Achieving celebrity with vintage cookbooks: TikTok star B. Dylan Hollis explores recipes from before he was born

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 08-08-2023 2:29 PM

A friend who enjoyed the Tomato Soup Cake I featured in this column a couple of weeks ago presented me with a book as a gift: the just published “Baking Yesteryear” by B. Dylan Hollis (DK, 256 pages, $32).

If you’re a social media fan, you may be familiar with Hollis. This 27-year-old Bermuda-born TikTok personality is an offbeat musician turned baker. In 2020, stuck at home like so many of us in the pandemic lockdown, he experimented by re-creating a 1910s recipe for Pork Cake.

Sort of a cross between mincemeat and fruitcake, this recipe features dried fruits, molasses, flour, and a whole lot of ground pork.

The video, which I watched for research, was more about Hollis than about the cake. Quick cuts revealed him combining the ingredients gaily and then surveying the final product. His lively humor made him an instant social media star.

In the three years since he tried Pork Cake, he has worked his way through numerous vintage recipe books. Some he owned to start with; others he received as gifts from fans of his videos.

The book includes 101 of his recipe finds dating from the 1910s to the 1980s.

I had heard of a lot of them, including Mock Apple Pie (with butter crackers standing in for the apples), Mayonnaise Cake, and Potato Chip Cookies. I’d even made a couple including the Tomato Soup Cake and ColorVision Cake, which is in one of my cookbooks. This ultra-sweet concoction uses flavored, colored gelatin to turn a mix into the brightest color cake imaginable. When I made it with raspberry gelatin, it came out a vibrant Barbie pink.

There were a number of recipes of which I had never heard, however. These included the Robert Redford, a concoction from the 1970s that was apparently as delicious as the move star in his prime, and Spaghetti-Os Jell-O Ring, which is as awful as it sounds, according to Hollis. He included it in a section of his book he dubbed “the worst of the worst.”

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“Baking Yesteryear” features eye-popping color photos of Hollis in his kitchen, with his culinary creations, and in and around his vintage Cadillac.

It offers a surprising number of recipes that will appeal, either because they sound delicious or because (like the Pork Cake and the Tomato Soup Cake) they sound just plain weird.

The author’s engaging personality comes across vividly in print, if in slightly less manic fashion than on video. It’s hard not to like him. Believe me, I tried.

When I opened the book and learned that this mere child and baking neophyte had almost immediately picked up millions of followers on YouTube and a book contract with a major publisher, I became more than a tad jealous. I’m not proud of the green-eyed monster within me, but I must acknowledge it. Hollis is funny – but so am I. He learns from his kitchen accidents. So do I. Yet I have a mere 102 followers on YouTube, many of whom don’t watch new videos when they come out.

And although I have been a cook and a food writer longer than Hollis has been alive, I’m still struggling to break even on my newest self-published book, while his debut tome was an immediate best seller.

Despite my jealousy, I see this young author as a kindred spirit. When he’s not in the kitchen, he’s making music. We share those dual passions.

Moreover, I am always drawn to people who refuse to take themselves and their work too seriously. I’m coming to think of him as a far-away nephew. I know I’ll make some of his baked goods in the near future.

If the book has a failing, it’s that although it situates each recipe in the decade in which it first appeared in print, it doesn’t go into detail about what one might call the provenance of each recipe. In what book did he find it? How does it exemplify the era in which it was first made?

Instead, the headnotes for every recipe tend to concentrate on B. Dylan Hollis’s reaction to making and eating it. I understand that his personality is the key to his social media celebrity, and I guess that his editors decided to concentrate on him. Nonetheless, I would have liked a little more context for the recipes as well.

That quibble aside, I highly recommend this book to read and even to cook from.

The recipe I chose to feature describes one of the many no-bake treats in the book. It is summer, after all, so it’s nice to avoid firing up the oven. And mints are always cooling. Enjoy B. Dylan Hollis and his Peppermint Patties.

Peppermint Patties

Ingredients:

for the patties:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 1/2 teaspoons peppermint extract (Hollis warns the reader not to add extra as peppermint extract is very strong)

5 to 6 cups confectioner’s sugar

for the chocolate dip:

4 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening or solid coconut oil (Do not use butter)

Instructions:

In a large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and the peppermint extract. Mix well.

Gradually mix in the confectioner’s sugar. As the dough becomes stiffer, switch to mixing with your (impeccably clean!) hands. Add enough of the sugar to make a cohesive, pliable dough that holds its shape well.

Place a large sheet of parchment paper on a work surface. Dust the sheet liberally with confectioner’s sugar, and roll the dough into a sheet that is 3/4-inch thick.

Using a small cookie cutter or the rim of a champagne flute, cut circles roughly 2 inches in diameter. Transfer the cut pieces onto a tray lined with parchment, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When you are almost ready to finish the patties, combine the chocolate and the shortening in a double boiler and melt them. Stir them until the mixture is uniform.

Using a fork, dip the cold peppermint disks into the chocolate to coat them.

Once you have dipped each disk, scrape the bottom of the fork with a knife to remove any excess chocolate. Place the dipped disks on parchment to set at room temperature.

Once all the disks are dipped and the chocolate has set, transfer the patties to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator. Makes about 4 dozen patties.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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