Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review: Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson

As you can probably tell by now, I have a great love for cookbooks and Blogging for Books (thank you!) keeps me in supply.

This time around, I chose an unlikely book for me in some ways because a traditional Southern kitchen is bound to be loaded with butter, milk, cream (hint: dairy products), flour and wheat derivatives, and all sorts of Crisco, something I tend to not use. However, in the spirit of my sister who lives with her beautiful family in the deep South, I chose this book, Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson.

Turtle Cake Roll
I watched about half of the inaugural (and only, I think) season of American Baking Competition, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy and a hefty panel of baking judges, including the famed Paul Hollywood. I distinctly remember Francine Bryson from the show. Her personality was as big as her apparently-amazing baking skills. She just shone bright and she was willing to take a risk without compromising herself or trying to tear someone else down - outside of just plain fun. I appreciated that in a contestant on a reality cooking show. There's always one who is bound to make you shake your head at their antics and Francine was not that one. She was strong, vocal, funny, and clearly, talented. She landed in the top three and impressed everyone.

And now, she has a new cookbook, right from her self-titled redneck kitchen.

The book is a really wonderful compilation of new and old recipes, either passed down to her from one of her grandmas, something she created due to a baking competition, or just to please her family. Francine is a skilled baking competitor. She started baking at a very young age with her grandmas (both lived right near her for most of her youth), then went on to experiment on her own. She started entering into baking competitions in her teens and, to her astonishment, won. She began collecting recipes and cookbooks, amassing a mere 3,000 books in all. (I would love to see her library or kitchen, wherever she has them stored.) And from all her years of competitive baking, she began to truly hone her skills and learn the ins and outs of true baking...under pressure.

World Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie

As I pawed through her book, the first thing I noticed was the ease in which it was written. Each recipe starts with a story about Francine, where the recipe came from, or simply the love of baking that particular thing. There are lots of mentions of Granny, Nana, and Mama, her mentors in the world of baking; plenty of nods to her hubby and how she won his heart with her baking; and many stories about why she loves to bake. Her passion is clear and evident and so is her skill. Many of the recipes include a Blue Ribbon Tip about how to make each recipe come out just right and there are eight different pie crust recipes - and that's just for a start. There is plenty of wisdom for new bakers or experienced bakers wanting to tap into her many years of baking knowledge and prowess that comes from twenty-some years of competitive baking, which requires a whole other level of expertise and creativity. No ordinary cherry pie is going to cut it, not unless it knocks your socks off.

Francine's book is filled with pie recipes, cake and cookie options, cheesecakes, candies, and other assorted dessert treats. Some are simplistic and others have a twist that make them intriguing and clever. There are too many recipes in the book to mention that aroused intrigue (of which I spent 20 minutes describing in detail to a friend on the phone just awhile ago). So, I will mention two: Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake and Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie. Holy moly. These two are something out of this world. Both won competitions and by the looks of them, I can see why, if not for just looks and creative design alone.

The Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake is a four-layer moist pumpkin cake with a sweet cream cheese frosting and chocolate glaze, however, there is an interesting twist to this cake. A couple of interesting twists, in fact. One is that she uses lemon-flavored Greek yogurt in the cake batter. Fantastic. The other, however, is truly where the magic lies. In between the cake and frosting layers, she has added a layer called cookie crunch. She starts with butter, Oreos, a can of salted mixed nuts and some brown sugar, adds them to the food processor, then pulses. She layers this into four 9-inch buttered pans, then adds the pumpkin cake batter on top and bakes it. The result is this beautiful four/eight layer confectionary cake that is truly outstanding just to look at. I can only imagine how delicious it tastes. I might just have to try it one of these days. Part of what I love about her book is I'm pretty sure I can adapt just about any of her recipes. This one, for sure.

Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Cake

The Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie is the next on my short list of her amazing desserts. (And the list could go on - Slap-Ya-Mama Fudge Cookies, Good Ol' Raisin-Oatmeal Pie, Pretzel Pie, Keep-The-Hubby-At-Home Cake, Black Tie Strawberry Pie, Coconut-Pecan Sweet Potato Cheesecake, German Upside-Down Cake, and her World-Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie.) Back to the apple pie. This pie is something of an ingenious creation. It's a pie, that's for sure. But it's also something a whole lot more. She takes your standard American apple pie and turns it on its head, literally. She starts by adding whole pecans, round side down, on the bottom of a deep pie dish, then up the sides. She spreads brown sugar all over the the pecans, then adds one of two pie crusts on top of that. Yep, she just sealed pecans and sugar into the bottom of a pie dish. She then adds all the apple filling and another pie crust on top, just like a standard apple pie. She bakes it all together, then flips it over. The inverted pie becomes a masterpiece of shiny, sticky, caramel-pecan goodness on top of an apple pie. Ingenious. And something I definitely want to try.

Upside-Down Apple-Pecan Pie

If I had to say one thing to her publisher and to all cookbook publishers everywhere, it would be, add more pictures, please! The pictures they did use are fantastic, but they are few and far between. I would love to see more images of what I might be making and this book has far too few for my taste. Nonetheless, this book has stolen my baking heart.

When I chose this book, I wasn't sure that I was going to keep it. I had thought I might send it down to my sister for her own redneck kitchen. However, I think she may be getting a copy from me via Amazon. This one is going on my shelf.

Happy eating!

*I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. 

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