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Baking is one of my passions. There is something about the physical act of making a cake, or a batch of brownies or cupcakes, from scratch which I find both relaxing and immensely satisfying. I also love that feeling of anticipation as the delicious cake smell wafts out of the oven and drifts around the house. And, then of course, there is the best bit of all - getting to eat the cake! I have a bit of a reputation for baking amongst my family and friends, although I tend to play it safe and stick to the recipes that I know will work out well - brownies are my speciality (hence the user name on here), but I also love making chocolate birthday cakes, simple loaf cakes, a variety of cupcakes with swirly icing and, my latest discovery, the whoopie pie. Due to the fact that everyone knows that I love baking, and their hope that I might actually bake them some cakes, I tend to get a lot of baking related gifts as presents. 'The Great British Bake-Off, How to Bake the Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets' was one of these gifts.
* Overview *
"The Great British Bake-Off" is a popular BBC2 series where ordinary people compete to be the best baker through a series of ever more complex challenges over a number of weeks. Each week one person gets to be the 'star baker' and another person is eliminated from the competition. 'The Great British Bake-Off, How to Bake the Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets' is the book that accompanies the second series of this programme. The book itself contains recipes by Linda Collister, but also has forewords and practical baking tips from the experts on the TV series, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Each section has a 'how to' section at the start with useful hints and tips for making that type of bake - these are things like 'the four main ways to make a cake' or tips on making the perfect pastry. Two recipes in each section are presented in a photographic step-by-step sequence, including a 'technical challenge' from the series, a third will be 'the Best of the Bake-Off' in that particular category and the rest are just recipes on the same theme. The book is beautifully presented with very appealing photography of the cakes (and other bakes). Each chapter heading is presented in a graphic style with the names of the recipes written in different sizes and arranged in a clean, modern way. There are also little graphic inserts with tips from the experts on many of the pages.
* The Chapters *
Cakes - the first chapter covers the all-important 'Cake' category and includes the title piece, 'How to bake the perfect Victoria Sponge'. The Victoria Sponge has always been a cake that I have struggled to get right - although it seems simple, I have always had issues with it not rising enough, or ending up with a slightly under-cooked middle, and following the photographic instructions in this book has dramatically improved the standard of my sponge baking! The technical challenge in this section is a coffee and walnut Battenburg and other cakes include chocolate and orange cupcakes (tried, tested and found to be delicious!), a lemon cream cake, a quick chocolate fudge cake and some simpler loaf-style cakes. There are also recipes for different types of icing which you can obviously use for different types of cakes. The recipes are suitable for a variety of abilities in the kitchen - some, like the lemon cream cake with its homemade lemon curd, look like a bit of a challenge, whereas the 'Quick and Simple Fruit Loaf' is specifically labelled as being good to make with kids (not that my children would go near a fruit cake!)
Biscuits and Tea Time Treats - Biscuits are something that I have always struggled to bake. I can never get the quantities right when putting the mix on to a baking tray and they always end up in a mess. The photographic recipes in this section are Brandy Snaps, which I am planning to attempt very soon, and Almond Tuiles. Other recipes in the section include Iced Lemon Biscuits which I have made with the children, Melting Moments, Stem Ginger Shortbread, Florentines and Macaroon Mocktails (which are in flavours such as Pina Colada and Mojitos and look beautiful in their pastel tones in the photographs).
Bread - One of these days I am going to be the type of 'domestic goddess' who bakes her own bread on a regular basis. I go through stages where I use the bread-maker that we received as a wedding gift but, to be honest, the majority of the time it sits on the counter taking up worktop space. The basic photographic recipe in this section is 'How to make a perfect white loaf' and the 'Technical Challenge' recipe is 'Paul's Foccacia' which I remember seeing on the series and thinking that it looked too much like hard work. Other bakes in this section include rustic loaf, an old-fashioned London loaf, Monkey Bread (marked as Easy for Kids - maybe I should try that one first), Pizza (I have tried this and the dough was very good) and Sticky Buns.
