September 12, 2012

Soup to Nuts: New Maine-centric cookbooks earn place in pantry

These are heady times for the local food scene. Case in point: Three slick new Maine-authored cookbooks.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

It's harvest time, and this year we have a great crop of local cookbooks that go beyond the usual fare of blueberries and lobster.

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Tara Smith sifts flour into a brownie mixture at Standard Baking Co. in Portland. “Standard Baking Co. Pastries” by Smith and Alison Pray is due out on Oct. 15. The book features many of Standard Baking’s most popular items with photography by Sean Alonzo Harris.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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From the cooks at Standard Baking comes Triple Chocolate Cake.

Sean Alonzo Harris, from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, reprinted with permission from Down East Books

Additional Photos Below

Most exciting is the debut cookbook from Standard Baking Co., the Portland bakery that has gotten national raves for its baguettes, croissants and sweet-but-not-too-sweet pastries.

Here's a first look at the Standard Baking Book, followed by the latest on Maine home cooking from food writer and food historian Sandy Oliver, and a new cookbook featuring nearly 50 Portland restaurants from Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz.


IF YOU'RE A FAN of Standard Baking Co., chances are you'll do exactly what I did when I first got hold of the bakery's new pastry book.

I quickly flipped through the pages to see if my favorite Standard Baking treat – the almond raspberry galette – was one of the featured recipes.

There it was, right on page 52.

I could never before envision actually making this round, shortbread-like tart filled with a thin layer of raspberry jam on my own. Its soft, buttery layers crumble in your mouth and transport you to pastry heaven.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the Standard staff creates this delightful galette from just a handful of simple ingredients – butter, flour, salt, sugar, almond meal, egg and raspberry jam. That's it.

Alison Pray, who opened Standard Baking with her husband, Matt James, 18 years ago, and Tara Smith give up a lot of secrets in "Pastries," including the recipes for Standard Baking's most popular items, croissants and morning buns. Some of the recipes are more intimidating than others – the croissant recipe is five pages long (six if you include the chocolate, ham and cheese, and almond variations).

But Pray says she worked hard to make even the most complicated recipes accessible to the home baker by staying away from technical terms and descriptions that only professionals would understand.

"I'm really hoping that these recipes are written clearly enough that anyone could follow them and understand the process and understand what to look for," Pray said. "I think that's the key to getting good results, is having it explained to you: What are you looking for, for the final result? Because there's a lot of judgment involved in baking: Are these ready to come out of the oven? And what specifically are you looking for?"

Pray said she often gets requests for recipes, but converting measurements from weight to volume, and scaling a recipe down for use at home, is a challenge. Going through these steps for 65 recipes, even more so.

All of those conversions and scaling down of recipes (along with the writing, of course) took two years to complete, but the result is worth it. The thick, almost rustic paper stock, the luscious photography, and the vivid descriptions of what it's like in the bakery at 3 a.m. make the book as warm and inviting as the bakery itself on a snowy winter's day.

The photography was done by Sean Alonzo Harris, a longtime bakery employee and fine art photographer who only recently gave up his stint delivering Standard bread around town.

Some of the pastries are sized differently in the book than you're used to seeing on the bakery's shelves. The galette in the book, for example, makes an 8-inch tart, while the one you buy on Commercial Street is about three inches.

"If there was something that was hard to source for a home baker, then we changed the recipe so that it would be easier for the home baker to have the right equipment," Pray said. "We did that with the bread pudding. I think with the financier we gave several options. Also for the chocolate cork, because the mold for the cork that we use is difficult to source. I think in the cork recipe, we suggest using a muffin tin if you can't source a 2-inch round cylinder."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Standard Baking's Rustic Apple Tart.

Sean Alonzo Harris, from Standard Baking Co. Pastries, reprinted with permission from Down East Books

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