My fail safe cookbooks to gift to anyone


I love cookbooks, as many areas of my house would testify. And my favourites are well thumbed, and probably covered in cooking stains, which to me is the badge of a successful book. I’ve also given quite a number of cookbooks to other people over the years, and I know which ones people come back to tell me they’ve used, even if they were reluctant cooks and bakers.

So these may not be the newest, flashiest or cheapest books on the shelves this Christmas, but these cookbooks are ones that I think earn their keep year after year, and every home should have some if not all of them.


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard

I’ve given quite a number of copies of this over the years, because it’s my favourite baking book. It’s also crammed full of incredible recipes, brilliant technique and great photos, written in a way that just makes you want to get into the kitchen straightaway! I love Dan’s writing, and his recipes, and I love to share this book.


River Cottage Family Cookbook - great gift for learner cooks


The River Cottage Family Cookbook

This is a great book for people with kids who want to cook, as it’s written in a way that’s really accessible for kids to read and follow, but not in a patronising way. It’s also great building blocks of cooking so allowing them to move beyond the basics and produce “proper” meals. It’s also a great book for those who say they don’t know how to cook.


The Social Bite Cookbook


The Social Bite Cookbook

I give this one because it’s a good cookbook that does good too. I love Social Bite, think it’s the most fantastic busienss, and I am so pleased to see them going from strength to strength, allowing them to do more good work. Look, if George Clooney thinks it’s a good thing, who am I to argue? If your Secret Santa budget is £10, spend it on this.


The New English Kitchen


The New English Kitchen by Rose Prince

The subtitle to this is how to make your food go further, and I think that the year ahead could be a tough one, and that we might all be tightening our belts just a bit further again. I fell in love with this book whilst on holiday this year, and just think it’s one that you’d end up dipping into time and time again, particularly when trying to work out what to do with leftovers, or stretch a piece of meat to cover more than one meal, or more people. Not short on taste or interesting recipes, I think it’s a keeper.


Star Wars Cookbook - for great food in this galaxy and beyond


The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookies Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes

Ok, this one is a bit of stuff and nonsense, but it is Christmas after all, and I know that this book is always a winner with anyone with even a passing love of Star Wars. I’ve bought more niche cookbooks over time, but none more loved or laughed over than this one. Love seeing people’s faces when they open this one.


So, these are my fail safes, that I think you can gift to just about anyone and be sure of a winner for them, and also for when they start cooking and baking from them. I’d love to know what your go to books to gift to someone else are, and why. And what’s the best one that you’ve ever received and would not now be without?


Celebrating the pizza


Celebrate National PIzza Day


Today is apparently National Pizza Day, which is probably a good reason to make one. I really love a good pizza, and Friday night here is often homemade pizza time. So in honour of the day, and making great pizza, here’s a few things to consider to up your pizza game:

Professional pizza pan

I hear mixed things about pizza stones, and have mixed results myself. I prefer a pizza pan myself, and in a hot oven does seem to give a good crispy base. I’ve got heavier weight ones like this one, and it’s my favourite. I’ve also got some cheap ones from Wilkos that do a good enough job if we need to make a lot at once.


Go professional with a pizza serving bat


Want a restaurant style serving? How about a wooden pizza bat to serve them on? They seem really reasonable at £12.95, and come in a variety of sizes.

Oxo Good Grips Pizza CutterYou’re going to need a good pizza cutter (note to self, you still need a good pizza cutter). I’m going to pick the Oxo Good Grips one next time I go past Lakeland, as it looks more durable than my current one. And I’m not mad keen on gimmicky ones, but sure there are plenty around.

Our go to recipe for pizza base is Dan Lepard’s from Short & Sweet. It definitely gets a tried and tested rating from us, and has never let us down. So, go ahead, start throwing the dough around and treat yourselves tonight, it’ll cheer up a Tuesday night!


