Here's a secret that you may already be privy to. In which case skip on to paragraph two. But (and I'm whispering here) baking is easy and cheap, and a cost effective way to plump out the family food budget each month without spending more money.
It is just, well, kind of hard to know how to get started if you've not a clue about baking, or only just a vague memory of making biscuits with your mum when you were 12.
Oh and also, baking makes the house smell great. And at this time of the year when the evenings are drawing in and the air outside is crsip but oh so cold, that's a really comforting thing.
So, just out last week was the BBC Books The Great British Bake Off: Learn to Bake: 80 easy recipes for all the family * (RRP £18.99 but on special offer at the moment in the BBC Shop for £11.99). If your family or anyone you know has enjoyed the BBC's TV show of the same name then let me tell you now, this is the absolute perfect Christmas gift. It is a superbly designed book, with gorgeous photographs. It deserves a place on the coffee table.
Interested? Then read on to find out more.
My copy of Learn To Bake is not going into anyone's Christmas pile. It is mine, I tell you, all mine! The book comes with a fairly robust dust jacked. I am going to assume that this is wipe clean but I'm not putting it to the test as my book isn't going anywhere near my kitchen. I definitely don't want to smudge the pages with greasy butter or sticky egg.
Instead I read through the recipe a couple of times, then make some notes and take those into the kitchen.
What you get in the book are 80 cake, pudding, biscuit and pastry recipes with step-by-step guides to teach the main baking techniques. For example, I've never really understood folding. But now I do! All the steps are well documented with photos.
The book is also a fabulous way to get children inspired with baking too. There's simply no way you can go wrong following these instructions. At least I hope not - I have only read through the book and tried out a couple of the recipes so far. Those worked just fine.
At the start of the book there's sections on key baking ingredients, the equipment you need to get started, and most crucially in my opinion, a guide to baking terms. So now I know what 'proving' means, and the best way to fill a piping bag. There you put it into a cup, fold down the top, and scoop the icing in. Genius! I have made such a mess of this in the past, can't believe I never thought of doing that.
There are also conversion tables, taking you from imperial to metric and back. Handy but... limited I thought. What I'd have liked in here was also a conversion guide for those without scales or measuring cups - and I have one of those in another cook book. This tells me (exceptionally helpfully) for example that two tablespoons of butter is 30g, and one cup of white sugar is the same as 250g.
So, there is room for improvement. But it isn't a huge amount.
Another concern I had was the recipes themselves. I've tried some recipes before from cooks off the show and frankly I found them unnecessarily complicated in ways that did not add to the enjoyment of the cake or pastry.
This is not quite the same thing though. This book is about enjoying baking and the basic of baking. So you get recipes for straightforward scones, for example, or making your own pretzels.
There's more complicated looking things in there but overall the recipes are just what it says on the front cover - easy. Given the current reduced price of the book on BBC Books, I'd say that this is excellent value.
And if the Zebra cake (above) does turn out as spectacular as it looks I will be so happy. The overall recipe looks dead easy and the tip about piping in the mixture is just amazing. I reckon it would be possible to do this with the minimum of fuss in just 15 minutes if you use a cake mix like Sainsburys Basics Sponge mix making it perfect to whip up for school cake sales.
Pros a beautifully illustrated and designed book with the sort of practical information and guidance any potential baker needs
Cons a little more help for those without the right equipment would be good such as the conversion tables
Overall verdict 10/10