The first time I met Rebecca Rather, an alarm bell went off in my head: If you become friends with this woman, it warned, you could end up weighing five hundred pounds.
That was nine years ago, and it’s a miracle that I’m not a sideshow attraction today. I’ve never visited Rebecca’s little Fredericksburg bakery, Rather Sweet, without being pressed for my opinion on a new muffin or tart recipe. And I have never left without a chocolate chip cookie for the road. In gratitude for this largesse, I—along with countless other fans—have relentlessly nagged her about writing a cookbook. And now she has done just that.
Perfectly timed for holiday cooking binges, The Pastry Queen: Royally Good Recipes From the Texas Hill Country’s Rather Sweet Bakery & Café (co-written with Alison Oresman and published by Ten Speed Press) gathers in one place all the recipes that have emerged from Rebecca’s kitchen during her twenty years as a pastry chef. There is a cake from the period in the eighties when she catered weddings out of her home in Houston. There is a fancy pie from the four years, from 1990 to 1994, she spent working for famously demanding Houston restaurateur Tony Vallone, owner of Tony’s and a cadre of other glossy dining establishments. There are scones and kolaches like those she created for Bread Alone in Austin and Houston. And, of course, there are fried pies and fruit bars from her own place, which she opened in Austin in 1999, before relocating to the Hill Country.
What I love most about these recipes is their pull-out-the-stops Texanness. Perhaps because Rebecca is a self-taught chef and a Texan herself—she grew up in Beaumont—she knows what we like. And what we like are dishes that are big and rich and extravagant, like the five presented here, leading off with an apple pie that’s boozy with Southern Comfort. The other thing I appreciate about her creations is that—while they’re not for dummies—they sound like things you would actually attempt for your friends and family. In fact, I feel sure that—fortified with enough of that Southern Comfort—I could pull them off myself.
Southern Comfort Apple Pie
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour, salt, and sugar on low speed for about 30 seconds. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Add butter to flour mixture and combine on low speed for 1 to