Book Club Tuesday: The Little Island Bake Shop

When I was a kid my mom’s signature cookie was peanut butter. I can see her now standing at the kitchen counter, right beside our old avocado-coloured range, rolling the cookie dough into balls then carefully impressing the back of the fork into the tender dough forming a crosshatch pattern. Baking lends itself well to making memories, memories which last a lifetime. As I’ve gotten older, the kinds of baking recipes I desire to make are the ones that taste like my childhood because I’m building these food memories into my daughter’s childhood. Baking is always something special, the little extra, a task that I love to share with my daughter. For as much as she loves to eat cookies, cakes, and other sweet-baked delights, she loves to share in the job of making them. I think this is where Jana Roerick’s The Little Island Bake Shop cookbook comes in — full of recipes that taste like childhood and offer a useful way for a single baker (or many, as in our case) to create simple, yet classic, baked goods.

As we’ve baked through The Little Island Bake Shop, what I’ve found is that the recipes are easy to make with great results. The short tagline on the cover reads: Heirloom Recipes Made for Sharing and this is exactly what the book delivers. Each recipe we’ve tried yields generous amounts which are perfect for sharing. Using a regular-sized ice cream scoop to transfer the dough (cookie or scone) to the baking sheet I could quickly see that the final product would be large cookies and scones. My daughter and I really enjoyed making the Crispy Coconut-Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies together and while we baked a few we used Roerick’s tip to portion and freeze the dough. By freezing the dough (in the case of cookies or pie crust) or the baked good (take the scones, for example) you have the freedom to enjoy a special treat whenever the desire hits. Now that there is frozen cookie dough it’s easy to bake up several for company or just because it’s a cozy Saturday afternoon in.

Crispy Coconut-Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies, p. 51

When my parents were visiting from “out West” I was happy to serve Roerick’s Apple, Cheddar, and Thyme Scones alongside warming bowls of tomato soup. As a scone devotee, these differ from the type I usually make with the addition of eggs and, what I found was that these scones were deliciously richer than the non-egg variety. Here, as with most of her recipes, Roerick provides easy instructions on how to freeze the extra so that they can be reheated and enjoyed later (so if your time to bake is on the weekend then you’ll have treats ready-to-go throughout the week).

The book is organized into eight chapters: Basic Recipes, Cookies, Slices + Squares, Muffins, Loaves, + Breakfast Bakes, Pies + Tarts, Cakes, Savouries, and, Pickles + Preserves. Throughout the introduction she describes her journey in the early years from “a bike, a bell, and a cart full of home baking,” to learning to be a pastry chef at Toronto’s George Brown College, building on her skills as she moved from Toronto, to Tobago, and finally settling on Salt Spring Island and opening Jana’s Bake Shop. Roerick also takes time to briefly outline essential equipment and provide helpful baking tips. I feel like anyone could pick up this book and begin to bake regardless of their level of baking ability.

Much of what is best about The Little Island Bake Shop cookbook has nothing to do with the recipes but everything to do with Roerick’s inspiration — her family and the places she’s lived throughout her life. I found the connections between her recipes and loved ones quite poignant at times. The first recipe I tried was the Sunday Buttermilk Pancakes, a recipe that Roerick’s late father would make when she was a little girl.  And, if you could do me a favour, don’t tell the other pancake recipes out there that this one is my favourite! Is it possible that a thick pancake could be so light and fluffy? Maybe it’s the combo of eggs and buttermilk but the texture and flavour are something special. Since I first tried this recipe, I’ve made it another 3 times. I freeze the leftovers for my daughter to enjoy on weekday mornings — she’s a pancake-lover and these totally deliver.

Sunday Buttermilk Pancakes, p. 78

My mom is a person who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but she found herself falling in love with the recipes I made — her favourites? The Simply Granola and the Multiseed Spelt Bread — full of flavour yet wholesome. I think my mom really appreciated the fact that the granola wasn’t too sweet. In the afternoons she’d make yogurt, fruit, and granola parfait for my daughter and her. And, each morning she’d carefully toast a slice of the bread to enjoy with her coffee. What I appreciate is that the book offers indulgences for everyday and special occasions.

Simply Granola, p. 77

Reading over the introduction I came to learn that Jana’s Bake Shop, located on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, is famous for its pies! This fact got me excited because last week was Pi(e) Day (March 14th) and every year I bake a different pie. This year’s pie? The Chocolate Cream Pie using Roerick’s recipe for Pie Pastry Dough. Here is another case where a recipe has a family connection as it is one that was passed down from Roerick’s mother. I think this is the first year that I actually made a traditional pie crust. In the previous years I conveniently chose recipes with crumb crusts that you press into the pan because I was too intimidated by the though of trying to make a pastry crust. The Pie Pastry Dough recipe was simple to make and resulted in a gorgeously flaky crust. Interesting to note here: this recipe uses vegetable shortening instead of butter which, as Roerick explains, is easier to handle and holds its shape better when it’s baking. As a novice baker, I appreciate that she takes the time to explain the background of baking — such as the differences between using butter or shortening when making pastry crust for example.

Chocolate Cream Pie, p. 129; Pie Pastry Dough, p. 18

Another recipe that I appreciate having on hand are the BarBars — a recipe for energy bars, dedicated to Roerick’s mother. Full of good-for-you ingredients such as: seeds, peanut butter, dried cranberries, and rolled oats, sweetened with honey and chocolate chips for a bonus. Whether we’ve been out for a long walk or my daughter’s been to the playground these bars offer a wonderful, homemade alternative to the store-bought variety. They are the perfect little snack to have in your backpack when you just need a boost.

The distance between my small, home kitchen here in Halifax, Nova Scotia and that “Little Island Bake Shop” (that is so beautifully rendered through the book’s recipes and beautiful photos) isn’t so far. Cookbooks, like The Little Island Bake Shop, offer a tangible way for anyone to enjoy what Jana’s Bake Shop offers without buying a plane ticket. These classic, nostalgia-infused recipes are ones that I’ll continue to make, again and again, to share with my family and friends. Want to see what I’ve been baking? Checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #littleislandbakeshopiseatworthy or my dedicated Facebook post. As I try more recipes I’ll add to these.

BarBars, p. 59

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Figure 1 Publishing for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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