Ovenly – Comfort baking at its finest

ovenlyNamed Best Bakery in New York City by 2013 Time Out New York Food & Drink Awards, Ovenly explores culinary traditions with an unexpected twist, melding salty and sweet with a touch of spice. Their main goal is to provide joy through flavor, and their first cookbook captures this beautifully.

Erin (who inherited her mother and grandmother’s handwritten recipe cards) and Agatha (a “refugee in the kitchen” and daughter of Polish immigrants) have created a warm, approachable book that is full of inviting baked goods and nibbles; their tips, step-by-step photos and clear descriptions mean that any level of baker will be able to tackle these recipes and have them turn out great. I loved reading about Agatha’s bilingual childhood where her parents tricked her into eating traditional Eastern European dishes like headcheese and tripe; my Polish grandmother (babcia) used to serve my mother “chocolate soup” (czarnina) until the day my mom found out it was actually duck’s blood! And like Agatha, my babcia and great-grandmother were masters at Polish baked goods; some of my earliest memories are of helping my grandmother bake in her small apartment kitchen.

As I am primarily a (breakfast/brunch) baker at heart, I loved Ovenly’s unique take on scones (bloody Mary, cheddar mustard, currant rosemary), quick breads (strawberry basil, citrus berry), and coffee cake (poppy seed, prune, and lemon, banana Nutella). Their cookie flavors are downright revolutionary (mustard spice, bourbon chocolate chip with tarragon, the Stumptown shorty). The melding and blending of complementary flavors continues with their blue cheese apple pie with toasted walnuts, pear, sour cherry and cardamom pie, nectarine, blueberry and vanilla bean rustic tart, caramel bacon hot tarts, and goat cheese, spring onion and chive quiche. I am always on the lookout for spicy brownies that stack up against my standard Baked brownie, and the cinnamon and ancho chile brownies didn’t disappoint.

In addition to the ample selections of breakfast and brunch bakes, you’ll also find a chapter of cakes and cupcakes, including the pistachio cardamom cupcakes with ganache, black chocolate stout cake with salted caramel cream cheese buttercream, and chocolate cheesecake with sour cream topping. And I loved the inclusion of bar snacks (spicy bacon caramel corn, savory rosemary popcorn, maple thyme pecans, and peppery pistachio brittle) that make the perfect nibbles with cocktails or drinks.

One thing that did surprise me as an experienced home baker was their note on weighing ingredients: “As we sent out our recipes for testing, we heard from friends, colleagues and family that none of them used the weight measurements we had provided. So, we decided not to use them in our book unless we felt it was necessary for a recipe.” Instead, they have created a somewhat lengthy conversion chart at the front of the book. Normally I bake solely by weight (assuming it is provided) as I find it to provide more accurate, consistent results (especially true with flour, which changes weight depending on humidity and other factors); I wish they had just left that in for anyone who is so inclined, but that’s my personal preference.

I loved some of the more unique advice like filing scratch marks into an aluminum or steel pan in order to aid with cutting finished brownies, bars, and shortbread that I haven’t seen mentioned in my other baking books. The “Get Creative” sidebars marked with rolling pins will give you addition suggested variations to play with; you’ll find cornflake topping for muffins, cashew butter and cayenne pepper filling for coffee cake, and nods to Eastern European pastries (jelly-filled muffins that brought to mind the paczki we eat on Mardi Gras, lemon poppyseed prune cake).

Whether you’re already a fan of Ovenly (for those lucky enough to live in New York) or simply love delicious baked goods with unusual twists, Ovenly deserves a spot of honor in your cookbook collection!

(Thank you to Agatha and Erin for the advance copy – dziękuję bardzo!)

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