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.


Ben East said...

I am reminded of the cookbook roundup for metro many many years ago where there was a rogue egg in the ingredients for a jamie recipe! Caused you much consternation...
To add to your list of good'uns though, I would say this but I've always found delia to be pretty flawless at the cookbook game. Used her recipe for baked mackerel last night, which with our own potatoes and salad was just about flawless.
Which gives me the excuse to roar 'delia's barmy army'

Catherine said...

I mentioned that book in an end of year round up on WoM, and a couple of people did complain about it, as do loads and loads on Amazon. An alternative I have, but haven't yet baked from is Cookie Girl's (Xanthe Milton)book Eat Me. The recipes look glorious - keep meaning to try the Bollywood cupcake.

I think you're bang on about recipe books & testing. I find errors all the time - the most common seems to be ingredients listed then not referred to in the method, and vice versa.

The Ample Cook said...

Grrrr indeed.

My Sister bought this some time ago and nearly everything she tried, failed.

Seems like they hurried the book out instead of properly testing everything.

Deanna said...

I have a lot of trouble with American cake books. I've just made a caramel pecan layer cake from 'More from Magnolia'. The recipe had 7 cups of sugar in the icing alone. It was so sweet my dentist neighbour gave me her business cards to hand out with every slice.

Anyone I've recommended 'Good Housekeeping Cookery Book' to has been overjoyed with it. I have 15 years of Good Food Magazine that I still regularly use but I stopped buying it when it all became about shortcuts & 'use only 5 ingredients'.