I was recently contacted and asked whether I would like to receive a copy of the Great British Bake Off book to review. Not being one to say no to the offer of a lovely free new book, and being a book which is perfectly in-keeping with the theme of my blog I jumped at the chance. Shortly after, a thump was heard on the doormat and the book was in my possession. Actually, that's a bit of artistic license... what really happened was that I heard the postman trying his very best to shove the book unceremoniously through the letterbox and went and quickly opened the door to relieve him of it before my letterbox was broken. Anyhow, I have my copy which is the important part.
I've been enjoying watching the bake off as it has progressed on the television, but don't worry, there are no spoilers here - I haven't really been keeping up to date, what with one thing and another - which is also why it has taken me so long to get round to writing this review of the book.
As you may have surmised from the altercation the book had with my letterbox, it's pretty hefty. 320 pages with many, many delicious looking recipes. As in previous years, the majority of the recipes are by Linda Collister, an author whose recipes I enjoy making and has my trust. At the beginning of each chapter is the 'Showstopping Challenge' recipe - a basic recipe is given and then variations on that theme getting more difficult. For example - in the biscuit chapter the basic gingerbread is used to make Gingerbread People (easy), Iced Stars (takes a little time) and then Winter Woodland Cottage (needs a little skill). There are also technical challenge recipes from Paul and Mary throughout the book along with the best of the contestants recipes from the bake off. There are also really helpful pages devoted to 'Showstopping Techniques' such as icing and stacking a cake and chocolate ribbons and bows in the cake chapter, crimping and decorating in the pie chapter and piping meringue swirls in the desserts chapter, among many, many more.
5 braided plait
The chapters of the book are *Cakes *Biscuits *Breads & Sweet Dough *Tarts *Pies *Desserts *Puddings and then finally *The Basics. The majority of the recipes have illustrations (just), and generally the book is beautifully photographed, so it's a little irritating to find that some of the recipes are not illustrated. I counted 108 recipes, of which 37 do not have an illustration (just over a third of them). I wonder if this is down to budget but I wouldn't think so - there are plenty of full page 'lifestyle' shots and shots of the contestants working. It does seem a pity to have so many recipes without any idea of what they should look like when a small photo on the corner of the page would have been more than adequate for some. I do think it's important for the styling of the book that there are 'lifestyle' and contestant photos, but it seems to be at the expense of the recipe shots here.
Braiding and baking bread
My other recipe was Paul's technical challenge from the Bread episode - a braided bread. The recipe and full instructions can be found on the BBC Food website, so I won't reproduce them in full. The dough itself was straightforward to make - just a simple white dough so I was more interested in the actual braiding process, having never done this before (but having meant to for a very long time - Celia has a lot to answer for I think!). I know that my loaf wouldn't have passed muster with the master of bread - firstly I couldn't get his instructions for an eight stranded plait to work for me (and I haven't had chance to try with a bit of appropriately sized rope - I just don't have that sort of thing hanging around in my house!) and secondly when I baked and cut my bread I had clearly used too much flour to keep the strands separate - they were still visible in the cross section of the loaf. The bread tasted fine - plain white bread but I'm annoyed I couldn't follow the instructions (I'm sure this is my fault, although if the bake-off contestants were given the same instructions I'm not surprised they found it tricky!). In the end I resorted to a different baking book, Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman as I knew it had some alternative braiding instructions in there and I successfully followed his instructions for a five stranded braid and then cut my remaining three strands in half to give six short ones and made a six-strand braid too. Celia's right though - it is fairly addictive and I'm going to give it a go again (perhaps when I have more time and give myself a chance to read through the instructions for braiding first!)
Jeffrey Hamelman's 'Bread' with braiding instructions
I know I am biased because I am a keen buyer of cookbooks, and baking books too but I would recommend this one. I was unsure as to whether it would just be full of 'Showstoppers' that are unachievable, but actually, there are loads of recipes in there that I'd like to make, ranging from very basic to rather special. There are far too many to list here, but I'd really like to try the 'Chess Cake', the 'Caramel Layer Cake', the 'Camembert and Quince Flatbreads', the 'Double Crust Pear Pie' and Mary's 'Creme Caramel' among many others.
Because these loaves are plaited (or braided) I'm entering them into this month's alphabakes, where the letter is P. Alphabakes is a monthly challenge hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The More than Occasional Baker. The letter for this month is P and the host is Caroline.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review. All views expressed are my own and aside from the book I did not receive payment.