The St Albans Cookbook Club #1

St Albans has a new cookbook club!

Inspired by an article written by Silvana de Soissons about The Bath Cookbook Club over at my favourite foodie publication The Foodie Bugle, I decided that St Albans needed one, too. With immediate interest from St Albans local Sheba Promod, we decided to go for it.  We put the word out via Twitter and invited some people to come along for a browse at some cookbooks, a natter and a coffee. Since The Bath Cookbook Club were meeting at the Society Cafe, we decided that our first meeting would take place at our equivalent and award-winning artisan bakery cafe, Bakehouse St Albans, right at the foot of our beautiful St Albans Cathedral and Abbey. 

St Albans Bakehouse

Bakehouse St Albans

Firstly, a word or two about Bakehouse. If you are a local and you haven’t visited yet, you really must.  Bakehouse have taken St Albans by storm. Within just a few short week of opening, the Bakehouse team scooped up thier first award of ‘Best Local Cafe 2012’ at the St Albans Food and Drink Festival. Describing themselves as ‘an artisan bakery cafe’, Bakehouse is co-owned by two local families who hold a watertight ethos – to champion local food and local people.

Nestled at the foot of the St Albans Cathedral and Abbbey in Heritage Close, Bakehouse offer freshly baked, freshly made, freshly brewed breakfasts, with healthy options as well as indulgent treats. Lunch is a very local affair, with seasonal soups, hand-cut sandwiches, salads and a selection of fresh-from-the-oven baked goodies, such as Bakehouse sausage rolls, vegetable and cheddar crumbles, casseroles and stews. They also have the very finest selection of cakes and bakes (make sure you check out the counter downstairs, too!) and have even hosted their first, hugely successful, St Albans Cake Off.    

St Albans Cookbook Club

Meeting, as we did, for the first time before Christmas, we decided to set a festive theme. There were six of us in total, and  mini cookbook groupie, Daniel. We also chatted to owners Jim,  Kirstin and Matt who were very happy to welcome us to Bakehouse. The nicest thing was that there was an international demographic to our group, so we were able to talk about lots of different festive traditions as well as decicing whether we were going to brine our turkey’s as per Nigella’s Christmas or perhaps take the more relaxed, Scandinavian Smörgåsbord approach to holiday entertaining.

Of course, the stack was dominated by the inevitable Christmas publications by Nigella, Gordon Ramsay, Mary Berry and Delia Smith, but there were some surprises, too. In particular, we were all smitten by the newly released Scandinavian Christmas by Trine Hahnemann. A sign, I hope, that perhaps we are all tiring of the bashed out, manufactured celebrity compendiums.

I was intruigued to be able to see how very similar a Scandinavian Christmas is to a Polish Christmas – Christmas baking is dominated by spiced honey cakes and cookies, fruit flavoured breads and light pastries. There is a charming chapter on making homemade Christmas gifts, such as Lingonberry compote,  jellies and Gløgg extract. We found ideas for avent and pre-Christmas celebrations, such as open salmon sandwiches, Elf cake, or Chocolate salted popcorn. You could easily host a Scandinavian-themed Christmas party and just as tradition dictates across Eastern Europe, the main event is centred around the Christmas Eve feast. We all thought that Scandinavian Christmas was an enchanting cookery book, full of simple ideas and Nordic-led festive inspiration.

Pop over to Trine Hahnemann’s website for more inspiration or follow Trine @trinehahnemann

(Own copy, Scandinavian Christmas is published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd, RRP £16.99)   

St Albans Cookbook Club

I also brought along a copy of LEON Family & Friends to review as I’d noticed a section at the very back called Christmas and Boxing Day. This is the fourth book in the LEON series, tied into the ‘healthy’ fast food chain of LEON restaurants. Like the preceeding LEON books, this fourth compendium is co-written, but this time by Kay Plunkett-Hogge and John Vincent. There is also a very strong emphasis on a collaborative approach to cookbook writing, with a large proportion of the recipes contributed by family, friends, staff, chefs and fans of the LEON brand.

Kay writes that Christmasses in Bangkok, where she grew up, were hot, though they would still alwyas have turkey with all the trimmings. Her advice is to take the approach that you are really just making a ‘bumper-big Sunday lunch.’ Enticing recipes in the Christmas chapter included Herby sausage and apple stuffing, Spiced red cabbage with dates, Bryn Williams’s bread sauce, a Spiced cranberry and apple crumble or a Steamed spiced marmalade pudding.

If you are looking for a Boxing Day curry treat, flick to page 204 for Mamta Gupta’s ‘Mum’s Chicken Curry’ – a contribution by friend and fellow blogger Kavita’s mum, from Kavey Eats. I think Mamta’s flavourful Murg Korma recipe would be perfect for a bit of leftover turkey.

