Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

The Brown Betty Cookbook

by Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat (Wiley, 192 pp., $22.99)

Although it might initially appear that this is a cookbook of recipes for the dessert Apple Brown Betty, that is not the case. The Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Philadelphia is one of the nation's leading bakeries, garnering attention from O Magazine, The Food Network, The Learning Channel, National Geographic, Glamour, and every regional rag in its vicinity. The bakery was opened by mother and daughter Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat, and named after family matriarch Elizabeth Ruth Hinton, known by friends and family as Betty, whose recipes were the overwhelming inspiration for the business.

The Brown Betty Dessert Boutique has been a huge success from nearly its first week because Betty, her daughter, and her granddaughter really do have the goods. The bakery is renowned for its cakes, and this book gives you the secrets to making them all: vanilla cake with Earl Grey but­tercream, almond cake with caramel buttercream, red velvet cake, and, of course, chocolate cake with choco­late buttercream – plus dozens more. These are rich, rich cakes, fine of crumb, delectably moist, and enormous. (Most of the cakes will feed 20 people: The perfect size for church suppers and family reunions!) For purely scientific purposes, I made the sour cream pound cake with chocolate buttercream, and even my (supposedly) cake-hating husband went back for seconds ... twice.

In addition to the superlative cakes, the book also gives recipes for several pies, cobblers, and puddings (including sweet potato pie, coconut cream pie, and Apple Brown Betty), as well as cookies, brownies, and bars. Throughout the volume appear photographs and histories of these wonderful women and the challenges they faced – and overcame – as ladies of color in the first half of the 20th century. This book is just an utter delight and all but guarantees success should you be called upon to bring a showstopping dessert to any sort of gathering.

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