Cookbook Review and Giveaway: The Amish Cook’s Baking Book

I’ve always been interested in the Amish way of life. There is definitely something very appealing to me about this or any other minimalist approach to life so I was very interested in receiving The Amish Cook’s Baking Book.The book is co-authored by Lovina Eicher (who lives in an Amish community and learned to bake from her mother) and writer Kevin Williams. Eicher provides the recipes and a little back-story and Williams provides commentary on Amish history and way of life. Together, they have written this and other cookbooks that feature recipes from Lovina’s mother and other Amish women.

The first thing I noticed about this book when I received it from Andrews McMeel Publishing was the size. It really is the perfect size for setting on your counter while you bake. Call me picky, but I don’t care for cookbooks that lack pictures and I have a hard time liking cookbooks of odd shape and size- such as tall and skinny. This one is short and long, so the pages lay flat no matter if you are reading a recipe at the beginning of the book or at the end. The pictures are nice and the overall layout of the book is well done.

The recipe titles are charming and invite you to give them a try. Cookies named “crybaby cookies” or “$250 cookies”. Unfortunately, for a lot of these names, Eicher is unsure how the names came to be. Williams mentions this in his introduction and uses the analogy of the “telephone game”. Because the Amish are such eager recipe swappers, sometimes the name gets lost in all the eager trading! As I kneaded my dough, I daydreamed where the names came from.

There are a lot of books popular right now on the subject of baking bread fast. I’m not interested in that. I enjoy the kneading and long rise times. I enjoy watching something transform in my sunny little window. Amish women have a lot of time to dedicate to baking and so their recipes for baking are not rushed. This appeals to me. I like to make a day of it when I bake bread! Also, I don’t own a Cuisinart, a KitchenAid or any other fancy motorized gear which most Amish do not use either. So many times I have bought cookbooks and then I read through the recipes and have to skim past the ones that say, “In the bowl of an electric mixer . . .” or I have to adapt it to my own way of baking. I didn’t run into that problem with this book.

What I did run into with this book was an ingredient problem. A lot of the recipes call for lard or vegetable shortening. Normally, I do not use either although I have been known to throw some bacon lard in a brownie recipe (not a fan) out of frugality. I am new enough to baking that I am unsure if butter can be substituted in all recipes. It would have been nice to see a side note or two mentioning substitutions for those ingredients since a lot more people are getting away from using shortening.

I tested 2 recipes from this book. The first was the recipe for Sweet Breakfast Rolls. Eicher says her husband likes a cinnamon roll or sweet roll in the morning with his hot chocolate or coffee. And so do I! In fact, cinnamon rolls are one of my all-time favorite treats and I am constantly on the lookout for the be-all end-all of cinnamon roll recipes. Unfortunately, this one is not it. But ironically, it was the quickest cinnamon roll recipe I have ever made. There was no 2nd rise- only a quick initial rise. This is a good recipe for someone who wants to be eating homemade cinnamon rolls within an hour. Perhaps if I let them rise a little longer they would have puffed up a bit more, but by following the recipe I found them to be quite dense. It may have had something to do with the weather. The frosting recipe is fabulous and I will definitely be using that again.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to try one of the kid-friendly recipes with Andrew in the kitchen. Two desserts in one day, it’s a work hazard, I know. We made the 10-Minute Cookie Bars and they did indeed live up to their name, but they were a bit crumbly and didn’t come out of the pan very well. I hope to try several more of the recipes in this book (Honey Bars will probably be first up). There are several recipes that certainly look interesting.

My mother especially liked looking through this book and hinted she would like it for Mother’s Day. A lot of the recipes are similar to ones made by older generations. The Rhubarb Custard Pie jumped out at her as well as the recipe for Sugar Cookies which she says is the sugar cookie recipe she has been looking for for ages. This particular recipe uses vegetable oil and cream of tarter. She says they are very soft and delicious! My mother also said, “Boy, if you like to bake pies like I do then this is the book for you!” Personally, I hope to bake more pies than cupcakes this year!

In conclusion, I think this is the kind of cookbook that would be best-suited for someone who has some experience baking. A few of the recipes are a tad vague, calling for “enough bread flour to make a stiff dough”, etc. instead of an actual measurement. I think this will frustrate baking newbies. However, for the experienced baker, the book offers a fresh perspective. I really appreciate that this book teaches both how to bake and encourages us to live more simply by giving us a peek at the Amish way of life.

I am giving away a copy of this book to one random reader.

To enter, leave a comment below answering the following question:

When you bake bread, do you measure the flour exact or do you add a little here and there until the dough looks like it is the right consistency?

For a second chance to win, you can tweet the giveaway. Please leave an additional comment below telling me that you did so. I am mailing this book out myself and at the time am only able to mail to U.S. residents. The contest will close Sunday, March 14th at midnight. One winner will be chosen at random using Random.org. Good luck!

UPDATE:  Congratulations to #4 Amy!

13 Comments

  1. chiquita
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks for a great review of a book I’ve had my eye on for a while!

    For bread – I tend to measure as precisely as possible, but it often ends up feeling a little too moist (could it be my measuring cups are off!?), so then I’ll throw a bit in till it feels right.

  2. chiquita
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Tweeted about it too 🙂
    http://twitter.com/suzynina/status/10360894706

  3. Jessica
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I know they say you should be precise in baking (i.e. using a scale to measure by weight) however I just keep tossing in flour until it’s the right consistency. I haven’t had any problems yet (fingers crossed…)!

  4. Amy
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    When using flour in bread, I try to stick with exact measurements.

    This book looks interesting.

  5. Nicole-Lynn
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Very nice! I add a little more here and there when it is the right consistency 🙂

    Seasidesmitten@aol.com

  6. natanya
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    great review. I normally eyeball flour since I am always losing my measuring cups anyway….

  7. Diana
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I bake bread, I measure exactly and use that amount. I add by Tbs after that if the consistency looks off, keeping in mind if I’m kneading by hand or rolling it out at all, more flour will be worked in.

  8. K
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I am from Lancaster County, Pa. This cookbook is one filled with PA Dutch Cooking, the very way I was thought by my mother and her by her mother. Measuring of ingredients is done by determination of how many are coming for dinner. When I made bread stuffing in my Home Economics Class, my teacher who was not from the area, almost passed out when I did not measure a single ingredient. She did admit it was the best darn bread stuffing she had ever eaten…!! I can see where you would be a bit frustrated not being sure, and consider this cook book for the more “experienced”… And the substitutions, I would follow the recipe, otherwise it will not taste the same or turn out as desired. If you ever have any questions or your unsure about a recipe, please feel free to contact me and ask…Good Luck and keep us posted.
    K

  9. Posted March 14, 2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I go by texture more so than anything. AZinAugust[at]gmail[dot]com

  10. Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I bake 6 loaves of bread each week and I can tell you that bread is the one place in baking that you don’t need to be exact. The amount of flour depends on the weather (humidity). It’s best just to add enough flour till you have a soft dough that’s not sticky.

  11. Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    That’s what I have found too- the humidity makes it or breaks it!

  12. cheryl ames
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I never measure, atleast when baking bread, I have always used my great grandmother’s recipe and it is even written like, the size of a fist, the size of a walnut, etc, I go by feel and looks and it always turns out great, crusty browned loaves every time!!!

  13. anyacian
    Posted November 22, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    I add more flour or until it looks and feels right, I would love to win this contest