Ginette Mathiot was one of the most celebrated French food writers. She was so respected that she was awarded Officier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government. She was into her 90s when she died after a long and celebrated career. Ginette Mathiot wrote over 30 books including the famous Je Sais Cuisiner – I Know How To Cook – which sold over 6 million copies, and this, The Art of French Baking!
The Art of French Baking is a classic in every sense of the word. It has over 350 recipes for things that truly have been made in French homes. It’s an urban myth that every French woman is born an expert cook or baker. It’s a lie to suggest that French women have only ever been interested in those long and arduous recipes that are the stuff of legend. The truth is that French housewives have always been practical. They are just as happy as we mortals to prepare meals for the family that require little of their presence in the kitchen.
This book is full of baked goods that are familiar. You will have already enjoyed many of them with a cup of coffee in France or a cuppa tea at home. They are not those bright and over-decorated shiny gems that one finds in those breathtakingly expensive boutique cake shops in Paris: all mirror-finish chocolate, Barbie-pink roses and green icing bright enough to read a book by. No, these recipes are for sweet pastries that are family-friendly. Many of them have few ingredients and take little time.
There are all the usual suspects here: Tart Tatin, Lemon Tarts and Brioches, but there are lots more that are just as traditional and not difficult to make. Neapolitans are made from ground nuts, egg whites and sugar, and these could be a project for you and the kids – no ‘real’ cooking.
French bread pudding
Clafoutis is a favourite for cool weather and can be made with a variety of fruits; this version uses black cherries but it’s just as good with plums. It’s a sweet dessert that’s similar to a Yorkshire Pudding and can be served hot or at room temperature. Gateau de Pain aux Fraises is a French bread pudding. This isn’t a bread and butter pudding so popular these days; this is more like a Manchester Pudding or a Queen of Puddings. Economic but smart.
My pick of the book is the recipe for Pithiviers. This is one of my favourite cakes. In reality it’s a combination of puff pastry (yes, you can use shop-bought) and an almond sponge. Granted it doesn’t sound a stunner but it is delicious, and with its traditional pastry decoration you will give the impression that you have been to patisserie school in Paris.
The Art of French Baking is a book penned by a lady who was popular in her home country where people know a lot more about French food than I do. It’s a good solid book for those who want to develop their own baking skills. Nothing too taxing, but this book will teach and inspire in equal measure.
The Art of French Baking
Author: Ginette Mathiot
Published by: Phaidon
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018