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A must have for your kitchen shelf
Bake - Rachel Allen
Member Name: redhead78
Bake - Rachel Allen
Advantages: Great selection of recipes, clear instructions, good for experienced or beginner cooks
Disadvantages: Has quite a girly style to it
Over the last year or so I have become an increasingly avid fan of Rachel Allen. I'd never heard of her, seen her programs on tv or read any of her books until a friend mentioned that she loved her books and used them all the time. I started looking out for her more and have now purchased a few of her cookery books (although I've still not seen any of her tv shows) and for my birthday recently was very pleased to receive her Bake book as a gift from aforementioned friend (she also got me the Nigel Slater Real Fast Puddings book from my previous review...at least this one was more successful!!)
So, if you're like I used to be and have never heard of Rachel Allen, you'll probably have guessed from my introduction that she's a tv chef, born and trained in Ireland and, like most tv chefs nowadays, has written numerous cookery books including Easy Meals, Entertaining at Home and Home Cooking. The thing that keeps drawing me back to her books is that she has a really down to earth, practical, calm manner about her which even comes across in the books. She seems to really understand that not everybody has hours to spend cooking every day but that a lot of people don't mind spending more time in the kitchen at weekends and on special occasions and most of the books that I've read cater for all tastes and occasions, whilst keeping it as simple and unfussy as possible.
On to Bake, then. I was thrilled to receive this as a gift as the other books I have of hers are all more geared towards savoury dishes and I seem to have lots and lots of main meal/savoury cookery books but not many that focus on the naughty decadent baking/pudding aspect of cooking, so I frequently used to end up scouring the internet for inspiration when it came to puddings. Bake is a decent chunk of a book, hardbacked and generally feeling top quality. The front cover has the obligatory chef-looking-happy-and-busy-in-their-kitchen photo, but the back cover is filled with photos of some of the delicious looking concoctions from inside. How I wish I could create a tea-table that looked that tempting!! It has nearly 300 pages and is sensibly divided into the following sections:
Very short, just a brief word from Rachel herelf extolling the virtues of baking!
- Sweet Mouthfuls
Full of recipes for cookies, cupcakes, traybakes, blondies, scones and other delicious treats!
Self -explanatory really! With recipes for both traditional chocolate cake, carrot cake and swiss roll and also some more modern versions such as red velvet cake and upside down cranberry cake. Curiously,she also includes some "breads" in this section too; honey loaf, banana bread, zucchini bread and sweet potato and pecan bread. I've not made any of these yet so can't say for sure why they're in the cake section, I can only assume it's because they have a more cakey texture/consistency than traditional breads.
This includes a variety of puddings including cheesecakes, bread and butter/sticky toffee pudding, crumbles, steamed puddings and rice puddings.
- Breads and Savoury Bites
Here you'll find plenty of choice of all things bready including focaccia, naan, soda, gluten-free and sourdough, and plenty of savoury recipes too such as cornbread, bacon and cheese scones and cheese straws.
- Tarts and Pies
This section is split between savoury and sweet, British and Mediterranean and includes recipes such as; spinach, potato and goats cheese tart, chicken and leek pie, calzone, pasties, tarte tatin and seville orange meringue pie.
- Breakfast and Patisserie
Recipes for all your breakfast staples like bagels, brioche, muffins, waffles, omelettes and crumpets.
- Baked Meals
A real bonus section for me as I wasn't expecting savoury main courses in here too, but it includes yummy looking things like cheese fondue in a squash, red lentil dahl, baked aubergines with tomatoes, basil and pine nuts and chicken with lemon and garlic and pilaf rice.
- Holiday and Celebration
Includes the more impressive cakes (croque en bouche, easter tart etc) and traditional holiday recipes including simnel cake, mince pies, hot cross buns and a gingerbread house
- Basic Recipes and Techniques
A very handy little section for both novice and more experienced cooks with information about the equipement you might need, recipes for the various types of pastry, basic bread, cake and meringue recipes and information, different ways of decorating your bakes and sauces to accompany them.
