With Christmas over for another year, we must collectively try to make our gluttonous ways ease off with the new year. I think this is a very bad idea. I thrive through gluttony. I live for gluttony. We cannot let the “new year, new you” fad make us part with some of our favourite treats. As a self-confessed glutton through and through, and as someone deeply concerned by the “new year, new you” fad, I have taken it upon myself to try out the recipes from two of our bestselling novelty Food and Drink books.
It wouldn’t be truly gluttonous unless the recipes were for truly indulgent treats, so I chose to take a look at the new baking hit Scone with the Wind and the bestselling cocktail sensation Tequila Mockingbird, just to see what all the fuss was about.
Scone with the Wind
The top recipes:
Whoopie Pies &Prejudice, For Whom the Bell Tuiles, Tart of Darkness, Banana Karenina, Don Biscotti, The Red Velveteen Rabbit, Waiting for Gateau.
Some of the highlights:
For Whom The Bell Tuiles- This sounded like one of the easiest recipes in the book, so when I came to try it out I was surprised by how fiddly it was. While it doesn’t need that many ingredients, it requires an extremely steady hand. The recipe itself is really straightforward and, like the rest of the book, is explained coherently. However, the recipe calls for a bell-shaped plastic stencil to pour the mix into when it is ready and I, quite smugly, thought I could forgo this little aspect. I was wrong.
Instead of using a stencil to help keep the shape of the biscuits, I very carefully drew bell shapes all over my baking paper and then slowly filled them in with mixture. This took quite a while and the results weren’t great. I presented the oddly misshapen biscuits to my colleagues and they very kindly commented that, while they looked terrible, they made up for it in taste.
Presenting the Tuiles could have been really lovely if they had come out in the right shape, as the chilli-chocolate dipping sauce adds a really nice, sophisticated twist.
Banana Karenina- This was, without a doubt, the BEST desert I have ever made. Not only was it ridiculously fun to make, but it was really straightforward and resulted in a taste experience that I would have happily paid good money for.
The Banana Karenina page began as so:
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But happy or sad, these toffee truffle bombes will be a hit for family suppers every time. Decadently decorated to mirror the beautiful ballgowns of Anna and Kitty, they’re as tasty as a fresh faced debutante daring to dream of love, and as rich as a Russian aristocrat. The side order of bananas summons the sexuality of Vronsky himself, drizzled with the caramel of infidelity and laced illicit desire. Watch you don’t go off the rails…”
Described in the book as “Toffee Truffle Bombes with Caramelised Bananas”, I immediately thought it would be one of the hardest recipes in the book, but I was wrong. I am a worrier by nature and at no point did I lose my cool- everything was simple. It didn’t involve any particularly rare ingredients and the only element that I struggled to get was the Fromage Frais. I did, however, manage to find a pretty simple substitute and used Quark instead.
You start by making your own homemade toffee ice-cream, which was one of the most enjoyable kitchen experiences I have ever had. It’s incredible how easy making ice-cream really is when you get down to it, and the book’s step by step guide made it seem an absolute doddle. Once your ice-cream has solidified you line the walls of some ramekins with the mixture, and pop them back into the freezer to fix into place. You then make your own rich chocolate ganache (a great skill to have if you are a chocolate lover) and spoon it into the centre of the ice-cream ramekins, leaving it to freeze even further.
While that’s cooling you caramelise some bananas. When they’re ready you simply turn the ice-cream out of the ramekins and onto a plate, top with the banana and voilà, a desert of champions. It’s perfect for dinner parties or if you want to impress or treat someone special, as it looks difficult and really sophisticated while actually being really, really simple.
I served this to my housemates and we all agreed that it was something we would eat in a restaurant and now, weeks later, I still can’t believe how easy it was. I have been raving about this recipe to everyone I know and I think I may end up just living off it entirely.
The Red Velveteen Rabbit – As my first time making Red Velvet cake, I was surprised at how normal the ingredients were. People rave about Red Velvet, but it’s made up of nearly exactly the same elements as most cakes, with some slight variances. It all came down to the method, which you have to follow properly in order to get the right taste and texture. Apart from remembering to change the way in which you mixed the ingredients, this was pretty much the same as making a normal cake, apart from the fact that the mixture was the tastiest I have ever had, and the results were pretty great. The only downside to this was the fact that I ran out of red food colouring and so, instead of making a true Red Velvet cake, I ended up with a Pinky-Beige Velvet cake instead. Yummy though. .
One of the best parts of this book is the small description that comes before the recipe as it not only teaches you a lot about famous literature, but it serves to set the tone for the treat that you’re about to make.
It’s brilliant, it’s fun and it genuinely adds something to the whole experience. The book also starts off with a list of helpful baking equipment and some tips on ingredients and useful substitutes. On top of that, the recipes are split into fun categories like “Romance and Comedy” and “Children’s Classics”, with each new chapter page including a fun literary quote about food.
