Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait

Breadsong by Kitty and Ali Tait

From the publishers: Breadsong tells the story of Kitty Tait who was a chatty, bouncy and full-of-life 14 year old until she was overwhelmed by an ever-thickening cloud of depression and anxiety and she withdrew from the world. Her desperate family tried everything to help her but she slipped further away from them.

One day her dad Alex, a teacher, baked a loaf of bread with her and that small moment changed everything. One loaf quickly escalated into an obsession and Kitty started to find her way out of the terrible place she was in. Baking bread was the one thing that made any sense to her and before long she was making loaves for half her village. After a few whirlwind months, she and her dad opened the Orange Bakery, where queues now regularly snake down the street.

Breadsong is also a cookbook full of Kitty’s favourite recipes, including:

– the Comfort loaf made with Marmite, and with a crust that tastes like Twiglets
– bitesize queue nibbles, doughnuts with an ever-changing filling to keep the bakery queue happy
– sticky fika buns with mix-and-match fillings such as cardamom and orange
– Happy Bread covered with salted caramel
– cheese straws made with easy homemade ruff puff pastry
– the ultimatebrown butter and choc chip cookies with the perfect combination of gooey centre and crispy edges.

About the Author

Kitty Tait and her Dad Al live in Watlington, Oxfordshire and between them run the Orange Bakery. From the most original flavoured sourdough (miso and sesame, fig and walnut) to huge piles of cinnamon buns and Marmite and cheese swirls, the shop sells out every day and the queues stretch down the street. In 2018, Kitty was at school and Al worked at Oxford University, but when Kitty became so ill she couldn’t leave the house, the two discovered baking and, in particular, sourdough. Chronicled in Kitty’s Instagram @kittytaitbaker they went from a small subscription service to pop ups to a shop – all in two years. Along the way Kitty got better, a Corgi got involved and Al realised that he was now a baker not a teacher.

Our review coming soon

Cuisine: Baking
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy the book: Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait
£20, Bloomsbury Publishing

Breadsong has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022

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Lune by Katie Reid

Lune by Katie Read
Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night – to which is there any other answer than, yes please? Making croissants is something I’ve always thought best left to the professionals. It’s a fine art and while not rocket science, there’s definitely crossover: one requires precision, delicacy and an intricate understanding of weight and heat distribution; the other is rocket science. Kate Reid, owner and author of Lune, originally worked as an aerospace engineer for the Williams Formula 1 Team before a trip to Paris convinced her to apply her skillset to making croissants. Over a decade later, Lune has multiple venues in Australia, queues of people willing to wait hours to try their products and as of last year, a debut cookbook.

Reid has talked at length at how the two seemingly distinct career paths have benefited one another. She compares Lune to a “croissant Formula 1 team”, being driven by a need for an experimental and results driven approach in the pursuit of excellence. The book wears its engineering influences quite literally on its sleeve: starting with the croissant-shaped spaceship logo, a sleek black and reflective silver design, high contrast photography and a rigorously assembled ingredients list and methodology. Recipes are broadly listed by what time of day to have them, from Breakfast to Dinner, all the times in between and interspersed with personal stories of establishing Lune.

The golden thread throughout the book is the croissant dough. Once made, it can be applied to numerous different pastry recipes ranging from croissants, cruffins, danishes, escargots and more. Alongside the classics, are inventive recipes like Chocolate Plum Sake Danishes or Beef Bourguignon croissants. The book gets this out of the way early and it’s only fair I should too: you will not be travelling at speed. It will take at least 48 hours over the course of three days and a decent amount of effort to produce a single batch. Croissant casuals need not apply.

Day one requires a morning making a poolish and an afternoon bringing the dough together. Day two is lamination, the process of layering butter and pastry that gives croissants their flaky layers and if laminated in the morning, can then be shaped in the evening. Day three calls for a 2am start (spoiler: I did not get up at 2am), proving the croissants for five hours before baking to have with breakfast.

It is as time consuming as the book assures you it is but the dough recipe is so exacting, with photographs accompanying every step and measurements to the centimetre and gram there is little scope to go wrong. It is entirely worth the effort. I bake mine at a much more reasonable 1pm, filling the house with croissant pheromones that continually entice us back into the kitchen to check on their progress. The results are ethereal wonders, so lovingly formed and delicate I consider making an application for a UNESCO heritage listing to preserve them forever. They taste even better, as if they descended fully formed, a divine aura sailing them gracefully into my mouth.

