With How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom, food historian and chef Gerard Baker (no pun intended) provides a place for the answers to all the baking questions you’d feel too embarrassed to ask.
The first thing I noticed about this book is that it’s really beautiful to look at. Both the covers and the title page of each chapter have a quirky vintage fabric style design which I just love. The simple palette of colours used in the design create a clean, classic looking volume. Yes, it may lack the edgy food photography of most recipe books, but the monochrome line drawings evoke more of a traditional ‘1950’s kitchen’ vibe.
Divided into five sections, How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom cover the main cornerstones of baking: Cakes and Biscuits, Bread, Pastry, Desserts and Flavours and Fillings. Each of these sections is then divided further; we have a slice of history, where we learn about the origins and development of different baked goods; we have definitions of the occasionally baffling baking lingo you see in most recipes; we have technical tips and then a troubleshooting section, all peppered with classic recipes that every wannabe baking queen (or king) should have in her repertoire.
I consider myself a fairly seasoned baker, I’ve been wielding a rolling-pin and a bag of desiccated coconut since I was about three years old, so a lot of the definition of terms were unnecessary for me, but I think this would definitely be a useful book to have in your stash if you’re just starting out. I did, however, find it quite useful to read the explanations of why each step of the baking process is so important. My naturally impatient little self often feels inclined to amp up baking temperatures and ‘forget’ to chill my pastry, so I’m glad that now I know all my recipe books aren’t just out to suck the fun out of baking… we’ll have to see if my breads and cakes receive better reviews now that I have superior knowledge…
I adore cook books; I buy them way faster than I can read them, let alone cook from them, so when it came to How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom I thought the recipe sections would be my favourite part. But do you know what, they weren’t. I mean, those Cocoa Macaroons are at the top of my ‘to bake’ list, and I could quite literally live of that Sourdough Bread, but from a reading point of view, I absolutely loved the history of baking. I think this book would make a really fun gift for anyone who, like me, enjoys the random side of history. I’d also recommend you give it to the man in your life for Christmas if he needs a few tips in the art of caking!
Did you know that the word ‘cake’ comes from the Old Norse word kaka? (A word that has entirely anti-cake connotations nowadays!) Or that it was the Romans we have to thank for the invention of pastry?
No? Well neither did I. I think I may have to find myself another book on baking through the ages to read during Non Fic November… it’s all so weird and interesting!