Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Great Big Butter Cookbook

Sun 6 Jan 2008

Anyone who knows me will know how much I loathe the idea of processed substitutes for simple foods. I also hate anything with the words 'low fat' in front of it ... to borrow from Anna from This Life, what next? alcohol free beer?* oxygen free air?

So a book subtitled "because everything's better with butter" was probably written just for me! Before I received my copy I had an idea that this would be some kind of baking bible. Say "butter" and the first thing I think of is toast and the second thing is cake (followed closely by pastry and biscuits). But that's where I was utterly wrong. If you think about it - butter is (or should be or can be) used in so many types of dishes and a book which focusses on butter as the principal ingredient has a huge range of recipes to play with.

Unsurprisingly, The Great Big Butter Cookbook is a bit of a monster. It's a hardback and nearly 500 pages long - it has plenty of gorgeous, glossy photos but they're not overwhelming. Not every dish is illustrated and I think the ratio of pictures to recipes is about right.

Obviously, a recipe book is only as good as its recipes and our first test was the crispy chicken strips and the book scored a big tick on that front. The chicken was moist and tasty, the recipe was very quick to put together from basic ingredients (indeed, mostly storecupboard ingredients) and the result was as we were expecting.

The next experiment was the carrot cake. This is Andy's favourite type of cake and my least favourite. I've discovered this means I cannot cook it (one effort was so awful even the swans on the River Wey wouldn't eat it!) - so if The Great Big Butter Cookbook produced something edible it would be well ahead.

I chose to use one of my Christmas presents - a silicone muffin tray - rather than to make a whole cake, and I had to substitute part of the honey with some sugar, but otherwise I followed the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

In the food processor, combine 100g of butter with 1 cup of honey (about half a cup of honey and a quarter of a cup of golden caster sugar), 2/3 cup of plain yoghurt, 2 eggs and a 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence. Stir in 1 1/3 cup of grated/shredded carrot and follow with 1 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour, 1 cup of self raising flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Ensure everything is combined well, spoon into muffin tin (generous tablespoon per slot) and bake for about 15 minutes.

Hooray! The little carrot cakes rose and were edible! They were actually nicer on day two, because they had become a little sticky (like ginger cake) and they kept quite well for about 3 days (covered with clingfilm).

I didn't make the cream cheese frosting (cream cheese, butter, vanilla essence and icing sugar) and, to be honest, I thought they were quite sweet enough. If I were to make this recipe again I'd definitely reduce the amount of honey used, and I'd also be careful not to over-process the carrot. Most carrot cakes seem to have quite a coarse, moist middle and mine turned out to be smoother with a finer crumb (which suited me, but may not please carrot cake aficionados).

Given the size of the book two recipes is hardly a representative sample, but I'm already lining up the sour cream raspberry muffins to try out!

The book itself is broken into sections (such as 'Breakfasts and Breads' or 'Baked Goods and Desserts') and also has a very comprehensive index. For non American readers there will be a few, small dilemmas (butter measurements are often given in sticks, cups or tablespoons, and you'll need to 'translate' the odd ingredient) but, having read through most of the recipes, you shouldn't ever really struggle.

Because the book is so comprehensive in coverage, I'd recommend for anyone who was interested in an all purpose cookbook. It doesn't really cover any techniques, and, while the recipes are clear and step-by-step it may not be suitable for complete kitchen novices (who could well be intimidated by its size rather than anything else!).

The other notable thing about this book is that, in the UK, it is retailing for just £11.99. For a book this size and this glossy - this is really cheap (another book I received on the same day which is far less glossy but a similar size retails for £25).

The book is also available through Amazon US.

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* Yes, I am aware this exists, though why anyone would drink it is also beyond me.
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