No, not in that 'something for the weekend' way. I don't do that kind of thing, thank you very much. No, I mean something that you might buy for someone else, or even for yourself (yes, why not? It's Christmas. That's what it's for). Earlier this year I was sent a couple of books to review. Speaking as someone who happens to have a weak spot for baked sweet things, they could hardly have been more lustworthy - Signe Johansen's Scandilicious: Baking, and Laura Amos's The Dessert Deli. (I'll come on to the pudding basin later.)
Let me explain.
I reviewed Signe's first book last year. I loved it. The news that she was to write a second book, purely on baking, was always going to be food to my ears. Because, in my very humble opinion, the Scandinavians are the vastly underrated geniuses of the baking world, and any book - especially by Sig, who can, y'know, bake a bit - on Scandi baking has therefore to be a VERY GOOD THING indeed.
As for Laura - well, we have 'history'. I've followed her progress ever since she set up a tiny stall in Hildreth Street Market in Balham a few years ago. Her desserts and cakes were insanely good, right from the off. It's been a real pleasure to watch her business grow rapidly since then so that she's now one of the most sought-after independent dessert chefs in London. It's a testament to her huge success that she's now in print - and it's great for fans of her food, like me, to see all her regular stall favourites in her new book.
So - the brief lowdown...
For the baked goods glutton in your life, both these books are must-haves. Signe's is the weightier tome, with a greater number and variety of recipes - including breads and savoury bakes as well as cakes and puddings. Laura's is just as you would expect from a book entitled 'The Dessert Deli', and a budding amateur patissier's delight - packed with recipes for luscious cakes, desserts, petits fours, and similar.
I've baked most from Signe's book, if only because I was sent it earlier, and had more time to 'play' with it. As with her first book, it's appealing to use - the gorgeous recipes are laid out clearly, with lots of white space around the text, and there are plenty of colour photographs so that you can see what you're aiming for.
Laura's is a different kettle of, er, cakes, but still another glossy production. The layout of the recipe pages is rather more cluttered (albeit with helpful tips!), and I'm not a fan of the swirly title and sub-title font used. But the photo:recipe ratio is even higher than in Sig's book, with a picture accompanying every single recipe, and the dribble factor is enormous.
Both authors' recipes are evidently much tried and tested - quite simply, they WORK (not a given, in my long baking experience).
I could bleat on about them in lyrical fashion, but really, there's little point. These are highly desirable books, and well worth buying for any keen baker. Even Lorraine Pascale says so (she endorses both of them). For Christmas presents, if I didn't have them already, they'd be top of my wishlist.
The pudding basin? Oh, yes. From Mermaid, maker of many of my baking tins. It's ideal size and shape for your Christmas pudding, and for any steamed puds, come to that. I'd also use it for making ice cream-based desserts, like zuccotto. And, speaking as someone whose wrists can be a bit cream-crackered at this time of year, it's a good lightweight alternative to your traditional ceramic basins. As with other Mermaid products, I highly recommend it.
Right. Christmas Public Service Announcement over. You know what you have to do.
Me, I'm off to bake Laura's Christmas cake and Sig's clementine butter biscuits. In case you're interested.
With thanks to Hodder and Stoughton, Legend Press, and Mermaid (via The Lenny Agency).