IntroductionAs first loves go, I have many. We all have many.
For fifteen-year-old me, it was the Backstreet Boys, who I was going to meet one day (so I told myself) and I would marry Kevin, though not before all five of them battled to win my love! Even now, at thirty- five, they still send my heart aflutter because out of all the bands that fifteen-year-old girl could have loved, they were the first.
But back here in real life, away from the land of make-believe and distant teenage dreams, I have had the joy of many weird and wonderful first loves. Becoming a proper older sister, when my baby brother was born, my first taste of maternal, yet not technically maternal, love. That was a first love of many to come. My first real pet, Hira the cat, she loved me like tuna and I loved her like I love chips. Becoming an aunt for the very first time, that rush of connection—we share the same DNA and I didn’t even have a hand in making him. That was a first love.
My first secondhand bike I shared with my sisters; her name was Bluebird and she was blue, rusty, with white tires and cost my dad 25 cents from a Sunday market. I loved that bike, but that unpadded seat did not love me! My first pair of roller skates, yes they were hand-me-downs and I grew out of them pretty quickly, but they rolled me to places beyond the parameters set by parental guidance, not far but far enough, so my blades I loved.
Finding love, actual real love, nothing like anyone else’s and all our own. Real, first, true, actual love. And children: real people, growing inside me, waiting to be met. You would think that first love of seeing one’s child would change, fade, or lessen with each subsequent child, but no. It’s still there, first love, fresh love, new love, every single time, with every single child.
And then of course there is cake. Yes, cake.
You may ask, how can cake sit here in this list? This list of monumental events and material memories, where does cake fit here? Like everything on my list of first loves, baking came into my life at a particular point, but unlike my memories of boy bands, roller- blades, and pets, which sit somewhere in “things that once were,” baking is right here with me still. With my husband, with my children, with my family. Baking has become such a massive part of who I am that there is no denying it. I live it, I breathe it, I whisk, stir, measure, and bake it! For goodness’ sake, I dream about it! I really do.
Baking is my first love.
I didn’t quite realize it when as a teenager I baked a cake for my sister’s pre-wedding party. A simple cake, sandwiched together with sticky jam and groaning under the sheer weight of thick white fondant and a hideous fondant groom all dressed in his fondant finery. I didn’t see it when I did a GCSE in Food Studies a few years later and designed an entire Pokémon Cake, with marbled red-and-white layers, sandwiched with jam and covered in a colored fondant, shaped and cut carefully to create an actual “Poké Ball.” The teacher said, “You’re really good at baking. Ever considered going to catering college?” I’m also good at tying my shoelaces, so who cares?! I thought. I just wanted an A in Food Studies, and that I got. But still nothing—the connection wasn’t there. Whatever it is I have now, whatever I feel now, it didn’t ignite, it didn’t even spark.
We had an oven at home, but it was full of pans; it wasn’t used for baking, just for storing greasy deep-frying pans, and I never really saw it any other way. It was a cupboard NOT an oven. Life happened around all of that—I got married and we got our own house and even our own oven. Still nothing, not an urge, not a spark, not a thought to bake. Until . . .
“Can you bake, because I love cake?” I supposed I could
bake, maybe just a little, for him. I gave it a try. It started with a wonky cake, and he ate the whole thing. So I saved for an oven thermometer to make sure the oven temperature was regulated. The next cake was less wonky. Still delicious and he ate it again! Then some strawberry and cream muffins. A whole dozen. A little chewy, not very cake-like, tasty though, and he ate them all. By then the babies joined in too. I saved a few strawberries out of sight in the back of the fridge and tried again. Mixed the mixture a little less. There was a definite improvement. They were eaten even faster than the ones that came before.
And before I knew it I was baking bread, enriching doughs, making pastry, laminating, making starters—and killing starters! I was baking every day, all because I had someone to eat it. Baking became a part of life, like cooking, like laundry, like vacuuming, like breathing. It was just natural, it was normal. And it was loved.
So nothing gives me greater pleasure than to finally be able to share this beautiful book with you. I could have begun writing this book and never really stopped, but the powers that be said I had to! So I did. But not till I had put together some of my favorite recipes—traditional, twisted, and every- thing in between. This book is a compilation of all the yummy ideas that fly around in my head and all the things my husband eats over and over again.
Let me take you through the chapters. Cakes, Mini Cakes & One-Pan Bakes: if you’re in this chapter, I would highly recommend the “money can’t buy you happiness brownies.” If you’re in the No-Bake Bakes chapter, well you guessed right: no baking but still “baking” with the banana ice cream cheesecake with blueberry compote. Tarts & Pies: this is filled with all sorts of delights, from a sweet carrot tart to a rainbow veg pakora picnic pie. Desserts: you’ll need a spoon in this chapter, if you’re eating the roasted fruit cobbler or the croissant ice cream pudding. Every baker needs a good Celebration Bake and there are plenty to pick from. It could be a sit-in-the-middle-of-the- table cranberry and chile brioche wreath or a celebratory praline king cake. We can’t have a baking book without a Breads chapter, full of Cornish splits and pulled chicken doughnuts. Cookies, we’ve got to have cookies, be they coffee meringue bark or rhubarb and custard butter kisses! If you fancy a Savory Bake there are baked chile churros and a cauliflower cheese lasagne. There is something in this book for all of us for every occasion—not that we need an occasion to turn on the oven!
Many people may read this and not get it. But for those of you who love baking as much as I do, you will get it instantly, and that’s why you now have this book in your home. Baking doesn’t have to be your first love, or indeed anywhere in a long list of loves like mine, but perhaps it’s waiting to become one of yours, and maybe you’ll find just the recipe in here to ignite the love or at the very least fuel it.
Bake, eat, love, repeat!