Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking is a labor of love, filled with recipes just as delicious as they sound.
“We all love croissants,” Cheryl Day, a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist and the co-owner of Savannah’s acclaimed Back in the Day Bakery says over the phone, “But a biscuit is a laminated buttery, flaky conception just as worthy of attention.”
Day, who has spent her life baking everything from decadent pies to honey buns galore, recently released a cookbook entitled Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking. Within a year of its publication, Day’s book has already been deemed the definitive tome of Southern baking by many, including Chef Sean Brock and Bon Appetit.
That’s because, besides the gorgeous recipes, it’s much more than just a cookbook. It’s closer to an oral history, recorded and put to paper.
To write the cookbook, Day didn’t just create and test recipes as usual. Instead, she dug through a physical recipe box that once belonged to her great-great grandmother, an enslaved pastry cook, who was famous for her biscuits and cakes.
She spent years on the floor of the library combing through frosting covered pages, and speaking with those in her community to piece together recipes that were scratched down as “receipts”—no measurements, just information about when to add buttermilk or tips on when to add more flour to your biscuits if your kitchen is too humid.
She began to notice that many of the recipes in “traditional cookbooks” were written by white women, but that Black women, like her great-great-grandmother, were the ones in the kitchen, doing the baking. “I was very fortunate that my mother left me a journal—it helped prove to me that it was Black women in the kitchen stirring the pot, making the biscuits. It was Black women making all of the food.”
“History is always told by the victors,” Day says, “the people who do all the work are erased. This book is an attempt to rectify that in some small way.”
Day’s goal is spelled out in the dedication of her book: To pay homage to all of the enslaved women who didn’t get credit for their recipes because they couldn’t read or write.
Whether that’s flaky biscuits, decadent pies, cookies, bars, buns, or the birthday cake you always wished for, the book doesn’t just give recipes, it teaches the reader how to become a better baker. Day shows the reader visually how to cream sugar and fold egg whites, but also describes things like how to adjust your baking based on temperature and humidity in your kitchen, little intuitive things that make a big difference but are rarely touched upon in the average baking text.
“There were times where I didn’t think it would ever end,” Day laughs, as she describes the lengthy process of putting together this tome. But it’s also the proudest she’s ever been of anything she’s created.
Baking, according to Day, requires hard work and doing the same thing over and over again until it’s perfect.
“If you want to make a really good biscuit or wild honey caramel bun, you’ve got to do it over and over again. That’s the secret,” Day laughs. “You have to bake to be a good baker.”
Her love of baking couldn’t be more clear in every page of this definitive book on the subject.