• Well Red

Cookbooks for the soul

I have a small confession. I love cookbooks or more specifically baking books. I think it started when I was a child; in the kitchen, next to my brother’s seat at the table, was a kitchen dresser. Lined up on the dresser shelf were all my mother’s cookbooks, within easy reach. They were mostly from the 70s and 80s predating my birth (as a child I never witnessed my mother buy or be gifted a cookbook). My sister and I would flick through them, marvelling at the pictures of all the food. My sister particularly would stare at the food when she was ill and not allowed to eat (a glutton for punishment). It was 70s and 80s kitsch, but to my eyes the cakes and cake decorations were extraordinary. I would pour over them, never dreaming of actually making them – we’re not a baking family.

That changed the summer I turned 16. I visited a friend and we made a cake. I came home and immediately wanted to make a cake. My mother, not a baker, directed me to her shelf and specifically to a slim cookbook which was titled ‘how to cook with a magimix’. I pulled out our very old magimix, measured the ingredients (in ounces) and baked. I was hooked. Every Sunday (as long as I wasn’t being lazy) for a year I would bake the perfect Victoria sponge, with fresh cream and strawberry jam, put it a Tupperware and take it to my boarding school as part of my weekly tuck allowance.

I still use that recipe (now ingrained in my head) to bake a Victoria sponge, or basic sponge mix if I need it, although I now make it without the magimix. I still measure it in ounces too. The ritual of the recipe, so familiar, is comforting even 14 years later (it also makes the best sponge and GF sponge I’ve ever made).

It was after meeting my best friend (who had an incredible family kitchen, cookbook selection and is an incredible cook and baker) that I started my first foray into owning my own cookbooks. They began to be gifted to me quite frequently and I managed to get quite a lovely stack that moves from practical cookbooks to totally impractical fancy baking books.

Here’s my second admission. I’ve not cooked or baked recipes from most of the cookbooks I own. I’m a thoroughly average cook and baker. I just love looking at the pretty, pretty pictures. I visited my best friend’s family home about a month ago…my phone has about thirty images of recipes that sounded incredible. I’m never going to make a single one. I know what I enjoy – looking at recipes, not making them. The best friend, by the way, has had a cookbook limit placed on her by her fiancé (sensible) but at least she frequently uses all of them.

Eventually, one must face up to a couple of realities. One – I don’t live at home any more, so don’t have anywhere to store my books (worse, the family home was sold, so I had to downsize my belongings), two – I don’t have endless cash to buy pretty expensive cookbooks I’m never going to use. Fortunately, recipe blogs are plentiful if I actually need to make something, and my best friend is always happy to accommodate. Still, I miss my cookbooks and I long to have my own kitchen to house them all. I do have four or five in my flat, plus a recipe folder, but most of the things I make are either from my memory or a new recipe from the internet.

I miss that joy of reading fancy recipes, and sometimes you can find me in a bookshop pouring over the glossy pages only to sadly put the book back, knowing I won’t buy it and instead I’m being a sensible adult. Dammit, now I want to buy a cookbook.

Well Red Reviews

Yeah, I know this isn’t a baking blog, but just in case anyone is actually interested in the Victoria Sponge recipe:

6oz self-rising flour 6oz non-salted butter 6oz caster sugar 3 eggs teaspoon of baking powder

Shove it in a magimix all at the same time (cut up the butter first). Stop it after about 30 seconds, scrape down the sides and whiz for a couple more seconds. It should look like cake batter – I can’t tell you when it’s mixed enough, you just know when it looks right.

Put it in greased pans of your choice (seriously any shape will do) or use to make cupcakes. Put it in at any heat (usually around 180 fan assisted).The cake is done when it is springs back at the touch, looks like a cake and you can shove a knife through and it doesn’t have any batter stuck to it. Cool and assemble.

(If you don’t have a magimix, half melt your butter (aka soften) and then mix the butter and sugar together. When all mixed up add the rest of the ingredients and stir, stir, stir until it looks like cake batter).

It’s really hard to mess up this recipe and you can use it as a basic sponge or cupcakes. It makes enough batter to make an average size Victoria Sponge.

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