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I enjoy making sweets but I usually stick to fudge. I have been looking for a book that would give me recipes for other traditional sweets for a long time. When I saw this book in my local charity shop for 50p I couldn't resist the purchase..
Claire Ptak isn't a cookery writer that I am familiar with and the book doesn't contain any biographical information. A quick web search revealed that she is a well known pastry chef who has contributed recipes to several newsppers including The Guardian and The Indepedent. She is also the author of The Whoopie Pie Book. I will be looking out for other titles by her in the future in the hope they are as good as this one.
GENERAL INFORMATION GIVEN
The first part of the book is a chapter on the history of confectionary in general and the use of sugar and honey in paticular. I didn't buy the book for this part and I intended just to skim read it, but I ended up reading all of it. There are some really fascinating facts included, most of which were completely new to me.
The next part is an overview of the equiptment that you need as well as some of the ingredients. I found this useful to refer back to and it's quite comprehensive. The only thing missing, in my opinion, is instructions on how to test the temperature of the sweet during cooking if you don't have a sugar thermometer. Most of the recipes involve boiling the ingredients to quite a specific temperature - a few degrees over or under can radically change the texture/flavour of the finished sweet. It is possible to use a traditional method of testing which involves taking some of the sweet and dropping it into water and then observing how it behaves. I know how to do this from information found in other books but if you don't I think you will need to have a thermometer to make the most of this book.
Following the recipe sections, there are several pages which gives a nutrition breakdown for each sweet. I didn't expect to find this in a book about confectionary because I don't expect any of them to be healthy eating. However, it could help you find the least bad option when it comes to sugar or fat content if that is what interests you.
ILLUSTRATIONS AND LAYOUT
There are 450 illustrations in this book of 160 pages. I like the fact there are good sized pictures of all the finished sweets, as they all look so tempting and I feel motivated to get in the kitchen. Other photos illustrate stages in the preparation and I think these are the most useful. They aren't quite step-by-step pictures because they don't show every stage but they help to clarify details in the instructions. I find it comforting if my efforts look similar to the pictures as I am making it!
Each recipe has it's own page so nothing is cramped. The preparation method is organised in numbered steps which I think makes them easy to follow.
These are organised in 6 sections:
Boiled sweets including lollipops and fondants.
Toffees, caramels and nut brittles.
Fudges and fruit or nut confections.
Marshmallows, nougats and sugar shapes.
Marzipan and liquorice.
I have found in this book every kind of sweet recipe I ever wanted to make. All of the traditional favourites are here. I find it easy to find fudge or toffee recipes online and in other books but there are lots of recipes here I have struggled to find anywhere else. Liqourice sticks and rhubarb and custards are two that spring to mind.
I waited to review this book until I had made plenty of the recipes myself. I can honestly say I have loved every single one and they have all worked. My favourite recipe, if I had to pick, would be a pecan fudge that is yoghurt based. I thought it wouldn't work because most fudges are made with cream or condensed milk, rather than yoghurt. It was amazing - with a perfect crumbly fudge texture and oodles of flavour! It makes fudge cheaper to make too. I also loved the honeycomb which I decided to coat in chocolate. I was very popular the weekend I made that!
Are the recipes difficult? Yes and no, is the best answer. They are not more complicated than other recipes of a similar type and they are clearly explained. However, I think it's fair to say that many traditional sweets are quite complicated and involve techniques that I don't use everyday such as "pulling" toffee. I like to use this book when I know I won't be disturbed for a while because you do need to concentrate when you are pouring and stirrring extremely hot syrups etc. The type of sweets included here are mostly quite time consuming to make and can't be rushed. I think they are worth the time and trouble though!
If you are considering this book as a vegetarian, you should know that a number of the recipes are not suitable because they contain gelatine. This includes most of the jelly sweets and marshmallows. The author does point this out in her introduction and states that gelatine alternatives are available without specifically naming them. I have tried to use agar agar in place of gelatine in other types of recipes with mixed results. So I haven't bothered to try it out with sweets yet. If you are vegetarian and are mainly interested in making jelly sweets then this book isn't for you but for everyone else there is a great variety of recipes.
The only way that I would improve the recipes would to include information about how long you could store the sweets after making. The author does include this for some recipes but not all. I would like to know if I could make certain things in advance with the idea of giving them as presents. At the moment though, we are eating most of them within a day or two of making!
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to make sweets for themselves or as gifts with the exceptions I made above. It would make a good gift for a foodie person looking for a new challenge or someone with a sweet tooth! The cover price is £17.99 with Amazon selling new copies for around £12 at the time of looking. I would happily have paid full price because the recipes here are timeless and sometimes hard to find anywhere else.
Published by Anness Publishing. Hardback. 160 pages. Size - A4 in height, but a little wider.