SEPTEMBER 22, 2018

Cookbook Review: Little French Bakery

If there’s a little part of each of us who cook that has dreamed about one day leaving our regular job and moving to Paris to enroll in a culinary school, The Little French Bakery Cookbook(Skyhorse 2014) by local Madison chef Susan M. Holding, is a must read because that is exactly what she did. 

This culinary dream come true captures at once a very charming yet sophisticated tone throughout the book. The longing nostalgia of Holding’s Parisian culinary education comes across in short anecdotal stories in between always succinct, viable, sometimes simple and sometimes sophisticated series of French-based recipes. 

As readers, we get to take our pick of our desired level of entry. ‘Catering Chicken,’ from the “Favorite Meals” section, is a great example of a recipe that might harken back to some French inspiration, but that is relatively uncomplicated and no doubt a much-repeated crowd-pleaser.

Two pages previous is the more classically French dish ‘Boeuf Bourguignon.’ “When I think of a classic French meal, I think of this recipe. It’s one of the most satisfying, comforting dishes I’ve ever made.”

 

Boeuf Bourguignon is the perfect hearty dish for a cozy evening.

 

Flip ahead a few pages and we find homemade ribs and BBQ sauce, then to the soups chapter, where we find “Soupe De Poisson with Rouille and Croutons” for which we again need a little more special step-by-step instruction. 

These might be thought of as substantial standards – meat dishes, a nod to homemade BBQ, a fish soup. In many ways though, it’s two other portions of the cookbook that really seem to elevate it to the truly ‘charming’ status. 

Short stories such as “The Belly of Paris” transport us to the source of French food while allowing us to get to know the chef, “I’m very sentimental about historical treasures and places. I have a treasure to share with you. There’s a neighborhood in Paris called les Halles…”

She goes on to tell us that this story in full was told her by one of her pastry school chefs, “in the wee hours of the morning cleaning, slicing, sorting, and butchering.” We’re quickly pulled out of our Midwestern home kitchens and offered an eavesdrop behind the doors of a Parisian kitchen. 

Finally, as the cookbook cover and title reveals, it’s the ‘bakery’ that stands apart in chapters on Breads, Cookies and Bars, Tarts and Pies, and Cakes such as “The Perfect Birthday Chocolate Cake,” a truly elegant visual anchor as the cover art. “This chocolate cake is by far the most popular selling cake at the Little French Bakery for wedding and special occasions. I think it’s the perfect cake. It’s inspired by the famous recipe on the Hershey cocoa can. Yes, that’s true.” 

By the end, after spending some time with the Little French, we get to know the chef much in the same way we would if we were enrolled in one of her own local cooking classes.