When you procure a new cookbook, what is the first thing that you make?
Cookbooks, for me, are a weakness, one of life's treats. And as much as I enjoy hopping from blog to blog and perusing the plethora of online gourmande-centric resources on offer, there is still nothing better than settling down with a good coffee and thumbing through my favourite, flour-covered tomes, taking in the beautiful aesthetic, and selecting the next kitchen adventure. However, the problem with becoming more particular about who joins the library is that for any new addition, I would invariably bake anything and everything between the covers, and so the question then becomes, "where on Earth do I start?".
One of the newest library members, Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, is one such work, and there is just so much seductive deliciousness contained within that I have only just now begun to bake the pages. Admittedly the decision wasn't quite so bewildering, and had we not had our first properly warm weekend of the spring I would have gone straight for the steamed puds (saucy monkey, anyone?), as these are something I particularly love, but which are not done so much down here in the Antipodes. Plus, the description alone would have had me knocking out the carrot, orange and pistachio cake post-haste, but any baked act of kindness, if nothing else needs to be portable, and sadly cream-filled layer cakes have never maintained sufficient structural integrity during the cycle to work to afford an acceptable standard of presentation.
But start I must, and selecting a sweet and a savoury seemed as good a choice as any, and with the pleasures of spring finally welcoming some of my all-time favourite vegetables, it was double-corn bacon muffins that were awarded first gurnsey.
How I have got this far in life without ever having added Tabasco sauce to savoury muffins, I will never know, but such negligence shall most certainly be avoided in future. With their sweet, juicy corn, smoky bacon, a beautiful polenta-driven crunch, and a nice dash of heat to finish, these muffins are a definite breakfast win.
The sweet was an old favourite in ginger root cake, and although most would probably go with a traditional chocolate or sponge as a means by which to set recipe benchmarks, for me it's the ginger option that reveals the most about a baker. Ginger produits de boulangerie need not only taste like actual ginger, but carry enough rhizomal goodness that they pack a bit of heat, and I'm afraid that if you aren't prepared to back yourself on this one, then I simply don't have time for your Betty Homemaker offerings.
Mr Lepard makes no such concessions, and with his ginger root cake also carrying the interesting addition of said root (that's swede, turnip or parsnip, for all the crass kids playing along at home), this recipe certainly engaged my curiosity.
Gingery? Yes. Heat? It most certainly had. And with a delightfully sticky and moist crumb, there was definitely no falling below expectations here.
But having finally set aside a bit of quality kitchen time I couldn't possibly stop there, and so it was on to cider vinegar muffins, aka English muffins, or, as the English like to call them, muffins.
Some poor timing on my behalf saw the dough rested for somewhat longer than optimally necessary, and I would make them slightly smaller in future, but give these scrumptious, sour and chewy numbers a go and you'll understand what a muffin should truly be.
And while I could have called it a day there I was helpless to go past these chocolate custard muffins, which carried the by-line "simply the best chocolate muffin you'll ever eat".
He's right, you know.