Rather than call this a review and leave myself open to expectations I can’t fulfill, I’ve decided to call it a book trial, with the intention of doing something similar with other bits of my mountainous book collection.
Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard
I’ve previously had mainly good experience with Mr Lepard’s recipes – his Chocolate Custard Muffins stand out in memory especially. There was an unfortunate incident with some chocolate chip cookies in Exceptional Cakes, but I gather that was down to a printing/editing mistake, so I put that one down to experience (and pencilled in the book not to make it again).
So when I read that Short & Sweet was coming out in Autumn 2011 I made it the first cookbook I’d ever pre-ordered. I only got around to opening it on Christmas Day and read it cover to cover first. It’s a handsome book but nicely constructed both for reading and – essential but so often missed – laying flat when you’re cooking from it. I’m not one for needing a photo for every recipe, and favour a good explanation instead, but there is a useful number in Short and Sweet, and they manage to avoid being irritatingly arty.
I particularly like Mr Lepard’s tone; there are detailed explanations without patronising, and particularly a respect for the reader’s own tastes, experience and prejudices. While he makes techniques clear and shares his own opinions on what variations work, he regularly encourages you to experiment once you’ve mastered a recipe – none of the arrogance that does wind me up with Some Other Cooks Naming No Names. His enthusiasm for food – particularly sweet things – is constant and entertaining – I had to read out the bit about sugar junkies to my slightly bemused better half.
But what I love most about this is it’s such a practical book; for one suggestion alone the man deserves some kind of medal – raise your baking tray on a tin on your scales, so that you can read the display and keep your spoonfuls even when measuring biscuits or cakes. Why have I never come across such a suggestion before? The breadmaking section takes account of the fact that people work and don’t have 24 hours a day to nurse a lump of dough; and I am a convert to the gentle kneading technique which means my hands don’t get covered in dough all the time.
So far I’ve tried three recipes – peanut butter cookies, lemon butter cake, and farmhouse tin loaf. Now I have to admit the lemon butter cake was a disappointment, but I know for a fact that I overcooked it, and I strongly suspect that I overbeat it. The flavour was good though and I will try it again. The loaf is excellent; I’ve now made it on numerous occasions and am starting to play about with quantities and flours. The peanut butter cookies are just perfect – one of those recipes that makes me think nah, I’m not going to try any other variations I find in a pretty magazine because they couldn’t possibly top these.
For me, the next step is to join in, very late, with the #shortandtweet challenge – each week the organisers suggest a couple of recipes and the whole of the internet (it seems, anyway) tries them out and posts up the results to share, which are then collated on http://shortandtweet.tumblr.com – the archives are a handy way to virtually leaf through the book and start thinking about what you might like to try when (not if) you get hold of your own copy.
Find out more about Dan Lepard on www.danlepard.com