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Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book

I bought this book a few weeks ago because it seemed to be close enough to being an important reference book for English cake baking. On that basis, it comes close, but doesn’t win. As a large compendium of English baking, it is very good.

Since then, I have baked my way through about a quarter of the recipes, which is very good going. Most of the results have been close to perfect: I can especially recommend her Bara Brith recipe, which is utterly delicious, and her carrot cake and rich brownies are likewise almost perfect. The pictures are luxurious and tempting, and cover the majority of recipes; they are also very representative of what the recipes actually will produce, and aren’t overembellished.

I have a few criticisms. Cooking times aren’t always precise, and I find that I have to check very carefully to make sure that the cakes are really ready. Additional sugar is a very popular topping on rock cakes, sponges and other types, which I find excessive. Mary Berry also invariably specifies margarine instead of butter, except for one or two recipes where the taste of margarine would be truly obnoxious. The chocolate chip cookies were the only recipe so far to disappoint, with the result being more like a sponge than a cookie. The only sponge technique used is all-in-one, even for the Victoria sponge, and examples of other traditional sponge techniques would be appreciated. Most of the cheesecake recipes relied on gelatine rather than baking, which I felt was inapproriate for a book with a full chapter on cheesecakes.

The chapter division and sequence I found rather puzzling. The first chapters are on chocolate cakes, meringues, “traybakes”, and celebration cakes. Most books would have saved three of these more difficult chapters for the end of the sequence. Then there are separate chapters on celebration cakes, Bazaars, gift cakes, continental cakes and then family cakes; although this is feasible, I find it hard to decide in which of these chapters some recipes should really belong.

Back to the good; the beginning chapters on tools, ingredients and techniques are brief but excellent, and the short chapter at the end on problem solving is also very good.

If you want an easy to follow cake book with many British traditional recipes, as well as a few surprises, where 90% or more will give excellent results – then this is a book for you. It isn’t complete, and doesn’t include many representative international recipes – but that may not be a fault for you.

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