If you plan on doing some baking for the holidays, this is one book I can recommend.
There’s something about cookbooks that are printed on matte paper, their photos equally eschewing excessive shine. It’s indicative of the winding-down mood that the –ber months bring, a decrease in daylight coupled with an increase in appetite.
This is Bake: The Essential Companion written by Australian pastry chef Alison Thompson. Though her credentials are impressive – stints working with pastry experts in Melbourne and London and owner of her own special occasion cake business – her book is not at all intimidating. A succinct list of recipes and their corresponding page numbers starts the book right off so I can get to what I want to bake. There’s also an abbreviated version of tips and techniques for successful baking and the now requisite sections on equipment and ingredients.
A chapter on Breads begins the book, homey, rustic loaves like fougasse, white bread, and my favorite, a chocolate and walnut babka. It’s a perfect chapter for those who want to get into bread making. A Pizza chapter follows and then it’s on to Cakes, Baked Desserts such as puddings, Muffins & Scones, then moving on to Cookies & Brownies. Of course baking book staples are here such as brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and cheesecake. There are also interesting recipes for a sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce, brownies made fudgy with the addition of condensed milk, and a chocolate mud cake with coffee buttercream and Swiss meringue, recipes that speak of Thompson’s Australian origin and British working background. I appreciate that there are some very unique recipes in this book too, truly original desserts like a white wine and olive oil cake with a white chocolate ganache and something called a Garibaldi Pastry, a short crust filled with caramelized nuts and raisins.
The recipes’ difficulty levels are very manageable until the latter part of the Pastries section and then more effort is involved in the Croissants, Brioches, and Doughnuts chapter. The recipes here deal with feuilletage, puff pastry and its iterations like croissants and mille feuilles. These are pastries that I prefer to buy not bake just for the sheer amount of labor involved, but Thompson’s instructions seem clear and if you’ve got the temerity to go for it then good on you.
One reason this book is valuable to me is that there’s a photo of every recipe, no small feat considering there are about 100 recipes. There’s the plus of knowing how it’s supposed to turn out coupled with some step by step visuals, important when tackling a more difficult recipe. The photos are also beautiful as I mention beforehand, dark, brooding images as though they were shot on a blustery day. Quite the refreshing change from full-on food lighting.
Measurements include US Imperial and Metric, the latter I value because I’m baking more and more by grams. Ingredients called for in the recipes include some that are common in Australia but are easily substituted locally: self-rising flour (easy to make at home), sultanas (golden raisins), and treacle (corn syrup). Lastly, the book’s inclusion of a Gluten-free Baking chapter is a nod towards current lifestyles.
My rating: ★★★★/5
Bake: The Essential Companion
By Alison Thompson
Hardcover: 272 pages, Tuttle Publishing
P1,499.00 at all leading bookstores.
See my other book reviews here.