Cookshelf- Sweet Tooth from Lily Vanilli

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It’s a funny thing being a girl sometimes. Even in our apparently modern age there is some serious definition flying around about who girls are and what they should do. Pink stuff, fluffy stuff, nurture and babies and smiling. Awwww. Now don’t get me wrong, I love cuddling a newborn whilst wearing a frothy fuscia frock in my immaculately clean kitchen as much as the next XX chromosome holder. And I’m lucky to have generation upon generation of tips and knowledge on such things from women who went that way before and I acknowledge that. But what about the rest? Yeah, girls stuff, love it but how about zombies? How about noisy car engines and massive steaks and Bruce Willis films? Because plenty of girls like that kind of thing too and they stray into a dangerous grey area of The Tom-Boy. That sweetly patronising term to safely box away all of your not strictly girlie tendencies under an insidiously ‘not a proper girl’ label. Tom Boy. We shouldn’t really be into all that but as long as it’s only playing, that’s ok. But it isn’t ok because it makes certain traits out of reach or undesirable. Because it makes us think girls shouldn’t be loud or assertive or dirty or up at the front, leading the stick-swords battle against invading alien hoards. Because this then spills into life scoring big, ugly lines through the gender roles in our minds as well as our boardrooms and yes, this is a problem today. If you don’t think it is I suspect you are either a boy or a princess.

Do I digress? Maybe slightly yes, I’m not going to start going on about why you should go and read ‘Lean In’ (although you should). There is no such thing as a feminist cake. There is, however, a large world of Chefs. Food is an industry now that goes way beyond basic cultivation and consumption- just look at your BBC Saturday morning line up for this. Check your Twitter trends and your youtube channels and we’re all mad for the Chefs. The James Martin, The Gordon Ramsay. Jason Atherton, Sat Baines, Hair Metal Chef, The Galvins, Jean Georges, Dan-Duck-and-Waffle-Doherty. If you’re into cooking, and eating, there are whole load of men out there in the front line to tell you how to do it. And they are all brilliant and talented and no doubt deserve to be listened to but there is something of a block when it comes to being truly inspired by, to wishing to aspire to a member of the opposite gender. I don’t want to talk about this being right or wrong or whether little boys should be allowed to wear skirts because I don’t care about that- the simple fact is that It Is. I love James Martin, I would give my left ovary to have him cook me dinner. Would I like to be him? Well, no, he’s a boy……..

So what exactly is my point in this waffle that is supposed to be a book review? Lily Vanilli. Lily Vanilli is my point. Yes all power to the boys but you have to look a little bit harder for a lot fewer high profile women in food unless of course you are seeking a new diet and don’t us girls get all the press about being fat? Don’t get me started.
In times of old, who did we have? Saint Delia? Who thought it might be nice to instruct the masses in the ridiculously simple or rechurned classic? Nah, not so much. Nigella then? Fuck. Off. Way to get yourself to the forefront of a male dominated industry and media in general by sticking your tits out and pushing the innuendo envelope. Genius. Yes sure she can cook and she’s had her share of all the rubbish parts of being a celeb and infact being a girl and all that but just, no. Silvena Rowe is bonkers yet worth your attention, but I’ll wager less than half the people who read this have any idea who she is. More digression.

Let’s end the great gender discussion to cut to a Halloween some years ago when a work friend bought in some ridiculously intricate and creepy cupcakes. How the hell did you come up with that?

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake.

Sorry, what?

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake. I found google, I found Twitter and I found Lily Vanilli and her baking creations and I found the first woman in food I had ever found wholly inspiring and wondrous and just bloody brilliant and I wanted to know everything she had to say about anything. I fell into that spellbound tingly obsessive state that is The Girl Crush. I found the most useful and comprehensive cookery book I own: Sweet Tooth (though AZAMC is a great buy for the extra creative amoung us). As books go it is nothing short of a revelation and to quote Saint Gizzie of Erskine (who we may discuss in similar terms one day) it is ‘the only baking book you will ever need’.

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I can’t say it enough times or with enough gravity- this is an excellent book. The recipes cover a massive range from cakes to pastries to ice creams in a truly fail safe manner. If you do as you are told, you will get a brilliant thing to eat  because of concise and easy to follow methods from someone who really, really knows what she is talking about. The technical sections explaining the science of ingredients and their different types is brilliantly useful for any cook of cakes or otherwise. Ah, the cakes.  And so much more than just the cakes and sweets and pastries and scones and bears, oh my! The photography is spectacular and would make a book of it’s own without the recipes but it is the personality that comes with this book that is truly inspirational. The introduction telling of cash short days leading to a determined young woman taking control and doing what she loved and building an amazing career out of it was the inspiration I needed to open my own food business. Yes, fine, my nowhere near as successful and laughable in comparison business but it pays for my holidays each year, and I did it because of Lily Vanilli and this book. Because she doesn’t preach, she doesn’t lecture, she just spells it all out in a way that means you can do it too. In a way that makes you to want to do it too, which is the real trick. I have many beautiful cook books with wonderful recipes that I like reading then putting back on the shelf. I avoid opening Sweet Tooth unless I know I have time to bake immediately afterwards. I am force issuing a copy of this book to everyone I can think of who might not have it this Christmas and I urge you to do the same.

There are a lot of high impact projects and fancy bakes in this book, plenty of simple comforts and basics too including the only buttercream icing I will ever, ever make again. Ever. Other favourites are the the Apple & Rosemary Olive Oil Cake on p61 for a rustic and terribly grown up treat and the Zebra Cake from p52 which is great fun to make even though I can’t quite get it as pretty as she does. Then on trend superfood bakes like chocolate and avocado cake and an amazing beetroot cake. Pages of decorative items and eyegasm visual display eats like meringue bones, nut brittle, candyfloss meringues and the bleeding heart cupcakes that first bought me into this fandom in the first place. Not to forget out and out indulgence in the form of absinthe hot chocolate and whisky salt caramel popcorn. Not in to all the showcasing? Try the spelt scones, which are doing the rounds weekly in my house at the moment.

Here endeth the fangirl rant. Buy this book if you bake, it is obscenely cheap on Amazon at the moment or available in the majority of your actual real life high street shops. Follow her @lilyvanillicake on twitter too and you can squee yourself as I do when she gives you a like or a reply. I’m off for a late scone breakfast.

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