I've tended to stay away from book reviews on What Kate Baked. I put this down to a traumatic experience aged 15 in an English Lit class at school. We were studying 'Of Mice and Men' and Mrs Pearce asked for an essay critiquing the theme of the impossibility of the American Dream evident throughout the novella. I went home that night somewhat anguished. 'I can't possibly criticise John Steinbeck' I thought, 'One of the all time greatest American authors! Pulitzer Prize Winner! Noble Prize Winner! How can I possibly critically analyse this ''Great Work of Fiction''?'.
Sixteen years later it is high time I overcome this fear. (Mrs Pearce will hopefully be proud). Here goes...
Accompanying the brand new, more popular than ever, series of The Great British Bake Off comes 'The Great British Bake Off: Everyday'. This is the fifth Bake Off book and, on first appearances, appears to attempt to fit the middle ground between the beginners 'How to Bake...', which accompanied Series Two and last year's 'How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers'. It is written by the very experienced cookbook writer Linda Collister, author of all Bake Off books (and about 68 others) with introductions and recipes from Mary and Paul.
The book follows the series closely, including memorable recipes from the contestants themselves and Mary and Paul's Showstoppers, Signature Bakes and Technical Challenges. A Bake-Along-a-Bake-Off if you like.
It begins with a short but informative Baker's Guide. Useful for 'L Plate' beginner bakers and with a few tips budding Bake Off contestants may also find helpful, such as how to test choux pastry to achieve the correct consistency and ensure the exact quantity of egg required. As well as explaining exactly how to temper chocolate or fold in flour, the rationale and reasoning behind each instruction is also given. For example, 'Rubbing in will add air which will make the pastry or cake mixture lighter'. Assuming a reader's knowledge and skills can be the downfall of many a recipe book and I reckon this section assists the reliability and success of the recipes that follow.
The recipes themselves, all one hundred of them, include very comprehensive and clear instructions. The recipe for Fresh Egg Custard for example contains almost three times the word count than a similar recipe on BBC Food.
And there is a pretty wide ranging selection of recipes covering all the usual Bake Off themes including cakes, puds, breads and pastry. From trusty favourites (such as baguettes and a ginger tray bake), twists on the classics (Chocolate Soda Bread and Mexican Breadsticks) to interesting new bakes (Ice Cream Shortbreads, Spankakoptia. Yep Mel-n-Sue would have a comedy field day with that last one).
Many of the recipes aren't photographed. While all the more complex Showstopper recipes do include pictures and more often than not, helpful step-by-step photo guides, I tend to favour cookbooks that include photographs for most recipes. Partly to lust over but I also feel that photographs really enhance a recipe's appeal, often providing the impetus to giving a bake a go. (There are exceptions of course, such as Elizabeth David and Dan Lepard and indeed, perhaps this is a debate for another time).
A new photographer and food styling team have worked on 'Bake Off: Everyday'. The pictures and colours almost seem a little limpid compared to the previous Bake Off books. Perhaps this to fit in with the new fifties styling on the TV show itself.
Another small criticism: the index isn't particularly detailed. A minor note perhaps, but an extensive index in a cookbook is pretty useful. For example, having used only 100ml of buttermilk from a 300ml carton for the recipe below, a quick flick to the index and a entry for buttermilk should perhaps let me know the remainder of the pot can be used in the fresh berry scones.
Style, photos and indexing aside, do the recipes actually work? Mary, in her introduction, reassuringly cautions that 'if a bake doesn't turn out first time, please don't be disheartened... It's happened to all of us, even with our most trusted recipes'. Apparently, a complete cookbook review shod include the trying of five separate recipes. Time constraints have meant that I've only been able to try three. But Mary need not have worried: all three were easy to follow with readily available ingredients, accurate instructions and most importantly, received big thumbs up from the recipients:
Blackberry Buttermilk Cake (below): I adapted this recipe by swapping the blackberries and vanilla with raspberries and lemon. This was a simple, scrumptious cake, packed full of juicy, sweet raspberries with a moist, light crumb that we enjoyed so much it became breakfast two days in a row (it was the holidays!)
Scandi Almond Cookies (below): These buttery, crumbly nutty bites came complete with comprehensive instructions but alas no photo. Mine didn't quite fit the description of the finalised cookies, which should be 'rolled in icing sugar to resemble mini snowballs'. Nevertheless, they passed the taste test with flying colours.
Fougasse (below): A straightforward, tasty mushroom bread from Mr Silver-Fox himself. Perfect with a warming Autumnal soup
Do you have a copy of this book? What do you think of it?
- The Great British Bake Off: Everyday is out now. RRP £20
- I borrowed this copy from our excellent local library.