Extremely useful if you're not sure what a term means such as bain-marie, prove, knock back - words and terms used in many recipes but not often explained!
Now why do I like this book? There are many many reasons, but most of all I really do think that there's something for everyone in this book. Sweet, savoury, cakes, puddings, traditional, contemporary, British, European, vegetarian, gluten-free...ok, not every recipe will be suitable for vegetarians or someone following a gluten free diet, but I like that there are moves towards including these and I'm sure most people that fall into these categories, if they're competent cooks, will have their own techniques for tweaking recipes to suit their requirements anyway.
I like the lay out of the book and, whilst there isn't a photo of every dish, there are plenty of pictures scattered throughout the book showing the dishes in their finished states and looking mouthwateringly good!
One of the things I like most however is that for many of the recipes there are "alternatives" so if you like the look of something but don't like a particular ingredient in it you can alter it, making a different version to suit your tastes. Examples include converting the easy soda focaccia into red onion, olive and rosemary focaccia, the rustic bacon and cheddar bread can easily become pumpkinseed, gruyere and thyme bread or sun-dried tomato, rosemary and olive bread, and the muffin recipe can be transformed into 5 other variations; banana and maple, rhubarb and strawberry, cherry and almond, apple and raisin and blueberry. So, as I said before, there really is something for everyone!
Admittedly, I've only had this book for a few weeks but I've tried and tested several recipes already and each one has gone down a treat and been classified as an "againer" by my husband. I've so far made mocha cupcakes (a variation on the mocha cake recipe), the banana and maple muffins, crumpets (I wish I'd known earlier how easy these are to make! I always imagined a really tricky process with these but that's so not the case!!) and the baked aubergines with tomatoes, basil and pine nuts (great for when my vegetarian mother-in-law came for dinner). The seville orange meringue pie is a particular favourite and will probably become my "go-to" pudding when we have guests now. I love lemon meringue pie anyway, and to have a variation on that is great.
Each and every recipe was clear, easy to follow, as simple as possible and only used readily available ingredients. That, in particular, is a must for me. I hate getting a new cook book only to find that half the things in there can only be bought from specialist shops for you to then only use a teaspoon of it and have the rest of it languishing in the back of the cupboard forever more!
There are delicious looking recipes in all the sections that I will definitely be trying but perhaps the most pertinent for me is the breakfast section. On a weekend, when I have more time, I like to try different things for breakfast instead of the usual cereal, toast, bacon and eggs etc. Having spent a lot of time in the USA both myself and my husband like experimenting (well, I do the experimental cooking, he does the experimental trying!) with both sweet and savoury breakfasts so that this includes so many ideas for those is great.
Rachel also provides further hints and tips for many of the recipes to further aid our enjoyment/experimentation with the dishes. A good example is the baked aubergines I mentioned. At the beginning of the recipe she suggests adding chopped anchovies or olives into the sauce too. or with the roulade recipe, she advises us that the meringue can be made a day in advance and stored, to save time on the day. This can be useful for cooks/bakers of different skill levels as you can then make the dish as simple or as complicated as you like/have time for.
Overall, then, I have been very impressed with this book and can see already that it will become one of the most frequently dipped into when I'm looking for inspiration. I really like the fact that there are different recipes for basic things, so if I've made a cake from another recipe but want a different frosting I can leaf through this and find the perfect one. Or if I make a sponge pudding I'll never run out of variations for the topping as in this book recipes for creme anglaise, toffee sauce, chocolate sauce, coffee sauce, raspberry sauce, blueberry syrup and apple sauce are all given...that's enough to keep even me going for a while!
As I didn't buy this book myself I don't know how much my friend paid for it, but looking on Amazon they currently sell it for £14, which I think is well worth the investment and I'll probably be buying several copies over the next year to give to other friends as gifts. Although I'm more likely to restrict it to female friends as it does have quite a girly feel to it with lots of pastel colours and flowers creeping into the photography!
Summary: Delicious recipes of both savoury and sweet dishes
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