Rather Sweet Bakery & Café's 'over-the-top' recipes are fit for a Texas queen
Rebecca Rather's new cookbook, The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes from the Texas Hill Country's Rather Sweet Bakery & Café, arrived at our house just in time for the chilly season. When the weather outside is frightful, the ambient heat of our ancient O'Keefe & Merrit stove is delightful. So it was with great pleasure that we celebrated the brevity of that season with a whole lot of butter and flour; several muffins, pizzas, and chicken pot pies later, I must admit, any pending New Year's resolutions aside, that there's something to be said for fat and happy. Yes, this is a cookbook for Texans, as Rather says: "Texas-style means making it better, making it bigger, making it over-the-top."
The Pastry Queen is Rather's first cookbook, although she has been a baker for almost her entire life, and it shows in the organization of the book and recipes. A funny thing: One never really notices the organization of a cookbook unless it isn't working. The Pastry Queen is organized into eight chapters; it begins with a chapter about breakfast, then four about dessert, then lunch and dinner, then kids' desserts, and finally drinks. The chapter heads are often vague. "Everyday Desserts and Candies" and "Desserts for Special Occasions and Holidays" contain various and sundry cakes and other goodies. For those loathe to read the contents or index, preferring to flip to the vaguely remembered page, this makes the book hard to navigate.
This information might have come in handy with a recipe for "Whole Lemon Muffins," which included, as the title suggests, an entire lemon - peel, pith, and all - and the aforementioned cup of walnuts chopped in a food processor. Not owning one, I chopped both up as fine as I could, guessing at the consistency that might be right for a muffin. It worked out well: The lemon and nut mixture combined with the fluffy batter (three eggs and a fair amount of yogurt), to make light yet cake-like muffins of just the right sweetness. The recipe doesn't specify, but in the next batch I'll use a Eureka or Lisbon lemon rather than a Meyer; the Meyer's sweet flavor, which lends itself so well to drinks, was too subtle for this recipe.
Here's what I love about The Pastry Queen: If you can work around the tool requirements, the recipes are straightforward, the ingredients are simple, and the results delicious. In her forward, Rather inspires the reader to experiment with the recipes, and more than one recipe includes suggestions. That playfulness, combined with the food photos, which are more homey than precious, makes it easier to attempt the more difficult recipes. Rather also includes tips for fixing mistakes, advising, "Almost anything can be saved with whipped cream and powdered sugar."
In order to assuage any butter guilt, we paired the pot pies with the Caesar salad from the "Caesar Salad Pizza" recipe (sounds odd, but it's actually quite tasty). The dressing's combination of salty anchovy, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice makes for a zesty flavor that breaks through the heavy cream of the chicken pot pies. Not that one should feel guilty for eating large quantities of butter on occasion. After all, there's more than one sensory pleasure to cooking: Little ramekins of pot pie are delightful to make, lovely to look at, and, yes, heaven to eat. •
By Susan Pagani