(Review copy, LEON Family & Friends is published by Conran Octopus, RRP £25.00 – find the LEON team on Facebook)

Our American contingency Heidi and Jessica talked about their own Thanksgiving traditions and we picked out a great alternative to making a large Pumpkin Pie, which happened to be Gordon Ramsay’s small but perfectly formed Pumpkin Tarlets with Sage and Thyme.

My friend Monika and I were able to talk about our own Polish Christmas traditions and one of the books I had brought along, Feasts by Silvena Rowe, featuring Eastern European food though not exclusively Polish, provided us with examples of the type of Pierogi or dumplings that we would traditonally eat as part of a twelve course meal on Christmas Eve.

Sheba, Indian supperclub host and cookery teacher, gave us a quick verbal masterclass in making ghee and told us about her families Keralan-Christian influenced Christmas meals. Whilst vegetarian blogger Clare mentioned that she was making Nigella’s Pumpkin and Goat’s Cheese Lasagne for her clan. So, as well as talking about our own cookery traditions, we were able to flick through some of our books for inspiration.

St Albans Cookbook Club

Things at Bakehouse were just hotting up as we were leaving. We’d sampled their wonderful Monmouth coffee, munched our way through a selection of morning goods and were extremely tempted to stay for a lazy lunch as a selection of seasonal salads, savoury sausage rolls and smells of fresh-from-the-oven artisan rolls and breads were set out. We’ll certainly be back for more!

Bakehouse St Albans


Details of  the next St Albans Cookbook Club

Date of the next meeting: Wednesday 16th January 2013

Time: 10 am – 12pm  onwards

Place: Bakehouse St Albans {on Twitter: @BakehouseStA}

Bring: Yourself and any cookery books you’d like to talk about

For more information Tweet @RenBehan or @AbsoluteIndianC (Sheba) or leave a comment here 

You don’t have to be a blogger! Everyone is welcome.

We’re also planning on an evening meeting and a meet at one of our houses with each of us bringing a recipe we’ve cooked from our favourite book.

St Albans Cookbook Club 

Which cookbooks have made your Christmas list this year? Are there any you turn to regularly at Christmas?   


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  1. Awesome things here. I’m very satisfied to look your post.
    Thanks a lot and I am looking ahead to touch you.
    Will you please drop me a mail?

  2. Love this idea Ren and thinking of starting one in the New Year. Very interesting review of the books too. Wesołych Świąt

  3. What a fabulous idea & a far more practical alternative thanregular book clubs! Wonder if there is anything similar in Warwickshire?

  4. Fabulous idea and one that will quickly take of in the New Year, me thinks. We have a few similar clubs in Edinburgh, but more devoted to baking and baking books, so not really my cup of tea. And I am a bit jealous of your Monmouth coffee. We don’t have it up here and I long ago used up my stash…

    1. Ah yes I think we won’t limit ours to baking, although the lovely Bakehouse said they’d bake us a cake from one of our books next time. Love Monmouth coffee and am so happy to have a local fix. Will it go onto your Christmas list? x

  5. It was a lovely, relaxed morning. The cake and coffee were good too. See you on the 16th Jan! xx

    1. Thanks Heidi, yes, see you at the next meet! Thanks for brinign Gordon!

  6. A very nice way to share a mutual interest. I bet that once the word gets round you will find yourself needing to book the whole restaurant!

    1. Yes, luckily the Bakehouse have a very large downstairs area and are very accommodating/welcoming of children too.

  7. What a great way to spend a morning – coffee, cake, good company and a stack of cookbooks!

    1. Thanks Sarah, it was pretty perfect!

  8. Looks brilliant Ren, wish I lived nearer! Loving the Scandinavian Christmas ideas too.

    1. Thank you Andrea, yes we all really loved the book and ideas.

  9. What a great idea Ren – I think it’d go down a storm here in Ealing too.

    1. Thanks Katie, yes I;m sure you’d find a lovely cafe, big sofas perhaps?

    1. Thans Jude, hope you and Helen do start one!

  10. This is such an excellent idea Ren! I need to start a West London one!
    So many excellent books out there to cook from.

    1. Hi Helen, thank you! Just a few of us the first time round and a bit too busy to meet again before Christmas, though we had planned to. I joined a normal fiction book club and never managed to keep up with the titles, this is good as you can set any theme, explore, cook and catch up! Hope you do start one xx

    2. Miriam khamis says:

      I was thinking the same, and I have a perfect venue. Lucky for me OH just got gorgeous foodie pub on river in Hammersmith, I would love to have a meet up. Let me know of you fancy it Fuss Free Helen. X

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