Pies and Savoury Pastry - Pastry scares me. I cannot get my head round the thought of doing pastry at all (apart from the tiny star-topped mince pies in Nigella's Christmas), but one day I am going to open this section of the book and conquer my fear of making a pie. My husband has made a pie from the section of the book and it was delicious (he is braver than I am) but I have not attempted any of the recipes yet. The basic photographic recipe is 'How to make the Perfect Shortcrust Pie' (with a beef and red wine filling, but you can adapt it to include whichever filling is your personal favourite) and the technical challenge is Pork Pies with Quails Eggs. The recipes in this section look delicious and include spicy chicken pasties, Somerset Pork and Apple Pie, Stilton, Spinach and New Potato Quiche and a Warm Crab Tart. The only recipe I have cooked from this part is a rich beef stew with dumplings which was delicious (and no pastry involved!) but I do like the fact that there is a savoury section which can be used for everyday meals (or special occasions) as it makes the book feel a bit more versatile.
Tarts and Sweet Pasty - Again, due to my pasty phobia, I have not attempted any of the bakes from this section. The Technical Challenge is a Tarte au Citron (one of my personal favourites, although I admittedly just buy mine from Waitrose) and other bakes in this chapter include Blueberry Bakewell Tarts, Quick Apple Tarts, Mud Pie, Rhubarb Meringue Pie and Tarte Tatin. This chapter does not have a second photographic recipe which I'm guessing is because you could adapt the shortcrust pastry recipe in the previous chapter for making a sweet pie.
Patisserie - I love patisserie - the thought of an almond croissant or pain au chocolat, accompanied by a milky latte, is my idea of the perfect breakfast (unless I'm nursing a hangover, in which case it has got to be a bacon sandwich). The photographic recipe is 'How to Make the Perfect Puff Pastry) - again, with my pastry phobia, this looks a bit too technical for me with all the folding and rolling, but it is good to have the instructions in a visual style. The technical challenge is 'Iced Fingers' which look a bit like the ones you can buy in Greggs but are filled with jam and whipped cream. Recipes in this section include the stunning looking Millefeuilles with Raspberries, Homemade Buttery Croissants (with variations such as Ham and Cheese, Almond and Chocolate), Danish Pastries and Profiteroles. Oh, and should you be feeling really ambitious, you could attempt the incredible Limoncello and White Chocolate Croquembouche!
Puddings and Desserts - It is very rare that I actually make a pudding, but one thing I do enjoy making is a cheesecake. The Double Chocolate Chip Cheesecake in this part of the book is delicious and very simple to make. There are also recipes for a rum and raisin baked cheesecake and a rhubarb and ginger baked cheesecake. The photographic recipe in this section is 'How to Make Perfect Meringues' and the technical challenge is a chocolate roulade. More of the delicious looking recipes include a Chocolate Fudge Hot Pot Pudding, a Hot Lemon Curd Souffle and a Pavlova with Mango and Passionfruit.
Celebration Cakes - the final section of the book focuses on cakes for celebrations. Christmas is obviously an important part of this chapter with the photographic recipe being a Large Iced Fruit Cake (I am sticking with Nigella's recipe again this year but I am definitely planning to use this book to help me get the marzipan and icing right as the photos will be a big help with that). There are also Christmas recipes for a Yule Log, a Twelfth Knight King Cake, Christmas Pudding and Panettone. The final recipes in this chapter are for fairly basic cupcakes (these are tasty and easy to make) and a chocolate sponge party cake.
* Cost *
'The Great British Bake-Off, How to Bake the Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets' has an RRP of £20 but is currently available for £10 on Amazon.
