“The Messy Baker,” based on the blog of the same name, is an ode to “real world” baking where brownies aren’t perfectly square nor scones perfectly even.
Charmian Christie demystifies baking so that anyone at any skill level can partake of flaky, crumbly, dippable, sloppy, smudgy, gritty, and/or drippy baked goods (these are the actual chapter titles!). I loved how she classifies baking equipment as “can’t do without” (bowls, measuring spoons, oven mitts, parchment paper), “nice-to-have” (cookie scoops, food processor, oven thermometer, rolling pin (!), and “I’m-a-baker-and-I’ve-earned-it” items (pastry board, ramekins, stand mixer).
Her section on basics is particularly helpful for new bakers and she includes info on working with egg whites that I haven’t run across in my (many) other baking books. I also loved the thorough guide to demystifying pastry and her basic pastry recipes (no-fail pastry three ways, cheater’s puff pastry).
I fell in love with many of the recipes, including the mushroom, leek, and gruyere tart (I shamelessly admit to cheating using Trader Joe’s all-butter puff pastry!) and the roasted butternut squash and sage tart, the stuffed tomato, arugula, and cilantro focaccia, deep dark cherry and chipotle brownies, dill zucchini fritters with lemon tzatziki, many-seed lavash bread and espresso and hazelnut biscotti.
Many times I’ve found that with books based on blogs, there are only a few recipes that appeal to me, but not so with “Messy Baker.” There is plenty of variety (and variations) to keep you happily baking for many weeks (or months) to come. Oftentimes baking books tend to include the same types of basic recipes that can be found in dozens of similar books; “The Messy Baker” includes flavor profiles that really appealed to me, using savory herbs to great effect (Bacon, Cheddar and Thyme Waffles, Herb, Olive, and Parmesan Biscotti, Chili Cheese Twists).
I loved the fact that base sauces were also included (gremolata, marinara, tzatziki) that can be used to dress up other recipes. A very handy guide to common measurements and equivalents (including yields for citrus fruits and how to measure cheese) and emergency substitutions will allow you to create crowd-pleasing bakes with whatever you have on hand. Along the way, handy tip sidebars offer advice, how-tos, and suggested variations.
This is a wonderful confidence-booster for novice bakers and just as valuable for experienced ones – the versatility of the included recipes and wide range of tastes and textures mean that you’ll find yourself frequently reaching for “The Messy Baker!”
(Review copy courtesy of Rodale)