“Leon Baking and Puddings” by Claire Ptak and Henry Dimbleby

“Leon: Baking & Puddings” is the third book in the Leon Restaurants cookbook collection, published by Octopus Books and featuring recipes of a “sweet and stodgy” variety but in a new, healthy and modern way. At least two thirds of the book suggests recipes that are sugar, dairy, wheat or gluten free: it would appear that you can have your cake and eat it after all.

The book is divided into two sections: Part One is dedicated to everyday treats and Part Two is for special events and celebrations. I find this to be a useful way to search for recipes, rather than wading through sections that may not be suitable for a particular event.

The Part One chapters cover Breakfast, Power Snacks, Tea Time, Puddings, Cooking with Children, Bread and Yeast and Sweets. You will find recipes for both sweet and savoury muffins, pancakes, brownies, cookies, cakes and breads.

In Part Two wakes jostle for position with Christenings and Valentine’s Day, whilst the more popular and larger feasts are represented well with Christmas, Easter, Hogmanay, Mother’s Day recipes, while dads also get a shout with Father’s Day. I was particularly pleased to see St George’s Day mentioned, with Eccles cakes, as well as Wimbledon (Poached strawberries with green peppercorn ice cream), Halloween (Butterscotch apples), Bonfire Night (Mulled Wine) and Birthdays.

The celebratory section also covers chapters for Thanksgiving and Eid with a final section called Extra Helpings. Within this part you will master the art of jam making, pies, cocktails, confectionery, steamed puddings and cake decorations.

The book design, by Anita Mangan, is a colourful mix of retro images and graphics with photos by Georgia Glynn Smith of the restaurant staff, the Leon restaurants and even some of the guests. The look is vibrant and colourful with a buoyancy that coveys the message and ethos of the Leon restaurant chain, that food should be fresh and healthy, but in no way boring. From the tattooed lady on the front cover to the contents page printed on a flour packet, there is an exciting and artistic flow that makes you eager to take part in the whole experience. There is even a page of stickers.

Each and every recipe has helpful, and in some cases very personal, notes printed alongside them. Hannah’s Banana Bread was so named after a guest left a written “wish” in the drawer of the Ludgate Circus branch stating that she wished she had a cake named after her, et voila.

Recipes are collected from each and every corner of the Leon empire and the authors lives: from the original co-founder, Allegra McEvedy, to Josceline Dimbleby (Henry’s mother), Bill Granger, Tom Herbert, friends, staff and family have all pitched in their specialities in an eclectic, multi-national collection of culinary know-how.

The book assumes an air of modernity insofar that a great proportion of the recipes are very traditional and are well known to most of us, but many of them have “The Leon Twist”, such as reducing the dairy or sugar content and using wheat and gluten free products.

The Cooking with Children chapter is particularly refreshing and covers a multitude of tasty treats to make with your children in the kitchen, thus igniting their interest in cooking, ingredients and food.

When deciding what to make from the book as a recipe review, I was drawn to Hannah’s Banana Bread. This is a dark and yet surprisingly light textured banana bread; the advice on the recipe is not over mix this, and I agree as under mixing quick breads gives better results and you will not have a rubbery textured loaf. I made the recipe exactly as stated and was rewarded with a nutty flavoured and moist textured banana bread.

The banana on top is supposed to sink into the cake on baking, mine stubbornly refused to sink, but I think it adds to charm of the cake and was wonderfully caramelised and slightly sticky.

Batter, butter and banana stained, this new Leon offering is now a valuable member of my baking book shelf.

Contact Details

Octopus Books: www.octopusbooks.co.uk

Leon Restaurants: www.leonrestaurants.co.uk

Violet Bakery: www.violetcakes.com

Karen Booth’s Website: www.karenbooth.co.uk

Karen’s foodblog: lavenderandlovage.blogspot.com  Twitter @KarenBurnsBooth

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