Monday, March 25, 2013

BAKE, EAT, LAUGH


 Nigella Lawson had better look to her laurels. Irish fiction writer Marian Keyes could very well be the most likely competitor for the title of best beloved celebrity chef in Europe and across the pond. She has the looks, the charm, the wit and in her most recent book, SAVED BY CAKE, she proves that she can develop a heck of a good recipe.  Hers is not just another cookbook. It is a an elegant mix of self-revelatory prose about the author's struggle with depression and  clear, good advice on the technical aspects of baking, what sort of equipment to have on hand and, more importantly, how to find joy in making good food.
SAVED BY CAKE  includes eighty mouth-watering recipes that range from Armenian Sugar cookies, Ginger and Pineapple Pavlova to Brazilian Stout Cake, Bulgarian Honey Cake to Lavender and White Chocolate Cheesecake,  Tiramisu macaroons and Orange and Cashews Cake.The whole collection balances  old favorites--pecan pie, profiteroles--with trendier creations such as Wasabi and and White Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing and Green Tea Pana Cotta.
Keyes' style is breezy, chatty, down to earth. So much so that reading SAVED BY CAKE is a bit like having tea with an utterly amusing friend who happens to be a terrific baker. Yet  she makes no claims to being a graduate from Cordon Bleu, "To be honest, I didn't really hold with baking. I was suspicious of anything 'crafty.'" How an act of generosity led her out of depression--mind you, she does not claim that baking will cure depression. She still takes her meds and she still feel suicidal, on occasion, but she says, "To be perfectly blunt, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can bake a dozen cupcakes. Right so, I'll do the cupcakes and kill myself tomorrow."
Obviously these are the only alternatives available to her, but her perception points to  the devastating effect of the illness. To understand that better, the reader might refer to Keyes' novel, THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE though she is fairly explicit about her symptoms in SAVED BY CAKE. In the latter, she resorts to a lighter, more amusing touch, one that does does credit to her versatility as a writer.
Whether or not they are depressed, novice and experienced bakers will love  this beautifully photographed, clearly book. I certainly did and I only have a couple of minor quibbles--dulce de leche is not an Argentinian recipe. It is  is  PanAmerican. Word of advice--boiling unopened sweetened  cans of sweetened condensed  is risky business. Keyes does not recommend it, but she mentions that she saw it done on a television show. Avoid it at all costs. When I lived in Brazil I knew of many a ceiling that  had to be repainted when the heat caused  the can of milk to explode. Another minor quibble is that Keyes does not always source her recipes. She is an innovative cook who likes to add her own touch to traditional recipes. Even so, her corn cake is definitely Latin American, most probably northeastern Brazilian,despite the addition of lime.But readers should not  let these little details deter them from buying SAVE BY CAKE. In fact, I recommend buying more than one copy. It makes a great gift and the chapter on Christmas alone is worth sharing with someone who likes to cook, eat and laugh.

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