the flawed apple crisp from the kinfolk cookbook

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It’s rare that a cookbook would evoke such vitriol, but after I received the Kinfolk Cookbook: Gatherings You’ll Likely Never to be Invited to, I paged through the book and found myself livid. While I’m saving my rage rampage for a review on Medium (as I’ve still a few more recipes to test), I will say this: their representation of Brooklyn — the place where I was born and raised, and fell in love with the vibrancy and passion with which we made our food, even if we bought our dishes with food stamps and waitressing tips — is austere, whitewashed and affluent, devoid of flavor, color and texture. And after thumbing through 300 some-odd pages, it occurred to me that the cookbook is a variation on a singular theme: the creation of a life lived in an Anthropologie catalog. It’s the reason why we get lost in blogs. We want our linens and bowls and kitchens with reclaimed wood — Kinfolk is a very specific America, rife with denizens who are preened to disheveled perfection.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.36.06 PMThey drive miles for mussels and set a formidable table in their outdoor barns. Theirs is a life of cultivated beauty that carries its own disquiet, giving the illusion of simplicity when it’s nothing more than understated affluence and luxury. The kind of gatherings where meals are photographed with a thousand-dollar camera, everyone has clean skin, shiny hair, and ebullient optimism. The portraits tell you everything and nothing at once, and there is no real visceral connection between image and type, rather it’s the story of people who project the lives you wish you could live, and the recipes are merely an antecedent to that lovely fiction, down to the stalks of grass in their hands and wisteria in their hair. If we’re to believe, as the founders of Kinfolk tell us, that this book is the celebration of gatherings, where is that passion in the crafting of the recipes and how the instructions are delivered? Because they’re cold, formulaic, sometimes off — hardly connecting the meal to the person to the story to the gathering celebrating it all. What is it then we’re celebrating? A life lived in organic sepia? A life through the lens of those who photograph it?

I’ve seen more passion in 2chainz’s cookbook than in this pristine whitewash of an affair.

And while you could argue that perhaps I’m not the audience for Kinfolk, I’m the audience for food, and after testing three recipes, the book has some demonstrable flaws.

I made this crisp {twice!}, to the letter, and both times the crisp failed. Please know that I’ve been making pies and crisps and crumbles for the better part of a decade, and the recipe is flawed in the sense of flavor balance, texture and technique. The juice of two lemons + tart apples + 1/4 cup of sugar yielded a nearly astringent lemon flavor that overpowered the apples + the cinnamon. The topping was entirely too sweet, sickeningly so, for the amount of flour in the recipe, so on the third go, I’ve made some significant alterations to the final recipe. Additionally, covering the crisp with parchment and wax only added to the cooking time and didn’t do anything in terms of the final product. I could have easily gone without (as I’ve done for 16 years) and have enjoyed a simple crisp. However, since the crisp was tented, I had to increase the cooking time to achieve a brown crust, which inevitably yielded apples the consistency of applesauce.

In short, there is absolutely no reason why I needed to tent my crisp. There is no justice in following the original printed recipe to the letter.

All of this begs the question: were the recipes in this cookbook tested in a real kitchen so we, as consumers, can be certain that the chemistry is on point? Was the cookbook proofed, for I found a lot of errors in the recipes, and I’m only three dishes in. Insert image of a side-eye.

Trust me, more to come on Medium.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Kinfolk: Recipes for Small Gatherings, with
significant
alterations

For the topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp quick cooking oats (you can also use rolled oats)
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the pie
4 tbsp of unsalted butter, cold and diced
2 1/2 lbs of mixed apples (tart + sweet. I love empire, granny smith and golden delicious), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
For the topping: Combine the flour, sugars, oats and allspice in a medium bowl and mix until combined. Add the butter and mix with your hands until your have the consistency of fat peas. Set aside.

For the pie: Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Grease an 8-inch baking dish with 2 tbsp of butter. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice + zest to prevent oxidation (or the apples turning brown). Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl, then add this to the apples until they’re evenly coated. Transfer the apples to the prepared dish, and distribute the crumbly topping evenly. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of butter to the top of the crumble.

Add the pie on a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper, and bake the crisp for 50-60 minutes, until the topping is brown, and the juices bubble up.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes on a rack, and serve!

Image credit: Kinfolk Magazine {second image}

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26 thoughts on “the flawed apple crisp from the kinfolk cookbook

  1. Oh that’s a shame to hear. It seemed so promising! But you wrote a very convincing picture of what the book is like–I can totally envision it in my head right now. I’m curious to peruse it the next time I’m at a bookstore.

