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The Violet Bakery Cookbook

A Jewel Box Full Of Recipes

The Violet bakery in London, England is described as a jewel box of a cake shop, but the description applies equally to the cookbook.  Not everyone loves to bake but this book is so enticing that it might also appeal to those who “just don’t like to measure”.  It’s not just me who thinks so; this book reached the semi-finals in the 2016 annual tournament of cookbooks (cookbook lovers should check this out at https://food52.com/the-piglet/2016).  

Claire Ptak, owner of the bakery and author of the cookbook, is a transplanted Californian who worked as a pastry chef for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse before moving to London and eventually opening her shop.  The approach is current – traditional baking ingredients like butter, eggs and sugar (lots) mixed with some that are less common with decidedly modern results.  Many of the recipes use flours other than wheat and non-refined sugars, such as crispy and buttery buckwheat cookies, summer spelt almond cake made rich with ground almonds and bursting with summer fruit and vegan chocolate oat agave cookies, if that’s the way you roll.  

Coffee cardamom walnut cakes get a kick from warm spices and a full teaspoon of ground pink peppercorns plus richness from crème fraiche.  Apricot kernel upside down cake was interesting – who knew you can eat apricot seeds? Plum petal ice cream?  Fragola grape icing?  Intriguing.

Classics are given their due.  I would be willing to bet that Alice Waters’ apple galette is worth making and eating.  Cherry cobbler, chocolate sandwich cookies, cream scones and lemon drizzle loaf all make the cut.

These recipes were fun to try, and opium for the masses.  As soon as I saw the Violet butterscotch blondie, I knew that would be one of my testers.  It was sweet and caramelly, exactly as I thought it would be.  I would cut the sugar significantly next time and leave out the chocolate chips (there is no consensus on this latter point but it’s my article).  I also tried rye brownies and agree with Ptak that rye flour added a nutty flavour and paired well with the chocolate.  I would recommend baking it longer than the suggested time though, gooey brownies are good, salmonella is not.  Olive oil sweet wine cake was a good dairy- free dessert that was tender and not too sweet; with a subtle flavour from the citrus and sweet wine.  Nice pairing with whipped cream and berry compote.   

There are idiosyncrasies, probably in part due to the conversion from metric.  Timing was sometimes off, and the pan sizes and baking temperatures were unusual, so you will have to adapt. But other than doing some math, this was not a problem.

This is not your 1950’s era Joy of Cooking, this is something else.  There’s a place for both in every well-stocked cookbook library.  Because it’s 2016.