I have to admit that I have a little cookbook obsession, which in recent years has obviously been focused more on those related to baking and cake decorating. Despite the wealth of recipes and cake decorating information available online, I adore nothing more than browsing the cooking section of a good bookshop and selecting a beautifully photographed tome of recipes and tips to add to my bookshelf (Anyone else with me?!). Last week I indulged in purchasing Ottolenghi’s Sweet (I was meant to be shopping for children’s books but couldn’t resist!). I had been contemplating purchasing it since it was published and having enjoyed some of his savoury editions I was keen to try this one (it didn’t disappoint!).
It can be hard to decide whether a book will be worth it, sometimes it can languish on my shelf unused. With this in mind and given that it is now December, I thought I would share a few of my current favourite books (in no particular order!), for anyone wishing to create a little book list for Santa (!).
Sweet, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
This book is a baker’s delight no matter what your skill level. With over 100 recipes in categories such as cookies, cakes, desserts or confectionery there is something for everyone. The preface explains how the book came to fruition, outlining Ottolenghi’s ethos around sweet treats: as one of life’s little pleasures, to be enjoyed for all their sweetness on ocassion and as part of a healthy diet (a breath of fresh air in the current climate of so called ‘healthy’ treats filled with other sweeteners).
Unlike some of Ottolenghi’s savoury recipes with lengthy and unusual ingredients, the recipes and ingredients in Sweet are accessible and generally easy in method. Additionally, each recipe has an introduction as well as detailed information on preparation and storage of your finished baked goods. Bakers tips and a glossary of ingredients add to the wealth of information and a modern touch lies in the ability to access all of the recipes online using a unique access code.
There are the usual Middle Eastern influences in recipes such as Tahini and Halva Brownies and Lemon and Semolina Syrup Cakes. For me the Cranberry, Oat and White Chocolate cookies were given the thumbs up from the kids while the Pecan and Prosecco Truffles and Almond and Aniseed Nougat are on my list to make for Christmas gifts! It must be the Christmas gift that keeps on giving (!).
Maggie Austin Cake, Artistry and Technique, by Maggie Austin
Maggie Austin needs little introduction to many. Renowned around the cake decorating world for her pioneering techniques and style, her cakes are nothing short of works of art. Her sugar flowers alone are spectacular, exemplified by the awe-inspiring Christmas sugar flower arrangements she created for none other than the White House in 2014. Her first book, Maggie Austin, Artistry and Technique is a must for anyone who is a fan of her style. The introduction outlines her background (a ballet dancer turned professional pastry chef) and sources of inspiration (from art to architecture and nature), and includes key recipes as well as tools and tips required to use the techniques in the book.
Chapters are designated based on her signature techniques, such as frills, textile, painting or wafer paper, with each chapter giving an introduction to the technique as well as project variations which often incorporate skills from other chapters too. Perhaps most exciting is the chapter on her signature sugar flowers, with detailed techniques and accompanying images for flowers such as rose and ranunculus, along with tips and tricks for arranging them.
For me, I simply love the photography and inspiration to experiment that lies in this book. The techniques are not necessarily meant as a formula to follow but rather as inspiration to dare to get creative. It is a beautiful tome, worthy of coffee-table status, for anyone to browse and admire no matter what your cake decorating tendencies!
Modern Sugar Flowers, by Jacqueline Butler of Petalsweet Cakes
Jacqueline Butler of Petalsweet cakes is world-renowned for her delicate and fresh sugar flowers in signature pretty shades of pastels and greens. Having taught through classes and online tutorials, Modern Sugar Flowers is her first book, and true to her style is a really beautiful collection of techniques for over 15 of her signature sugar flowers.
The introduction provides detailed information on sugar flower basics, such as tools and materials, before the collection of sugar flower techniques commences. Techniques for flowers from ranunculus, dahlia and roses to smaller flowers such as lilac and sweet peas, are all detailed, clear and precise, and are accompanied by step-by-step pictures. It can be difficult to follow sugar flower instructions from a book, sometimes oversight from a teacher is required, but Jacqueline’s techniques lack any ambiguity, meaning that you too can create something beautiful.
Jacqueline finishes her book with a series of cake projects, giving you the tools to arrange your flowers in various forms on single and tiered cakes.
Modern Sugar Flowers is technically comprehensive but with it’s fresh and pretty photography is also a delight to browse through. A beautiful addition to my bookshelf!
Secrets of Macarons, by Jose Marechal
For anyone trying to master macarons, this is the book for you! It was my bible while I tried to perfect them a few years ago and is still a book I revert to for recipes and tips. Much of the book is devoted to the ingredients, equipment and techniques, focussing on what exactly is required, the chemistry of the process and what can make things go wrong (which can very easily happen with these tricky little things!).
Recipes are divided into classic macarons, made using the Italian meringue method, and speciality macarons which includes one recipe using the French meringue method. Each recipe has detailed instructions as well as a selection of filling options for each flavour of macaron shell. I think I am going to try the Hazelnut version, perhaps with a chocolate orange ganache for Christmas treats!
Happy reading! And please share your favourites (I’m always on the lookout for something new!).