Spookily almost a year ago today, I wrote this blog about the wonderful peanut butter cookies I made from Jo Wheatley’s first book – A Passion For Baking. Today however, I am sharing with you much more than a single recipe of Jo’s – more my experience with the whole of her brand new book Home Baking, exclusive to Sainsbury’s supermarkets only at present. When Jo’s PR girl contacted me and offered me a copy to review on my blog, I squealed with delight and instantly replied YES PLEASE as I was trying desperately not to buy another cook book (as I always am) but not so secretly really, really wanted it! So, lets take a trip through Home Baking and see what I made (a-hem 😉 ) of it…

As is the norm for me, I read Jo’s new book cover to cover before deciding what I had to make first. I wrote a list of the recipes I felt I must make then realised I’d need an army to feed if I made them all. Fortunately, my ward in work are a suitably hungry army so they have benefitted from a couple of weeks of nonstop baking!

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My first foray was the wickedly enticingly named Chilli & Chocolate Cookies to take with me on a set of nights. I figured we could all do with chocolatey crisp but chewy cookie humming with molasses and spice during our 3am cortisol dip induced slump and I wasn’t wrong! These were very greedily snaffled up and actually, of all the recipes I made in this wee project, this is the one I will turn to again and again. Top Tip (Jo loves a good tip!) – I used the coffee bean grinder I have specifically for spices to whiz up my sugar and chilli flakes rather than pounding away in my mortar and pestle. I upped the amount as my flakes aren’t hot (too me – chilli fiend!) and I must say, like salt lifts caramel to another plain of flavour, chilli and choccie are very happy, warm and cosy bed mates – the blanket of nursery soft vanillary white chocolate on top of the finished cookies tempers the flames and provides an exceptionally well rounded mouth feel. Nom nom nom! This are keepers 😀

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Next up came the Easy Italian Soda Bread. I think we were having a corned beef hash for tea and its never quite the same without a chunk of bread to eat with it so I made this as a bit of a naughty addition to go along side. It took 25 minutes! Mostly because its very small for a some bread (normally a traditional soda loaf uses a pound of plain flour – this was less than half that amount) and it pats out quite thin. I didn’t have any tomatoes so just used roasted peppers plus my mozzarella was a ball of fantastic quality fresh stuff from my local deli I ripped a few chunks off which always bakes up very pale. Hungry Hubby was a big, big fan of this recipe – “you can make that again” was his seal of approval (cheeky beggar!). Next time I’d double the amounts and make a big fat loaf (which would mean increasing the cooking time probably a round double too if you fancy giving it a go).

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The one recipe I just knew I had to bake, even before I received the book, was Jo’s Raspberry Red Velvet. I meant to do it last year when she published the recipe on her own blog but didn’t quite manage to squeeze it in. Now, note – the recipe on Jo’s blog precedes the book and differs significantly in proportions of ingredients to my eye. Mine did not cook up red in colour as the traditional red velvety do – this may be deliberate on Jo’s part as she states not wanting to use too much food colouring so please don’t be disappointed if yours comes out like a brick red chocolate cake as mine did, rather than something in the rather more day glow palette of colours! It tastes wonderful, richly chocolatey and moist with a light crumb. Plus it looks impressively tall – mine started to bulge slightly over the top of my sandwich tins so if you have the patience, I’d recommend lining the sides of your tin so not to get the “muffin tops” mine did. This was a big, big winner with my ward – they are demanding another next week!

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Back to the bread, another must make for me was the Parmesan & Pesto Fantail Loaf. The instant I saw it, I was reminded of one of the first ever blog posts I ever, ever read – Joy The Baker’s Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread. I do believe it is impossible to be in the baking & blogging world and not know of Joy nor this bread which she did not invent but certainly played a huge role in developing its cult following. Jo’s savoury version is simple, proved very fast in my hot kitchen (hot from making meatballs, not from the weather – it’s dire still here in England!) and was a wonderful vehicle of my most favourite condiment – pesto! I used some fresh pesto, again from my local deli which turned out to be a bit too liquidy from a high content of extra virgin olive oil but actually, it baked up so beautifully – soft, tender, flavoursome and moreish I dare say this didn’t matter in the end. If you wanted to grate over extra Parmesan before you stack up the pesto bestowed slices of dough, we would be firm friends 😉

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Note I used a funny shaped loaf tin which is long and skinny rather than the specified 2lbs loaf tin but I thought it would fit better as the dough is very, very soft to handle and needs support whilst proving or it will collapse under its own weight! Although, as you can see – a little higgledy piggledy action is rather charming once baked…

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Being a big fan of pecan nuts and oats in baked good, it was a no brainer for me to try Jo’s Oat, Pecan & Raisin Cookies. These are reminiscent of Nigella’s Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies which I blogged about here and frighteningly moreish. Especially as this one batch made 3 trays of 16 cookies each! I *had* to eat “x” number of cookies just to be able to fit them in my biscuit tin. Hehehe 😉

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Hungry Hubby obliged by munching through his own little stack whilst killing zombies on his computer so my work colleagues will have to contend with only one full tin tomorrow 😉

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So there concludes my baking through Home Baking, so far. Next on my list are the Parmesan, Chilli & Rosemary Biscuits plus the simplet beautiful looking Mini Orange & Almond Friands once I manage to source a friand tin. Not an easy find it seems in the UK so far!

A final word on Jo’s new book would be that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and baking from it. It has chapters on cooking with children and quick midweek meals which I won’t cook much from but I can see being very useful for those with young families and indeed, those just starting their culinary adventures. Jo writes in a lovely relaxed manner, with clear instructions and simple methods with photographs which are genuinely representative of the final product, as I hope my photos show. You can feel the influence Nigella Lawson has had on Jo in both her style of baking and choice of flavour combinations and I would certainly liken the reproducibility and consistency of Jo’s recipes to that of Nigella – it is rare a Nigella cake flops and I certainly haven’t discovered any of Jo’s to do such either! I think her first book would make the perfect gift for anyone wanting to start baking whom has never tried before. She will install confidence in you and cajole you along with heart warming vignettes from her family life – tales of when she discovered certain bakes, when she invented other recipes offer a window into what seems like a blissful family life. This second book serves as an add on to the first in my mind – no replication of recipes which a clear progression from the basics she covered first time around. I’m thrilled she has kept the same style for the printing of the book too – and used a complimentary turquoise to the cerise pink of the first. I love the type face used throughout both books, the fact most recipes are on only one page with a large, full page photograph for nearly all the recipes adjacent to it. The photography style is hugely admirable too – rustic, homemade, warm, welcoming and inviting. So here goes a shout out to her photographer Martin Poole – his talent showcases Jo’s personality perfectly through his capturing of her wonderful, Home Baking.

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Thank you Gina, for my copy and asking me to write this review.

Jo xxx

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