Last week's survey indicated that many of you readers like the baking books, so break out the flour and sugar and let's dive into The Amish Cook's Baking Book by Lovina Eicher with Kevin Williams.
published by Andrews McMeel, 2009, $29.99
The Amish, like the Shakers, came to the US from Europe seeking religious freedom. As the introduction to the book says, "The Amish are self-described 'plain people,' with a religion defined by simple dress, devout faith, and a desire to live unchanged by the touch of time."
Nowhere is this more evident than in a Walmart parking lot in Tennessee where automobile parking spaces share the pavement with parking spaces for "Horsedrawn Carriages Only" - complete with a watering tank. It was a real eye-opener for the Englishman and myself when we first saw that scene a few years ago.
The Amish are known for their simple lives free of electricity and modern conveniences. They use kerosene or gas to light their homes and bake, but this varies from settlement to settlement because some communities still use wood-fired ovens. Without the distractions of modern life, the Amish women focus their energies and talents on food and are able to express themselves through their cooking and baking.
Simplicity and unadornment applies to their baking, too. You won't find Baked Alaska or Croquembouche in an Amish baking book. That doesn't mean their baking is boring, though. Because self-sufficiency is a big part of Amish culture, butter is churned at home and eggs are gathered from their hens; their ingredients couldn't be fresher. Imagine how delicious a simple buttermilk pie must taste when the milk has only traveled as far as the nearest udder?
I'm enjoying peeking into the Amish kitchen without feeling like an intruder on a quiet and private way of life. The Amish keep themselves to themselves. For them to share a piece of their culture via a cookbook is a lovely gift to the rest of us who are gently curious about them.
The recipe ingredients and measurements are American. For some of you it means finding chocolate chips or corn syrup might be problematic. (Note to Londoners, you can buy Karo light and dark corn syrup at Partridge's).
One other point to keep in mind is that the recipes have been translated from the Amish baking terminology of "hot oven" or "slow oven" to Farenheit which suggests there will be some trial and error. Keep a close eye on your baking temperatures and times when using these recipes.
Simple delights from the book include:
- Dilly Bread
- Soft Pretzels
- Shoofly Pie
- Pear Cake
- Sour Cream Spice Cake
Butterscotch Brownies (adapted from The Amish Cook's Baking Book)
1/2 stick (2 oz or 50 g) butter
1 cup (200 g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
Powdered (icing) sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C/ Gas Mark 4. Grease a 7 x 11-inch pan and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and stir for 1-2 minutes until it has a thick, peanut butter-like consistency. Remove from the heat. Stir in the beaten egg and vanilla followed by the flour, salt and baking powder. Once combined, stir in the nuts. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the edges begin to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (In my oven this took about 15-17 minutes, but you will have to watch closely depending on your oven). Cut into 2 x 2-inch squares while warm and dust with powdered (icing) sugar. Store in an airtight container.
I can only sum up Amish baking as plain and simply one big hug from the oven. Enjoy!