    Have you tried any of Sarah Britton’s recipes? She’s never steered me wrong and I’d be really surprised if her recipes in the book weren’t up to par.

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    1. I adore Sarah Britton — her photography and recipes are so lush and delicious. You’re reminding me that I have to return to her, as the goods match the package. And while I think a lot of the recipes are really quite good, a fair amount of them are flawed. And more so, I felt the book was cold and austere. I didn’t feel as if I could connect to the book unless I was “just like them.”

      On Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 5:30 PM, love.life.e

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  2. I’ve steered away from buying Kinfolk because they’re so damn expensive in Canada and I couldn’t see myself getting much use from it. I scan them at the bookstore and leave. It just seems like the lovechild of Anthropologoop. I’m reserving (my own) judgement of the book until I borrow it from the library, but you have painted pretty much what I would expect from a book from them. I’ll wait to read more about this from you. Thanks for telling it like it is. xo.

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  3. There it is! After perusing the net for photos of the inside of the book itself- I can see where the term ‘smug’ came from. Sad to hear there was such lack of passion when they built their recipes. The joy of a great cookbook is the connection between the beautiful photos on the page and the effort you put in to have it turn out equally splendid. To take what’s on the page and recreate it in your own home, and have that sense of accomplishment. A craving fulfilled.

    It’s truly unfortunate that not all of us take as much pride in this- the food itself, the actual purpose of a ‘cookbook’.

    Guess I won’t be spending my hard earned cash on this one.
    Thanks Felicia!

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    1. Couldn’t agree more, Ashley. I bought this book because while I had started to find the magazine grating, I thought I’d find some great recipes. I did, however, I didn’t expect the litany of proofing and technique errors. {sigh}

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  4. I’ve never bought Kinfolk, in part because it looked like a lifestyle I could never afford (nor, if I’m honest, especially aspire to), so thoroughly appreciate what you mean when you say “it’s nothing more than understated affluence and luxury.” However, it is a shame to hear that the recipes are off. Maybe there’s a gem in there somewhere? I once read that a cookbook is worth it if it gives you three recipes you take with you and make over and over. Fingers crossed?

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    1. Emily,

      You raise a really exceptional point, which I should call out when I review the book. There are absolutely some great recipes in this book, no doubt. Otherwise, I would have returned the book to Amazon. My concern is two-fold: the smugness of the lifestyle + the actual errors that exist in a lot of the recipes.

      For example, I made a rosemary + garlic bread last night, which was EXCEPTIONAL. At one point in the instructions, you’re given varying instructions on timing to knead the dough if you’re doing it by hand vs. a stand mixer.

      The next paragraph, you’re asked to knead a bit more without clear instruction on kneading by hand vs. mixer. If we follow the grammar, it’s by mixer, but is it? I wasn’t even certain. So, you don’t really have a sense to which technique this time applies. Luckily, I’ve made bread enough times to know when dough is ready, however, there is just rampant sloppiness in the creation of the recipes and proofing of them.

      Hope this helps.

      Warmly, f.

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  5. I really feel a quiet sort of despair over the substance and quality of this publication and its like relative to their Instagrammy popularity. Not quite buying the aesethetic is one thing (which I share with you), but it’s that that aesthetic is such a thin veneer masquerading as authenticity that saddens me.

    I co-wrote a post a long time ago that caused a minor kerfuffle with the Kinfolkers, but did elicit a response from Nathan. If you’re interested http://seenandsaid.blogspot.ca/2012/08/the-craft-of-writing-and-our-community.html

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    1. Jane,

      It’s funny. I first came to Kinfolk as a reprieve from my agency job + life. I’d page through each issue, and much like the stylized editorials in fashion magazines, I fell in love with the life they projected. A life without messy kitchens, endless emails and phone calls that are required to actually pay off student loans and bills — a life filled with endless days in the garden and evenings eating roast chicken in front of a billowing fire. I’m getting poetic on you because that’s what I bought into. And, as a writer, blogger + foodie, I started to actually READ the publication after I quit my job, and felt a severe disconnect.

      And as I started to see the same circle of bloggers, stylists and web notables play musical chairs amongst these publications, something felt amiss.

      And much like your very phenomenal and astute piece, I believe in the power of online submission, because, guess what, I used to publish a critically acclaimed literary magazine, and while I commissioned pieces from known writers or those whom I admired, I kept the gates open and published only the best that I could find because my readers were paying for it.

      The last few issues of Kinfolk have me thinking that I’m paying to see pretty photos. I’m paying for access, albeit briefly, to a very privileged and unrealistic representation of a life. That is what started to grate at me.