The 5 books to get you over Bake Off withdrawal


So, that’s it, all over for another year. We know Nadiya is queen of the kitchen, we know more about some more obscure pastries and cakes (anyone for tennis cake?) and we’re wondering what we’re going to do on a Wednesday night now.

To help ease the withdrawal symptoms, maybe a bit of baking of your own might help. Or at least some good reading about baking. Here’s my prescription of 5 books to ease the pain.


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard  – this is by far my favourite baking book, and the one I turn to when I fancy trying something out just for the heck of it. Also has my go-to pizza dough recipe, never failed me yet. I love this book so much I buy it for those I love too.


Dough by Richard Bertinet - French boy done good on the bread front


Dough by Richard Bertinet – when it’s all about the bread and other things dough based, then Richard Bertinet is the man for me. It has nothing to do with the French accent. Lots to do with fabulous recipes for all kinds of bread deliciousness.


Bread Cake Doughnut Pudding by Justin Gellatly - worth it just for the doughnuts


Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding by Justin Gellatly – this is new on my shelves here, but I cannot tell you just how delicious the recipes sound. Or how very tempting all the doughnut flavours sound. But I’m seriously considering acquiring a deep fat fryer just to try them out.


Adventures in Chocolate with Paul A Young - yes please!


Adventures in Chocolate by Paul A. YoungI’ve got a soft spot for Paul A Young, ever since seeing him make the most divine brownie ever. If ever there was someone you’d want on your side for chocolate week, Paul would be my choice. Amazing recipes, get chocolate in the house before you order this book.


BIY Bake It Yourself by Richard Burr - still a winner in our eyes


BIY: Bake It Yourself by Richard Burrwe were team Richard last year, he was definitely the winner in our eyes. I am so thrilled to see he has a book out and good things are coming his way. Still thinking these chocolate trees might make a good alternative Christmas cake.

So, working through these five might help with the withdrawal symptoms. Just be careful that they don’t give you supreme confidence in your abilities, and you suddenly find yourself filling in the application form for series 7…!


Baking Bread – the silver fox versus the “Lepard”


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Apologies to Dan Lepard, that’s an awful pun for a title and I’m not even sure how one properly pronounces his surname, but it is pronounced leopard in our house. Anyway, Dan’s book  Short & Sweet has been ruling the baking inspiration here since my birthday last summer, with much loved results. Put it this way, MGG has declared my pizza base made from Dan’s book even better than the one out the bread machine, which is high praise from her!

Christmas brought a potential usurper into the household, in the shape of Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake. And then a dump of snow brought the time to have an excuse to stay home and have a recipe off. I’d already said I was going to try the two most basic white bread recipes in each book side by side, as basically Paul’s seemed like a lot more faffing about.

Now, these are not exactly like for like, but are portrayed as the starting point for breadmaking adventures. Paul’s is a basic white tin bread, and includes 25g butter in the recipe. Other than that, both recipes use the same quantity of flour, so reasonably similar. In order to ensure this was fair, I opened a new packet of flour and yeast so no one could claim fresher ingredients than the other.


Flour & Yeast ready for the bake off competition between Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood


To me, Dan’s dough is so easy, comes together really quick, and the very quick kneading means you have a recognisable dough pretty quickly. Paul’s dough doesn’t come together quite as neatly, and there is all that kneading! Dan’s consists of three ten second kneads, Paul’s has you kneading for 5 to 10 minutes. Possibly some days that is good therapy for those feeling stressed. They looked not a jot different though:


First mix from Dan's recipe
First mix from Dan’s recipe


First mix from Paul's recipe
First mix from Paul’s recipe


Both come to end of resting at pretty much the same sort of time, and then got shaped and rested.


Waiting...for the first rise from Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood white bread recipes


For Dan’s recipe this was a more freeform oval on a baking tray and then covered with a tea towel, Paul’s went into a tin and then into a plastic bag.


