It had to happen. Sooner or later someone was going to combine the nation’s current obsession with baking and its age-old passion for gardening. In her new book, Grow Your Own Cake, garden writer Holly Farrell does just that but is it a recipe for success?
There are numerous ‘plot to plate’ books on the market but most deal with the obvious: courgette anything to cope with the inevitable glut and how to use up tomatoes. This book is dedicated to the sweet side of life, although there is a section on savoury bakes.
I must confess that at first I was puzzled as to how you could ‘grow a cake’; visions of flour and butter didn’t sit well with my idea of a domestic garden. In fact the book assumes you will start with a few store cupboard staples – the recipes try to avoid what Holly calls “uncommon ingredients” – that can be added to crops from the garden and baked “into something delicious”.
The range of recipes is wide from the obvious Carrot Cake to the more unusual Fennel Cake. There are family-sized bakes, such as Rhubarb Crumble & Custard Cake; dainty morsels for afternoon tea, including Flower Meringues and Lavender Shortbread; savouries, such as Spinach & Cheese Muffins; and even some puddings, although you could argue they are not strictly cake.
The instructions are clear and photographs by Jason Ingram give you an idea of how things should turn out, even though the emphasis is not on prize-winning bakery: “there is more to life than perfect frosting”.
Following the premise that ‘the proof is in the pudding’, I tried out the Beetroot Brownies; thanks to the mild winter there were still some roots in the garden. The verdict: easy to make – the hardest part was grating beetroot without staining myself and the kitchen – and the brownies were rich and chocolatey.
While this could obviously be used merely as a cook book, Holly is clear that growing your own is the best route to take as it frees you from “being slave to the supermarkets’ choices”. This is where the gardening part of the equation comes in.
Alongside tips on how to bake – such as putting a ‘crumb layer’ to produce a smooth finished cake – there is guidance on growing. Sections open with a crop and advice on cultivation and varieties followed by a recipe with cross-references to other bakes. General rules – on both baking and growing – are outlined in introductory sections. All are presented in ‘bite-sized’ pieces of advice, making it easy to dip into, while the pastel-shaded headings give a light, magazine feel.
So, does it work? As a recipe book, yes it does. There are some novel ideas yet they are not so outlandish that you can’t imagine ever trying them. As a gardening guide, it is clear and comprehensive but obviously aimed at the novice fruit and veg grower, as established gardeners are unlikely to learn anything new. Perfect as a gift for someone starting out on their growing and baking journey.
• Grow Your Own Cake: Recipes From Plot to Plate by Holly Farrell, photographs by Jason Ingram, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £16.99 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)
• Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.
• For more book reviews, see here.