Tanya Burr is, by all accounts, a British You Tube vlogging star. I’m about 20 years too old/ too resolutely unhip to have heard of her, so I figured I would take her second book, this time a cook book, on its own merits.
It’s a very nicely produced book, with lots of colour photos, and the end results of her baking are stylishly shot. The recipes all start with a nice personal explanation of the recipe’s provenance – some from her childhood, some her current favourites, recreations of baking she’s had at restaurants and cafes that she’s enjoyed, and some recipes reproduced from her favourite famous bakers like Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Mary Berry.
I think when I’m reviewing a cookbook that it’s only fair to try a few of the recipes. I am a pretty good baker, so felt confident to try my hand at most of the recipes. The range of recipes feels pretty Nutella-heavy – not my favourite taste, so I avoided those. I largely chose recipes that I could prepare for my regular contribution to the fantastic work of charity Good Bitches Baking, so my trials were mostly on the biscuit/slice side of things.
First up I tried Cornflake Choc Chip Cookies. These are sort of like a caramel Afghan biscuit, but chewier. I had to reduce the heat as the first batch burned at her recommended time and temperature, and I shudder at what Burr thinks is a reasonable portion size – the recipe stated “makes 12 large cookies” but I made more than double that, and the cookies were the size of my palm – so pretty generously proportioned. The unburnt ones were very tasty and had a nice texture, as promised.
Next I tried Kate’s Mum’s Lemon Slice. To Kiwi home bakers, this is our very familiar Citrus Slice. Again, Burr’s serving size freaks me out – the recipe says serves 10-12, but it’s double the quantities of any Citrus Slice recipe I found in NZ cookbooks or websites, and I cut it into at least 50 decent size squares as it’s pretty full on as baking goes and a little bit goes a long way. I also adapted her method, melting the butter in the traditional Kiwi way with the sweetened condensed milk, rather than using softened butter. It was extremely delicious, and very popular with the multitudes who got to share the mega-batch.
I then tried the Earl Grey Tea Loaf, a fruit loaf that Burr recommends serving spread with butter and a cup of tea. I followed the recipe faithfully. While a delicious result ensued – it really was very tasty – the mixture felt too wet and sure enough, it didn’t rise at all in the tin, so was kind of stodgy.
Lastly I tried Burr’s Oat and Cinnamon Health Cookies for another GBB bake. I really wish I hadn’t, because I had high hopes for these wheat-free biscuits. The method looked reasonable enough, so I stuck to her instructions. There was no promised spreading of the cookies, they fell apart as they baked, the raisins burned at her recommended temperature despite me pulling them out early when I got the tell-tale whiff of over-caramelisation, and despite smelling deliciously of honey and cinnamon as they baked they were exceptionally bland when I tasted them. That batch went straight in the bin.
My overall verdict, I’m afraid to say, is that Tanya Bakes is a triumph of style over substance. I will probably make the first two recipes again as the results were tasty once I adapted the instructions, but I’m reluctant to try any further recipes except perhaps the ones from other bakers. I just don’t have the time and energy to adapt her methods so that they’ll work every time.
Reviewed by Rachel Moore
by Tanya Burr
Published by Michael Joseph Ltd