserts you’d never imagine you could make at home.
I started small, pairing Rosie’s Simple & Splendid Chocolate Cake with her Glossy Fudge Frosting and filling it with salted caramel ganache. As you can see, I didn’t do it justice. I was a little short on icing sugar. But, I’m going to be baking from this book for years to come – birthdays, anniversaries, or just about any excuse for a party that I can find. I think my decorating will improve over time.
What doesn’t need improvement is the flavour and texture of the cake and the richness of the frosting. The same could be said of the Rainbows & Sprinkles Cake Rosie served at the book launch celebration I attended. The cake uses her Super White Cake recipe and is iced with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but transforms both with vibrant gel paste food colouring.
It’s a feat she performs over and over again in the book, taking her basic cake recipes and coming up with beautiful variations using the fillings, frostings, and techniques she includes in the book, along with an array of sprinkles, edible papers, and garnishes that she makes herself or sources at baking supply stores. Once you’ve worked your way through all the recipes in the book, you’ll be confident enough to bring your own flights of fancy to life.
Everyday cooking sounds a little uninspiring and it certainly can be, if it’s left up to an unadventurous or inexperienced cook. But in the hands of Tara O’Brady, it’s a sumptuous exploration of everything the markets have to offer.
Tara’s blog began not long after taking charge of her own kitchen and trying to incorporate the foodways of her family with that of her partner (now husband), Sean. Hers included the south and north Indian foods her parents grew up with, along with dishes from many other cuisines that her food-loving family explored. His were dishes with Irish and English roots, the kind that filled mid-Century community cookbooks, like the butter tarts that inspired the Walnut Cherry Oat Butter Tart Pie Tara served at her book launch celebration.
Seven Spoons represents their own foodway, the one that they’ll pass on to their children. It includes dishes from each of their heritages, along with ones adapted from the flavours that excite cooks today.
There are dishes for every meal and a selection of staples to spur your own creativity in the kitchen. The flavours come from Indian and British Isles classics, but also from the Middle East, Continental Europe, Latin America, and Asia. The ingredients will take you out of the standard supermarket and to the farmers’ market and international grocery stores, reflecting the cosmopolitan food scene today and its emphasis on eating widely and in season.
For new cooks, it’s a good place to start the explorations that will lead to the creation of their own foodways, while experienced cooks will appreciate the depth of flavour and variety of the recipes.
In my own family, my gluten free and vegan partner quickly marked off several recipes, including the Trail Mix Snack Bars and the Green Beans with Mustard Seeds. I was intrigued by the Rhubarb Rose Gin Gimlet and Halloumi in Chermoula. My mother commented that it’s almost the right time to try the Pickled Strawberry Preserves, then opened the book up to the recipe for Blueberry Poppy Seed Snacking Cake and asked if I’d make it for them to take on the trip they’d planned for the weekend.
I was happy to oblige, though I had to omit the poppy seeds (I put in a bit of ginger, instead). It turned out beautifully and the quarter of a cake I kept for myself disappeared quickly – I just couldn’t keep myself from snacking on it. The rest was eaten just as quickly, by all reports.
I’m glad the binding on this book is sturdily stitched, as it’s going to undergo a lot of wear and tear, stains and creases. I’ll be working my way through its recipes over and over again.
Come back next Thursday for a book that combines the homespun goodness of preserves with the pizazz of the cocktail hour.