This book goes right into my end-of-year Top Ten cookbook reads for 2010. No deliberation and no waiting in case another contender floats through the letterbox. The Great British Book of Baking is, in my opinion, everything that a good cookbook should be.
This chunky volume is the companion to the BBC series of The Great British Bake-Off. I didn’t view this at the time of original broadcast as I am not keen on cookery competitions. They more often than not have a ticking clock as the focus and hapless members of the public providing the cruel and embarrassing light relief. But I felt obliged to watch the catch-up episodes of the TV series and was greatly relieved to find that this particular competition owes more to a WI summer baking contest than Hell’s Saucepan or Master Chefette.
Nobody bakes better than the British. It’s true that the French might have more elaborately decorated cakes, but Rockers’ Sox-green icing garnished with a Barbie pink rose has never appealed to me. Over sweet and bright enough to read a book by. On the other hand, we have a wealth of recipes for delicious baked goods that don’t need camouflage; well, apart from some delicately frosted biscuits, expertly executed by one of the soon-to-be-famous amateur cooks immortalised in this book. They are stunners.
Every category of baking is considered here, from crisp and crunchy cookies to light and fluffy sponges. Sweet treats and savoury pies that will take us back to the long-lost days of mums making the Sunday roast go a bit further by way of the addition of a few vegetables and a deftly-crimped pastry crust. And then there is bread, that mystical foodstuff that owes its success to a live culture and a practised hand. It’s all here.
I have favourite recipes and they are the most traditional of the selection. Treacle Tart made with fresh breadcrumbs and Golden Syrup is high on my list of teeth-achingly sticky confections. My mother would substitute cornflakes for the bread but I prefer the version in this volume. The texture of the filling is velvety.
Maids of Honour are delicate little tarts named after the Queen’s maids of honour at the time of King Henry VIII. Not sure exactly which one of his queens enjoyed those tartlets but they have endured far longer that the royal ladies. The filling is an almond flavoured sponge and so popular have they proved that they are still on sale at the old tearooms opposite Kew Gardens.
Chelsea Buns are a British version of what Americans call cinnamon buns. Those have a thick glaze of white icing rather than the light sprinkle of sugar customary on this side of the pond, and are liberally spiced. I was shown how to make Chelsea Buns in the dim and distant days of school cookery lessons but I didn’t perfect the technique till many years later, and I can tell you it’s worth practising. There can be few things more tempting than the aroma of baking bread and if you can manage this recipe on a Sunday morning with a house full of in-laws you will earn decades of brownie points.
The Great British Book of Baking is a joy. This will never grace my amply stuffed bookshelves as I have already allocated a space on top of the microwave. Nice and handy, and reminding me daily of how easy and how rewarding baking can be. I thank the contestants and contributors for their courage and recipes, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood for tips, and Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc for being the best of testers and presenters. A thoroughly worthwhile investment and a must-have for anyone who wants to cook real honest food.
The Great British Book of Baking
Published by: Michael Joseph – Penguin
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018