Sweet by James Martin (Quadrille), costs R450 from Adams in Musgrave. This is a book of recipes so decadent it’s almost the kama sutra of baking. By Ingrid Shevlin.
When James Martin was training to be a chef, holding sway over the pastry kitchen was never his dream. But fate intervened. One day the pastry chef at the restaurant where he worked went to the loo and was never seen again. Three days later James was assigned to the pastry kitchen and four months later he headed it. Back then, as he writes in the foreward to his book, no-one wanted to work on the pastry section. It wasn’t seen as manly enough.
Today, thanks to shows like the Great British Bake-Off and the Baker Brothers baking is not only manly it’s downright sexy. Think Paul Hollywood of the Great British Bake-Off. Who can resist a man with flour on his nose?The book is the culmination of all the long hours and years James spent sweating in the pastry kitchen making sweet treats.
Although the front section of the book is devoted to the basics of making (or executing) the various kind of pastries and doughs, meringues, macaroons, creme patisserie, glazes, pastillage (icing), piping, ice-creams and sorbets, this is not for the beginner baker.
If you can and like baking this book will take you to new heights and offer you 90 recipes for the most gorgeous-looking and innovative desserts and teatime treats you can imagine.
Think chocolate and beetroot roulade with chocolate cream; almond and rapeseed oil cake with Poire William liquor, celery and white chocolate ice-cream; iced lemongrass parfait with toasted brioche crumbs and pan-fried mango; or quince tatin with pureed quince, quince sorbet and white chocolate snow.
So, not for the faint of heart or the baker who buys ready mixes. Sacrilege.
Although there are some more accessible recipes, like the almond and rapeseed oil cake and roasted pineapple studded with cloves and cinnamon, most of the recipes require some skill. And time.
The book is divided in sections like chocolate desserts, cream desserts, fruit desserts, pastry desserts, chocolate cakes, cakes with fruit and teatime treats. The book ends with troubleshooting tips – what to do when your baking goes bad.
I do have one small quibble, though. Although the book is lavishly and beautifully illustrated, with each illustration looking like a work of art, not every recipe has an accompanying photograph. I think it should. A picture of the end result is a good guide when it comes to the decorating part.
James’s recipe for gingerbread biscuits comes in time for Christmas. Serve them with afternoon tea, hang on your Christmas tree or package them and give as gifts.
Makes 20 to 25
200g butter softened
200g light brown soft sugar
4 Tbs golden syrup
1 Tbs treacle
1 Tbs water
500g plain cake flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Tbs ground ginger
2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Royal icing (recipe below)
1 Beat butter, sugar, golden syrup, treacle and water together in a food mixer, or in a bowl with an electric whisk, until very soft and light.
2 Sift in the flour, bicarb and spices.
3 Mix everything together to form a soft dough.
4 Lightly flour a work surface and then knead the dough gently until smooth. Pat down until about 1cm thick then cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge to set for about an hour.
5 Preheat the oven to 18OC/350F/gas mark 4.
6 Roll the dough out to about 3mm thick then stamp into star shapes and discs with cutters.
7 Transfer to a lined and greased baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes until just starting to colour at the edges.
8 Remove from the oven and allow the biscuits to cool and firm up on the baking sheet before removing.
9 Decorate the gingerbread with royal icing and silver balls and sprinkles, as you wish.
ROYAL ICING (makes 400g)
400g icing sugar
2 egg whites
1 1/2 tsp glycerine
1 Sift icing sugar into food mixer and then add the egg whites and beat together until smooth.
2 Add the glycerine and whisk until thickened, rich and very smooth. This process should take 7 – 10 minutes. It should be thick enough to hold its shape when used to glaze cakes
3 Use immediately.