Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends Review
By Joyce White
A Rich Look at Soul Food
Down-home desserts: What makes them so good?
In Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends, Joyce White opens a treasure trove of desserts collected over the years from family and friends whose cooking she admires. Drawing upon her Southern, African American roots, she has written Brown Sugar with the sweet side of soul food in mind, that is, cookies, cakes, pies, custards and puddings, candies, ice cream and a variety of fruit desserts. This collection of memorable anecdotes, useful tips and remarkable recipes is a supremely unique piece of culinary art.
For example, the fragrant Buttermilk Ginger Cake with Fresh Fruit Sauce includes nutmeg and ginger, and a rich peach/blueberry sauce that requires only a scoop of ice cream and a hot summer day for full enjoyment. She attributes the moist Banana Cake receipe to a friend in Queens who called it, "my rainy day cake " because "It is quick, easy to do, versatile, and smells good."
White includes several cakes that are big productions, like the ornate Coconut-Peach Cake. "This elegant cake is perfect for a wedding reception," she says just before explaining why some might prefer a peach preserve filling to one with plums. "On a hot, humid day, whipped cream is a fine covering for a coconut cake - a nice substitute for temperamental boiled icing.". White includes recipes for both.
In an excellent Icing on the Cake section, she includes several pages of tricks of the trade she learned while doing food photography for the Ladies Home Journal. She gives advice regarding situations where a cake is "leaning like the Tower of Pisa," or splitting cake layers into one of "those dramatic Southern numbers" with five or six layers.
White goes to great lengths to eliminate as much guesswork as possible in preparing the recipes. There are numerous how-to tips and background information on leavening agents, types of sugars, flours, chocolates, spices and flavorings.
She starts the next section of the book "I can't think of anything I would rather do in a kitchen than bake a pie." The signature of a good pie is a flaky and crisp piecrust and once you master the technique, the rest is easy as pie." The Orange Buttermilk Pie is topped with candied orange peel, and the Apple-Cranberry Pie literally made her friends at church shout, "Hallelujah!"
White includes in the book a most inventive recipe for pecan pie called Spicy Molasses Pecan Pie. Learned from her sister-in-law, she didn't think she would like this pie, but "it is delicious."
- 1 partially baked single 9-inch basic piecrust
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup light molasses (not dark)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg or mace
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or undiluted evaporated milk
- 1 generous cup pecan halves
Set aside the piecrust to cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the butter in a small skillet or saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until it melts, turns light brown and gives off a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan immediately from the heat and pour the butter into a large mixing bowl.
Add the sugar to the butter and mix well with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the molasses, lemon juice, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla extract and mix until the filling is well blended. Add the heavy cream or milk and beat until smooth.
Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. Spread the pecan halves on top of the pie. Place the pie on the middle shelf of the preheated oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and puffed, and a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center. (Watch the pie carefully. If it overcooks it can become gummy.)
Cool on a wire rack until the pie is set. Serve at room temperature topped with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Makes 6 servings.
Because of a fantastic recipe for banana pudding, White learned a love for puddings and custards. "The principal ingredient is the humble egg, which is paired with milk or cream, and after that, you are limited only by your imagination. You can add fruit, spices, nuts, chocolate, liqueurs, molasses, coconut, coffee or tea; top with sauces made from jellies, jams, rum, brandy or bourbon; or enjoy with a generous dab of whipped cream."
Instead of vanilla wafers, her New Banana Pudding recipe uses Gingersnaps. Her Cheesecake Divine includes recipes for strawberry-apricot or strawberry-lemon caramel topping. What a decision!
A love for candy making shows in the chapter Homemade Candies: Real Sweet. White begins with good, basic advice, "All candies are made alike: a sugar syrup is boiled to a certain temperature, or until it reaches a specific consistency, depending on whether you are making, say creamy fudge, or tooth cracking brittle or lollipops." You'll find recipes for pralines, pistachio brittle, coffee caramels, coconut fudge, chocolate raisin bark and more. The candied apples require fast work. They turn out with a sparkling, brittle coating that has a slight caramelized flavor.
These are a few examples of the many recipes and stories in this collection. The book also includes an entire chapter of cookie recipes, ice cream delights and a section on sweet fruit desserts.
White's recipes encourage creativity, offering suggestions for variations as well as a solid foundation for your own soul inspired sweets. Her foremost desire is to let the cook's creativity flow. This foresight makes Brown Sugar a most remarkable and useful book for the kitchen.Also by Joyce White - Soul Food : Recipes and Reflections from African-American Churches