At 26, Erin Patinkin was dissatisfied. On the outside, everything seemed a success—her arts management degree had borne fruit, and she secured herself a position as the executive director of a small nonprofit arts center near Chicago. Still, something was missing. A background steeped in culinary appreciation and experimentation nudged at her. It took months to make up her mind, but she eventually ditched the Midwest and headed towards New York City to pursue a career in food.
After 10 years in the psychology field, Agatha Kulaga was drained. Her position as a clinical director in a mental health and addictions program at an NYU hospital was somewhat satisfying, but she was not content. The one place she felt truly at peace was in the kitchen, and so her focus began to shift.
Unbeknownst to the two, they were both part of a food book club for several months, before either of them met. One wine-fueled night, the conversation turned from books to restaurants, from restaurants to businesses, and Erin and Agatha found themselves in a tête-a-tête that would eventually yield their Greenpoint-based bakery, Ovenly. Though their venture was not preceded by a lifelong friendship or even a business partnership, their shared Eastern European heritage had instilled a love of cooking and eating in them both, along with a love of experimenting and perfecting their own recipes. Ovenly marries Agatha's fixation on adding salt to sweets, and Erin's family history of sharing recipes.
Therefore, the book is written for the modern baker and recipe collector in mind. It's prefaced with plenty of helpful information like essential kitchen tools and how to use them, as well as preferred brands of chocolate, flour, and butter, with a primer showing where they work best. There's also plenty of backstory padding the recipes inside, explaining how most were birthed from one brain or the other, but perfected in concert. Almost none of the recipes are entirely traditional; there's always at least one ingredient that makes you tilt your head and wonder, would that actually work?
We can confidently say that yes, it most certainly does. The Stumptown Shorty, for example, uses bits of burnt sugar and finely ground espresso to flavor buttery shortbread. It's a clever move, in that the espresso's ever-so-slight grit blends right into its typically crumbly texture. Gooey Honey Blondies are made with both dark and light brown sugar, as normal, but a quarter cup of honey adds a stretchy chew. Hazelnut Maple Cookies With Orange Zest, made almost entirely of ground hazelnuts, are like little nut macaroons, held together with egg whites and lemon zest. It's the maple syrup and maple sugar they're rolled in that bring everything together.
If you're looking for a book that's as fun to read as it is to bake from, Ovenly is a great pick. Not convinced? Bake along with us and find out for yourself.
Win A Copy!
Thanks to the generous folks over at Harlequin Nonfiction, we are giving away five (5) copies of Ovenly this week. All you have to do is share the name of your favorite salty-sweet treat.