Thankfully, the dough recipe returns enough for five batches and leaves plenty of opportunity to explore other pastries. The Cacio e Pepe Escargot is as lavish as its namesake. Danishes filled with strawberries and a burnt miso caramel custard are a rollercoaster of sweet and savoury. Cruffins are surprisingly easy to assemble and, in less of a shock, absolutely magnificent when filled with a peanut butter crème pâtissière and jam.

There are some small barriers to entry, investments in both time and equipment being examples. If you’re already a home baker, you’ll likely have the essentials to make the dough but for certain recipes, you’ll need more bespoke items like small, square silicone moulds for danish pastries. However, I didn’t have some of these and used the best equivalent I could find. The results were, admittedly, misshapen but no less delicious for it.

One of the many joys of this book is its laser focus. All of the recipes start from the same place – the croissant dough – which you’re going to learn to do very well and then apply it in an abundance of wildly inventive recipes. It’s refreshing to be encouraged to hone a craft, that yes, this is a practice of patience and discipline but it’s worth doing well. And once mastered, it can be taken in any creative direction you like – the sky’s the limit as they say, though I think Lune makes me want to shoot for the moon.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy the book: Lune: Croissants All Day, All Night by Katie Read
£28, Hardie Grant Books

Review written by Nick Dodd a Leeds-based pianist, teacher and writer. Contact him at www.yorkshirepiano.co.uk

Lune has been shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2022

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Pistachio madeleines by Sam and Sam Clark

277_Pistachio_Madeleines
Madeleines are always best served straight out of the oven. Make the batter, then bake the madeleines 10–15 minutes before you want to serve them. They are an excellent accompaniment to the ice creams.

Makes 24

100g butter (room temperature) + extra for greasing
100g caster sugar
2 free-range or organic eggs, lightly beaten
finely grated zest 1 lemon + extra for serving
70g very finely ground pistachios + extra for serving
50g self-raising flour, sieved + extra for dusting

Beat the butter and sugar until very pale and light, approximately 10 minutes. Stir in the eggs one by one, ensuring the first is fully incorporated before adding the second, followed by the lemon zest and pistachios. Once combined, gently fold in the flour. Leave the batter to rest in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

Generously grease two madeleine or cupcake trays with butter and lightly dust with flour, tapping off any excess.

Spoon a dessertspoon of the mixture into each mould, being careful not to overfill them – this quantity should make 24 madeleines. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until golden.

Serve with the extra pistachios and lemon zest sprinkled over.

Cook more from this book
Roast shoulder of pork marinated with orange and cumin by Sam and Sam Clark
Roast squash, sweet vinegar, garlic and rosemary by Sam and Sam Clark

Buy this book: Moro Easy by Sam and Sam Clark

Read the review

Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali

Baking with fortitude
What’s the USP? Just because we’re not in lockdown any more doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned our national sourdough habit, does it? Either way, here’s a collection of sourdough cakes and bakes (and non-fermented recipes too) from cult London bakery Fortitude to keep your (sourdough) mother happy.  The book is the winner of  the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021.

Who wrote it? Irish-born baker Dee Rettali was something of an organic food pioneer, opening Patisserie Organic in London in 1988. She is the former head chef of the London-based cafe chain Fernandez and Wells and opened Fortitude bakery in Bloomsbury in 2018.  This is her first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? There’s a six page introduction plus one or two page introductions to each of the seven chapters but that’s your lot.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an online specialist supplier for dried meadowsweet to make the first recipe in the book, a butter loaf cake flavoured with honey and meadowsweet (one of eight butter loaf cakes recipes – the book is organised around base recipes and their variations).

Go anywhere but your local supermarket for the ‘fresh ripe’ fruit Rettali specifies for things like Lavender and Pear Butter Loaf Cake because, well,  when was the last time you bought fruit from Asda et al that was fresh and ripe? If you need overpriced stuff that is rock hard, tasteless and goes bad before it approaches ripeness then you’d be laughing.

You’ll need to buy organic flour of course, including buckwheat flour to make orange, yoghurt and polenta cake, but you should have few issues obtaining the vast majority of ingredients specified in the book.

What’s the faff factor? Although the book is billed as a collection of sourdough bakes which might sound complicated, in fact most of the recipes don’t use a starter but can be fermented if you wish to deepen the resultant flavour which Rettali claims is an innovation in cake baking.  This process takes no additional effort, you just need to plan ahead.  The base recipes, that include the aforementioned butter loaf cake as well as olive oil cake, yoghurt cake and sour milk soda bread are often just a matter of combining the ingredients in a bowl although the brioche and sourdough butter cake mixes are a little more complex.

