Read this cookbook: “Marbled, Swirled, and Layered: 150 Recipes and Variations for Artful Bars, Cookies, Pies, Cakes, and More” by Irvin Lin (Houghton Miflin Harcourt, $30)
By Wendell Brock
I confess: When I heard about this book, I saw lots of pedestrian Bundt cakes cakes with swirly patterns in the middle.
Boy, was I wrong.
Irvin Lin, a San Francisco-based blogger, photographer and former graphic designer, is a rigorous, self-taught baker who has clearly spent many years perfecting his craft.
This you can discern from his essays on how he approaches baking and how he chooses ingredients, commentaries that are plenty smart and personal without being geeky and scientific.
And much of the layering, swirling and marbling he describes herein comes from smashing flavors of dough together for a double-whammy effect.
Take the Jumbo Arnold Palmer Cookies. They feature a lemonade side, an iced-tea side, and an optional glaze evocative of lemony sweet tea. Now that is brilliant.
Lin also constructs sandwich cookies, bars and brownies that stack color and flavor into clever, beautifully designed compositions. And we haven’t even gotten to the cakes, pies, cobblers, cheesecakes and breakfast-y sweets that he conjures with such playfulness and panache.
Lots of baking books contain recipes for classic layer cakes like carrot and chocolate. Been there, done that.
Lin, for his part, twists (or deconstructs) the standards. His play on a carrot cake places a parsnip layer in the middle, and adds honey to the cream-cheese frosting. His Lane Cake breaks down the traditional custard filling into three component parts: dried fruit, coconut and pecan. (My Southern grandmother would surely get a kick out of this.)
Lin also has a penchant for using powdered ingredients (malt, matcha, freeze-dried strawberries) in ways you might never think of. He makes sweet potato bars with purple spuds. He even roasts white chocolate to make brownies.
I only spy one: his mother’s Classic Vanilla and Chocolate Marbled Bundt Cake. (His trick is a chocolate syrup of coffee, cocoa powder and a smidgen of honey.) I can live with this.
What I can’t live without are Lin’s Smoky Butterscotch and Vanilla Cake; his Honey-Lavender Cheesecake Bars, or those Arnold Palmer hole-in-twos.
I’d better get to baking, then, and when you get your hands on this book, you’ll want to do the same.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and the winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).