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)