If you love southern cookies and sweets, you need this new cookbook
Cheryl Day South Bakery Treasure is a very special cookbook. The nearly 400-page hardcover book published by Artisan is simply but beautifully styled by Haylie Waring and photographed by southern photographer and full-fledged pastry chef Angie Mosier. The book is encyclopedic in its information, yet warm, friendly, and accessible, just as you would imagine Cheryl Day.
When you open the book and flip through it, it’s like looking at a dreamy southern kitchen that’s curated by a modern minimalist with a southern soul. I say this because I’ve never been to a southern kitchen that wasn’t crammed with tools, cookbooks, handwritten notes, flowers, pottery, glassware, etc. but, in my dreams, my southern cuisine looks like the photos in the book. Clean, uncluttered and focused on the food.
The book itself is like (reading) a conversation with a friend. Cheryl Day lives in Savannah, Georgia, where she and her husband Griff opened the famous Back in the Day bakery in 2002. Back in the Day Bakery is an old-fashioned bakery specializing in nostalgic baked goods such as cookies. from the south and cinnamon buns.
The recipes run the gamut from her personal family recipes like her grandmother’s famous Queen’s Icebox Rolls, and from old southern recipes like Cold-Oven Pound Cake to recipes that have gone viral like our mutual friend, Bill’s Atlantic Beach Pie. Smith; and the old Southern Hostess standby, crispy cheese crackers made from Rice Krispies. I grew up with many versions of these recipes and still make cheese crackers, but I call them cheese straws.
The fact that many recipes are familiar is a good thing, at least for bakers in the south. We want to see our favorites in any definitive southern baking book. If they weren’t there it might be a good cookbook, but it wouldn’t reflect our culture or look authentic. This cookbook ticks all the boxes. For me, this is an important collection of true southern pastry, old and new.
Any cook or baker worth their salt or sugar loves to DIY, and Cheryl has updated the recipes and added her own modern twist. I can’t wait to make the Raspberry Chess Pie Bars, a chess pie in the form of a bar [think lemon bars] but with all the flavor of your favorite chess pie. Next on my list are the Lemon Cilantro Scones, which get an update with the addition of the warm, oaky nut of Cilantro and Meyer lemons.
There are so many great recipes that I know I will be using this cookbook for many years to come. Because it covers cooking from A to Z, there is something for everyone, and different recipes will speak to different people.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book are the regional recipes which are often overlooked in modern cookbooks, but still made at home and passed down from generation to generation. People think everyone in the south eats the same food, but it’s actually quite different from region to region, even in the same state.
I was delighted to see a recipe for “Layered Chocolate Cupcake”, which is similar to the “18 Layer Chocolate Cake” that my friend Matt introduced to me a few years ago. Her mother’s family is from Lumberton, North Carolina, and it’s the unofficial town cake. I had never heard of it until he brought it up and we cooked it together – and I grew up 140 miles away. The 12-layer version of Cheryl is very similar, individually baked layers about an inch thick and glazed with a boiled chocolate frosting that is still hot when it drapes the cake.
Benne Seed Wafers are another old-fashioned regional recipe that is a staple in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, and popularized commercially by the Byrd Cookie Company of Savannah. Byrd’s Benne wafers were my grandma’s favorite cookie and the only candy she didn’t make on her own. When I saw Cheryl’s recipe for Benne Seed Wafers, I knew this had to be the first one I’d bake.
I made the recipe and my discipline came out the door. I licked the spatula – something I never do – and tasting the raw dough brought back memories of the toasted sesame seed cookies with butter and nuts that I would share with my grandmother.
If you like cookies that are sweet but not too sweet and slightly salty, this cookie is for you. It’s easy to prepare, stores and freezes well, and is both a great afternoon pick-me-up and surprisingly delicious paired with smelly cheese and your favorite drink.
In the cookbook, Cheryl says, “You can cook like a southerner no matter where you live…” and you certainly do if you buy her new cookbook.
Wafers with benné seeds *
These cookies will be a little chewy if you take them out when they are slightly brown or extra crisp if you bake them a little longer and the color is evenly brown. I like them both ways and suggest you do a trial batch to determine your preference once they are cool.
Makes about 36 large cookies
1 cup Benne seeds or white sesame seeds
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon of baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tbsp (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg at room temperature
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Place racks in the middle and bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 ° F.
Line baking sheet (s) with parchment paper.
Spread the sesame seeds in a single layer on one of the prepared baking sheets and bake for about five minutes or until fragrant and lightly golden. Let cool then transfer to a small bowl.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla together on medium speed until super light and fluffy; 3 to 5 min.
Reduce the speed to minimum and add the dry ingredients. Beat until just combined, about a minute. Add the toasted seeds and toss until just combined, about a minute.
Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and finish mixing by hand to make sure that no lumps of flour butter are lurking in the bottom of the bowl and the dough is well mixed.
[Depending on the size of the cookies that you want to make] use either a tablespoon to form the cookies or a teaspoon to form the cookies. Cheryl recommends using a tablespoon. I prefer the mini wafers to dump seeds and use a teaspoon. Baking time will vary depending on the size of your cookies and how dark you like them.
For the golden cookies, Cheryl’s recipe says bake 8-10 minutes for the larger size, but I had to bake them for about 14 minutes in my oven. The smaller, crispier, darker cookies took 10 minutes to bake in my oven. You should bake for 8 minutes and watch the cookies. Cook longer according to your personal taste, but watch carefully during the cooking time so that they do not burn.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month. Recipe adapted from Cheryl Day.
* Adapted from Cheryl Day South Bakery Treasure by Cheryl Day (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2021. Photographs by Angie Mosier