Murray Thom and Tim Harper collect sixty talented New Zealand bakers’ takes on classic bakes, from tarts, roulades, pavlovas, croissants and laminated dough to innovative unrefined / raw desserts, savouries (asparagus, mint and feta bread, scones, spanakopita, quiches, leek and cheese tarts, fritters), biscuits and confections. You’ll find standards like Chelsea buns, roly-poly pudding, slices, Anzac biscuits, lamingtons, and puddings enhanced with tropical touches like mango, tamarillo, kiwi and passionfruit as well as plenty of vegetarian, raw and gluten-free offerings. There is truly something to appeal to everyone (they also published “The New Zealand Birthday Cake Book; see review below)! Many classic French / European bakes like clafoutis, frangipane, Florentines, speculoos, etc. are presented in a straightforward, easy to follow format that even novice bakers will find success with. In addition to bakes, you’ll also find classic confections like honeycomb, sea salt caramel lollipops, homemade marshmallows, mousse, panforte, salted almond black sesame brittle.
The savoury bakes make great offerings for relaxed brunches or even lunches; I loved the unusual combination of the asparagus, mint and feta bread and used some extraordinarily fine asparagus as the crowning touch. Savoury brioche, leek and cheese tarts and flaky spanakopita are joined by frittata, pasties, and even the ultimate comfort food spaghetti and cheese toasts. I found myself relying on these for quick weeknight dinners, and even ended up repurposing some (the frittata and asparagus, mint and feta bread) as workday lunches that traveled well.
As a vegetarian who enjoys healthier, lighter treats, I was intrigued by some of the book’s raw offerings like fruit and nut raw chocolate, chocolate, orange, and fig buckwheat bars, and hazelnut and apricot fruit and nut bars. I grew up in a Polish household where kasha (buckwheat) was a staple side dish, but had never tried to use it in a dessert, let alone raw. Here in Japan, buckwheat flour is most commonly used as soba noodles, although there are buckwheat flour cookies in Japan. Finding actual raw buckwheat groats was a bit more challenging, but I found I loved the combination of the crunchy raw buckwheat (you soak it overnight, which lends it a crumbly texture), figs, sea salt and orange zest; these make great on-the-go treats or snacks. The raw raspberry brownies use a combination of Brazil nuts, dates, avocados, coco powder, and freeze-dried raspberries to impart the sort of lovely dense fudginess that people expect from a good brownie, without the added cholesterol, refined sugar, or guilt!
The book offers numerous tips, a handy hand drawn cook’s companion with “close-enough” conversions, and I particularly loved the fact that the index also included a detailed listing of various types of baked goods, clearly marked recipes for dairy-free and gluten-free, and the vegetarian offerings even labeled which ingredients were not vegetarian (gelatin, marshmallows, etc. ). There is truly something to appeal to everyone here!
The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book is squarely aimed at the younger set, from the whimsical marshmallow sheep and chocolate sprinkle kiwi on the cover to the to the creative, colorful creations within, from a gorgeous “mysterious monarch” cake in dramatic black and orange with delicate chocolate stencil wings to whimsical cakes like pigs enjoying a mud bath, dinosaurs, bulldozers, circus tents, active volcanos (just add sparklers!), pirate cupcakes, and plenty of New Zealand pride on display, from “Why I love NZ” cupcakes to cricket balls and rugby balls. Created by cake designer Jazmine Nixon and baker Dean Brettschneider, this is easily the most creative children’s baking book I’ve ever run across, with a wide range of interests and themes represented for all ages. For those looking for a challenge, there are very advanced bakes that use techniques like marbeling, fondant, very intricate piping, and others. You’ll also find very clever “number” cakes at the back, along with all required stencils tucked neatly into a pocket on the back cover.
Although the authors state you can use a ready-made cake if needed, basic recipes for vanilla cake and cupcakes, chocolate cake and cupcakes, gingerbread, rice krispy, meringue kisses, and sugar syrup are provided. You’ll also find a very useful illustrated guide to baking tools used in the book along with how-tos on levelling, stacking and filling, crumb coating, finishing, stencils, melting chocolate, colouring coconut, cutting wafers, working with ice cream cones and teasing apart giant liquorice allsorts squares into layers. Icing recipes for buttercream, royal icing, ganache, and fondant are also included, as is a step-by-step guide to covering a cake with fondant, making fondant bows, a fantastic guide to coloring icing with a full-color chart, piping techniques (knit, rosettes, tutu skirt, waves, basketweave, rope, flowers, leaves) and all required types / numbers for Wilton tips.
The Great New Zealand Birthday Cake Book is by far the most creative baking book I’ve run across; from a wide range of children’s interests (circus cakes, dinosaurs, pirates, ballet, tea parties, bulldozers, castles) to the great outdoors, national pride (“I Love NZ” cupcakes, kiwi cake, cricket and rugby ball cakes), and more advanced techniques like stamped fondant, marbling, “naked” cakes, meringue cakes, painted cakes, and the utterly gorgeous “messy cake” adorned with lolly shards, decorated white chocolate, and edible flowers, there is a cake for every occasion here.
(A huge thank you for Murray Thom; thank you for the review copies and your patience and congratulations on these wonderful cookbooks!)