Wednesday, 9 November 2011

What's your favourite baking book?

Baking Book Review

I heart chocolate, there I said it, I heart chocolate – I just said it again.  I’m a total chocoholic.  Not necessarily the 70% Venezuelan variety, but the ordinary Cadbury or Nestle bar of chocolate.  But more than that, I’m the type of chocoholic that buys silly amounts of chocolate when it’s on offer in Tesco.  So, I’ll go to the supermarket for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread and come home with 4 multi-packs of Cadburys Twirl that are on offer at half price and realise when I get home that I’ve forgotten the milk and bread.  It’s odd because I don’t immediately gorge myself on the chocolate I’ve just bought.  I’m happy to stash it away for a rainy day and I think part of my “illness” is knowing that I have enough chocolate to last me through any extended spell of rationing.  Just now I’ve got 2 tins of Celebrations (half price in Tesco recently), 2 multi packs of Rolo, 3 multi packs of Twirl, 6 Cadburys Flake bars and 5 bars of Dairy Milk – all with my name on them.  Oh don’t worry, I’m not in denial, I know there’s something seriously wrong here but I guess being able to talk about it is the first step in my rehabilitation programme!
My obsession with baking books is similar to my obsession with chocolate.  Although I’ve only ever properly read and baked from about half of the books I own, I love to know that they’re there when I get time to go through them properly.
There’s an excellent blog called that was set up with the author realised she owned a gazillion cookbooks, yet still seemed to cook the same recipes over and over again.  I definitely don’t own 101 cookbooks, however, whereas some women can’t go outside the front door without coming home with a pair of shoes, I can’t come home without a new baking book.  I rationalise it in my head by the fact that baking books are a lot less expensive than shoes – the excuse keeps my husband happy so it’s staying.
I go on Amazon to buy one baking book and before I know it I’m at the checkout with 3 books and some of the cutest baking cases ever (I mean, it’d be rude to leave them behind!).  Below I’ve given a review of some of my baking books.  It’s only a random sample (the first 8 books that I laid my hands on) so please don’t think it’s necessarily a list of my favourites.   
1.                    Nigella Lawson – How to be a Domestic Goddess
She’s the grande dame of baking and if you follow her methods, you too could have time to flounce around in negligees flirting outrageously.  But give the girl a break, her recipes are amazing, user friendly and always work.  I bought this book for my sister for Christmas on Amazon a few years ago and when it arrived I had a flick through it and before I knew it I was hooked.  Man, can she bring food to life when she writes about it.  Not only does he describe every cake, bun, biscuit to a tee, her writing almost invites you to give all her recipes a go because she seems to be passionate about each and every one.  Each section of the book has quite a long introduction by Nigella which describes in perfect detail the background behind each recipe and what the finished product will taste, smell, look and feel like.  She has taken the hard work out of every recipe and she even makes Danish Pastries remarkably easy. 10/10
2.                  Sarah Randell - Weekend Baking
Sarah Randell worked for many years in Delia Smith kitchen so she knows what she’s doing.  It isn’t your standard baking books that gives recipes for coffee and walnut cake, carrot cake or recipes that anyone who bakes on even a semi regular basis have tried umpteen times.  No, this is slightly different.  Toffee Pear Muffins, Prune and Vanilla Custard Brioche Cakes – all pretty easy to make too.  Another point in its favour is the fact that there is a picture for every single recipe.  8/10

3.                  Nigella Nawson – Feast
This isn’t specifically a baking book, it’s a book that creates dishes (sweet and savoury) for every occasion, e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Valentines, Halloween etc.  It even has a chapter called Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame – love it!  Again, it’s Nigellas style of writing that appeals to me and her simple yet effective recipes that work every time.  Plus, the baking recipes in this book are definitely not a re-telling of recipes in previous books.   It’s one of the books that I seem to constantly refer back to time and time again.  Chocolate Gingerbread is next on my list.  Some excellent savoury recipes too.  9/10. 

4.                  Jennifer Appel and Allysa Torey - The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
I bought this book in New York a few years ago.  I’ve made the cupcakes many times and they are amazing (they recommend mixing the buttercream icing for longer than you would ever dream necessary, as this is what gives it the trademark Magnolia lightness) and quite a few of their quick breads, all of which have been delicious.  The main problem I have with this book is that with over 100 recipes, the book only has 8 photos.  Maybe it’s just me but I think that in order to salivate properly and to be enticed to try something new (especially something a little more complex than you’re used to), you need to see a few photos to give you that little push.  5/10
5.                  The Hummingbird Bakery
Another book that I bought on a whim, I think it was the pictures that wooed me – they get me every time!  Amazing recipes for cakes, cupcakes, biscuits etc which are great for birthdays or some other such celebration but not the kind of baking book I’d be using on a rainy Saturday afternoon when I’m trying to keep the kids happy or when I want to bake something nice to have with a mug of tea after dinner.  That’s not to say that the recipes aren’t user friendly (they are) or the results aren’t what you’d expect (again, they are), it’s just that a few more Plain Jane cakes and muffins would hugely add to the appeal of this book.  But that’s just my opinion.  5/10

6.                  Rachel Allen – Bake
Rachel is most certainly the queen of Irish cooking and this book covers all aspects of baking, including baked meals which can often be overlooked in a baking book.  The book is full of traditional recipes such as Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake and Scones but she also pushes the boat out ever so slightly with Almond Praline Cake, Tarte Tatin and Croque en Bouche.  If you’re in the mood to bake something tasty yet traditional, this is probably the book for you.  8/10

7.                  Baked in America – David Muniz and David Lesniak
This is recent addition to my collection.  You know how it is, you’re on Amazon just having a browse as you eat your sandwich at your desk and by the time you’ve finished the sandwich your head’s in a spin and you’ve just parted with €50 of your hard earned cash.  There’s obviously quite a lot of guilt associated with it as I always get them delivered to work instead of them arriving to home address and the possibility of lovely husband seeing what I spend my money on!!
Anyway, I bought this book just a few weeks ago and I’ve made a few recipes so far, check out BAM Loaf on blog, and I’ve also made a Cinnamon Loaf and the Banana Bran Muffins.  The major problem I have with this book is the amount of sugar / chocolate used in the recipes, I guess that’s the difference between a professional kitchen and a home baker.  The brownie recipes in particular are totally laden with sugar, e.g. the recipe for Guinness brownies requires 765g of chocolate, 340g of sugar and 175g of cocoa powder.  That’s a colossal amount of sugar for a recipe that makes only 12 brownies.  6/10

8.                  Short and Sweet – Dan Lepard
I’ve been following Dan Lepards baking column in The Guardian for quite a while now and love his writing style just as much as his recipes which are simple and guaranteed to work every time.  When I heard his baking book was coming out, I couldn’t contain my excitement (slight exaggeration but you get the idea).  This book is the newest addition to my collection and without having had the chance to flick through it fully, earmark favourite recipes and write my own notes on the pages, it’s most definitely one of my favourite books.  It’s full of recipes that you’ll want to try because the ingredients are accessible, the techniques are manageable and the results look amazing.  Each section has 3/4 pages with tips for baking the perfect cake, cookie, bread which explains the basic science behind the technique – I find it hugely interesting.  Another plus is that it’s not just a print out of all his recipes from his Guardian columns.  9.5/10 (I’m docking it a half point as he’s not Nigella!)

1 comment:

  1. I'e only got three of those! Nigella's is my most used, but Short and Sweet is my current favourite -a fabulous book with such interesting recipes and ingredients.