Cultural food scholar and the voice behind Chocolate for Basil, Jerelle Guy, has released her debut cookbook entitled Black Girl Baking: Wholesome Recipes Inspired by a Soulful Upbringing. The recipes are a reflection of Guy’s childhood; from her Southern father and Chamorro (a culture from the western Pacific island of Guam) mother, to growing up in neighborhoods filled with a medley of Caribbean cultures in south Florida—they all contribute to the rich compilation of dishes featured in the book.
The recipes are broken down into sections according to the five senses: sight, aroma, sound, touch, and taste. Accordingly, sight features brightly colored baked goods, aroma includes all the heavenly spiced goods, sound is everything crunchy, touch represents texture-rich recipes, and taste consists of the iconic flavors that evoke memories childhood classics—like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that she remixed into Peanut Butter Jelly Bread.
You will also notice vegan (and gluten-free) recipes popup more than a few times in the cookbook. Guy started her veganism journey after being diagnosed as “obese” as a young teen. She made the to decision to take control of what she ate, and that decision has completely redefined her relationship with food. If you ask Guy, she says that a lot of her cooking and recipes stem from being intuitive in the kitchen, and listening to how she feels about the food she’s preparing. For example: She debates with herself whether or not a recipe needs eggs. Since baking typically utilizes eggs for binding or leavening, this can be a tough call for anyone wanting to create a vegan(ish) dessert, but not at the sacrifice of quality. This is when her intuition kicks in.
Though Guy no longer follows a strictly vegan diet, she maintains a balanced, healthful way of eating by sticking between vegan and vegetarian choices. Many of Guy’s eating habits and favorite ingredients are mirrored in her dynamic and creative recipes, like her Unicorn Ice Cream Sandwiches, Tofu Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Coconut Lemongrass Meringue with Gingerbread Crust.
In addition to developing the highly personal collection of recipes, Guy styled and photographed all of the food images featured in the cookbook. And, I have to say, the food photography is simply stunning. It’s one of the first things about the book that grabbed my attention. The imagery in the book gives a clear sense that Guy has developed a distinct voice through her photography. She was a visual artist before her before the birth of her blog, and she always found herself drawing and painting food. “Art is the primary style of self expression and that’s the one thing I am pretty confident in. I bring that into my food space. I’ve always had a dark style and mood in my art,” Guy says. “I didn’t want [my photos] to be fluffy. I wanted to get straight to the point. This cookbook is about food.” It’s a point she delivers well. While her photos are minimally propped, the food shines vibrantly within the dark backdrops, making you want to drop the book and get baking immediately.
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Along with the gorgeous food, you’ll notice dark-skinned hands holding and modeling the food—which isn’t typically a prevalent element in popular food photography. Guy’s intent for this baking cookbook was to showcase the beauty of African-American foodways. She was inspired by the community created around the #blackgirlmagic social media movement and used it to empower her creativity, as well as inspire the name of her book. “Everything that you cook tells you where you have been. Food communicates that,” she says. And with this first cookbook, Guy shares what seems to be a beautiful (and delicious) whirlwind of an ongoing journey.