Almond raspberry slice
I came across a very unnerving statistic the other day. Apparently 24,000 cookbooks are being published annually. This doesn’t include the bloggers and other contributors to recipes on the internet, or, of course, weekly columns such as this one in the print media.
It seems we have an insatiable appetite for new cooking material. Although new is perhaps the wrong word to use, as cooking is a practical exercise, steeped in history, technique and tradition. There are some extraordinary cooking minds out there who work with original material. Josh Niland from Sydney is one, teaching us how to cook and use fish in a way that wastes nothing. Techniques that are not only new but also have a strong message of sustainability and respect for a life given to feed other lives. These original thinkers are few and far between.
Many other cookbooks are written by chefs who try to bring their learning – from executing recipes hundreds, possibly thousands, of times in commercial kitchens – to the page and the home cook. They often share their tips and shortcuts.
Then there are the compendiums, the great tomes of distilled knowledge that are on many household shelves. Books that are written with a combination of practical experience and scholarly research. The great standout of these is Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, now in its 24th printing – an extraordinary feat when you think of how many new cookbooks are published each year.
So, what happens to the books of last year or a decade ago? Do they still get used, or do they just sit on shelves? Having written a couple of cookbooks, I am well aware of the publisher’s process. Once the book is released, after months and in some cases years of work, there is a flurry of activity and then – bang! – it’s over, as newer books arrive to tempt the consumer.
What interests me most are the books and recipes that live on in domestic kitchens. The following recipe is one of my personal favourites, one slice out of the many hundreds of recipes for slices that are available to me. It is a recipe from the lovely Bill Granger’s 2007 book Holiday. Born in Melbourne, Granger moved to Sydney in the 1980s. A self-taught cook, he opened his first restaurant in 1993. His food has always been delicious but also has an air of style, simplicity and quality, and often reflects his own sunny disposition. In an extraordinary career, Granger has written many books, made his own television shows and opened a series of restaurants internationally. What makes this recipe a standout for me? The product at the end is exactly what I am looking for. A slice that is a little special, perfect for guests or gifting, but equally perfect to have with a cup of tea in the afternoon. A recipe that works but also has a little frisson, as there is a moment of disbelief that the slightly sandy crust will hold together. It does, and when cooling on the rack looks exactly as it should, telling the story of a perfectly crafted recipe.
So for all those cookbooks on your shelves, I urge you to take them out, flip through them and select something that takes your fancy to cook. Your selection may well become your next go-to recipe.
Bill Granger’s almond raspberry slice
210g unsalted butter, softened
165g (¾ cup) castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g flaked almonds
2 tbsp milk
225g (1¾ cup) plain flour
40g (⅓ cup) cornflour
160g raspberry jam
Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease a 24-centimetre x 20-centimetre tin and line it with baking paper.
To make the almond topping, put 60 grams of the butter, 55 grams (¼ cup) of the sugar, one teaspoon of the vanilla extract, the almonds and the milk in a saucepan. Cook over a very low heat until the butter has melted, then turn off the heat and leave to cool.
To make the base, use an electric beater on low speed to cream the remaining butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and smooth. Sift the flour and cornflour together and add to the butter/sugar mixture in two separate batches, beating on low speed until just mixed.
Press the dough into the baking tray and bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully spread the jam over the pastry base, then spread the cooled almond topping over the jam. Return to the oven and bake for a further 25 minutes or until golden brown.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 24, 2020 as "Open books".
A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.