BOOK REVIEW: The Best Ever Baking Book by Jane Bull

BOOK REVIEW: The Best Ever Baking Book by Jane Bull

Dorling Kindersley Ltd
October 2017
Hardcover, $22.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction / Cooking / Food & Drink / Baking


The Best Ever Baking Book could also be called, “My First Ever Baking Book.” This colourful volume is written by Jane Ball who has penned numerous children’s books about crafts, cooking and activities, all of which make a good resource over the school holiday break. In this vibrant hardcover, she introduces youngsters to the world of baking by offering up a series of simple and accessible recipes that are designed to be experimented, enjoyed, and played with.

Baking recipes use different methods to mix the same ingredients to achieve different results. Whether it’s biscuits, cakes, or pastry, this book uses a few of the basic methods.

Here they are with explanations of what they do:
– Rubbing in: using your thumb and fingertips, rub the butter and flour together until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. This is used for a lot of the recipes in this book such as pastry and cookies.
– Creaming: This is when you mix or beat the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon so that they make a creamy mixture. In this book it’s used for recipes like the chocolate chunk cookies.
– Dough: Dough is a name given to the mixture that makes pastry, biscuits, scones, or bread, but they behave differently when they are cooked. Bread dough needs kneading as this has yeast in it. Other dough should be handled lightly.
– Kneading: That is what you do to bread dough to get the yeast working. Fold the dough over itself and press your knuckles into it. Repeat this over and over again. Then leave it in a warm place to rise.
– Whisking: Whisking egg whites can be done with a hand whisk but an electric one is much faster. Don’t let any egg yolk in or it won’t work. Whisk at full speed until the mixture stands up in peaks.

This book includes the basics, like introducing children to the equipment they will need to use as well as advising that parental supervision is required and the importance of keeping the kitchen clean. At the end of the title, Ball includes a page devoted to cracking and separating eggs the “easy way.” This information probably should have been covered earlier in the book because all of the recipes require knowledge of these two important things. This book also includes a handy index at the back that you can use to look up recipes and ingredients, and Ball offers up some helpful tips throughout the text which should help assist in the cooking process, like the following about bread:

Yeast likes warmth to help it grow and this will help your bread to rise.
– If all things you work with are warm, such as the bowl and the room, this will help.
– Make sure the water isn’t too hot or this will kill the yeast and your bread won’t rise.

The idea behind this book is fantastic because it will help teach children the art of comprehending and following instructions. It should also help improve their reading and dexterity skills as well as offering a sense of achievement and self-confidence when they successfully cook and eat the recipes. The idea is to be positive and creative and to throw yourself into the cooking. Ball reminds us that we can experiment and vary the ingredients, should we wish. She does this by starting with a basic recipe, like the following one for shortbread cookies and then on subsequent pages she offers us some flavour variations to try, like almond, coconut, cocoa powder, etc.

1. Put all the ingredients (flour, sugar and butter) into the bowl.
2. Rub the mixture between your thumbs and fingertips.
3. When the mixture looks crumbly squeeze it together to make a ball of dough.
4. Pinch off little lumps of dough, and roll them to the size of a ping-pong ball.
5. Place the balls on a baking sheet, leaving room for them to spread when they cook.
6. Set the oven 170C/325F/Gas mark 3. Bake for 15-20 mins, cool on a rack.

Jane Ball is an English author and there are some cases where the names of the ingredients listed here differ in the UK from those used in Australia. She calls hundreds and thousands “sugar strands”, and smarties or M & Ms “sweeties”. It is important to be mindful of this. It also pays to take care with some of the measurements in the recipes. One teaspoon of bicarbonate soda in the chocolate chip cookie recipe is too high, while in other instances it seems like too much or not enough of certain ingredients are cited. It is best to use your best judgment if things don’t appear right.

One area where Ball does particularly well is in making things appealing to children. The recipes all have photographs breaking down every step of the process, so this makes things easy to follow and also means that younger children (like those under five) can be involved in the proceedings. Ball uses language that appeals to kids, calling banana bread the more fun “Monkey bread”, and rock cakes “Moon rocks.” For the latter recipe, she invents an entire “Moon mission” for kids to enjoy:

Your mission – to reconstruct moon rocks that are good enough to eat. Read the scientific data carefully and report back at teatime… Collect up your samples and prepare your work area. Check the tools and follow these instructions to proceed. Remember captain, you must be back from a successful mission in time for tea. GOOD LUCK.

The Best Ever Baking Book is a fun and vibrant collection of recipes that should offer hours of fun and entertainment in the kitchen for small and big hands alike. Ball has included a lovely mix of easy-to-follow recipes, although most of these are from the sweeter end of the spectrum. As a primer, The Best Ever Baking Book offers a nice start on the road to cooking without ever seeming silly or half-baked.

BOOK REVIEW: The Best Ever Baking Book by Jane Bull

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