Browsing my friends’ bookshelves is always interesting but the books I love to get into (in more ways than one) are their baking books. Not every house has some but when I do come across a home with a well-stocked dessert-bookshelf, I can spend hours browsing and lingering over the lush photography. Puddings and cheesecakes and fruit tarts – oh my.
My love of baking books strikes my friends as strange because I own so few myself and I am a really terrible baker. Last week I tried to get my Nigella on and make brownies. I succeeded in making brown, far too much brown, great tracts of it that crawled out of the pan and attempted to envelope the wire rack like an Alien facehugger with chocolate chips. What remained in the pan completely lacked in the delicious gooey interior that makes a brownie so enjoyable and instead had a texture reminiscent of foam mattress.
It did not, it must be said, look like the brownie in the book. Nothing I bake ever does, because I am terrible at following instructions. Some people would have measured the ingredients and not substituted on an ad-hoc basis. Others might have looked at the timing and directions. Nigella, they would have reasoned, is an excellent cook and if, like me, you generally make cakes suitable for use as ballast perhaps actually following her directions would be a better plan than ignoring the book completely.
Me, I figured it would be fine once we beaten the gloop into submission, cleaned up the worst of the over-flowing tentacles, and added a little cream and chocolate shavings. And it was.
I have plenty of regular cooking books, and can make a great meal. Savoury food is simple to improvise but I invariably ruin the more structured sugary sweet treats I attempt. Sponges, flans, pastry, pastries; you name it, I have mutilated it. I am a terrible baker and this is probably no bad thing. The main problem with baking is the fact that, after you have done it, you have lots of baked goods available to eat. Sitting there. Tempting you. Demanding to be eaten and situating themselves lasciviously right next to the salted caramel sauce and big bottle of Baileys with a “come hither” expression on their steaming sugary surface.
I like friends with baking books, and I treasure my friends that do bake. I can only hope that they also welcome my enthusiastic advances on their cooking and admire my ability to enthusiastically munch my way through every mouthful they offer me, and then some. Because one bite of a sweet thing is never enough for me.
Maybe you are one of those saintly people who glide slim, smug and ethereal through life turning down unnecessary deliciousness. Maybe you just have a little of what you fancy – a nibble of the cheese, a square of the dark chocolate, just one canapé and a small glass of wine. You can open a pack of Pringles without needing to finish the tube, and throw leftover birthday cake out when it gets dry, rather than concocting a deranged high-calorie plan to make it wonderful again. (Microwave it, and then add some fresh cream with a little Bailey’s mixed in. You’re welcome.)
You can have your cake and eat it, but you’d genuinely prefer a nice piece of fresh fruit and a game of tennis. I would salute your temperance but I am too busy being filled with hate. And food. All the wonderful tasty delicious food.
Many of my friends are brilliant bakers with a cook-book collection to match. Browsing their shelves I find treats galore to tempt me. Cheesecakes. Sponges and flans. Tiny wonderful fat-filled enlardenating pastries. Wonderful brownie books and books on decorating. Cake pops, because normal cake just wasn’t fattening enough – they had to come up with a way to make it even more delicious and bad for you.
For me to have those books and be capable of making the contents correctly would be an invitation to non-stop baking madness and an additional 20 kilos or so to settle on my waistline overnight. I already have a deliciously-fattening craft beer habit, a penchant for Thai food and a slightly disturbing fixation on spectacularly smelly cheeses.
I don’t need to another monkey – or a sticky-sweet baked gorilla – on my back. I’ll leave the baking books on my friends’ kitchen shelves. And just try to be in the neighbourhood when they decide to give them a go.