I don’t have a cookbook problem, I have a cookbook solution (the solution, funnily enough, is always ‘buy more cookbooks’).
I had to forcibly restrain myself from buying cookbooks for a long time, because I lived in rented accommodation and moved every year, and the last thing I needed was boxes upon boxes of heavy, large, hardback books to take with me in addition to all the other things I was lugging around. So, when we got a flat and settled a bit, the first thing I did was to buy all the cookbooks on my wishlist. The second thing I did was look at my bank balance and weep.
A good cookbook is a thing of beauty. E-readers have their place in the world, and my Kindle is certainly handy when it saves me from taking a bag filled only with books on holiday or lets me carry five hundred novels in my handbag, but cookbooks really don’t translate to e-readers. From what I can see, proper hardback cookbooks are still going strong, despite the e-book boom. Deliciously Ella, published in January this year, was the fastest selling début cookbook since records began. Looking at the Top 100 best-selling books on Amazon at the moment, I can see Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites is number nine on the list as I’m writing this. The aforementioned Deliciously Ella is still number 15, despite having been out for seven months, and The Art of Eating Well and Cook Yourself Young are numbers 19 and 20. Not a particularly scientific proof of a claim, I know, but it’s a rough indication.
So why are cookbooks still beloved, and going from strength to strength? I adore my shelves of cookbooks because they’re beautiful. They’re jewel-bright and thick with potential delights, with the pleasant heft of a proper tome. You open them up to find gorgeous, inspiring photos. You run your hands over the glossy pictures of a tray of pillow-soft Madeleines; a steaming lamb tagine adorned with plump apricots; a golden loaf of sourdough bread with a crackling crust. You are inspired to want to create something and bring a piece of the book to life. Cookbooks are aspirational, and they encourage you to actually go and make something with your hands.
When I get a cookbook, I read through it like a novel, marking the recipes that I desperately want to make immediately.
In Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer’s Honey & Co.: The Baking Book I marked about 25 recipes.
It’s a really wonderful book. Not only is it full of interesting and accessible recipes that I’m desperate to make, it also has warmth and character. The care and attention that Itamar and Sarit have given to the recipes really shines through. I love the little pieces of history that adorn the pages.
As it happens, the first thing I made from the book was a batch of spiced cauliflower muffins. They might not naturally have been my first choice, but I had a cauliflower about to turn in the fridge, and when I opened the book at random and fell upon this recipe it seemed like food fate (I know that’s not a thing).
Notes: This recipe makes six muffins, which was perfect for our small household, but do double it if you’re feeding a crowd. I think they’d be excellent for a brunch – it’s nice to have something a bit different. I’d love to try a version with broccoli, feta, and wholemeal flour – I think the recipe could be adapted fairly widely. Anyway, I made it pretty much exactly as it was in the book and I didn’t think it needed changing.
1 small head of cauliflower
1 tsp salt
for the muffins
175g plain flour
30g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
150g melted butter
for the topping (marked ‘if you like’ in the book, but I think essential)
3 tbsp mixed seeds
3 tbsp grated Parmesan
- Break the cauliflower into large florets, making sure there are at least six large, distinct, pretty pieces to add to your muffin cases. Bring a large pan of water to the boil with your salt, and then pop your cauliflower in and cook it for 5-10 minutes. You don’t want it to be completely soft, but a knife should be able to penetrate the stem of each floret. Drain it, and set aside to cool.
- Heat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/ gas 5. Get a muffin tray, and line six holes with cases. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add your eggs one by one and beat well. Fold in your melted butter.
- Dollop a spoonful of batter into each muffin case and then try to place a big floret of cauliflower up in each. Don’t worry too much if they fall over or slightly to the side. Cover your florets with batter and fill the cases almost to the top. Combine your seeds and cheese, and sprinkle the top of each muffin with the mixture. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes, until golden, slightly risen, and set.