I have already hinted at my uncontrollable cookbook-buying habit. The delivery man from Amazon can actually be heard saying “you again!” as I open the door, hand eagerly outstretched ready to snatch at the plastic toothpick; scrawling my name whilst simultaneously tearing the package to shreds to reveal my new purchase.
I’ve bought some cracking new baking books recently. ‘How to Bake’ by the Silver Fox himself, Paul Hollywood is a winner for me. I love the layout of this book. The preamble to each chapter is absorbing and I appreciate the fact he includes the little details which make all the difference, like the number of loaves, preparation and baking time clearly at the top of each recipe. Some argue that this is a book for the amateur baker, but I disagree. For me, there can never be too many hints and tips about baking, even if they do concern the basics like how to knead and prove your dough. All bakers have a slightly different slant on how to conduct these elemental tasks. Therefore I collect hints and tips just as I collect the recipes themselves. They change the fabric of my baking experience; as I test out the ones I like the sound of, discarding those which bring nothing to my endeavor and incorporating the morsels which will enhance the taste and beauty of my future bakes.
Another book I am wholly impressed with is ‘Nordic Bakery’ by Miisa Mink. Now this may not appeal to the more mainstream bakers among you, as this is, as the title suggests, a collection of traditional (mainly Finnish) Nordic recipes. I won’t go too far into why I have a fervent interest in the baking of our Northern European friends (see future posts…), but I was specifically looking for traditional Finnish recipes which I could practice and replicate in order to evoke many a happy memory of the country. This book certainly delivers. It contains recipes for many of the traditional treats you see in cafes and homes all over Finland. My mother-in-law (who is Finnish), even commented that her Mummo (grandmother) used to bake many of the recipes for her when she was a child. I have tried the Karelian Pies, Potato Flatbreads and the Date Cake and all are out of this world! A definite must-have for anyone wanting to discover more about Nordic baking or indeed anyone who enjoys delicious baked goodies!
When I first started baking, in my naivety, I believed that when you buy a new book and follow one of the, often beautifully presented and well laid out, recipes therein, the fruits of your labour will necessarily match up to the mouth-watering picture nestled attractively beside it. Surely any recipe which boasts a product, the following of which (without tampering) it will never produce is an issue for Trading Standards? After all, if I knew beforehand that the recipes in a given book were almost without exception full of errors, typos and untested claims; there isn’t a yeast-spore’s chance in a bag of salt that I would give up my hard earned cash in exchange for it! My veil of ignorance has since been lifted! Let’s start with Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Now it is, among other things, Nigella’s gift of the gab which most entices me to buy each new book she releases; but after ‘How to Eat’, I have also come to expect well tested, trustworthy recipes. Certainly not in this case! This book is full of unforgivable typos (whoever added 1 tablespoon of salt to a 500g loaf?) which will sadly lead to the unsuspecting baker wasting good ingredients and suffering unpalatable results. I will red-flag more books which are the audacious ambassadors of untested recipes soon (see future posts).
In the meantime, my advice to anyone afflicted with this cookbook obsession is twofold:
1) Read the reviews before you buy! If there are shameless errors in a book, the brigade of trusty reviewers are sure to tell us! And become a reviewer yourself – the more of us who air our opinions, the more rounded a picture we will be privy to when we put our buyers hat on – and hence the better value for money we will receive!
2) If your pockets aren’t as deep as Mary Poppins’ bag, steer clear of Amazon’s ‘One-Click’ feature! Should you have the misfortune to be as bedeviled as I am by the baking-book-bug you will surely bankrupt yourself within a year!