4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good book but not THE good book...,
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This review is from: Bake (Hardcover)
As a fairly experienced home baker, I'd been eyeing the Rachel Allen book for a while, particularly as my baking-mad friend raved about it. I was delighted by the quality of the book - it's printed in Italy, and is very substantial, not flimsy like some - I know this will be one volume that's still around when my grandchildren are alive!
The book is comprehensive - lots of savoury recipes as well as sweet. Probably slightly too many savoury recipes for my liking, given that the title implied sweeter baking, but no doubt I'll get round to trying some of the pies and quiches in due course. The Vanillekipferl (small Viennese vanilla biscuits) were as close to the melt-in-the-mouth originals I loved in my year abroad, and fairly easy to make (just get the vacuum out, as you'll have icing sugar all over the kitchen when you're done!) The lime cake was wonderfully moist, and I've just done the butterless sponge cake, which is great when you've run out of butter but still want to bake. Miracle of miracles, it rose higher than any sponge I've ever made, so I may switch that to be my default sponge recipe!
The tricks and tips at the back are quite good, and there's a good few recipes for sauces and icing, along with some helpful techniques for the novice cook. What is fantastic about these recipes is that they are well described, and generally have a short list of ingredients that you probably would find in most kitchen cupboards or, at a pinch, the nearest Tesco Express. Whereas just reading Nigella cake recipes (all those ingredients!) sometimes leaves me exhausted, Rachel Allen's are written with a good dollop of common sense and the right note of bossiness to give you confidence that they'll work. And, by and large, they do. This is real family cooking - there are impressive party trick recipes as well, but this book is designed for people who want to feed others without spending two hours in the kitchen preparing the ingredients. She's pulled off the astonishing trick of providing recipes that suit both people who can, and do bake already, and people who've never touched a wooden spoon before. When she says something is a bit more fiddly and takes more time, she means it - when she says it's quick and easy, again, it is. Unless you haven't read the recipe at all before making a start I guarantee you won't be left stranded at 11pm at night, tired, fed up and halfway through an elaborate recipe because you didn't realise it was going to be such a faff.
One small critique, which has lost it a star - I think the cooking times are a bit short on some of the cakes. The chocolate marmalade cake came out downright sloppy even after an extra 15 mins in the oven, and I ended up passing it off as a pudding as it oozed so much. Delicious, but probably a shade undercooked. Same goes for the butterless sponge, which needed another 20 mins before it was firm. I'm not sure it's my oven - I have a fan assisted oven that holds up well on most recipes. But on the biscuits and other items, the cooking time has been bang on.