The complete recipes range from the simple and straightforward Blueberry and Lime Little Buns to the slightly more involved Sticky Cinnamon Buns with Molasses Sugar, but there is nothing off-puttingly complex or too fiddly here. This is good old fashioned baking rather than fancy detailed patisserie work.

What will I love? Rettali has a very clear culinary vision and distinct style so that the recipes never feel over-familiar. There are some classics like Eccles cakes and  hot cross buns (albeit a sourdough-based version mad with candied orange) but also creations you may not have come across before like  turmeric custard and roast pear brioche buns or chocolate and chilli sugar olive oil loaf cake.

What won’t I like so much? Using the base-recipe-and-variations format means there is cross over and similarity among the groups of recipes (there are an awful lot of loaf cakes for example) in what, at 192 pages, is a relatively short book. You will need a food mixer for some of the recipes as alternative methods are not provided. 

How often will I cook from the book? If you are a keen baker, there is enough variety, from tahini, za’tar and sesame seed biscuits to tomato, garlic and oregano soda bread to keep you busy for many weeks.

Should I buy it? If you are an experienced baker looking to create something that little but different, this is definitely the book for you. Newbies will also appreciate Rettali’s encouraging attitude, ‘By sharing my recipes and approach to baking, I want to take away the fear. Use your hands, get your fingers right into the bottom of the bowl and feel the dough.’ 

Cuisine: British baking
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/beginners/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Baking with Fortitude by Dee Rettali
£22, Bloomsbury

Cook from this book
Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Winner of the Andre Simon Food Book Award 2021. Click the image below to find out more.

Food Longlist (3)

Rose and Pistachio Little Buns by Dee Rettali

Rose and Pistachio (1)

At Fortitude, I top these rosewater-flavoured buns with organic dried rose buds from the Merzouga valley in Morocco. I have visited this region on many occasions, where you are always greeted by the heady floral smell of organic roses.

Makes 12 little buns

12-hole muffin tin or easy-release silicone mould, greased well with oil
170ml pomace oil (or light virgin olive oil)
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
4 eggs
125g fine semolina
50g pistachios, finely ground into a flour
200g ground almonds
1. teaspoons baking powder
25ml rosewater

To decorate
250g icing sugar
25g finely chopped pistachios
12 dried rose buds (optional)

In a large bowl, beat together the pomace oil and caster sugar with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and continue to mix until combined, but do not overmix.

In a separate bowl, combine the semolina, ground pistachios, ground almonds and baking powder.

Fold the semolina mixture into the whipped olive oil mix using a metal spoon. When it is almost combined, add the rosewater and gently fold through. Leave overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6.

Fold any oil that is sitting on the surface back into the mixture to combine again. Making sure that the muffin tin or mould is greased well with oil, divide the mixture equally between the holes of the tin or mould, then place it on a baking tray. Bake in the centre of the hot oven for 22 minutes or until the buns feel set to the touch.

Transfer the buns from the tin or mould to a wire cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix the icing sugar with just enough warm water to make a thick paste. Spread the top of each bun with the icing using the back of a spoon and sprinkle over the pistachios. If preferred, place a dried rose bud in the middle of each bun.

When stored in an airtight container in the fridge,
these little buns will keep for 7 days.

To ferment

Once mixed, store the cake batter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days to allow it to ferment. Fold any oil sitting on the surface back into the mixture before baking.

Read the review 
Coming soon

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My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

My Favourite Stuffing
Serves 6–8

500g fresh or vac-packed chestnuts 2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 head of celery, tough outer stems removed, finely chopped
12 plump prunes, stoned and roughly chopped
6–8 sage leaves, chopped
A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
100g fresh (or stale) breadcrumbs 50g hazelnuts, roughly bashed,
and/or pumpkin seeds (optional) Sea salt and black pepper

If you are preparing whole chestnuts from scratch, make a small slit in the skin of each one, then blanch in boiling water for about 2 minutes to ease peeling. Drain and, once cool enough to handle, peel off both the tough outer skin and the thin, brown inner skin. Now simmer in unsalted water for 15–20 minutes, until completely tender. Drain and leave to cool. Put the chestnuts (home-cooked or vac-packed) into a bowl and break up roughly with a fork – they should be crumbled rather than puréed.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sweat for 10–15 minutes, until softened and golden. Add the prunes, chestnuts, herbs and some salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for another 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the mixture has cooled a little, mix in all but a handful of the breadcrumbs until well combined. You can add a dash of warm water or veg stock if that’s needed to bring it together.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Oil an ovenproof dish and pile in the stuffing, packing it down fairly firmly. Rough up the surface a bit with a fork, then scatter over the reserved breadcrumbs and hazelnuts and/ or pumpkin seeds if including. Trickle over a little more oil, and bake for about 30 minutes until nicely browned and crisp on top. Serve hot.

