It’s no secret that I’m charmed by all things midcentury vintage. I could spend hours poring through antique shops and junk barns all over the country, seeking out Pyrex and Fire King dishes, cast iron skillets, and Herman Miller school chairs. So it’s no surprise that I’m head over heels for The Vintage Baker, a new cookbook by my new friend Jessie Sheehan.
Sheehan, a longtime collector of vintage recipe booklets, parlayed her amateur sleuthing into a profession as she baked and tested her way through her collection. Her vast resources of booklets offered up surprisingly tasty tidbits as they hawked their promotional recipes through the decades, giving her room to experiment with the foundation of cakes, pies, and confections within their pages.
And so The Vintage Baker melds the old and the new in its collection of recipes, bringing a post-modern sensibility to desserts that already have withstood the test of time. Some of the book’s treats combine recipes from different booklets of different eras: the Salty Caramel Crunch Sundaes with Caramelized Cornflakes pairs a 1928 recipe for caramel ice cream from the Frigidaire Recipes booklet with a caramelized cornflake topping from 1951’s Refrigerator Desserts (and homemade salted caramel sauce for good measure).
Adding salt to caramel (a flavor that was “all the rage in the first half of the twentieth century”) is only one of the ways that Sheehan judiciously brings in 21st-century elements to recipes, as in the Cacio e Pepe Popovers, where Sheehan adds savory cheese and black pepper to a simple 1933 recipe, or the addition of fresh herbs to fruit in the Strawberry Basil Turnovers.
In other cases, she leans into the whimsy and wonder of recipes that showcase the ingredients promoted by the branded booklets—like the Raspberry-Marshmallow Upside-Down Cake, which turns its wacky mash-up of flavors into a surprisingly successful caramelized, custardy dream once baked.
The Butterscotch Potato Chip Balls, from a 1958 Good Housekeeping booklet, are an eye-opening reminder that crazy cookie combinations were not invented at Momofuku Milk Bar, but have been cooked up by inventive bakers for a long, long time. This recipe in particular is ripe for variations, in my opinion, and I can’t wait to test it out with peanut butter chips, dark chocolate chunks, Valrhona caramel discs, or whatever else strikes my fancy. (The recipe follows below for you to try it yourself.)
The book itself is an adorable homage to vintage design, complete with a sewn-in booklet where readers will find a number of the original recipes that Sheehan adapted for the imaginative desserts that make up the cookbook. Tips and quotes at the start of each chapter remind us contemporary bakers that old advice is still good advice, such as the recommendation to sprinkle a sugar-flour blend across an unbaked pie crust to prevent a soggy bottom once baked.
Sheehan’s devoted work, pulling treasures out of these faded and discarded booklets, has brought new life to recipes that deserve a spotlight in this century. The Vintage Baker is already a timeless addition to my cookbook collection, and a new classic in its own right. Reprinted from The Vintage Baker by Jessie Sheehan with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018
Reprinted from The Vintage Baker by Jessie Sheehan with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018