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Book review: 'Cookbook Library' traces an amazing evolution in cuisine

May 4, 2012 |  5:54 pm

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What is a cookbook? More than simply a collection of recipes, a cookbook can be a window to the larger world beyond the confines of the kitchen, as La Varenne Cooking School founder and award-winning cookbook author Anne Willan and her co-authors illustrate in the excellent new book "The Cookbook Library."

The above is from this week's book review on "The Cookbook Library" by Anne Willan with Mark Cherniavsky and Kyri Claflin. Food editor Russ Parsons wrote an earlier cookbook watch on Willan's new book for Daily Dish, and when I first picked it up, it was one of those books that I had a hard time putting down. In addition to the detailed and riveting history, Willan includes actual recipes from the books she cites, which she's tested and modernized for the home kitchen.

Continue reading below for two recipes from the book, one for a wonderfully spiced seed cake with caraway and cinnamon (adapted from a recipe from Mrs. E. Smith in “The Compleat Housewife”  -- London, 1727; recipe from 1742 edition) and a refreshing strawberry ice (adapted from a recipe from Antonio Latini, Lo scalco alla moderna -- vol. 1, Naples, 1692).

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Image credit: Image from "The Cookbook Library" by Anne Willan. (Willan / Cherniavsky Collection / University of California Press / April 25, 2012)

Rich Seed Cake with Caraway and Cinnamon

Servings: Makes one 9-inch (22-cm) cake

Note: From “The Cookbook Library” by Anne Willan with Mark Cherniavsky and Kyri Claflin, and adapted from a recipe from Mrs. E. Smith in “The Compleat Housewife” (London, 1727; recipe from 1742 edition)

3 1/2 cups (450 g) flour

1 2/3 cups (330 g) sugar

6 tablespoons (45 g) caraway seeds

5 eggs

4 egg yolks

2 cups (450 g) butter, more for the pan

1 1/2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

9-inch (22-cm) springform pan

Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter the springform pan. Sift together the flour and sugar into a medium bowl, and stir in the caraway seeds. Separate the whole eggs, putting all the yolks together and straining the whites into a small bowl to remove the threads.

To make the batter: Cream the butter either by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the yolks two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the rose water. Whisk the egg whites just until frothy, then beat them, a little at a time, into the egg yolk mixture. Beat in the cinnamon. Finally, beat in the flour mixture, sprinkling it a little at a time over the batter. This should take at least 15 minutes by hand, 5 minutes with a mixer. The batter will lighten and become fluffier. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

To bake the cake: Bake until the cake starts to shrink from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean when withdrawn, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack to tepid, then unmold it and leave it to cool completely on a rack. When carefully wrapped, it keeps well at room temperature for several days and the flavor will mellow.

Strawberry Ice

Servings: Makes 1 quart (1 liter) ice to serve 6 to 8

Note: From “the Cookbook Library” by Anne Willan with Mark Cherniavsky and Kyri Claflin, and adapted from a recipe from Antonio Latini, Lo scalco alla moderna (vol. 1, Naples, 1692)

1 pound (2 pints or 450 g) strawberries, hulled

1 cup (250 ml) water

1/2 cup (125 ml) pomegranate juice, more to taste

1/2 cup (125 ml) mascarpone cheese or heavy cream

3/4 cup (150 g) sugar, more to taste

Ice-cream maker

In a large bowl, combine the strawberries and water and crush the berries with a fork or your fingers, pulling them apart to form a coarse puree. Stir in the pomegranate juice. In a small bowl, whisk the mascarpone with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the puree until smooth, then stir this mixture into the remaining puree with the sugar. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour until very cold.

Taste and adjust the flavor with pomegranate juice and sugar. Freeze the puree in the ice-cream maker until firm. For the best texture, serve the ice within an hour. If freezing longer, transfer the ice to the refrigerator for an hour to soften before serving.

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