Cook more from this book
A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)
Photography © Charlotte Bland

Advent by Anja Dunk

Advent by Anja Dunk

What’s the USP? Oh, brace yourself for this, because it’s been a while. We’re always talking about cookbooks’ USPs around here, but really, how often does a book strike you as truly stand out? Truly unique? So you’ve written a book about vegan Chinese food? How quaint. What’s that? Your book looks at meals that can all be cooked in a single pan? WELL I NEVER.

Not today, my friend. Advent is a cookbook that offers twenty-four chapters (see what they did there?) that are all dedicated specifically to the world of German Christmas baking. Now that – that is a USP.

Who wrote it? Anja Dunk, who is perhaps best known for her 2018 book Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, which dove head first into contemporary German cooking (and had one of the more satisfying titles to say aloud that year).

Germany goes hard on Christmas, from the famous markets that coax pensioners out by the coach-load in non-pandemic times to their over-the-top advent calendars that make even my Lego one seem a little uninspired (though today I got to build a very festive vaccination centre, so it’s not exactly like Lego are pulling their creative weight here either). Baking is a facet of German Christmases that we are perhaps under familiar with here in the UK. Sure, we all know our lebkuchen and stollen, but how many of us can really claim to know what differentiates a spritzgebäck from a gewürzplätzchen? Here comes Dunk, with a seasonal barrage of goodwill (and a wealth of biscuit options).

Is it good bedtime reading? Dunk opens her book with a festive introduction filled with personal anecdotes and cultural insights, painting a vivid picture of a Christmas that runs in close parallel to our own British traditions. Recipe introductions vary, and though many tend towards the short and sweet, others take a moment to expand on unfamiliar ideas or offer a peek into German homes. It’s all very cosy, and whilst it may not keep you occupied for long, Advent begs to be read whilst tucked in under a duvet, plotting the treats that will see you through to the new year.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Books about baking need a lot of specificity, and Dunk doubles down on this, offering measurements for both European and US readers. She also makes sure to give tactile advice that will reassure infrequent bakers that they aren’t totally off-track (“the dough is pretty tacky and so won’t look all that neat,” she kindly informs us of her Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti, confirming that it will all even out in the oven).

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? No big asks here – in fact, the nature of cosy festive baking means that should you struggle to source ingredients from the shops, you can likely find some knocking about at the back of your Nan’s kitchen cupboard.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s about Christmas baking, so in all honesty you’re unlikely to get much use out of Advent from January through mid-November. Nevertheless, there are a few recipes that will be welcome year-round, from ‘German pizza’ Flammkuchen to the aforementioned biscotti coverage. Those with a particular fondness for home baked biscuits may consider this a vital purchase, though.

What will I love? The sheer coverage of the relatively niche corner of German cooking that Dunk has dedicated her book to. Beautifully presented and smartly organised, this is a title that does everything it claims to, and does so with elegance that few other cookbooks offer. There’s also a pair of exceptionally thoughtful contents pages at the back, listing all the vegan and gluten-free recipes respectively.

What won’t I love? Because the book clings so tightly to the Germanic Christmas tradition, with only a few recipes drawing on immediate neighbours, it can feel a little bit repetitive. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have replaced one of the marzipan chapters with other European festive bakes.

Killer recipes: Jam-filled Lebkuchen Hearts, Cherry and Almond Florentines, Dried Pear Fruit Loaf, Spiced Chocolate and Prune Fudge Pake, Linzer Biscuits, ‘Fire Tongs’ Punch

Should I buy it? A lovely addition to the bookshelf for fans of baking and Christmas treats, this is an excellent book that you will only use for one month a year. But what a month it’ll be.

