September 30, 2020 8:00:33 AM
Putting a Mary Berry cookbook through a ‘tried and tested’ ordeal may seem like sacrilege to some. After all, the former Great British Bake Off judge is a culinary legend, the trusted guide of many a home cook, through many a decade.
But not even Berry rests on her laurels. At 85, she’s still writing cookbooks and for this one, Simple Comforts, also stars in an accompanying BBC series (and wouldn’t you, if you got to go to Paris and learn to make proper crepes like she did?).
We picked three of the recipes from the new collection and gave them a go, to see if Berry still has it…
Claire Spreadbury tested: double baked mushroom souffles
Making a souffle strikes fear into the heart of any home cook, me included. But, I have successfully made one before. And this one comes fresh from the pages of Mary Berry’s latest book, which seems to lull you into a false sense of security – you just trust her, don’t you?
I was wrong, of course, to trust her wholeheartedly. I spent a wonderful afternoon concocting this dish – which you can prep ahead of time and is genuinely relaxing to make. I even enjoyed finely chopping the mushrooms up into teeny-tiny dice, though I did fantasise about owning one of those vegetable chopping gadgets from the 1980s (which no doubt Berry has in a cupboard somewhere).
It was all going swimmingly, but after whisking the whites to stiff peaks, the recipe says to ‘stir about a tablespoon of egg whites into the egg and mushroom mixture and carefully fold it in, keeping everything light and airy.’ So I stirred through a good spoonful and momentarily stared into my mixing bowl, which still had a lot of egg white left in it. It’s obvious when you think about it, that the rest of the mixture also needs to be stirred through, but I trust Berry to be uber-specific, so I left it at that and popped them in the oven surrounded by boiling water. After 15 minutes, they were wonderfully golden but they were also flat as a pancake, and after some Googling, I realised my mistake.
Thankfully, the leftover ingredients from my Ocado delivery (which cost just over £20 and serves 6-8 as an indulgent starter, or main with salad or veggies) contained enough to make another two souffles. So I divided the recipe into thirds and started again. The second coming was much more successful, though it’s worth noting that these souffles don’t rise enormously, and tall or flat, they all tasted utterly delicious. I might even make them again at Christmas.
Ella Walker tested: brioche frangipane apple pudding
All four of those words sound good: brioche, frangipane, apple, and pudding. Especially if you, like me, have a real thing for frangipane – that slightly gooey, slightly crumbly texture, like the top inch of sponge in a sugar-syrup drenched drizzle cake.
This recipe, as you’d hope from Berry, is an easy to follow doddle. You simply squish slices of brioche into the bottom of a butter greased tin, and mix the rest of the ingredients together (butter, sugar, almond and plain flour, eggs and almond extract). The trickiest bit is slicing the apples thinly enough, and then arranging them in a circular pattern on top, as though you work in a French patisserie – which, as you can see, I clearly don’t.
I threw the pudding in the oven alongside a tray of wedges for dinner (both took 40 minutes, they didn’t seem to mind each other), and it was still warm in the middle after we’d finished dunking said wedges in mayo and chilli jam. Nicely golden (same colour as Berry’s – really felt quite proud), it turned out light in the middle and crisp on top, while the apple slices were slightly dried out and chewy (in a good way). The whole thing tasted like a mellower, cakey take on a Bakewell tart.
Full disclosure, I did forget to brush on the melted apricot jam (it smelt too good to wait and faff with jam, and a dollop of creme fraiche on the side happened before I could stop myself), but will endeavour to apply this golden lacquer when I bake it again. Which I will, because this pudding is autumn in a tin.
Lisa Salmon tested: wild bramble mousse
When I looked at the recipe for Berry’s wild berry mousse, I knew it was going to be a little fiddly, mainly because of separating and whisking egg whites, and folding them into the blackberry mixture. But I gave it a go – and, as I cracked open my sixth egg (the recipe only needs two), I wished I hadn’t.
The recipe starts off easy enough, boiling what seemed like a bushful of blackberries with sugar and lemon juice, then adding gelatine leaves and leaving it to cool and thicken slightly. I was nervous about the gelatine, as I’ve not used it for a long time and have memories of problems with gelatinous lumps in the past. But there was no problem with it, and thankfully, my berry mixture remained smooth.
But then came separating the eggs and whisking them. Oh dear… I separated the first two without getting any egg yolk in them, and whisked them, but as the recipe says to be careful not to over whisk, I was paranoid about over whisking. When the egg whites formed peaks I thought I’d whisked them enough, but then decided the peaks weren’t stiff enough, so I whisked them a bit more, and they went less stiff, so I decided I’d over whisked and needed to start again. I cracked open another two eggs, got yolk in them this time and tried to take it out, but was obviously unsuccessful as I whipped it for ages and it just wouldn’t thicken.
So I separated eggs number five and six and whipped them up till they looked much like the first lot – I wasn’t sure if the peaks were stiff enough again, but to be honest I didn’t really care anymore. Good job I’d bought a lot of eggs!
After whipping up the cream I folded it and the egg whites into the cooled berry mixture, having sieved it to get the seeds out – Berry says to discard the seeds but after tasting them, I actually ate the lot as they were nice and sweet (and I’m greedy).
I poured the finished mousse into a posh crystal bowl and popped it in the fridge overnight, with a few reserved berries and icing sugar on top to make it look pretty, then we ate it after Sunday dinner the next day. The verdict? “Quite nice” – not even the kids raved about it. After all that egg whites trouble I was hoping for something absolutely fantastic. It was good, but not spectacular.
Simple Comforts by Mary Berry is published by BBC Books, priced £26. Photography Laura Edwards. Available now.