I have two lovely book reviews for you. I am lucky enough to be sent lots of lovely books ahead of publication but these two I wanted to tell you about as I enjoyed them both very much (for very different reasons).
First up I have North – How to Live Scandinavian. Bronte Aurell has written a really charming and often funny book about the Scandinavian countries; their foibles, culture, history and customs. This is NOT a dry book in any way. It’s very funny. The lists at the very beginning of the book of how to be more Swedish/Danish/Norwegian are laugh out loud funny. I think I am most like the Swedish, purely by function of my coffee intake.
There are details on how Scandinavians do relationships which I found fascinating. The division of labour, lack of dating, number of women who work, schooling, the childcare arrangements, even the divorce rate; all lead me to believe that the Scandinavian countries are a more evolved area of the world.
There’s are so many quirky subjects covered off. This is a coffee table book that you’ll dip into again and again. Did you know there is a Scandinavian way to slice cheese? Do you know how to lagom? And what’s the Law of Jante? There are evn three lovely recipes for kanelbullar (the humble cinnamon bun), lussekatter (Lucia celebration saffron buns) and semlor (Swedish Lent buns).
And I can’t finish this review without mentioning that the book itself is a thing of beauty. The cover has a see through sleeve, the photography is stunning. I can feel a tour of Scandinavia coming on. I feel sad that I’ve only visited once for a paltry 36 hours for an advertising pitch for Tena Lady. (I didn’t make this up).
Onto Soulful Baker. This is very much a recipe book and it’s oh so pretty. Written by Julie Jones after baking became a form of therapy when her mother was diagnosed with dementia. There’s so much love in this book. The chocolate section alone is worth a purchase. (Chocolate cheesecake with a chocolate puddle? Triple chocolate celebration cake? Chocolate fondants? Salted caramel and chocolate tart? Chocolate ganache biscuits?)
Now there are a lot of baking books out there and if I am honest, a lot of them, whilst gorgeous and full of lovely recipes, are not terribly original. Or worse still they are different for the sake of being different. (Gosh I sound hard to please!) This book is a really gem because it has so many lovely recipes that I truly want to make as well as having lots of innovative ideas on decoration. There’s no wonder that Julie is big on Instagram.
I thought you might like her recipe for vanilla cheesecake.
Vanilla Baked Cheesecake with Seasonal Fruits
I find baked cheesecakes to be far more indulgent than their gelatine set cousins. They are rich, creamy and incredibly smooth and make for a very luxurious dessert indeed. Baking the cheesecake at a lower temperature for a longer time should hold off any unsightly cracks and will also prevent any colour from being taken. One important piece of advice that I will pass to you (learned through experience) is to ensure that the tin(pan) you use is leakproof. There is no fun in seeing all of your careful preparation leaking out of the tin (pan), covering the bottom of your oven!
Use a 21cm (8½ inch) round, 6cm (2½ inch) deep loose-bottomed cake tin (pan)
90g (3oz/scant ½ cup/¾ stick) unsalted butter
200g (7oz) crunchy oat cookies
pinch of salt
500g (1lb 2oz) full-fat cream cheese at room temperature
100g (3½oz/½ cup/1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
80ml (3fl oz/⅓ cup) double (heavy) cream
200g (7oz/1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
30g (1¼oz/¼ cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
400g (14oz) mixed summer berries or seasonal alternatives
2 tbsp icing (powdered) sugar
100ml (3½fl oz/generous ⅓ cup) water
juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/180°C/350°F/gas 4. Line the base and sides of the tin (pan) with non-stick baking paper.
First, make the base. Gently melt the butter in a small pan and set aside. Crush the cookies to a fine crumb, either by hand or in a food processor and add a pinch of salt. Pour in the melted butter and combine well. Press the mixture evenly into the base of the lined tin (pan), smoothing out evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and leave to cool completely.
Turn the oven down to 100°C fan/120°C/240°F/gas ¼–½.
Beat together the cream cheese and the butter until smooth – it is important that both are at room temperature to ensure that the mix will be lump free. When smooth and well combined, add the cream, sugar, vanilla and cornflour (cornstarch). Mix until smooth, then beat in the eggs. Pour over the base, removing any air bubbles that rise to the surface.
Bake in the cooler oven for up to 2 hours, checking after the first hour, then again 30 minutes later. The cheesecake should have a slight wobble towards the centre when ready. Only remove from the oven at this point if you feel that it has set sufficiently, otherwise continue to cook for longer. That said, it is worth bearing in mind that the cheesecake will continue to set as it is cools. Remove from the oven but do leave it in the tin (pan) until completely cooled. Refrain from putting the cheesecake in the fridge as it will change the consistency completely, losing its luxury.
Wash and prepare the fruit, halving any larger berries. Add to a pan along with the sugar and water and gently simmer for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add a few drops of lemon juice – a certain level of tartness is a welcome contrast to the richness of the cheesecake.
Slice and serve with some of the fruit spooned over the top.
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