Cuisine: German
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Cook from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk
Christmas Wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk

Christmas stollen by Anja Dunk

Stollen is a quintessential part of German Christmas, and the most renowned version originates from the East German city of Dresden, where it is called Christstollen. It is sold in Christmas markets up and down the country, but in Dresden itself they even have a special festival (Stollenfest) just before the second Sunday of Advent, where a giant-sized Stollen is marched through crowds of appreciators and admirers on the streets to many oohs and aahs before it is cut up and sold off in pieces.

Butter is one of the key ingredients that make a Stollen dough so rich, the others being eggs and boozy dried fruit. Just as important as what goes into the Stollen itself is what it is covered by, which is usually more butter and two layers of sugar. The first layer is a fine vanilla-scented caster sugar, and the second a flurry of snow-white icing sugar. This type of traditional Stollen requires a maturing period of a couple of weeks before it tastes its best. It’s quite hard when first baked, but after some time in a tin wrapped up snugly in foil, it softens and develops a moister texture. I usually bake Stollen in the first week of December.

Often a Stollen is filled or flecked with marzipan too, which I like very much – if you choose to add marzipan to this recipe simply roll some out into a sausage shape and nestle it in the centre.

MAKES 1 LARGE STOLLEN (SERVES 10–12)
75g (2½oz) mixed peel
175g (6oz) raisins
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g (2½ cups) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
50g (¼ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
150g (²⁄₃ cup) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into cubes
1 egg
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast, or 10g (¹⁄₃oz) dried
150ml (₅⁄₈ cup) tepid whole milk
60g (2oz) flaked (slivered) almonds

To coat
50g (3½ tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
50g (¼ cup) vanilla
sugar (see page 12)
50g (generous ¹⁄₃ cup)
icing (confectioners’)
sugar, plus extra to serve

Put the mixed peel and raisins into a bowl, spoon over the rum and vanilla extract and set aside to infuse while you prepare the dough.

Put the flour, sugar, salt, spices and lemon zest into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and egg. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture and, using your hands, bring the ingredients together until a rough dough is formed. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with the heels of your hands for about 10 minutes until it becomes more elastic. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1–3 hours until visibly larger in size.

As the amount of butter in this dough is hefty, it won’t double in size when it rises; you’re looking for the dough to expand roughly by half its size again. (Alternatively, put the dry ingredients and lemon zest into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the butter and egg. Pour in the yeasted milk and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)

Knock the dough back with your fist and add the almonds and boozy dried fruit (along with any liquid) to the dough. Knead the fruit and nuts through for a couple of minutes until evenly incorporated. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot for
about 20 minutes for a short second rise.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour, gently tip the dough out and roll into a rectangle 30 × 15cm/12 × 6in. Lay the dough on a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment, take one of the long sides and fold it three-quarters of the way back over the dough to create a classic Strudel shape. Lay a tea towel over the shaped Stollen and put in a warm place for a third rise of 30 minutes, by which time the Stollen should have risen slightly again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F.
Bake for about 50 minutes until browned all over, checking after 30 minutes; if it looks quite brown already, cover it with a layer of foil to stop it from burning (butter-rich yeasted doughs tend to colour quite easily).

Transfer the baked Stollen to a wire rack and, while still hot, brush all over with the melted butter, repeating until there is no butter left. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the top, then sift the icing sugar over that. Allow the Stollen to cool fully before wrapping tightly in a double layer of foil. Store in an airtight container for at least a week (I think it’s best to leave it 2) before slicing and serving. The Stollen will keep well for a good 2 months. When ready to serve, dust with a little icing sugar again.

Cook more from this book
Christmas wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Read the review
Coming soon
Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille

Christmas wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Christmas wreath by Anja Dunk
This might well be the prettiest thing to have come out of our kitchen all year. It has a light and fluffy, yet rich, moist and indulgent crumb. I know some of you might find glacé cherries a little too much, and you probably aren’t wrong – aside from a handful of recipes, this one included, I’m inclined to agree. They are, after all, a shallow ingredient that’s more about looks than taste.

