Cookbook reviews: Yasmine Othman and Rachel Khoo
by Yasmine Othman (Hardie Grant Books, $45)
The world's best sweets come from my grandmother's Blenheim kitchen. Every Christmas she couriers shoebox-sized packs of coconut ice, Russian fudge and more to her grateful, sugar-craving grandkids.
I recently asked her for the recipes. They begin with a science lesson ("the making of fondant sweets depends for quality on the presence of an invert sugarth . . ." and they end with the kind of practicality that could only come from an 87-year-old home cook: "Some recipes add liquid glucose. A cheaper option is cream of tartar."
And that is why, of all the recipes in Atelier Confectionery, I chose to test drive the Turkish delight. There, between the lemon zest and the orange blossom water, was my grandma's secret ingredient. How could I go wrong?
Easily, as it turned out.
This is a very pretty book, from a London-based home economist and stylist who has worked with the likes of Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. There are chapters on toffees, caramels, fondants, licorice, marzipan, meringues, etc. The recipes range from the simple (candied orange peel) to the quite complex (a peanut and caramel chocolate bar that looks a lot like a Snickers), and every one comes with a colour photograph and a lovely line drawing of the kitchen utensils required.
Beginners will appreciate the step-by-step photographs of how to get sugar to various stages and the intensive pages dedicated to tempering, dipping and moulding chocolate.
I began the Turkish delight with high hopes. I mixed and boiled and stirred constantly for 35 minutes. Some of the instructions were vague and relied on the eye and gauge of the beholder ("the mixture will turn a very light amber colour and thicken") but it tasted delicious. I poured it onto a tray and waited six hours. I rolled it in icing sugar and cornflour and left it overnight. Then I binned the sticky, melted mess. Even cream of tartar couldn't combat Auckland's unseasonal humidity.
Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook
by Rachel Khoo (Penguin Random House, $50)
For those of you not familiar with Rachel Khoo, she found fame through her BBC cooking show The Little Paris Kitchen, which saw her whipping up culinary delights from – you guessed it – her tiny kitchen in the French capital.
A francophile Brit of Austrian and Malaysian parentage with a penchant for retro frocks and red lipstick, Khoo is a great TV talent, and her voluptuous, dark-haired good looks have brought the inevitable comparisons with Nigella (though she's more quirky than saucy).
Off the back of the first TV series Khoo published a book of the same name, and now she's branched out with Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook (which also accompanies a TV show, currently screening here on Choice TV). While the first book and show focused on French food, Kitchen Notebook reflects Khoo's exotic heritage and extensive travels – apparently she carries a notebook everywhere, scribbling down recipes, tips, drawings and so on, hence the name.
Rather than sticking rigidly to the classics, the recipes are Khoo's take on traditional dishes – schnitzel features, but it's a vegetarian version made with eggplant, for example; and "tropical knickerbocker glory" is her version of a Malaysian dessert called cendol.
There are plenty of British classics with a twist too – think potato crumpets with maple mustard gammon and "shepherdless pie" made with lentils. Khoo has spent some time in Sweden, so Nordic recipes feature prominently, as do dishes from Turkey and Spain, other favoured destinations of hers.
All this culinary globetrotting adds up to a book that feels a little random, for want of a better word. But there are plenty of appealing dishes and the recipes are well written and beautifully photographed. I'm yet to watch the series, but have a feeling it would provide a narrative arc of sorts that may give the book a greater sense of cohesion.