Book Reviews

Wild Sweetness – Recipes Inspired by Nature

At first glance Thalia Ho’s stunning cook book ‘Wild Sweetness – Recipes Inspired by Nature’, had me rather confused.

For some reason I had assumed that it was about cooking with foraged ingredients – be they from the wild, or the garden. For sure some of the ingredients could be from the garden or the hedgerows, but only a few. The book is actually about things sweet – cakes, desserts, pastries – and features 95 inspirational and delicious looking recipes.

Thalia takes the reader and the cook through the seasons.  Not the four conventional seasons but six of her own:  Evergreen – new life with herbs and new shoots; Flora – with its subtleness of floral notes; Bramble – hinting at the sweetness and tartness of berries; Orchard – late summer and falling fruit; Woodland – comforting with warmth and spiciness; and finally, Smoke – intense flavours that are rich and enhancing. All of which she translates into appropriate and tempting treats.

Evergreen kicks off its recipes with tempting soft amaretti biscuits flavoured with honey, pistachio and lemon, plus the likes of lemon curd streusel cake and crème de menthe ice cream.

On to Flora – maybe petal granola wouldn’t be my choice of flavours – but it does also contain ingredients I love, dried sour cherries, currants cranberries, raspberries so I will give it a try, and the orange blossom crème caramel recipe is a must.

Bramble – could be my favourite of Thalia’s seasons, think almond paste cakes studied with blackberries, or yummy raspberry blondies. But there again Orchard also vies for my attention with its richness of ripe fruits, ie plum and hazelnut financiers, red fruit crumble, or a dark chocolate crémeux served with slices of stone fruit, and not forgetting a tart cherry semifreddo.

Woodland – is truffles – the chocolate variety not the earthy ones, pecan scones, and cinnamon buns; and finally, there is Smoke – which includes a decadent tiramisu, walnut snowballs, espresso marble cake, bitter nib shortbread, a coffee parfait.

Do read the ’Before you Begin’ section first – its full of sensible advice from a ‘home baker for the home baker’ and don’t miss the ‘Basics’ section at the end of the book either. It contains useful hints on how to make the likes of a streusel topping, crystallizing nuts, her pastry crust, crème fraiche.

Recipes and ingredients are clearly set out, and the majority of the ingredients are obtainable in the UK. Measures are in cup and metric.

There are gentle commentaries relating to each recipe, as well as Thalia’s reflections on her six seasons; and throughout the book Thalia’s own beautiful soft-focus photography echoes the elegance of her prose.

I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I can’t think of any other book on things sweet that has made me want to get out into the kitchen and get cooking quite so much as Wild Sweetness.

 ‘Wild Sweetness – Recipes Inspired by Nature’ is a fabulous treat of a book.

Wild Sweetness – Recipes Inspired by Nature. Thalia Ho. ISBN: 978-0-06-295842-6. UK £25, US $29.99, Can $36.99. HarperCollins.