from the kitchen

Reading a book begins and ends with eating a piece of cake at the Onondaga Free Library

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

Pastries offered another way to learn about the French Resistance against Nazi Occupation in World War II at the Onondaga Free Library’s book club Sunday.

An unusual setting sat alongside the books at Onondaga Free Library on Sunday, in the form of a long table lined with rows of brown and white truffles, glazed apple tarts and mushroom-shaped meringue. Little handwritten notes with the names of the dessert and “Enjoy!” written on them adorned the dessert trays.

The pastries acted as one additional way to learn about the French Resistance against Nazi Occupation in World War II at the Onondaga Free Library’s book club, or as Friends of Onondaga Free Library volunteers Sue Parry and Jeanette Nels called it, “a companion piece to the book.”

This bake-off marks the second time the library added a companion piece to learn about a book. This year, the dessert bake-off was based on the book “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, which discusses the French resistance during World War II.

“We wanted to find a unique program to do with the books and that’s why we did the bake-off,” said Alyssa Newton, assistant director at the library. “It was so popular and people wanted another one that we had to pick one for this year.”

Newton found out Anthony Doerr was speaking for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series at Syracuse University earlier, and so she thought of doing French pastries as a finish to the book club’s reading.

The bake-off was open to the public, and both a panel of three judges as well as community voices came in for a tasting. After sampling all the pastries, the community members and the judge panel voted for their favorite pastry.

“I think it’s amazing to see how many community members come out to a baking event like this, it’s all about new faces,” Newton said. “I hope it does bring new people to the club.”

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Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

Last year, the theme centered around Southern desserts based off the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” which was introduced to the library by CNY Reads, a county-wide mission to get everyone to read one book. The mission invited new people to the book club in hopes they would eventually start frequenting the library more.

Newton said the participants were up from seven last year to 10 this year, which was a win for the library’s goal of reaching more people.

The lineup of pastries this year included fresh fruit tart, baked pear almond tart, pecan pralines, butterscotch red velvet truffles and mint chocolate truffles and French apple tart.

Susan Morgan, the director of the Onondaga Free Library, said the desserts were judged on two criteria: appearance and taste, both ranked from one to five.

The fresh fruit tart bagged the Judges’ Choice prize and the French apple tart won the hearts of the community residents who came by for the tasting.

“It’s just simple,” Betty Clovis, the maker of the French apple tart, said. “Everybody said it was simple and succulent.”

The fresh fruit tart that unanimously won the Judges’ Choice Award melted with vanilla bean cream and was topped with berries. Vincent, the member who prepared the dessert, was going for a seasonal spin on her pastry.

“I think it’s the fresh fruit — it’s spring and that vanilla pastry cream has actual vanilla bean,” she said. “I think the fresh fruit pushed it over, because people are ready for spring.”

Vincent, a newcomer to the Syracuse area and a professor in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, said the library was great at bringing together people with such events. She often visits the library for children’s story time events, books, and CDs and this unique bake-off visit added to her enjoyable experience at the library.

The winners of the best desserts of the afternoon took home a $25 gift certificate to The Sweet Praxis, a downtown bakery that serves up eccentric versions of classic baked goods.

Events like the book club’s bake-off are small steps toward getting more readers into the library. The library strives toward greater literacy and learning in the community, so welcoming new members into the book club is the cherry on top of a warm afternoon with sweet pastries.

As the guests and community members swept more of their favorite desserts into plastic bags to take home, two more people exchanged contact information about recipes used for the pastries.

Many, like Vincent and Grace Drogalis, a teenager who prepared truffles, are planning to come back next year. Morgan said a different theme is in the works: hors d’oeuvres or perhaps a switch away from desserts.

The goal of the library reaches beyond indulging a sweet tooth, however, Morgan said.

“We know that food gets people in the door,” Morgan said. “If you have food they will come. But really, it’s about community and a gathering spot on Onondaga Hill, anytime we can have a community event where we can see people who may not use the library on a daily basis.”

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