April 26, 2009
Is it possible to find just one baking book that meets all your home-baking needs? Eater's Digest puts three recent releases to the test.
By Nicole Rees
John Wiley & Sons/ 2009/Hardback/
260 pages/$52.38/ Books Kinokuniya
The curious thing about Baking Unplugged is its complete lack of pictures.
Reading it made me realise how dependant I have become on being able to see the finished product and how much I base my decisions on what to cook on what the dishes will look like.
The title sets the tone - that baking should be easy without the need for too many gadgets, hours of hard labour or, I guess, even pictures.
As the author says in her preface, anyone should be able to walk into a kitchen and bake something well without being genetically gifted or professionally trained.
First up, I was impressed by the section on how to read a recipe - a good idea even for those who take recipe techniques for granted. There are instructions for basics such as how to separate an egg, the best way to toast nuts and hints for getting measurements right. There are details on useful baking utensils and how best to use baking ingredients. The recipe list is fairly comprehensive and not confined to just cakes and cookies. It also includes pancakes, breads, pies and desserts. And a basic recipe for a butter cake comes with instructions for five variations - almond and lemon, blueberry, eggnog, chocolate chip and cranberry-walnut.
I tested pumpkin pie because the recipe called for the interesting addition of coconut milk. I was quite impressed with the result - the coconut adds a 'fresh' taste to the heavy flavour of more traditional pumpkin pie recipes. Also good, the blueberry crumb cake - the blueberry juice seeped into the cake batter and the whole thing was topped with a crunchy nut topping.
I started out unsure that a cookbook without pictures would work. But maybe the publisher has actually been very smart. Without a preview, you are forced to make decisions based on the ingredients and description alone.
This may not be the only baking book you need but full marks for 'unplugging' a lot of techniques.
By Linda Collister
Ryland, Peters & Small/ 2008/Paperback/
240 pages/$26.75/ MPH Bookstores
This compact book has almost everything an aspiring baker might want in a cookbook. Plus, every recipe is illustrated with a picture that cries out 'make me'.
It was a tough choice to choose what to test because as I flipped through the pages, I was influenced by the full-page images of blueberry cheesecake, apple and blueberry deep-dish pie and chilli pepper bread.
I settled for lemon tart because it is something I make quite often and there are many variations on the basic recipe. I like mine tart rather than sweet and this one did not disappoint. The base ended up a little softer than I would have liked but that may have been my fault.
For chocoholics, there is a separate chapter on baking with chocolate - cakes, biscuits, tarts and puddings as well as an indulgent fudgy nut cake.
Despite its size, Easy Baking has a comprehensive range of recipes. There are cookies, pies, puddings and bread and a good-looking Apple and Berry Deep Dish Pie. Soured Cream Cardamom Squares turned out to be a hit with my colleagues. The recipe was in a chapter called Fingers And Bars but it seemed to me more like a cake. The cardamom gave it an interesting aroma and the sour cream gave the 'cake' a soft and silky texture. After some pleading, I have already made it a second time.
It may not aspire to be the definitive baking cookbook but for cooks who just want to do some baking now and again, this little book may be all you need.
BAKE: THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S WEEKLY
Edited by Pamela Clark
ACP Books/2008/ Hardback/688 pages/ $115.60/Books Kinokuniya
This one really does aim to be the definitive baking compendium. For a start, it is nearly 700 pages long and there is a very comprehensive recipe list.
The Australian Women's Weekly has been published since 1933 and its food section and cooking publications have come to represent a history of Australian cooking. It may seem strange but the magazine is no longer a weekly but a monthly. When the decision to publish monthly from 1983 was made, the original name was retained because of its history of publication and branding familiarity.
The book has recipes your grandmother would be proud of as well as modern versions of almost everything modern cooks would be pleased to make. Each section of this huge book starts with a 'how to' for that type of baking. One example: 25 pages of cheesecake recipes begin with a lesson on cheesecake techniques with a picture showing each stage of the process. Similarly, there are 23 pages devoted to muffins, including a recipe for the hard-to-imagine chocolate beetroot muffins, plus a 12-picture tutorial on muffin basics.
There are chapters on cakes, biscuits, slices, scones, pies, tarts and pastries and a 23-page section devoted to different types of syrup cakes.
With so much to choose from, any review can only skim the surface. So I chose at random to test a marmalade and sour cream polenta cake. It had an interesting combination of flavours. The sour cream produced a moist cake with some crunchiness from the polenta and a slight tartness from the marmalade and lemon juice.
Just before the index, there is a 56-picture tutorial of basic baking techniques, such as lining a baking pan and how to make a gingerbread house. Phew.
Unless you do a lot of baking, it is almost too big. Yet this one probably is the only baking book you would ever need. However, its size and price could mean it is more of an investment than an impulse buy.