Dan Lepard's white bread shaped & ready to prove



Paul Hollywood's in the tin & ready to prove. His bread recipe, not the man


Plenty of rise from both, and both went into a hot oven with extra steam provided by a roasting tin of boiling water in the base. With Dan’s I used his tip for fan ovens about turning them off as the loaf went in then switching it back on after 10 minutes. Paul didn’t include this tip, so I didn’t do it.


Dan Lepard's white bread recipe ready for the oven


Paul Hollywood's ready for the oven. So to speak.


Both cooked beautifully, and turned out looking amazing (the smell by this point was something else). I put a tea towel over both while they cooled, to keep the crust softer. We resisted cutting them until they were cool, but then tucked in.


Dan's out and looking mighty fine for a loaf of home baked white bread


Home baked bread from Paul Hollywood's recipe


I would say that Dan’s produces a more rustic loaf, almost French in style with a much more open texture. On its own this would be fabulous with cheese or cold meats and a great chutney.


The insides revealed: Paul Hollywood's recipe on the left, Dan Lepard on the right


Paul’s is a much softer crumb (which is probably the butter) and cooked in the tin makes a perfect traditional sandwich bread. We slathered both in butter and blackcurrant jam, and no one could really choose a favourite. We toasted them, and still pretty much equal pegging.


Buttered & Jammed: perfect home baked bread thanks to Dan Lepard and Paul Hollywood recipes


I have to say if I had to choose, then I would imagine I would make Dan’s again, if only because my original prejudice was right, there was a little more faffing to Paul’s in the form of the longer kneading. As it didn’t produce a result that was substantially more loved then I would probably skip it. That said, it did make fabulous toast. However, if I had made Dan’s farmhouse tin loaf then that would have taken a lot longer, and we’d have devoured Paul’s loaf before this was even out the oven. But I will give it a go.

So, my only conclusion is that they were both better for being made at home, and that both books have earnt their keep on my shelves. Next up I might do side by side brioche testing. You can never have too much brioche in my book!


The Friday Five – So just which is the most popular cookbook?


Very unscientific, but was feeling nosy about what books people ended up looking at on here. Possibly just because I’m nosy, or because it might tell us something about where home cooking is going. Or it may just tell you what kind of person I am, as these are the titles that I must rank more highly for on a search engine. I think there may be some differences between my top 5, and Amazon’s.

So, in classic reverse order, these are the top 5 on my blog for the past 12 months:

Number 5:  Bread: River Cottage Handbook No 3 – just goes to show you can never trust a search engine, as I’ve never actually written about this book, but have written about River Cottage and other books about bread. Turns out this one must be more popular than any of the ones I picked!


Bill's The Cookbook: Cook Eat Smile - great cookbook gift for a food lover


Number 4: Bill’s the Cookbook: Cook, Eat, Smile – I wrote about this one in December last year, and this was one of the books on my list for Santa. Sadly, Santa didn’t get the memo, and none of the five appeared under the tree. Though BFF did read it and I got a couple of the beautiful Penguin books. Still not been to Bill’s either. But obviously lots of people are keen on the style of cooking!


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


Number 3: Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard – same post, same list for Santa, same lack of this on my bookshelf. Every time I see a recipe from it or people raving about things they’ve baked from it then I wonder why it doesn’t live here. Maybe the birthday fairy will take note.

Number 2: Eggs by Michel Roux – this came from a post in October last year, when there was a collision of “weeks” all in one week, giving you the odd combination of National Egg, Curry and Chocolate Weeks all in the same week. This book was my rep for the eggs, and I don’t know whether it’s that people need a lot of inspiration on what to do with eggs, or just about having a little of that Roux magic in the house.

And finally, the very top of the tree in the last year….

The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and other Galactic Recipes


Number 1: The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes – this came from a post I wrote about not taking cookbooks too seriously. Personally, I’d have liked to have seen the Bewitched cookbook at the top, but given I have just come back from the US with Star Wars cookie cutters, then maybe it’s no real surprise!


