Once in a while you come across a cookbook which, in a slow, smoldering manner, really ingrains itself into your kitchen repertoire. Makes you try something new, challenges your so-called limits, educates and inspires. Warm Bread and Honey Cake does all that and more. Richly narrated, nostalgic in parts (but never drippingly sentimental), varied, and thorough, I have enjoyed every page in this restrained and elegantly designed book. Which makes the fact that it won The Guild of Food Writers Cookery Book of the Year Award (2010) a sheer joy. Now would be the time to say that I have not been asked to promote this book by anyone. A bargain and unexpected find at TKMaxx led me to this gem and I love it enough to want to tell everyone about it.
Those in the foodie community I am part of, no doubt, are rolling their eyes at me banging on yet again, about this one. I have flooded the facebook group with my pictures, I have hounded a kitchen/food clever Dutchman when it came to the Dutch breads in the book and basically have preached fanatically on its merits. What I love is that this is ‘rainy day’ baking/cooking. There is a mood, a yellow cast that comes over; willing you to put your fingers into warm dough, paying no great attention to the hands on the clock, allowing your mind to be immersed in the luxury of a bake coming together. I think it’s wonderful that in these days of ‘instant‘ everything, here comes a book into my home telling me to chill the heck out. To work with the time given; not against it. It’s not a race. It’s a moment.
Now I can understand that this perspective feels overly romantic. However, routine, routine and routine, can be wearisome. With two young kids and living in a city that personifies impatience, time is fleet footed and I’m playing catch-up. Somehow, and I am not the only resident to notice this, Doha seems to move faster than any other place I have been. Even Mumbai, probably the most congested, sleepless city I ever laid foot in, has a rhythm, which Doha lacks. So I have to make my own. Since the kitchen is the one place in the house that is exclusively my domain, naturally, that’s where I exercise my sense of culinary cadence, that tumbles along at a slow, steady pace to give majestic results. Like these…..
…and these that I have already featured previously.
The author is Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, with roots as varied as her name is long. Born into an upper caste, Hindu Brahmin Indian family in colonial Guyana, complete with sugar plantations, Gaitri grew up balancing the Caribbean influences of this South American land on one hand and the other, her Indian roots. Complete the picture with marriage to a Dutchman of Jewish descent and you have the makings of a truly international vibe going on in the kitchen. And it isn’t limited to just these places. The Middle East with it’s famous leaf pastries (baklava and such like), the Chinese sweet buns, Hungarian and Spanish pastries sitting alongside a thorough Dutch bread chapter, are all given a good workout. Meaning you get a good dig into the food identity of these far flung places. Welcome to the world of spiced cakes, yeasted sweet spiced breads, traditional plain and filled rotis, nut based pastries and buns. Recipes that are featured here are the ones so indigenous to the places they are traditionally made and eaten, that unless you are willing to travel there, the likelihood of such morsels passing your lips is definitely a long shot. That is, until this book came along. Also, if a historical account of food interests you, as it does me, she definitely delivers on that count too, making this an excellent ‘reading’ cookbook.
I have turned these pages over time and time again. I am sometimes bewildered while trying to decide what I want to bake, simply because the choices are so wonderful. It really is a book, that for me, delivers on every level. Perhaps it’s the earthiness of the spices in the breads and cakes reverberating with my Indian roots, that call to me as much as the thread and leaf pastries belonging to Middle Eastern part of the world that I grew up and now, again, live in. The same juxtaposition of cultural upbringing as the author.
Hypothetically speaking, if my house was burning round my ears, and I had to choose one book to take, it would be this. I have all of Nigella’s books and as splattered, battered and beloved as they are, Warm Bread and Honey Cake, does something Nigella’s or any other of the books I own, can’t. I yearn for the food in this book. And in a world of explosive, constant, here today, gone tomorrow, food fashions and trends, that is surely a thing to cherish.