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I spent a lot of time looking for a book that would tell me how to make the really traditional types of sweets such as humbugs and barley sugar twists. I searched fruitlessly until, 3 came my way almost at once. The smallest and cheapest of the 3 was "Favourite Sweets and Toffee Recipes", compiled by Carol Wilson. It may be small but it has plenty of content..
Carol Wilson is described in the book as a "food writer" although I can't say I am familiar with her work. I would be happy to read any other title she puts together though, as I think she has compiled an impression collection given the space she had to work with.
THE BOOK ITSELF
I have mentioned that this book is on the small size. It is the same size as a postcard, although thankfully it is thicker with 48 pages. I bought my copy from an independent sweetshop of all places. In general I have seen other books in the "Favourite recipes" series for sale in giftshops in touristy areas. This is probably because the range is produced by J. Salmon Ltd who are better known as postcard producers. I am happy to have a small book providing the size of the pages doesn't in any way make the book difficult to use. I am pleased to say that every recipe is given a page to itself and the type is of an average size, rather than being small and hard to read. The book also stays perfectly flat when you are using it which is an advantage as it is too small to fit comfortably in my cookbook stand. The other worry I had was that the thin spine wouldn't stand up to much use. However, I have thumbed it a lot and it is as good as new.
The book has plenty of illustrations in although there isn't quite one to every recipe. They are of a style that doesn't especially appeal to me - whimsical victorian style rural scenes - but they do seem appropriate given the traditional nature of the sweets. If these pictures are the sort you like, you may be disappointed to know that only the illustrations on the front and rear covers are reproduced in colour. The others have a sepia like finish.
The title of the book promises traditional recipes and that is exactly what you get. There are recipes for fudges, toffees, Turkish delight, caramels, tablet, mints and many more - 34 in total. The recipes don't seem to be arranged in any particular order but I haven't found this a problem in a book of this size, especially as there is an index. There isn't any kind of introduction to the book, and no general "how-to" information. I have found the recipes detailed enough to follow with success. However, I think that had I used this book before I had practised my technique on other recipes, I would have had a higher failure rate. The reason for this is that sweet making often seems to use techniques that are different from those used in everyday cooking. Some such as using a sugar thermometer are relatively straightforward. Others such as "pulling" mints are more of a case of practice makes perfect in my experience. The lack of any helpful hints for the beginner in this book means that I often feel the need to consult my other sweet making titles for advice. For this reason I think it works best as a stand alone book if you are a more experienced cook. That isn't to say that all of the recipes are difficult to make. The ones that require the most time and patience such as Bulls Eyes tend to be the most traditional confectionary though.
I think there is a good range of different sweet types included. It is amazing how many different kinds of confectionary can be made with just 3 ingredients! I was pleased to see that some of the recipes for sweets such as Edinburgh rock differ from the ones I already have as this gives me the opportunity to see which traditional recipe works best. Others I have not found recipes for at all elsewhere- Mealie candy for example. My favourite makes so far are a delicious chewy caramel and a chocolate flavoured toffee. The fudge recipes are also good, and can be used as a base if you want to add other flavourings. They would also make good gifts, if you could bear to part with them.
It is also worth noting that the recipes are all given with measurements in pounds and ounces. This hasn't proved a problem for me as my scales has markings for both metric and imperial weights. If you are unlucky enough to have a scale that only shows grams then I can imagine that this could prove quite annoying for you. There is a conversion chart at the back of the book but some calculations would still be needed.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BOOK?
I paid just £1.65 for this book. The book itself isn't printed with a suggested price but I have bought other titles in the series for between £1.49 and £1.99 over the last couple of years. At this low price it is hard not to recommend it. I would say that experienced cooks are likely to get the most use out of the book, but even beginners will find some suitable recipes here. Many of the types of sweet included are hard to find in the shops nowadays, so this book represents a great way of keeping our heritage recipes alive. If you know of someone with a sweet tooth and are looking for an interesting and not too expensive present, this book would be ideal. It would also cost very little to send through the post!
ISBN 978 189 843 5662
Available on Amazon marketplace for as little as 1p plus postage.
Published by J. Salmon Ltd.
[This review may appear on Ciao in the future under the same user name.]