Holiday Baking with Greg Patent

Baking, Christmas, Featured Article, Holidays, Recipes
on December 13, 2011
Greg Patent
Kelly Goham

He found them in cabs, elevators, through friends of acquaintances and by word of mouth. He traveled all over America and even to China and Portugal.

Greg Patent was looking for bakers, but not just any bakers. He wanted to find home cooks preparing recipes that reflect and preserve their heritage—dishes such as Strufoli from Italy, Crumpets from South Africa and Pumpkin Empanadas from Mexico. When he found them, he baked with them.

Baking is in the blood of this award-winning cookbook author. At the age of 19, Patent was one of the first males ever to win the Pillsbury Bake-off with his Apricot Dessert Bars. In 2002, he won the prestigious James Beard award for his book, Baking in America, in which he painstakingly traced the origins and evolution of classic baked goods such as Boston Cream Pie and Parker House Rolls. In his latest book, A Baker’s Odyssey, he turned his attention to America’s immigrants and the recipes handed down through the ages. His odyssey lasted three years and took him to the home kitchens of more than five dozen cooks.

One baker was Cindy Klotz, who learned to bake Rugalach by her Russian grandmother’s side. Another was Betty Groff, a 10th-generation Pennsylvania Dutch descendant, restaurateur and cookbook author. The child of a Russian father and an Iraqi mother, Patent moved with his family from Shanghai, where his parents met and married, to San Francisco in 1950. An immigrant himself, he shares his own favorite recipes he learned from his mother and grandmothers. Counting his own ethnic background, Patent uncovers the baking secrets of more than 30 cultures—from Austria, Norway and Italy to Mexico, India and Nigeria and presents the best of each culture’s baking heritage—perfect for the holiday baking season.

—Candace Floyd, Relish Managing Editor