MAKES 1 LARGE WREATH, SERVES 8–10
450g (3¼ cups) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
30g (2 tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast, or 10g (¹⁄₃oz) dried
180ml (¾ cup) tepid whole milk
200g (1 cup minus 1 tbsp) Quark
50g (3½ tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
50g (1¾oz) raisins
60g (2oz) glacé cherries, chopped
30g (1oz) flaked (slivered) almonds, roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten for the glaze
100g (¾ cup minus ½ tbsp) icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp water

To decorate
30g (1oz) glacé cherries, halved 30g (1oz) flaked (slivered) almonds, toasted

Put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture, add the Quark, butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest and, using your hands, bring everything together into a rough
dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until elastic. Form it into a ball and nestle it into the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for an hour, or until considerably risen in size. (Alternatively, put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in the yeasted milk, add the Quark, butter, lemon zest and vanilla extract and knead for 5–8 minutes until elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)

Knock the dough back with your fist and add the raisins, glacé cherries and flaked almonds. Gently knead until evenly incorporated.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a 30cm/12in long sausage. Carefully lift the dough onto a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment and shape it into a wreath, taking care to stick the ends together to join.

Cover the wreath with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has visibly grown by at least half its size again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F.

Brush the top of the wreath with beaten egg and bake for about 25 minutes until rusty brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, mix the icing sugar, lemon juice and water together. Drizzle the glaze over the top and decorate with the cherries and almonds.

This is best served fresh the day it’s baked.

Cook more from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk

Read the review 
Coming soon

Buy this book 
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Happy Cooking by Candice Brown

Candice Brown Happy Cooking

What’s the USP? The blurb describes Happy Cooking as a cookbook filled with recipes to make you smile! Which sounds incredibly twee, and a little bit exhausting – which is a huge shame, because if you venture even so far as the introduction you’ll quickly discover that Happy Cooking is a little more than that. From comforting treats to dishes that will keep an anxious mind occupied, the book is actually a much more mindful approach to mental health and cooking.

Who wrote it? Candice Brown, who some might recognise as the winner of series seven of The Great British Bake Off. Brown has been busy since her win, opening up a pub in Bedfordshire and, like so many of us, living with a number of mental health problems. In a candid opening, Brown talks about her depression, PTSD, chronic phobia and recently diagnosed ADHD.

Happy Cooking, then, is her attempt to broach these subjects whilst acknowledging the role food has in helping us face up to, or simply cope with, our own mental health. No ‘guilty food chats, no rules and no judgement’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Perhaps not as much as you’d expect. Brown doesn’t lean in particularly hard to the theme, beyond short introductions to each chapter. Often the intros to the recipes themselves don’t refer to mental health at all, and would sit just as happily in any other cookbook. This could have been an annoyance but, in all honesty, is actually quite welcome. Mental health – and depression in particular – is such an amorphous and individualistic beast that any attempt to provide confident and universal answers will always come across as misjudged and ill-informed. Better, then, to keep it to personal experiences, and broad ideas that are easy to identify with.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Not at all – this is straight-forward cooking with very few of the dishes coming from any further afield than western Europe. Sriracha is about as exotic as this book gets, and supermarkets don’t even bother sitting that in their international food sections anymore. You’ll find sriracha with the other condiments now. Heinz does a version. Heinz!

What’s the faff factor? How much faff do you want? Brown has smartly recognised the different ways we approach cooking when struggling with our mental health. There are times when you need rich and comforting food quickly, but simply do not have the energy for anything complex – the Fancy Eggs that open Brown’s initial ‘Quick Pick-Me-Ups’ chapter look delicious, and will readily sate this desire.

At other times, the troubled mind relishes the escapism of cooking, and getting lost in more hands-on and prescriptive tasks like an elaborate recipe can help to fill that space. The ‘Keep-Your-Hands-Busy Cooking’ chapter, as well as confirming Brown’s fondness for the hyphen, is filled with these, from Bacon, Cheese and Chive Croquettes to Apricot and Amaretto Pastel de Nata.

How often will I cook from the book? There are lots of recipes here, though the nature of the chapter on nostalgic foods means that many dishes are very familiar. Brown offers nothing new in her recipes for various roast meats or ‘proper’ fish and chips. But those looking for recognisable flavours and simple, cosy meals will no doubt be able to dig something up regularly.

Killer recipes: Pork Meatballs with Creamy Mustard Broccoli and Orzo, Kedgeree Hash Browns, Apple and Pear Sweet ‘Dauphinoise’

Should I buy it? A lovely premise for a cookbook is let down a little by the underwhelming range of dishes on offer – though a few gems do shine through. The question is, who will enjoy this best? Fans of the Great British Bake Off will certainly discover a few recipes to quench their thirst, and those trying to understand how best to cook around their own mental health needs may draw a few scant ideas. Ultimately, this feels a little like a missed opportunity.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Happy Cooking: Easy uplifting meals and comforting treats
£22, Ebury Press

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas