Home bakers should thank their lucky stars they are such a well-served group of cook book consumers. Every year at least two or three major baking compendiums are published by seriously devoted authors which go on to become the trustworthy kitchen companions for the crumb, cake and crust cognoscenti.
Our top three most used tomes are definitely “The Handmade Loaf” by Dan Lepard (Mitchell Beazley), “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field (Harper Collins) and “Warm Bread and Honey Cake” by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra (Pavillion).
And now, after seven years of waiting, Fourth Estate has brought out Dan Lepard’s second offering for his many baking fans: “Short and Sweet”, over 500 pages long and filled with some of the most simple, evocative photography seen this year in the world of food publishing.
Dan Lepard is a photographer as well as a professional baker, teacher, broadcaster and writer. As well as writing for The Guardian, Sainsbury’s magazine and the BBC Food website, he runs a very successful baking Blog–Forum and you can find him on Twitter daily, answering questions from panic stricken bakers around the globe who look to him in a sourdough crisis, when a baking technique fails or when an ingredient needs to be found. He is the cyberspace people’s dough doctor, dispensing avuncular encouragement, information and advice to total strangers all around the world.
If you love baking and patisserie, you will be engrossed in this new book, which is anything but “short”. Only five months in the making, it includes around 300 recipes, and swathes of technical information from explanations of flours, fats and sugars, cake making techniques, equipment, making pastry, pies and tarts and biscuits. You can be a complete beginner and he will guide you through the essentials, from tiny A to big Z.
The book is divided into eight sections: bread; cakes; small things; biscuits and cookies; doughnuts, batter and babas; sugary confectionery, desserts and supper ideas.
The bread section is sub-divided into ten sub-sections taking you through sandwich loaves, whole meal, loaves, soda breads, flatbreads and sweet and fruit breads. From the starter gun of easy white bread you are guided through (amongst many) a spelt and ale loaf, a walnut loaf , a black treacle bread, a cheese and chive loaf and oatmeal soda bread.
By the time you have accomplished all the bread recipes you will be proficient enough to start a sourdough and create your very own slow leaven starter. The photograph of the sliced sourdough on page 100, leathery, golden crust with air holes the size of broad beans and crumb the color of straw, will take you there through greed alone.
For us, the fun begins from Page 109 onwards, and who could fail to be moved by this little ode:
“I truly believe that life is improved by cake. Cake soothes and charms all but the stoniest of attitudes, and brings a shine to the eyes of even the grumpiest children. And from the happiest to the saddest of life’s experiences, icing and a soft crumb give us something sweet to cut and eat quietly when we’ve run out of words.”
The origins of the recipes are eclectic, as the author, originally from Australia, has travelled the world to bring us his take on Sicilian Cassata cake, Panettone tea cakes, Vienna Chocolate Cake, Marrakesh Express loaf cake, Madeleines de Commercy, Gateau Basque, Betsy’s Scotch pancakes and Oliebollen from Amsterdam.
There is a huge wealth of history, seasonality and tradition in this book: from sun-drenched lemon and raspberry ripple tarts and strawberry Pavlova summer days you can feel the autumnal chill as upside down cake unfurls its sweeping fan of claret red pear slices and currant rum babas sit plump and soft in a syrupy pool of vanilla scented liqueur.
Winter brings its Bramley and mincemeat pasties, plum pudding (with real plums), black Christmas cake and array of muffins, brownies, bars, buns, caramels, fudges, ices and sweeties you can make in the warmth of the kitchen hearth, as goodies, gifts and tuck-box treats.
The best is left to last, and we think from page 475 onwards is where you will find us: amongst the suets, rough puffs, hot water crusts and choux pastes.
“I’ve read that the sense of smell can bypass the logical parts of the brain and appeal directly to the emotions… And, for me, right at the very top, is the aroma of a pastry crust baking in the oven.”
There are 16 savoury pie recipes and you could freeze and thaw them in Lakeland plastic bags accordingly, and when you come home late from work, dinner is ready in an instant. Many pie recipes are steeped in traditional British cookery but goat’s cheese and celeriac tart, duck, carrot and shallot pasties and guinea fowl, onion and bacon sound unusual and promising.
In between seasons is when chocolate holds its own as an essential larder ingredient, and you will not be disappointed in noting that there are no less than 48 entries in this category. We have placed multi-colored Post-It notes on: the alchemist’s chocolate cake (not too much fat), toll house yo-yo’s (chocolate chip oat biscuits sandwiched together with vanilla icing) and the chocolate Napolitain, which features puff pastry, chocolate cream custard and icing. What’s not to love?
Despite champing at the bit to get baking, do take time out, over coffee or a glass of wine, to appreciate the lovely font, the quality of the paper, the beauty of the photography and the simple, pretty, homely styling: a bibliophile’s indulgence for the senses, the soul, the belly and the brain.
“Short & Sweet” is a triumphant rebuttal of the many imposters who lay claim to the hallowed turf of “baking bibles” without the necessary skill required in creating an accurate and comprehensive compendium.
For the home baker that delights and revels in old time favorites and the challenge of new ideas “…this book is where skills and recipes meet”, right in the winner’s enclosure.