I adored this little book and I will definitely be using it again. It was really straightforward to use and made me laugh from all the puns – I’m never letting this out of my sight!
The Count of Monte Cristal, Infinite Zest, The Wonderful Blizzard of Oz, Fahrenheit 151, Orange Julius Caesar, The Moonshine and Sixpence, Remembrance of things Pabst and A Midsummer Night’s Beam.
Some of the highlights:
Fahrenheit 151– One of my very favourites, this is a true winter recipe, perfect for curling up by the fire under a blanket at Christmas. But one of my favourite things about Fahrenheit 151 was the little description before the recipe which read:
“It ain’t about censorship, kids! Bradbury’s then-futuristic Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which a book burns) is about a society in which technology reigns supreme and books go bye-bye. Written in the fifties but ringing eerily true today, Fahrenheit’s world stars firemen who start the flames, setting the written word afire and snigging out pesky, law-breaking readers. Serve up a burning-hot party drink to toast the peerless printed page- hey, you don’t wanna spill rum on a kindle. Soon as this one’s ready to serve, disconnect the crock pot (and all your igadgets) and reconnect with your party.”
– A lovely, witty message that gives homage to Bradbury while emphasising the importance of sharing a human connection and not getting caught up in technology.
The ingredients were pretty simple but it’s important to keep in mind that, as this is a mulled, wintery drink it does take a little time. You pour all of the ingredients (except for the rum) into a saucepan and leave it for at least an hour to sufficiently mull the contents. It then states that “After everyone has turned off their cell phones, unplug the pot and the rum. Give it a stir and ladle away.”
It’s tasty, it’s easy and it was a really lovely twist on a winter classic.
Infinite Zest- I’m a little embarrassed to say that, before making Infinite Zest, I never really understood the difference between shaking or stirring a cocktail. And let me tell you that there is a big difference.
The recipe called for Vodka, Limoncello and lemon juice. I added the ingredients together into some champagne glasses and took a sip. It was ok, but it was just like drinking strong Limoncello. A bit dull for a recipe from Tequila Mockingbird, I thought. Then I noticed that I had forgotten to shake the mixture as per the instructions and gave it a quick go. The difference was incredible! While before shaking all I had was a glass of Limoncello that could put hairs on your chest, I was left with a beautifully sweet and delicate lemon-based drink. It was smooth. It was sugary. I have no idea how, but that one tiny task of shaking a cocktail really can make a huge difference. What a lovely little summer drink.
The Moonshine and Sixpence– The recipe specifies that you need “cheap” whiskey, pineapple juice and coconut cream. The introduction calls to mind Tahiti, where the protagonist of Somerset Maugham’s famous novel ends up.
“Sip on this ‘moonshine’ cooler next time you need inspiration to break out of that cubicle and head to the tropics – even if only in your dreams.”
And that is exactly what this creamy cocktail does. It makes you think of palm trees swaying in the sun and hammocks where you can take a dreamy nap. While the coconut cream may not be the easiest to get a hold of, it’s worth it to be transported to a whole other world.
Top Tip- When a recipe calls for “a splash” of something, as it does with the coconut cream here, stick to “a splash”. If your hand shakes and you accidentally end up tipping more into the glass then there is no going back and the results will not be as pleasant.
Remembrance of Things Pabst– The introduction read as follows:
“Proust’s narrator describes his sudden transportation back to childhood after tasting a madeleine soaked in tea. Take a journey to simpler times with a delicate summer drink that’ll have you recalling your first secret sips of beer. And pair this drink with as many cookies as your memory demands.”
While I loved the little description I was, however, confused. Earl Grey iced tea, Beer, lemon wedge. So simple, so weird. When I told my friends the recipe for this strange little beverage, I was greeted with looks of absolute horror. How on earth could that work? It wouldn’t, surely. But it did. Forget Pimms, this is going to be my new go-to summer drink of choice. I like beer anyway, but mixed with the floral notes from the Earl Grey and the touch of lemon, it was absolutely gorgeous.
Top Tip– Also try it with other variants of iced tea. I tried versions with plain iced tea, store bought lemon iced tea and Lemon Grey iced tea as well, and they were all lovely (although Earl Grey really was probably the best).
Much like with Scone with the Wind, one of my favourite things about Tequila Mockingbird was the introductions that were given before each recipe. Not only did they help to set the atmosphere for the drink, but I found that they actually taught me a lot of fun facts about authors and novels alike. This may seem like a novelty gift designed for a bit of a giggle, and it is, but what I’ve found is that it is also a genuinely very insightful, nifty little recipe book that is both easy to use and incredibly informative. It is filled with tips on the correct glassware to use for different types of beverages, on the differences between types of liquor and why some are used for certain recipes instead of others, and it taught me to always, always follow the recipe if it asks you to shake your cocktail mixture.
I adore these two little books and have given them to friends and family alike. I now see what all the fuss was about- they aren’t just funny gifts but they’re fun too.
This is an extended version of a blog post I wrote for the Waterstones website.