It seems that everyone has the baking bug at the moment. It might be something to do with lots of baking programmes on the television but for me, it’s the start of a new term and there have already been a couple of school events requiring the production of a home-baked goodie.
It’s always good to have a few fail-safe baking recipes to rely on. The night before a bake sale is not the time to be experimenting. You need a recipe you can trust and that isn’t going to depend on too many Mary Berry-standard skills.
Tana Ramsay is a mum, who I’m sure knows this feeling only too well. Her latest book is called ‘I Love to Bake’ and is published by the Octopus Publishing Group. Yes, she happens to be married to Gordon Ramsay, but I’m quite certain that he isn’t the one up until midnight icing cakes for school fêtes. I’m sure that Tana’s experience of combining motherhood with writing cookery books (this is her fourth book in her own name) and a TV career means that she’s well versed in testing and trying recipes that work and that are quick and easy to make (perhaps with a little help with the washing up along the way..)
So, what’s in Tana’s latest book? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that ‘baking’ includes a whole array of sweet and savoury family friendly dishes.
There are ten chapters in total –
Cakes & Cupcakes, Biscuits & Traybakes, Puddings, Chocolate, Sweet Pies & Tarts, Savoury Pies & Tarts, Meat Bakes, Fish & Vegetable Bakes, Bread and a final chapter on Easter, Hallowe’en and Christmas.
‘I Love to Bake’ is a bit of a baking ‘catch-all’ with recipes pitched a varying levels – some of them I’d say are very easily achievable, such as the Baked Tomatoes, Almond Jam Cookies (great to make wth kids) Blueberry Flapjacks (five ingredients to throw in a pan) and the Mackerel Fishcakes (using cooked mackerel fillets and left-over mash). Whereas some of the recipes are slightly more technical – such as the Sun-blushed Tomato & Pancetta Bread, Fish Lasagne (assembly and making a roux is required) or the Tapenade-coated Rack of Lamb with Mediterranean Canellini Beans (two separate recipes involved).
However, in general, they are certainly all achievable though my bread-making skills may need a little work before I reach the Bread chapter.
So far, some of the recipes that have made my family hit-list have included –
- Lamb & Lentil Casserole – the recipe calls for swede and carrots but I made this with autumnal butternut squash and lentils and it was yummy
- Sesame Coated Drumsticks – tahini, Chinese five-spice powder and runny honny make for a lovely tasty glaze
- Easy Quesadillas – we swapped the salami for Polish garlicky sausage, delicious
- Spiced Carrot & Raisin Cupcakes – a great after-school snack and they stayed very moist too for a good couple of days
My less successful baking adventures have included the Banana & Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. I’m not sure what happened, it definitely had something to do with my dodgy oven. Tana does say that the cake remains very moist so you have to keep an eye on the timings and watch when it shrinks away from the tin. I did, but the cake was still very soggy in the middle making it very difficult to slice it evenly into three slices. To make matters worse, when layered up with the frosting the whole cake slipped as I tried to get it into the tin – not my finest baking hour, but it won’t put me off making it again as it tasted really delicious!
Other sweet-treats on my ‘must-try’ list are Tana’s Orange and Poppy Seed Cake and her Orange Polenta Cake with Golden Syrup (I’ve made a similar Orange, Polenta and Amarretto cake before to a Nigella recipe but I love the idea of pouring golden syrup over the top reminiscent of the sponge and golden syrup of school dinners. I also love the look of Tana’s Home-Made Custard Creams and her Chocolate Truffle Hearts.
Most of all, I really like the seasonal slant to Tana’s book and I think there are many recipes where you could easily substitute seasonal fruit or vegetables depending on the time of year. For example, the Cherry, Almond and Buttermilk Muffins would be wonderful during British cherry season as fresh cherries are required, but I would probably try these with small cubes of soft pears during the autumn. Similarly, fresh cherries are required to make the Bakewell Tart with Homemade Cherry Jam, but for a twist I might give this a go using fresh, seasonal plum jam instead.
Tana’s Baked Cheesecake with Rhubarb Compote is a lovely way to use garden rhubarb (and I love the fact that she suggests putting a layer of crème fraîche over the top of the cheesecake once baked – handy to cover any cracks!) I also can’t wait to try Tana’s Salmon En Croûte with Minted Pea and Bean Purée (the peas and broad beans are both frozen and the pasty is shop-bough and ready-rolled – I like the thinking!)
There are photographs by Chris Terry accompanying almost all of the recipes, but not every single recipe and some of the recipes include extra photos of some of the steps (the Lemon Tart with Blackcurrants shows a couple of the stages) but that isn’t carried throughout the whole book.
The final chapter, Easter, Hallowe’en and Christmas, is a tiny bit disappointing. A basic hot-cross bun recipe covers Easter and there is just one recipe for basic cookies to cover Hallow’een, so there could have been a little more content in that chapter although the Christmas recipes, such as the Spiced Orange and Cranberry Mince Pies and Whole Baked Camembert sound good.
All in all, I have really enjoyed baking from this book so far. I might challenge myself to try one of Tana’s bread recipes and for a party next week I’m making Tana’s Lamb shanks with White Beans which sounds like something that can just bubble away for a few hours in the oven.
I am a little bit chocolate-caked-out after my daughter’s second birthday with more celebrations to come this weekend, but there is always room for a good chocolate cake and Tana’s Chocolate Fudge Cake claims to combine a ‘light sponge with a light filling’ so it might have to get made for the next school cake bake sale!