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You know how some people are obsessed with stamp collections or fantasy football teams? Well, we're obsessed with cookbooks. Here, in Books We Love, we'll talk about our favorites.
Today: The second book from Joy Wilson -- a.k.a. Joy the Baker -- is as good a reason as any to stock up on sprinkles, pretzels, and chocolate chips. Now dust off your cake stand and tie on an apron.
We will begin at the end: I wrapped up my phone call with Joy Wilson -- you might know her as Joy The Baker -- by asking her, selfishly, which cake I should bake for my grandmother's 85th birthday. I've never made a layer cake, and figured Joy would have a few go-tos tucked up her sleeves.
Instead of directing me to a recipe on her blog or a page number in her latest cookbook, she walked me through what the recipe should look like, and why: Bake a chocolate cake, because chocolate cakes are more forgiving than vanilla. Pick a recipe with cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and buttermilk. For your frosting, mix cream with straight-up ovaltine, then fold that into chocolate buttercream. (This is her trick for frosting that's "fluffy and not hard.") She explained it confidently and smoothly, the way you'd tell a blindfolded person how to walk through a room,. After I hung up I felt very sure of myself and very excited about cake!!
This combination of excitement and empowerment is what Joy is after in her second book, Homemade Decadence. As all of the adjectives in the book's subtitle suggest, it follows the "more is more" attitude we're used to finding on Joy's blog, brimming with sugar and glee and a desire to feed our childhood selves that wanted to dip cookies into frosting and smoosh marhsmallows onto everything. Only now, we know a bit about how to make that frosting and those cookies; Joy is a smart baker (self-taught!) with a deep understanding of the hows and the whys behind baking.
Like the best recipe writers, she also anticipates her reader's needs: "I try to write my recipes sort of like a coach," explains Joy, by "talking about different points in a recipe that might feel scary. The dough is going to be sticky, and that’s alright. The butter is going to melt a little bit, and that’s okay. This helps guide [people] along and will make the recipe feel less scary. I feel really comfortable in the kitchen, but some of these things used to intimidate me."
If you only wear neutrals and you buy only Dutch-style furniture and read only obscure Danish novels, or if you order egg white omelets when you go out to brunch, well, this might not be the book for you. (Or maybe you really need it!) The recipes in Homemade Decadence touch on the basics (Buttermilk Pie Crust, Basic Yellow Cake, Sour Cream Scones), then quickly reach for pans of browned butter and handfuls of sprinkles and glugs of bourbon.
While this williingness to add and embellish and pile high can feel like Pinterest-fueled stunt baking, Joy never lets novelty win out over technique or taste or quality or good writing. Her recipes maintain levity and enthusiasm and wonder and sprinkles while backing it all up with smart advice on frosting cakes, wrapping and shipping cookies, and tackling pie crust.
"I really wanted to push myself and think about the most decadent recipes that you would want to make at home," explains Joy. "It’s not all about spun sugar or the fanciest caramel, I just wanted to make a book that felt really approachable, but still helped you step into the kitchen and make something."
We all need a friend who keeps many more sprinkles and marshmallows and chocolate chip varieties on hand than we do. Baking should, at the end of the day, be fun. Homemade Decadence brings us back to that wide-eyed enthusiasm for cakes and cookies, of lacing rice krispie treats with buttered popcorn. It's just asking you to dust off your cake stand and start planning a party.
Makes about 50 cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
Frosting photos by James Ransom. Cover image and shortbread photo by Joy Wilson.
Note: We always link to Provisions for the sake of convenience, but we encourage you to patronize independent bookstores around you -- if only for the human interaction and that new-book smell.