      Aside from the very rude customer service experience I had via email when I attempted to locate the status of an issue that was currently on newsstands, I still clung to the idea of Kinfolk and purchased the cookbook with interest.

      Then I got the cookbook and realized that this isn’t a celebration of food and gathering and the magic the two tend to ignite, this was a write-up of very “cool” people across the country. The stories were about the people, not the food, which is okay if that was the intention. The food felt much like an afterthought, with no absolutely thematic connection to the people who shared the recipes. More troubling was the editorial decision to segment the book by “place,” as the Kinfolk Brooklyn is a very whitewashed representation of the increasing gentrification of a place I call my home. Where is the Russian food? Where is the Caribbean food? Dominican, Italian, Polish, etc. When you say the word Brooklyn, this is what I think of. Not pretty dishes made by transplants to the more known and affluent areas of Brooklyn (Park Slope, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Cobble Hill, etc) who noticeably have a very similar look, aesthetic, and gastronomic point of view.

      And then there are the recipes, which are rife with missing instructions and errors in ingredients and technique. If I’m not an expert baker or chemist and I can recognize the issues, there is a real problem with the book.

      However, if one is a seasoned baker + likes pretty pictures and escapism, I guess this book will work.

      Warmly, f.

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      1. This post, and the comments it elicited, are such a breath of fresh air. I too fell in love with the Kinfolk aesthetic. The beautiful life they project in living color, which you so aptly compared to an Anthropologie catalog. However, like you, I felt such a disconnect when I actually read the material they were producing. While I find the whole production visually and stylistically appealing, it often feels like the Kinfolk version of simplicity is utterly contrived. The recipes and words reek of privilege. Simple is suddenly synonymous with expensive.

        Your comment about the tenting in the recipe made me laugh. As per usual it seems that Kinfolk is simply being overly complicated for the sake of being pretentious. Because my coffee absolutely MUST be made in the most arduous and time consuming manner possible, and my melon can only ever be enjoyed outside “in the sunshine” (which is ironic, considering Kinfolk is based in Portland).

        I’m so glad to have read this before even considering purchasing the book–I imagine it will make a great 5 minute read while at the bookstore, and nothing more. Props.

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      2. Gwyneth,

        Ah, yes, I forgot about the melon being savored outside while we bask in the morning light. Or how the notion of simplicity is actually something that needs to be carefully configured and executed — this is the inherent duplicity in the Kinfolk brand, something to which I openly sneer.

        It’s also interesting to see all the “planted” Amazon reviews that use similar language. I guess where Kinfolk excels in aesthetics they fail in content and brand marketing.

        Thank you so much for stopping by + lending your voice to a growing number of folks who crave authenticity without a price tag, online.

        Warmly, Felicia

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  6. Hello,
    I’m a fan of kinfolk magazine-just online-and when I heard about the cookbook I was curious, good photos and recipes, gathering…
    But really, just from the cover you can sense that ascetic atmosphere…the world is more colorful..as more rich…
    Love the review, very well written.

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  7. I picked up an older copy of Kinfolk on sale at Williams-Sonoma a few months ago, and while it’s all very pretty, it definitely left me feeling cold. For all of their claims of understatement and unfussiness, everything in the issue I read felt so deliberate and studied and very much within a certain aesthetic that I know isn’t for me in the slightest.

    Thanks for providing this review–and I’m so glad I found your blog! Definitely adding you to my reader.

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  8. Hi Felicia — I was led to this lovely blog after reading your review of the Kinfolk book on Amazon…I wanted to run over and hug you. My sister-in-law (who lives in Portland, land of kin-like folk) bought the book for her husband as a gift. I picked it up and browsed for a few minutes, wondering if I should add it to my own collection. I’m guilty of lingering over issues of the magazine, with mixed feelings of artful aspiration as well as the urge to stomp on some reclaimed wood floors in frustration. I’m always wondering, “who are these people?!” I appreciate your frank and refreshing perspective. New fan here!

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    1. Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words. I really wanted to love Kinfolk, but it failed me on so many levels. I will say that Nathan and I exchanged some emails and he really appeared to care about the level of constructive criticism I’ve had for the magazine/cookbook. However, I picked up an issue recently and saw that nothing had changed from a writing POV. I think at the end of the day, they have their audience who rabidly buys up anything they put out and they don’t much care about changing that. Sadly.

      Anyway, thanks for dropping by + so glad to meet you :) – Felicia

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  9. You put words to what I had only felt inside about Kinfolk. Thank you, I feel much better now that you’ve named my feelings!

    Thank you for what you do on your blog! I love it.

    Like

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