Cookbook review: 'Heartland'

'Heartland: The Cookbook' by Judith Fertig captures the comforts of the American Midwest through rich recipes and stories.

Lane Brown
Soft and warm cider-glazed cinnamon rolls from 'Heartland: The Cookbook' by Judith Fertig.
'Heartland: The Cookbook' by Judith Fertig ($35, Andrews McNeel, 2011)

As the weather gets colder, I turn to comfort food. The term “comfort” includes a lot of sensations – soups that warm my hands as I hold the bowl, beef roasts that remind me of school night meals as a kid, and tasty desserts served fresh from the oven.

Judith Fertig’s latest cookbook “Heartland – The Cookbook” (Andrews McNeel, 2011) captures all of these comforts through her rich recipes and stories of the farmers, markets, cities and towns that produce great food across the middle of America.

While the comfort food recipes were the first to jump out at me, make no mistake; this is definitely a four-season cookbook. Ms. Fertig builds dishes from farm to table, highlighting harvests and peak seasons for ingredients. She also pays special attention preserving seasonal foods, sharing recipes for pickles, chutneys, and more that will please modern homesteaders and slow food fans alike.

I was raised in Michigan, granddaughter of hearty pioneer stock from Swanton, Ohio, where the family farm still stands today. Dishes in the book bring to mind holiday celebrations, family meals together, and childhood road trips around the Midwest.

Fertig pays special attention to regional delicacies and the cultural traditions that have spurred generations to prepare meals the same way as their ancestors.  I appreciated seeing sophisticated twists that freshened the approach to dishes as familiar as chicken breasts and creamed corn.

In addition to her menu, Fertig builds a Midwest food narrative using quotes, interviews, and short essays throughout the book to deliver a rich food biography of the region. Fertig profiles farmers, fruit stand owners, and food purveyors who are shaping the modern food scene. Smokehouses, dairies, and heritage farms are listed alongside bakeries, potato chip purveyors, and craft breweries amid the recipes and in an extensive resource index.

The book is also beautifully illustrated with photos of sweeping landscapes, portraits, places, and animals that make the Midwest great. Lovely food photography in the kitchen is provided by Jonathan Chester and Ben Pieper.

One dough, six different recipes

Fertig’s no-knead doughs are fantastic, serving as the pantry staple for multiple recipes in the book. The No-knead Clover Honey Dough is an anchor for six other breads, including the Cider-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls that I made (see recipe next page).

Recipes are well laid out on the page and descriptive, although probably worth an extra read for less-experienced cooks. The instructions are easy to follow but feature few in-process photos. Recipes also assume that basic supplies and skills are already in-hand. While most experienced cooks will appreciate Fertig’s tone, one might think twice before giving this to a novice cook.

On that note, the book is more than a collection of recipes, but also a joy to sit and read – at home on a coffee table as a regional interest guide as it is on the kitchen counter.

(see recipes next page)

No-Knead Clover Honey Dough

6-1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons instant or bread machine yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons fine kosher salt
1 cup clover honey or other amber honey
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
Warm water (about 100 degrees F.)

Spoon the flour into a measuring cup, level with a knife or your finger, then dump the flour into a 16-cup mixing bowl

Add the yeast and salt to the flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon or a Danish dough whisk. Mix the honey, oil, and eggs together in a 4-cup measuring cup.

Add enough warm water to reach the 4-cup mark and stir together. Pour the honey mixture into the flour mixture, stir to combine, then beat for 40 strokes, scraping the bottom and the sides of the bowl, until the dough forms a lumpy, sticky mass.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature (72 degrees Fahrenheit) for 2 hours, or until the dough has risen to about 2 inches below the rim of the bowl and has a spongelike appearance.

Use that day or place the dough, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to three days before baking. If you like, write the date on the plastic wrap so you know the bake-by-date for your dough.

Cider-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

1 batch No-Knead Clover Honey Dough

Cinnamon Filling:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

To form the rolls, divide the dough in half with a serrated knife and a dough scraper. The remaining dough in the bowl with deflate somewhat. Transfer each dough portion to a floured surface and dust very lightly with flour. Flour your hands. Working the dough as little as possible and adding flour as necessary, roll each portion into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a ½-inch perimeter. Starting with the short end, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch cylinder with your hands. If the dough begins to stick to the surface, use the dough scraper to push the flour under the dough and scrape it up. With the dough scraper, slice each cylinder into 1 inch pieces.

Place the rolls, filling side up, in the prepared baking pan so that they are touching. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake for 25 minutes to 27 minutes, or until browned and instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the rolls registers at least 190 degrees Fahrenheit.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

For the glaze, whisk the sugar and cider together in a small bowl. Drizzle or spoon the glaze over the rolls when they are cool.

– Lane Brown works for Monitor publishing.

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