Nashville-based Anne Byrn has many talents.
A long-time food editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she honed her cooking skills at Anne Willan’s highly regarded Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris. Later, this prolific author wrote a best-selling series on how to turn ordinary store-bought cake mix into something fabulous, something grand. (See the “The Cake Mix Doctor” series.)
Though we worked in the same office for years at The AJC, I’m sorry to say I really didn’t know her well back then. It’s only through her recent cookbooks, including the splendid “American Cake” (Rodale, $29.99), that I’ve become acquainted with Byrn’s baking prowess. I can now say without prejudice that she’s one smart cookie.
Like many of our best food writers, she seems more interested in historical integrity than fashion. Where did our well-traveled, well-loved iconic baked goods come from? What are the origin stories? Journalist that she is, Byrn digs and sifts.
With each little bite she puts forth in “American Cookie,” about 100 recipes altogether, Byrn annotates ingredients and methods with history and anecdote.
Lady Bird Johnson’s Peanut Brittle. Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies. Emily Dickinson’s Rice Cakes. Her grandmother Dee’s Cheese Date Cookies, which the hard-working matriarch baked every Thanksgiving and I’m dying to try.
With recent books like Dorie Greenspan’s “Dorie’s Cookies,” America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Perfect Cookie,” and Stella Parks’ “Brave Tart,” all excellent, Byrn darn well knew she needed her own hook.
With her divinity, fudge, tea cakes, jumbles, pralines, fritters, funnel cakes, macaroons, drop cookies, jam bars, lemon squares, madeleines, shortbread, wafers and tassies, among many others, she delivers a very full jar. Tells a good story, too.
If you were an after-school, cookie-dunking kid like me, “American Cookie” will douse you with memories of sweet things past, and make you yearn for sweet things to come. Every cookie you’ve ever loved, plus many you’ve never heard of, are right here. Waiting to be baked and shared.
“American Cookie: The Snaps, Drops, Jumbles, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations” by Anne Byrn (Rodale, $24.99)
Anne Byrn will appear at the AJC Decatur Book Festival from noon to 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 2.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).