March 29, 2009
You would expect step-by-step illustrated cookbooks to be the answer to fail-proof baking. But despite the good intentions of these Korean and Hong Kong titles, some things are still jarringly lost in translation.
A Collection Of Fine Baking
By Young Mo Kim
2005/Dream Character/237 pages/Paperback/
I will start with the bad bits. I attempted this book's Galette des Rois recipe and it turned out to be one of the biggest disasters to ever grace my kitchen.
In the course of translating this Korean cookbook, someone forgot to warn that you need an airconditioned kitchen to ever try making puff pastry. I did not turn mine on that fateful day and ended up rolling out an impossibly rubbery pastry dough that squished butter at every turn and stuck to my counter-top.
The end product, with almond cream filling oozing out from three spots, looked like a multi-limbed alien.
You would need meticulous instructions to attempt finicky pastry items such as this. And disappointingly, this book has important details missing everywhere.
That said, this title by South Korea's famous pastry chef Young Mo Kim is hard to resist. It has a breathtaking range of 100 European recipes from cookies and breads to tarts and cakes. Each one is accompanied by a yummy-looking photo, plus more on how to make it step by step.
It also has some of the most interesting and totally do-able cake decorating ideas I have seen lately.
Like any self-respecting cookbook, it has sections on ingredients (although not very helpful as it has only photos and no descriptions), equipment and a glossary (which puzzlingly considers it necessary to define the term 'bake').
Its recipes for oatmeal cranberry cookies, pear tart and green tea chiffon cake turned out well for me, although I would tweak the sugar and butter levels next time.
So I would recommend this book for its simpler recipes. I cannot wait, for instance, to try its Honey Cheesecake, Walnut Genoise and Chocolate And Banana Roll. But I would give the more complicated ones a wide berth, unless I want another drama in my kitchen.
By Anita @ Jam Bakery
2008/Crown Publishing/161 pages/Paperback/
Author Anita Chow seems well qualified to teach baking. The former advertising executive runs Jam Bakery, a baking school in Hong Kong which also specialises in customised cakes and other baked treats.
The range of recipes in this bilingual book is interesting, including items such as Creme Brulee Cheesecake, Earl Grey Mousse Cake, Chocolate Sponge Balls and Ginger Souffle.
She offers a few teaching essentials, such as sections on utensils, ingredients (even pin-pointing which supermarket chain in Hong Kong you can get them from) and step-by-step techniques from how to dissolve gelatin to how to make chocolate curls.
I also appreciate that every measurement, including that for eggs, is stated in grams, so there is no room for error as far as quantities are concerned.
But one has a sneaky suspicion that this book is written for sale at her school or, at least, for readers who already have some background in baking.
Because in making her butter cakes, she has only this to say about the crucial creaming stage of butter and sugar - 'until blended'.
Also, nowhere in the book does she differentiate custard powder from instant custard powder. Which was why, while the pastry shells of my cream puffs turned out well, the cream filling was a dud. I must have used the wrong custard powder.
Still, for anyone who has some baking experience, this book is a good resource for some charming dessert ideas, many of which seem easy to achieve.
Hong Kong Breads
By Yau Yung Ling
2009/Food Paradise Publishing/143 pages
Why is it that cookbook publishers often hire translators who are not very good at translating and - worse - do not even bake?
At first skim, this book by Hong Kong pastry chef Yau Yung Ling appears to be a must-buy for anyone who loves Hong Kong-style breads and buns.
Many of the stuff you see in the local Crystal Jade Cakery chain - Bolo Bun, Cocktail Bun, Cheesesticks, Char Siew Bun, Milk Ball, Sugar Donuts - are all here.
And with gorgeous portraits and step-by-step photos that accompany each recipe, they look convincingly achievable.
There is just one problem: The translation sucks.
Every write-up, from the chef's profile to his recipe instructions, is a laughable, word-for-word translation of the Chinese version as if the original text was simply fed through online translator Babel Fish.
When grappling with the recipes, you would have to figure out what is 'strong flour' as opposed to 'soft flour', neither of which is clearly explained in the book. You would also have to contend with strange ingredients such as 'vegetable butter' and 'jaffle sauce'.
I made Deep-Fried Egg Balls, the easiest recipe in the book and it turned out surprisingly well. But even then, I had to check the English instructions against the Chinese text just to be doubly sure.
So forget about this being a bilingual book. Buy it only if you are proficient in Chinese.