Short and Sweet
by Dan Lepard
Publisher: 4th Estate, Country: UK
ISBN: 9780007391431, Year: 2011
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Packed with more than 250 imaginative recipes, Short and Sweet encourages bakers of every skill level to explore new ways of approaching baking without spending a lot of time, effort, or special equipment. The instructions are simple but never lacking in necessary detail, and Lepard leaves just enough room in the instructions for your own innovations and variations.

Full review

Structure of the book

Short and Sweet has more than 250 recipes in 8 chapters and 541 pages:
Bread (49 recipes),
Cakes (37 recipes),
Small things (24 recipes),
Biscuits and cookies (24 recipes),
Doughnuts, batters, and babas (9 recipes),
Sugar sugar (26 recipes),
Desserts (58 recipes),
and Supper (29 recipes).
Each chapter begins with an introduction, guidance for beginners, and a few tips for troubleshooting.

About the author

Dan Lepard is an internationally-respected baker based in the UK. He is the author of several books on baking, including The Handmade Loaf, and is a regular contributor to The Guardian. His website can be found at danlepard.com.

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

While there are some books which one would consider dangerous to read while hungry, Short and Sweet may be the one of the first pastry books on my shelf with the distinction of being a must-read while I’m hungry (unless I’m far from the kitchen). Lepard doesn’t put much (if any) weight on artifice and instead focuses on creating desserts with satisfying flavors and interesting textures. Many of the pastries and desserts can be classified as tea-time treats or snacks, however it doesn’t mean that they are unimpressive. On the contrary, with recipes like Apple-Walnut-Custard Cake (with caramelized apples and nuggets of brown sugar custard baked into the cake) and Banana Chocolate Fudge Cookies, there’s plenty of imagination that sets this book apart from the usual cakes-and-cookies cookbooks. Lepard breaks away from the longstanding trend of plain vanilla and chocolate and makes good use of a variety of fruits, nuts, and even grains in his desserts.

Lepard takes a lot of the seriousness and stress out of baking and begins each chapter with plenty of troubleshooting tips and pointers about the function of each ingredient in baking. If a cake has a sunken center, he suggests cutting it crosswise in half, inverting the top, and sandwiching the halves back together with filling. He may at times put too much confidence in the reader, like suggesting to increase or decrease the liquid in a recipe based on previous outcomes, or replacing some of the ingredients to vary the desired result. It takes a lot of daring for the home baker (who has often been taught that baking is an exact science) to brazenly swap ingredients around, but that’s how new recipes are born, and Lepard is just mad enough to encourage it.

It seems that with each volume that’s published, Lepard makes the process of bread-making seem easier. He does away with obsolete practices, such as excessive kneading, punching, and tests for doneness (as well as using certain fruits in starters to encourage particular types of yeast to grow, thankfully) and boils down the instructions to the absolute necessities. He dares the reader to produce a rustic loaf in record time while maintaining many of the qualities of a loaf that takes days to produce.

The book is primarily written for a UK readership, and constantly makes use of a 20-cm tin, which is approximately 8 inches, though overseas readers might not specifically own a “Victoria Sponge tin”. Otherwise, few special tools are needed: even his brioche recipe boldly instructs the reader to incorporate the butter into the dough, sticky-accordion style, instead of using a stand mixer, which most every cookbook author has advised since after Julia Child.

What problems/flaws are there?

Lepard smartly begins the book with the suggestion that we may eventually improve on the techniques and recipes he presents. As I made a few of the cakes in the book, I wondered where the salt was, and out of fear of making a flat-tasting cake, added it myself. For the custard component of the apple cake I described above, he tells us to whisk the ingredients together until smooth, which includes milk, an egg, and cornstarch. I should have listened to my instincts and realized that the cornstarch may never dissolve completely, which left me with a lumpy custard. Though the cake in the end did not suffer, I wonder how much frustration a small detail like “… until smooth” has caused other bakers when we could have whisked the egg with the solids for a bit before adding warm milk, not sacrificing too much “shortness” (though to be fair, the result was no less sweet).

Though the book has a few well-placed photographs of the finished products, I would have appreciated a few pages dedicated to bread-making, especially folding and shaping.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

If you’re a baker who’s looking for a unique English flavor to shake up your baking routine, you would highly appreciate Short and Sweet. It would also make a perfect gift to anyone who wishes to bake but doesn’t have a lot of time.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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3 Comments

  1. Posted 29 Dec 2011 at 13:20 | Permalink

    I like the idea that the book is welcoming to new and inexperienced bakers.

  2. Li
    Posted 26 Jan 2012 at 00:52 | Permalink

    It’s odd that you say “I would have appreciated a few pages dedicated to bread-making, especially folding and shaping”

    The book has a Bread chapter that runs to almost 100 pages, including a 10-page intro with information on mixing and kneading, folding and shaping, adding steam etc. As it is a wide-ranging baking book, not a specialised bread making book, this seemed quite a lot of information to get across to the general reader.

  3. admin
    Posted 26 Jan 2012 at 04:56 | Permalink

    Hi Li, it follows the sentence after talking about photographs and that’s what I meant when I said “pages.” I’m very visual and am not able to follow textual instructions on bread shaping very well (I’ve tried but it never looks right).

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