* My Thoughts *
In my opinion, this is a really good baking book assuming you are not a complete beginner. There are some simple recipes and the instructions are very clear and easy to follow, but I feel that the majority of the recipes do require some technical ability (or the confidence to believe that you can pull them off). I really like the way that the book is laid out, especially the step-by-step photographic recipes, because sometimes you do need to 'see' how something should be done rather than just read it. I think the intention of the book is that you can use those recipes as building blocks towards attempting something more ambitious so, for example, if I ever conquer my pastry phobia and make a simple meat pie which doesn't have to look 'perfect', I might have the confidence to attempt a quiche or even a fruit tart. What it possibly lacks is the simple, everyday recipes - things like the Banana Loaf in the Hummingbird Bakery book which I make on a regular basis because it is quick, simple and reliably delicious - I haven't yet found a recipe in this book that I would cook just because it's a rainy afternoon and I feel like giving the kids a treat. Overall though, this is a great addition to my already over-stocked kitchen bookshelf and one that I am sure I will return to again and again in future.
* Review originally posted on Ciao as Brownie_Queen
With a new series of the very popular cooking show of the same name I was inspired to dust off The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake the perfect Sponge Cake and relieve what have now become some of my staple recipe's and also review what has made this book a firm favourite in my collection.
The Great British Bake Off started life as a TV series on BBC fronted by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood which involved taking a relatively normal group of people and putting them through various technical and creative challenges before crowning a winner. The wholesome nature of the show and the insight it gave into baking methods and techniques meant that I became hooked and as soon as the cookbook came out bought it off Amazon for £14.00. It can now be bought new on Amazon for £12.12 or second hand for around £8.
The term baking inevitably makes you think of cakes and indeed these are covered very well in Chapter One from a basic Victoria Sponge to the more challenging chocolate chilli cake. However it is the subsequent seven chapters that got me really excited covering everything from bread, tarts, biscuits, puddings, celebration cakes and even delving into the technically complex works of patisserie.
A pleasant surprise when everything covered on the show was indeed covered in the cookbook, often cookery shows are formed on the back of a book and give you a snapshot of what is to come so I was pleasantly surprised that the book was the reverse and went over and above the level of detail included in the programme.
The varying skill levels of the potential reader are excellently catered for and the book even features easier recipes for children so they can begin their knowledge of baking from an early age. The technical challenges offer a test for even the developed cook but with easy to follow instructions that mean it's a satisfying outcome even for a novice like me! I found the technical explanations incredibly interesting and the tips such as "keeping filo pastry out of a hot kitchen because it becomes brittle" informative and have genuinely enhanced my backing knowledge.
The wholesome and almost kitsch style of the tv series is replicated in the book. The hardcover makes it practical as it can be stood up and open when baking and the pages are slightly laminated meaning you can wipe it clean when you get a little vigorous with your whisking!
Photography is featured heavily with appetising shots of the finished, perfect product but also step by step shots that really help explain some of the sometimes confusing 'cookery language'. The text is attractive and well spaced with a clear product explanation, ingredients list and then the method. I always think having a well formatted cookbook is crucial because your eyes linger back to the job in hand and with good formatting you can easily re-find you place.
**Usability of the recipes**
I am sure I am not alone in being seduced into buying a cookbook and then only ever really making one or two of the recipes, generally because they are too complex or simply not practical for everyday life. The joyous thing about The Great British Bake Off is that it is entirely the opposite. The book goes back to basics covering how to make short crust pastry and sponge mixes and then leads you to naturally develop your skills.
The step by step photo shots were particularly useful when tackling items such as Paul Hollywood's focaccia and the tarte au citron. The clear photography allowed you to skim over the instructions and develop your own style as you become more confident on the core method.
The wonderful mix of sweet and savoury recipes means I can use this as a one stop shop and out of my ever growing cook book collection this is the one that always has me coming back.
If you only try a few these would be my top recommendations:
Mary Berry's Tarte Au Citron - just divine and my first real effort at making pastry, I will confess that the first time I made it it took about 3 hours but Im now down to about an hour and half
Salmon and Pak Choi Quiche - just a little bit different and great for summer eating
Earl Grey Cupcakes - perfect with some lemon icing!
It is worth noting that the cookbook is written by Linda Collister who is not mentioned or seen during the TV series.