Our Verdict – “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

Maureen: I LOVED this book. What a delicious month.

Kirstin: What’t not love? Baking. Great photography. Interesting recipes.

Maureen: Sometimes, we found that the recipes were a trying a little too hard to be interesting, but all in all, it was great.

Kirstin: And I visited the bakery during the month too. Ella had an enormous sugar high after eating their carrot cake.

Maureen: Although not every recipe was perfect, we know no cookbook is perfect, so that’s okay. That said, we had some really delicious baked goods this month. We ate really, really well and enjoyed almost all of it.

Kirstin: I usually go to Nigella’s Domestic Goddess book for basic cake recipes, but I’m going to be going to this book in future, for sure. And I’m going to have to looking at this book throughout the year to get more out of it.

Maureen: Most excellent.

“The Violet Bakery Cookbook”
Overall Grade (A- F): A+ (Kirstin) A (Maureen)
Best recipes: Kirstin: Egg Yolk Chocolate Chip Cookies. Maureen: Butterscotch Blondies. I’m still dreaming about them.
Grade for Photography (A-F):  A+
Any disasters? No
Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: High Rotation Bookshelf  Maureen: Bookshelf

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Our Verdict – “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Chipotle and Cheddar Corn Muffins” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

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As we continue our painful slog of winter in February toward the promises of spring in March, what could be better than a big vat of chilli to warm us all up? And what could be better than some corn muffins to go with it?

Because I like this cookbook so much, I’d love to be able to say they were a huge success and everyone loved them. But that would be a lie. They went down like a lead balloon.

One of the things I like about this cookbook is how she successfully modifies traditional recipes to make them absolutely unforgettable. This was true of the butterscotch blondies and the rye brownies. But maybe in this case, it was a variation too far.

Corn muffins can be beautiful in their simplicity. In this case, though, not only was there the usual cornmeal component, but also cheddar cheese AND chipotle AND corn kernels. Perhaps we didn’t like it because there was too much going on.

I don’t know why these failed. They didn’t taste bad, we just didn’t fancy them. It just goes to show that even the best cookbooks can have off days.

“Chipotle and Cheddar Corn Muffins” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

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It was a dark and stormy Sunday, and what was needed was cake. Preferably chocolate.

When he first paged through the book, Nicholas (age 12) tagged this recipe as one he definitely wanted me to make. I’m always happy to try another chocolate cake recipe. Though there are many that I’ve made that have been quite successful, we’re always happy to eat chocolate cake.

Yet again, this was another variation of a classic baked good, in this case, chocolate devil’s food cake. The verdict? Well, I have to be honest and say it was mixed. Seventy-five percent of the family thought it was fantastic. The remaining 25 percent– that was me– thought while it was good, it wasn’t Blow The Doors Off good.

Maybe I was being too picky. I was disappointed that it sunk pretty badly in the middle, which, according to the Internet, was down to having too much rising agent in the cake. (You use both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in this recipe.) The icing covered the problem pretty well, but it still bothered me.

Also, I’m not sure I did the icing quite right. I did, actually, make a shortcut by using pre-made caramel sauce, rather than going to the trouble of doing it myself. In my defense, the caramel sauce was high-quality stuff. But maybe the icing would have been better if I’d made my own. (Doubtful. I find making caramel incredibly stressful, and I don’t think I’m particularly good at it.)

Like the rest of my family, you may agree to disagree. I may make this again, I may not. I’m not sure. What cannot be disputed, however, that dark and stormy Sundays are always improved with the addition of chocolate cake.

“Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Banana Buttermilk Bread” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

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Banana bread is one of those foods that never thrills me. I’ll eat it, sure, but I would never choose it enthusiastically.

I think my main problem with it is that its main ingredient is the black, nearly not edible, bananas that are lurking around in your fruit bowl. Frankly, banana bread is the Last Chance Cafe for old bananas, which hardly is a strong selling point.

But alas, we did have some old bananas kicking around in our kitchen. I didn’t want to throw them away if could give them a second chance at stardom, so this is how I ended up baking banana bread on a cold Saturday morning.

This variation on banana bread does two things differently from your standard recipe. The first is you take one of your bananas, cut it lengthwise, and then put the banana half on top of the bread to give it a more interesting appearance. Alas, I didn’t do this because I only had five very ripe bananas and I wanted to use all available bananas in the bread itself. But I will try this if I decide to make this again.

The other top tip was to put three tablespoons (that is not a misprint) of caster sugar on top of the bread once you pour the batter into the tin. Three tablespoons is a lot; I found that it had completely covered, and then some, the top. I almost stopped at one, but I thought the step was in there for a reason, so I did it all. I’m glad I did. What ends up happening is the massive amounts of sugar put a nice crust on the top of the bread, which gives a nice crunch to otherwise very moist cake.

