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Arts & Culture

From Stacks to Oven Racks

Libraries Event Inspires Book-Based Bake-Off

By Sala Levin ’10

Great Bookish Bake-Off

Photos by John T. Consoli

Chris Nakamura '19 takes a closer look at some cream puffs during yesterday's Great Bookish Bake Off at Hornbake Library. Participants tracked down recipes in books from the university's collections and presented their work to a panel of judges.

Almond mazurek, marshmallow teas, girdle cakes, a Victoria sandwich cake and an all-American apple pie—all these and more were under the tent at Hornbake Library for yesterday’s Great Bookish Bake-Off, where the ability to navigate library stacks met the persistence to nail the perfect bake.

Inspired by “The Great British Baking Show” (known in the United Kingdom as “The Great British Bake-Off”), the event tasked some 25 participants with tracking down a recipe in any book held in the university’s library collections, mastering it and presenting it to a panel of judges.

“I had been making bakes out of library cookbooks for a couple years now,” said Ben Shaw, graduate assistant for teaching and outreach in University Libraries, who created the event this year. “The library has such a large collection of historical cookbooks and weird cookbooks on the shelves, and I was trying to think of an event that would get people into the stacks to…realize we don’t just have scholarly materials.”

On the table along with the cream puffs and chocolate raspberry petit fours were prizes like Star Baker (best overall), Bookworm (“the person who found a recipe in the murkiest depths of the library collection”) and Judged by Its Cover (most aesthetically pleasing), awarded by three judges. A crowd of eager tasters voted on prizes “Crumbdinger” (best-tasting) and “Whisk Taker” (most unusual or ambitious).

Presenting a layer cake filled with chocolate ganache and strawberry cream, Mary Libcke—an administrative assistant in, of all departments, nutrition and food science—said she practiced the recipe from the 1896 “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” three times. “The recipes are really out there,” she said, noting that making the fickle sponge cake was new to her.

The tent—a nod to the billowing enclosure that’s a trademark of the show—was home to more than a few unusual treats. The almond mazurek—which won “Judged by its Cover”—was a traditional Polish pastry decorated with nuts and chocolate, while the marshmallow teas (a Depression-era sweet) featured unglamorous saltines topped with broiled marshmallow and maraschino cherries. The scone-like girdle cakes—the “Bookworm” winner—came from the 1918 “War Time Breads and Cakes,” and were jazzed up by homemade strawberry jam.

Star Baker went to STEM librarian Jodi Coalter’s Victoria sandwich cake, a picture-perfect confection of two sponge cakes layered with whipped cream and strawberries. Also picture-perfect: the gleeful faces of those lucky enough to eat it.

Take a look through the gallery below to see some of the entries.

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