One of life’s simplest joys, I think, is the feeling you get when walking into a bakery and finding a display case filled to the brim with beautifully baked pastries. In that moment, it rarely matters how old we are, rather, we’re transformed into kids in a candy store – we just want it all. Replicating that feeling of whimsy and deliciousness is Juliet Sear’s cookbook.
Sear is a British baking expert and food personality known for her love of cakes and decorations. With Botanical Baking, she takes that passion to the next level by using Mother Nature’s bounty to turn otherwise ordinary-looking baked goods into extraordinary pieces of art. In fact, I was so mesmerized by the pictures in this book that I looked them over several times from cover to cover before ever reading how any of it was done.
When I did finally read the recipes and methods, they made clear that Sear isn’t just about making things look pretty. Flavor is star here, as is technique, and the use of interesting ingredients is bound to make even the most seasoned baker happy.
A word to the wise, however – if like me, you can’t wait to dive into baking after seeing all the pictures and reading the recipes, let me urge you to pause and focus on the “botanical” aspect of this book. First up is Sear’s handy picture-directory for some of the most common flowers and leaves and their flavor profile. Next, you’ll find her guide to sourcing edible flowers, which isn’t as easy as you might think.
If you are blessed with a beautiful yard of flowers, your search might be short – as long as you don’t chemically treat your grass for pests or rely on pesticides to grow your plants. The picture directory will be your best friend in selecting which botanics to use, and how best to use them.
If you do need to source the flowers from elsewhere, online shopping is the way to go. While some grocery stores have started selling edible flowers, the two I visited did not. Using flowers from a regular bouquet is not recommended – even if it says they are organic- because, as one florist told me, you just never know.
Now, I was ready to get on with the baking. In this go-round I decided to try Sear’s lavender biscuits, the eye catching meringue lollies, and the orange and almond cake with cream cheese orange frosting. Even though the cookbook is a British publication, the directions were easy to follow with measurements in both grams and ounce. Ingredients that aren’t necessarily called the same everywhere had enough descriptors to make sure you were using the right one in your American kitchen.
What a fun time I had creating my masterpieces! They were a good break from my usual cookies and muffins. While not hard, I did find myself going more slowly and enjoying the process a little more; I felt like I was creating something not only delicious but also beautiful. I was appreciative of Sear’s inclusion of recipes that even I could whip up in an afternoon for my children to enjoy as a delightful treat after dinner. I won’t lie though, my eyes are now set on the more challenging projects – the macarons with blackcurrant powder, the mind-blowing jelly and cream sponge cake that looks like a stained glass window, or the super cool, and adults-only, gin and tonic cake tails with a purple viola suspended in a clear jelly of gin (!).
For the cake lovers, there are plenty to choose from, from basic vanilla and chocolate sponges, a two-layer dried flower watercolor cake with gold leaf, a pistachio, mint, and yogurt cake, and ultimately the pièce de résistance – a four-tier wedding cake called electro-pop drip cake which almost made me wish I was planning my wedding again (maybe I will just plan a big party instead; all for the sake of a cake).
With all that Botanical Baking has to offer, it feels like two books instead of just one. Since most recipes don’t use the flowers as flavoring ingredients, it is a book that gives you truly unique and new recipes that might just make you feel like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off even if you didn’t use a single flower to decorate them. At the same time, the book is the ultimate inspiration to start decorating any baked goods, or any food for that matter, with fresh flowers, leaves and herbs.
Juliet Sear is a British baking expert and food personality whose work frequently appears on BBC Good Food, The Daily Telegraph, and many other publications and broadcasts. Botanical Baking is her 4th cookbook. She lives in London with her husband and three teenage children. You can follow Juliet Sear on Instagram and on Facebook.
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