Sunday, June 13, 2010

Post 82: In which my patience wears thin

I have had it up to here - here, I tell you - with the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. The recipes are rubbish. It formed part of my Christmas cookbook haul because I find that there's something seductive about American-style baking (except the recipes that start with a box of 'yellow cake mix'), and the black bottom cupcakes, with spoonfuls of vanilla cheesecake filling baked into chocolate sponge, looked irresistible. We're a long way from the Hummingbird shops, so it's a case of BIY: bake it yourself.

If only it was that simple. I got a bit bored of the baby biscuits and have been making cupcakes for the new mums in our group. Just because something is deeply unfashionable does not mean it is unpopular. I've followed Hummingbird recipes for Nutella cupcakes, plain chocolate ones, the black bottoms and the marshmallow variant in the picture. It's vanilla sponge with a dollop of molten marshmallow in the middle and pink ones folded into the icing on top. The white things are a pair of baby feet rendered in icing. Tim says it looks like a baby has been lost in an avalanche, which is apparently 'not a bad thing.' I hope he never takes Frank snowboarding.

The recipes don't work. There are notes intended to make sure you're using the right size cases, but the cupcake batches make six, not the advertised 12, and take twice as long again as in the recipe to bake. They go stale quickly and develop sticky tops if they're not iced. The icing quantities make far too much for one batch. The peanut butter cookie recipe, although delicious, produced 36 rather than 24 biscuits, and that's not allowing for the dough I may have nibbled during the process. It's almost as bad as the first Ottolenghi book, but without the sumac and the misplaced admiration for what is basically contemporary rice salad.

I know from my work with the Guild of Food Writers that it's not a great time for the people who write the books. Budgets often don't allow for proper recipe testing and things are scaled down without much care. Books are riddled with mistakes. I'm more and more convinced that the best recipe sources, apart from people you know, are Olive, Good Food and Good Housekeeping magazines. They have the facilities to test things properly, often several times, and they would never offer a recipe that calls for 250g of peanut butter when any fule knos that standard jars hold 227g. Yes, Tarek Malouf and the Hummingbird Bakers, I'm looking at you.

Monday, June 07, 2010


MasterChef: The Professionals has won a Bafta. John Torode, never deemed quite professional enough to join in, must be seething. But on to more pressing matters. Who in their right mind would bake a British strawberry? Orlando Murrin, the former editor of BBC Good Food and himself once a MasterChef semi-finalist, is who. It turns out I would too.

I got home from the shops yesterday with a punnet of strawberries (only one of which had grown a fluffy beard to conceal a huge, sinister cavity) and an urge to bake. A giant strawberry shortcake wasn't quite right because there are only two of us on solids at H'n'H Towers and we wouldn't have eaten it before the cream made everything soggy. The normal plan - leafing through the 23 baking books stacked in the kitchen - didn't yield anything promising. So I turned to the interwebs, and specifically Orlando Murrin's strawberry and cinnamon torte.

The idea of putting strawberries with cinnamon, let alone blasting away their freshness in the oven, sounds, as we used to say at school, absolutely hanging. In fact, it works really well here, and the cake is a piece of the proverbial. You whizz ground almonds, butter, eggs, flour and sugar in the food processor with a teaspoon of cinnamon, spread half in a cake tin (the mixture looks a bit scanty, but there's just enough), add sliced strawberries and cover with the other half. An hour later, you've got an extraordinarily light cake with an appealing rubbly top and a jammy seam in the middle.

Eaten with a whipped-together combination of double cream and Greek yoghurt, using a cake fork, it feels thrillingly European, like The Wolseley did before it boarded the hell-bound handcart. It is - and stop me if this sounds a bit 50 ways with mince - pretty versatile; you could stick any fruit in the middle, except bananas. Bananas are strictly for putting in the bin.