A moving and beautifully written book that pulls you into the lives of both women and their families, this novel is a page turner. I found myself wanting, needing to know how things were going to be resolved for everyone but, at the same time, not wanting the stories to end. I admit with the amount of work-related reading that I need to do, sometimes I want to read something completely mindless--that doesn't require me to think. The Baker's Daughter is not that novel. It takes the reader back in history to some very dark days and made me consider what my own choices and decisions might have been. It also gave me some glimpses into parts of World War II that I wasn't familiar with, especially The Lebensborn Program that turned young "racially pure" German girls/women into breeders for Nazi Germany. Being so blown away by the thought, I did some additional reading on it--chilling. Present day, there are the morally-confusing decisions that Reba's boyfriend/fiancé Riki must make as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Texas to consider. Author McCoy did an excellent job of weaving the stories together and moving back and forth in time and place. I liked how well the characters were written and how deeply nuanced they were. For the most part, as in real life, no person was one dimensional--neither truly good or bad. Elsie captured it best in a letter to her mother saying. "No one is good or bad by birth or nation or religion. Inside we are all masters and slaves, rich and poor, perfect and flawed."
The Baker's Daughter will appeal to many--fans of historical fiction--especially books set during WWII, foodie fiction lovers, and anyone who enjoys a well-written and haunting novel that will be remembered long after the final page is turned.
With a book titled "The Baker's Daughter" there was plenty of foodie inspiration--from German baked goods, to American staples and Mexican traditional foods--and even a dozen recipes provided at the end of the book. I ended up taking inspiration for my dish from the mentions of milk and honey in the book. In the Prologue, a night in the Schmidt's bakery is described as "In the kitchen, bundled dough mounds as white and round as babies lined the countertop and filled the space with the smell of milk and honey, and promises of a full tomorrow." Later Elsie describes her mother as "she smelled sweetly of dried herbs and honey milk"--wishing it "would wash over her and through her." Elsie misses the honey milk soap and other products made by a merchant family sent to the camps. Reba smells the honey glazes in Elsie's bakery and denies herself anything made with milk (at least in public) as part of her vegan persona--something I found very amusing. Reba also thinks back to the summers of her childhood, before her father's death where "...all her memories dripped with honey and sunshine."
Cinnamon reisbrei--or German rice pudding was a favorite dish of young Elsie, although faced with an unwelcome engagement, a nasty encounter with Major Kremer--a German military officer, and beginning to truly experience the atrocities of the war, starting with the treatment of a young Jewish boy, she finds she has little taste for it at the Nazi holiday party. Rice pudding is both a comfort food and transcends so many cultures--you can find variations all over the world, so I could even imagine Riki enjoying a bowl of aroz con leche growing up in El Paso.
I decided to combine my milk and honey musings with the reisbrei for a different twist on a classic dish. I topped it with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey and a small mound of sliced almonds cooked in a mix of honey, butter and brown sugar that might be found on top of a Bienenstich Kuchen or "Bee Sting" Cake, another German classic.
Milk & Honey Reisbrei Rice Pudding with a Bienenstich ("Bee Sting") Inspired Topping
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(4 Generous Servings)
1 cup medium grain rice
1 quart whole milk + about 1 cup extra milk or cream
1/4 cup honey + extra for drizzle
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Bienenstich ("Bee Sting") Inspired Topping (recipe below)
In a medium-large saucepan, place rice, 1 quart milk, honey, salt, almond and vanilla extracts and butter. Cook slowly over medium-low heat until rice grains are tender but have not lost their shape (about 45 minutes), stirring occasionally and adding more milk or cream as needed if mixture gets too dry/solid. Mixture should be thick and very creamy. If using raisins, stir them in for the last 0-15 minutes of cooking time.
To serve, place in individual dessert glasses or bowls. Drizzle lightly with honey and sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Place a small scoop of the Bienenstich ("Bee Sting") Topping in center of the bowl.
Bienenstich ("Bee Sting") Inspired Topping
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Place butter and honey in small, non-stick pan and heat over medium-high, stirring until mixture comes to a boil. Boil for a few minutes (continue stirring so mixture doesn't burn) until mixture darkens slightly. Add almonds and stir to evenly coat. remove from heat and cool until just warm.
Notes/Results: Creamy, homey rice pudding goodness--the ultimate in comfort food. Of course milk is a given in a rice pudding, but the honey flavor really came through in the dish giving it extra flavor. I used a medium-grain white rice for this one and it sucked up the milk. To keep it creamy, I added the additional cup, about 1/3 cup at a time as it cooked. The topping was fun--sweet and nutty but it does get a bit sticky/clumpy the longer it sits. That wasn't totally bad--it was kind of like an almond candy--but, if you want it softer either add more butter and less honey or top the warm pudding at the last minute. I would make this again when I get my occasional rice pudding cravings. ;-)
Since (as usual), I am ducking in under the wire for today's deadline, if you haven't entered this round of Cook the Books already, join us for our October/November pick: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in the Life of Food by Barbara Kingsolver. (Hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook ). Heather will be rounding up the entrees for this round shortly at the CTB site .