The Friday Five – All About the Bread


Resisted a title involving the words kneading and dough, but as it’s Real Bread Maker Week there could really only be one subject:


Dough by Richard Bertinet - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover who wants to get into bread


Dough by Richard Bertinet – one of my favourites, though never watched the DVD. Great recipes, great technique, my copy is quite floury now.


The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard – I really like Dan’s newspaper column, loved the recipes I’ve tried from Short and Sweet, so have no doubt that I would really enjoy a book by him about the joys of bread making. What’s not to love?


English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David – a bit more old school, as the original was written in 1977, but a revelation of the history of this most basic of foodstuffs, showing how it gets elevated from just four simple ingredients to something amazing.


Bread Revolution: Rise Up and Bake - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


Bread Revolution – bang up to date with this book from Duncan Glendinning and Patrick Ryan, who have been busy forging the way with The Thoughtful Bread Company, bringing great bread to a wide audience. Great recipes in this one, like the writing style too.


Wild Sourdough - perfect cookbook to gift to a food lover looking to get into bread making


Wild Sourdough: the Natural Way to Bake – this starts out as a kind of back to basics approach to bread, but when you get into flavours like Halloumi and Mint or Chilli and Feta, then you’re far from basic territory.

Bread is such a fantastic thing to make, particularly with kids, and think of the reward as the house fills with the smell of baking bread. Is there anything better?


The Friday Five – the ones on my list


I write about all kinds of cookbooks throughout the year. I keep an ongoing list of books to come back to, never quite knowing what theme I’m going to pick up each week. And over the year, some transfer from my research list onto my wish list. Not always cookbooks, but always with food at the heart of the book. So as we get to the festive season, these are five that I wouldn’t object to finding under the tree next week.


The Untold History of the Potato - great book gift for a food lover who likes to know the story behind food


* The Untold History of the Potato – I quite like these sorts of books, where an expert/geek gets to really get indepth on one subject or ingredient. I’ve done Cod, I’ve done Salt, and I quite fancy doing the potato. Reviews look a bit mixed, but then Salt was slow going, and Cod was definitely a slow burner, but in the end I loved it.


The Town That Food Saved - great gift of a book for a food lover with interest in food sustainability


* The Town That Food Saved – I saw this when I was in NYC in the summer, and the story really appealed to me. I love the way food can bring communities together, and how it can be economically reviving. A story for our times, and perhaps something to be read in the context of the Portas report this week, which I wasn’t completely convinced by.


Pieminister: a pie for all seasons - great cookbook gift for a food lover who loves their pies


* Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons – this would be to make MGG happy, as chicken pie still rates as one of her top three meals, rotating with mussels and chow mein. I’ve been a Pieminister fan for ages, and I’ve heard nothing but good reports on this book from cookbook addicts that I would trust.


Bill's The Cookbook: Cook, Eat, Smile - great cookbook gift for a food lover with a smile


* Bill’s the Cookbook: Cook, Eat, Smile – I’ve never been to Bill’s but if I was ever to run a food store meets restaurant, I would want it to be like Bill’s. It sums up everything that can be fabulous about good food, well sourced, and well cooked, served with love and fun. If I can’t get there, then I’ll have to settle for the book.


Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard - my favourite baking book ever


* Short and Sweet – It wouldn’t really be my list without something baking oriented, and Dan Lepard’s book is probably the one I would prioritise. I really enjoy his writing, and his recipes. That said, I can imagine putting on about a stone in weight as there are so many recipes that appeal to me in this book.

I’d also be happy with any of the beautiful Penguin books I’ve written about a few times, as they look good, and are great for recipe and for historical context of the development of food and cooking. I’ve particularly enjoyed reading A Little Dinner Before the Play, and have cooked from the Claudia Roden quite a lot.

If Santa brings any of these though, I have to decide which one to move off the shelf, which one has failed to earn its spot…choices, choices!