Bingo Book Review 20: Repeat (of the How To variety)
I was feeling a little off balance and I did a little retail therapy; for me that meant the bookstore. I decided on an impulse to go with the title I share with you now: Paul Hollywood’s How To Bake. I’ve been a fan of the Great British Bake-Off (or Baking Show if you’re in the US) for years, and I have several of the series cookbooks. I also have one of Mary Berry’s baking books. The thing with all of those books is that quite a few of the recipes are so complex, fiddly, or large that they don’t quite seem worth trying, especially if you don’t have a family to share the results with. This one is an exception.
I have to admit, Paul Hollywood as he is on the show is fun to hate, all the while admitting his clear expertise. It’s all the more fun to hate him if you’ve seen the low-grade scandal he was part of a few years ago (basically, why he and his wife are no longer married involves someone from Food Network); some of the best bits from the show are moments like in one episode of an early season, Paul offends one of the older lady bakers and she refers to him as ‘the male judge’ for the rest of the episode. That Paul is largely not part of this book; it’s full of things I want to try and plan to because they are feasible, even the fiddlier-seeming things like croissants.
This really is a user-friendly book in the sense that all the recipes all thoroughly explained in terms of process, there are pictures, step by step in some cases, and it’s all things that you can store if you don’t’ have the means or inclination to devour everything right away. The instructions show that in spite of baking’s reputation for precision there is some flexibility, especially when it comes to some of the timings and tools that could be used. After the ‘Getting Started’ section, which is actually pretty good, there are sections of ‘Basic Breads’, Flavored Breads’, ‘Sourdough;, ‘Croissants, Danish, & Brioche’, ‘Biscuits, Puddings, & Cakes’, and ‘Tarts and Pies’. All of them look reasonable and tasty, and the recipes I’ve so far support that impression. The spelt bread loaf is one of the standard breads, and it really does slice well; you can actually cut sandwich thin slices without the bread crumbling everywhere or tearing; the soda bread recipe comes out not dry and tastes pretty authentic, and then there’s the pastry. I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to hear Paul, Mary, or Prue’s voice going on about the layers or the lamination when trying out croissants (the first thing in the book I tried, which turned out surprisingly well) and danish (much better on the dough, but not as well in the final baked off shaping).
If you follow the steps carefully and take the time to measure, pretty much anyone can do these things. I hate fiddly food (see my review of Let’s Bake: A Pusheen Cookbook), but this book actually presents some fun challenges. Maybe it’s because a lot of the recipes make an appearance on GBBO (earlier seasons) and there’s fun to be had there, or that I do actually enjoy baking, but I think this is one of those cookbooks that actually lives up to its title. If you want to learn baking, this might actually be a good place to start, assuming you don’t mind converting everything from British (spelling and measurements); I personally would say it’s worth it.