Book review: Dark Rye and Honey Cake

21 February 2023 by
Book review: Dark Rye and Honey Cake

Regula Ysewijn gives festival baking recipes from the heart of the Low Countries

Regula Ysewijn's Dark Rye and Honey Cake opens with a foreword from food historian Dr Annie Gray, befitting a book that offers not only pages of appetising recipes, but an insight into the cultural traditions and history of baking from the Low Countries.

The author writes as someone whose personal culinary path hasn't been paved by years of handwritten family recipes, instead looking to her travels and to the history of her homeland, Belgium, for inspiration.

The book is separated by festivals of the Low Countries – 12 days of Christmas; Candlemas, Carnival and Lent; Kermis and the festival of Saint Martin and Saint Nicholas – taking readers on a cultural journey through their culinary identities, accompanied by photos of locations in the Low Countries with historical descriptions peppering the pages.

Ysewijn says "baking really shows the heart of a food culture", which is conveyed in every page of Dark Rye and Honey Cake as the baker warmly offers a slice of her culture. Take, for example, the recipes for vlaai – a type of sweet pie containing either rice pudding, fruit or a mixture of buns or bread soaked in milk and spices. Ysewijn suggests a plethora of different flavours, from gooseberry to dried apricot, with practical advice on how to use vlaai tins.

The chapters deal with a host of baked goods: along with many recipes for waffles, including stroopwafels and a savoury sweet potato variety, there are breads including worstenbrood, a roll stuffed with sausage, pancakes, pretzels, spiced biscuits, gingerbread, apple beignets and boules de Berlin, plump doughnuts filled with custard. Ysewijn also delves into the artistic aspect of cooking from the Low Countries, exploring the tradition of using moulds (or koekplank) to create shapes out of dough, Dark Rye and Honey Cake brings a slice of the Low Countries to bakers looking to explore this fascinating history through timeless recipes which will add colour and personality to the offerings of restaurants and bakeries alike.

Dark Rye and Honey Cake by Regula Ysewijn (Murdoch books, £26)

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