Was it good? Sure. It still didn’t convert me to the Joys of Banana bread, but everybody liked it. Most importantly, it made a very cold, grey, cheerless Saturday morning better, and that’s saying something.

If you’d like to make this yourself, Yahoo had this recipe as its Cake of the Day in October 2015. Click through this paragraph to read it.

“Banana Buttermilk Bread” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Rye Chocolate Brownies” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

IMG_8215When I look through a new cookbook, there are some recipes I know I will never try. Usually it has to do with procuring obscure ingredients, which is a real bugbear of mine. But oftentimes it is because I know I already have a fantastic recipe that cannot be improved upon. Why mess with success?

A short list of foods that I feel that way about include chocolate chip cookies, pizza, meatballs, tomato sauce, apple pie and brownies. The brownie recipe, in particular, has the most interesting name: The Best and Only Thing I Ever Received From My Ex-Sister-In-Law.

So when I saw this recipe, I quickly turned the page, thinking of my “The Best and Only Thing I Ever Received From My Ex-Sister-In-Law” brownie recipe. But something about it made me go back and read it again. I was intrigued by the use of the rye flour, which might be a slightly obscure ingredient, but one I could easily source via my local health food store, Waitrose or Ocado.

“Why not live a little and give it a go?” I thought to myself. I bought the wholemeal rye flour, took out my mixing bowls and began the experiment.

The wholemeal rye flour was really the only departure in this recipe. The rest of the method (aside from having to weigh the eggs, which I’ve never done in a brownie recipe before) seemed to be the same way, or thereabouts, that I’ve always made brownies.

I may have been skeptical about the wholemeal rye flour when I started out,  but I certainly didn’t feel that way by the time I bit into the finished product. I thought rye flour would taste odd, but in actual fact, it gave the brownie a slightly nutty taste, without having to chop any nuts.

However, it might have been too far a departure for the boys. The adults loved the brownies, and couldn’t taste a huge departure from the normal ones, but the boys were not so sure. Andrew (age 16) liked them, but didn’t love them. Nicholas (age 12) did not like them at all and didn’t even finish his. Though I’m wondering if I had to failed to mention that I used a different flour, he might not have noticed.

The moral of the story for me, at least, is this: Sometimes it’s good to cast aside your old favourite and try something new. Even if it is the only thing you ever received from your ex-sister-in-law.

If you’d like to try these yourself, the New York Times has the recipe in its Cooking pages. Click through this paragraph to read it yourself. 

“Rye Chocolate Brownies” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“Chewy Ginger Snaps” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

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Kirstin: I had to try out this recipe; it had such an interesting combination of spices. Even ground cardamom! And yes, these were totally worth it. They were a perfect combination of flavours. However, chewy they were not. But that’s definitely my oven and even though I cooked them for less time than she recommended, knowing that my oven would mess things up, I still didn’t get it right. Having said that, I would try these again and I’ve already amended the time in the book, which is always a sure sign that I will try these again. And next time they will be chewy!

“Chewy Ginger Snaps” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

“The Violet Butterscotch Blondie” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”

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This picture doesn’t do the Blondies justice,                                                                                      but they disappeared so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take another one. 

What’s not to love about a Blondie? Essentially, it’s a chocolate chip cookie in square form. I’ve never actually made one, until now. Believe me, I’ve eaten *plenty* of Blondies. (I love them.)  As chocolate chip cookies are essentially a separate food group in this house, I knew it was time I made a Blondie.

I was not disappointed. Nor was the rest of my family.

However, in the interest of full disclosure, it was not completely plain sailing. When I first read the directions that told me before I made the Blondie I would have to make “caramel shards,” I had thoughts that can’t be repeated verbatim here. But essentially I thought that this was yet another example of a good chef getting too cheffy with a home recipe, as I’ve had plenty of blondies without caramel shards and they were delicious.

“Bleurgh,” I thought to myself. “Making something relatively simple into something complicated.”

If I were just making this on my own, I probably would have just skipped this step. But as I was testing the recipe for the blog, I persevered with the caramel shards. Guess what, dear readers? They were worth the trouble.

When the Blondie is baking, what happens to the caramel shards is they either stay on the surface or sink down to the bottom. Either way, when you’re eating the Blondie and you stumble upon some caramel shard in your bite, you probably will think, “Delicious!” At least I did.

So yes, this recipe is slightly more difficult to make than your average Blondie recipe. But the extra step is definitely worth the trouble.

Want to make this yourself? The Happy Foodie has the recipe on its website, which you can read by clicking through this paragraph.

“The Violet Butterscotch Blondie” from “The Violet Bakery Cookbook”