I’ve been an avid baker since high school, when I took to the kitchen like a baby deer takes to its legs for the first time—that is to say, very ungracefully, with much wobbling and more than a few trip-ups. One of those tender first memories of baking exploration came from the time I decided to make a pineapple cheesecake for my grandmother’s birthday. After a few attempts at cheesecakes that bubbled, cracked, collapsed, and failed to set, I lamented the old cookbook that I’d found the recipe out of, wishing I had someone to troubleshoot with, give me advice, or at least show me how a pineapple cheesecake should look. (Pro-tip: don’t use the canned pineapple juice for flavouring, as it has enzymes that prevent the cheesecake from setting. I learned this many years later.)
How I wish that What to Bake and How to Bake It had been around then.
What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby professes to be for the novice baker (but it would also be brilliant to use with children, who can copy what they see); frankly, I’d buy it even if I weren’t a novice baker. The advice in the beginning alone is very much worth it. It’s split up into five sections: the introduction, “Simple Family Baking”, “Morning Coffee & Afternoon Tea”, “Special Bakes”, and “Dessert & After Dinner”. The introduction is one of my favourite parts of the book simply because of how much helpful information is packed into it. One of the most daunting aspects of many cookbooks can be the fact that they assume you are already masterful at all aspects of cooking or baking. What to Bake and How to Bake It gently eases you in with some helpful advice that is great for beginners but also for anyone who hasn’t been trained in the art of baking—even a seasoned at-home baker such as myself learned some new things. There’s even a bit called “What went wrong?” which details some common baking foibles (flat cake, sunken cake, cracked cake, bubbles) and some ways they might be fixed. There are also photographic guides of common baking utensils, tins/forms/pans, and a visual guide to properly whipped cream, creamed butter and sugar, whisked egg whites, split batter, and overcooked chocolate. (I especially could have used a visual of the overcooked chocolate at many points in my baking adventures, since that picture was a painfully familiar one.)
Besides the fact that it’s a great cookbook, it is also beautifully designed. The photography is simple but beautiful, visually representing each recipe in a way that is easy to understand. Quirky illustrations adorn the cover; attached to the spine are not one, but two silky teal ribbons, ready to mark your favourite recipes or whichever one you plan to do next—which is exactly what I’ve already done. One thing’s for sure, this isn’t a book you’ll only cook one recipe from and then put it down to gather dust on the shelf. It’s sure to live a long, happy life in your kitchen, collecting dogears, stains, and splotches—all the badges of pride every good cookbook should wear.
Today I’m going to share with you one of the recipes I made to test out the cookbook. When I flipped through the book for the first time, this recipe jumped out at me because of one unusual ingredient. You wouldn’t really think of courgettes (zucchinis, my American brethren) as something to add to a sweet dessert, but as the author points out, it’s like the carrot in carrot cakes. It “adds a soft freshness rather than any particular flavour”. Freshness is certainly right—paired with the zesty lemons, these cupcakes are light, refreshing, and entirely too moreish.
Courgette Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting
Reprinted from What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby
200 g courgettes (1-2 small ones)
175 g softened butter
150 g plus 1 tbsp caster sugar
200 g plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp poppy seeds
150 g lemon curd
250 g mascarpone
2 tsp poppy seeds
1. Trim, then coarsely grate the courgettes, skins and all. You should have about 150 g. Spread them out between kitchen paper or on a clean tea towel and set aside for a few minutes while you get everything else ready.
2. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Grease the holes of a 12-hole non-stick muffin tin or use 12 deep paper cases in an ungreased tin if you prefer. Finely grate the zest from the lemon and squeeze the juice. Put the zest, 2 tablespoons juice and the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat using an electric mixer or wooden spoon until creamy and pale.
3. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together, then sift on top of the butter and sugar mixture. Crack in the eggs, then beat everything together until evenly blended. Try not to overwork the batter once the flour has gone in.
4. Fold in the 1 tbsp poppy seeds and grated courgettes, then spoon into the prepared tin. The holes will seem fairly full, which is fine.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until they have risen and are golden, and a skewer inserted into one of the middle cakes comes out clean. Mix the rest of the lemon juice with the extra sugar and let it melt together, stirring occasionally, while the cakes cook. Poke holes in the tops of the cakes with a cocktail stick and spoon the syrup over them. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
6. To make the frosting, put the lemon curd and mascarpone in a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or spatula until smooth and evenly blended. Dollop it onto the cooled cakes just before eating and swirl with a spoon or small palette knife.
7. Sprinkle with poppy seeds to finish. The cupcakes are best enjoyed fresh, but keep any leftover cakes in a cool place or in the fridge once the frosting has been added.
If you’re in the UK, you can find What to Bake and How to Bake It at Waterstone’s and Foyles locations. If you’re in the US you can probably find it in Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million. You can also buy it online at Phaidon, Amazon (US/UK), and the websites of any of the above retailers. There’s still time to buy it online and receive it in time for Christmas (or send it gift-wrapped, as I often do with family back home) or even go to the bookstore (oh the novelty!) and buy it. It’s the perfect holiday gift for the aspiring baker/amateur baker/design-loving baker/any-kind-of baker in your life.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of the cookbook courtesy of Phaidon, but all opinions are my own. Plus, you can’t fake delicious recipes.