I often cast a gimlet eye at baking books that blithely ignore the fact that about one-third of the world’s population lives at high altitude, where differences in timing, temperature, and the balance of flour, sugar, and liquids can result in cakes, cookies, and pastries that are too wet, too dry, too gummy, or develop a telltale sinkhole in the middle, so I was prepared to dismiss the Red Truck Bakery Cookbook out of hand — until I began to leaf through it.
The book is beautiful. Design, photography, and layout are both clear and attractive, as befits its author, Brian Noyes, who spent years as the art director of high-end magazines before he dove full-time into the bakery business in Marshall, Virginia. It also tells the stories behind the recipes in that charming Southern way where Rooster McConaughey’s backstory is as important as his recipe for pepper jelly, and Aunt Darla is acknowledged for adding smoked paprika and pickled onions to good old pimento cheese.
Many of the recipes update and upscale some Southern classics. The Jubilee Cake with Coconut, for example, crosses an Edna Lewis recipe for coconut cake — the kind my Tennessee-born grandmother used to make — with recipes for tres leches cakes born even further south. That there is a quick and easy recipe for Guava Pastelitos based on three ready-to-use ingredients and a more complex concoction for New Year’s Tamales — where pork and chiles play a supporting role to collard greens and black-eyed peas — may be partly due to Noyes’ studies with both the New York and Oaxaca branches of the Culinary Institute of America, and partly a nod to the Mississippi Delta’s own century-old hot tamale tradition.
So — while many of the Red Truck Bakery’s recipes for cakes, biscuits, scones, muffins, breads, and cookies may need to be adapted to Santa Fe’s high, dry atmosphere — the pies (ranging from shoofly to mincemeat to sweet potato pecan, said to be a favorite of President Barack Obama), preserves, pickles, sauces, spreads, candies, snacks, and the company’s signature granola should not succumb to altitude sickness, and are well worth exploring.
Some say you can judge a cookbook not by its cover but by the number of recipes you mark as you scan through it. I’ve marked five, including a skillet cornbread frosted with the aforementioned Aunt Darla’s smoky pimento cheese, as well as pear butter and the South-By-Southwest Crab Deepdish pie. I may even give Noyes’ Old-World Almond Stollen a whirl. ‘Tis the season, after all.
Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery by Brian Noyes, with photographs by Andrew Thomas Lee, is published by Clarkson Potter.