Hello. I feel like I haven't done much posting this week so today is the day to try to catch up.
First off, a First Impression review-type-thingy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, the 'slimming' cake cookery book that I've been baking from lately. I got it out of our local library after coming across it on Flossie Teacakes' blog.
author: Harry Eastwood
The version I got is hardback, and it looks like (from a quick check on Amazon) there is no paperback edition so far.
Well, it's a cookbook. The recipes have all been worked up by Harry to substitute vegetables for fat and so make eating cake not such a hip-expanding experience. She covers a variety of sponges, buns and cupcakes, and other pudding-y things, with a smattering of non-cake recipes such as parsnip and vanilla fudge and mulled white wine jellies.
The book is divided into 11 chapters; an introduction, a load of recipe chapters, stockists and nutritional information.
Harry sets out her philosophy of being able to have your cake and eat it, by minimising sugar and fat, and maximising flavour and good texture - in other words, not having to eat crappy un-filling cakes full of air but proper cake - so you can actually have an enjoyable cake experience (!) whether you're on a diet or just wanting to eat more healthily.
She then goes on to talk about ingredients and describes how individual vegetables behave when used in a cake. She stresses that with her recipes you need to be quite precise about measuring and following the methods, and provides an illustration of cup cake case sizes to help with the individual recipes.
The recipe chapters
Each chapter is named after a colour ("The Pale Pink Chapter", "The Yellow Chapter" etc.) although the recipes within each one don't seem to have any particular relevance to the name.
Each recipe is clearly laid out with detailed instructions and cake tin or cup cake case size, and they are frequently followed by Trust Me Tips, where, for example, Harry makes suggestions for freezing, or what to expect the batter or cooked cake to look or behave like (they often don't behave like a normal egg/fat/flour/sugar mix).
There is a good mix of cake types including cupcakes (orange, lemon, ginger, chocolate, etc.), celebration cakes (birthday and wedding), rustic cakes (these are what I call cakes that you eat as they come out of the tin, ie, without icings or fillings, like the sunken apricot cake for example), large cakes (chocolate, victoria sponge, swiss rolls, etc.), scones (including savoury ones), puddings, fudge and an assortment of non-vegetable and accompanying recipes (jams, cordials and icings).
The recipes are interspersed with full page photographs of some, but not all, of the finished goods, and each chapter is finished by The Cake Diaries, where Harry describes in diary format how the recipes were developed.
...vanilla cream and raspberry swiss roll...
...and rosewater fairy cakes.
Stockists & nutritional information
A list of stockists is provided for equipment, ingredients, and cake tins and cases, and this is followed by a comprehensive list of the recipes stating their calorie and saturated fat content per portion.
My first impression
Let's start with the recipes. I've made two now and I wanted to make more before I wrote this post, but we are currently completely snowed under by cake, and any more would definitely have become extremely hip-expanding despite the vegetable content!
I've made the orange squash cupcakes and the sunken apricot and almond cake, and although I don't like orange flavour cake that much, I have to give both of them top marks for flavour, consistency and ease of making. I have managed to completely cover the kitchen with grated squash every time but that could be my grating technique (or lack of it?). I've also fed these cakes to Mr G and others and had no complaints. The only caution I can think of is that because the cakes are very moist and don't really appear to dry out after a day or so, they should be kept in the fridge because I can imagine they might go mouldy quite quickly if left out on a counter or in a cupboard.
I really like the fact that the recipes cover a whole range of what you might call 'cake situations' including puddings, and that a few savoury recipes are included. I think you could quite easily cook solely out of this book and not want for much in terms of variety. There are loads of recipes I still want to try, particularly a couple which use potato, but you need floury potatoes (King Edwards, Maris Piper, etc.) so I'll probably have to wait till later in the year.
The fact that you need to be very precise about recipe measurements, whisking and baking times, and case and tin sizes does seem somewhat constricting to start off with, but it's not hard, and as I said, the cakes come together so quickly and easily that it really isn't a bother. And the Trust Me Tips are very reassuring when you cake batter looks like a total disaster.
Two other things I liked very much. The list of calorie and saturated fat content for each recipe is a really good idea, the only (minor) complaint being that these are given for the finished cake and therefore include the icings, butter creams etc. Unless it is a rustic cake, if you only want to eat the cake itself (as it comes out of the oven) you're stuck, unless you use the Weight Watchers' system and can 'point' each recipe using the list of ingredients. Also, the cup cake case sizing picture is very helpful.
One thing missing that would have been very useful is a list of recipes by vegetable type, but the lack of it certainly isn't a make or break concern.
The illustrations are very good (although somewhat kitsch-y) and although not every recipe has an accompanying photo, I don't think this spoils things at all. In fact, providing an image to go with every cake would have make the book enormous and probably not so easy to find you way through, although the coffee-table-book-potential would have been fantastic!
Now the gripes.
I find the writing style more than a little irritating, particularly in the mini introductions to each recipe. For example:
"This brave little cupcake says: ' I'm going to have it, and I'd like it all, please'. She has an air of determined defiance, and is willing to wait for as long as it takes to prove a point worth making."
What does that tell you about the cake? Read one of these, and it's endearing, read all of them and they make me want to slap someone.
The overly yummy-mummy-ness of the photos (lots of dolls' furniture as props, little girls in floaty dresses and Harry in pink with all her chums) and writing style just don't do it for me. It's all too grown-ups-being-girlie, but then you might like that (or at least not want to slap anybody).
The chapter headings and contents page function very poorly (I don't know how else to describe it without using lots of rude words). Whilst a chapter may be called The Pink Chapter, when you get to the actual page, its named after the next recipe. And what makes no sense at all to me is that the contents page lists only one recipe after the chapter heading, as though there is only this recipe within the chapter. I just can't work out whether this is a mis-placed attempt at cuteness or very poor layout.
The Cake Diaries. This goes back to writing style, and (again for me) a failed attempt at Harry trying to be chummy. Another example:
"Testing Number 6: 16 December.
Well, I didn't see this one becoming a six-part saga when I started out! I think that modern gelatine has changed. I have finally got a lovely texture that is set but not rubber, as well as a great Christmas flavour. I was fuming but they looked so pretty I couldn't be cross for long."
Now I really need someone to slap. I agree that it is, perhaps, interesting to read about recipe development but I need to hear it in a style that isn't playing at sickly cute.
So, the verdict.
I'm probably not the only person in the world who uses library books as a trial run to buying my own, so will I be buying this book? So far, the recipes I've tried are certainly worth recommending and there are plenty more I am planning to try, but for me the gripes by far outweigh paying £20 (or probably more here in Ireland). Go borrow this from your library, or try the recipes that I post, but don't waste your money unless you are highy cute-tolerent.
Is that a bit too harsh? Well, maybe. I'm willing to concede that I have a low tolerance threshold for people over the age of three playing at cute, so see what you think, and please leave a comment if you want to agree, disagree or just tell me I'm a grumpy old bag.