Cake

Beatrix Bakes The Cookbook

4/06/2021 04:08:00 PM

Beatrix Bakes Cookbook
Beatrix Bakes Cookbook

My absolute favourite cookbook right now is Beatrix Bakes. Definitely my cookbook of 2020 (and likely 2021 as well). I know most cookbook reviews come out just before or after a cookbook is released, but I'll level with you - as an avid home cook, I don't find regular cookbook reviews that useful. You really need some time with a cookbook to see if it will become much loved and regularly used in your own kitchen, and the promotional cycle of cookbooks just doesn't allow reviewers the time to sit with and really get to know a book inside out. (Of course, these reviews definitely serve a purpose and have value, but I just really like getting stuck into a good cookbook properly).

So, more than a year after it was released, but with lots of experience baking from its pages, let me present to you my review of Beatrix Bakes.

You may already know that cute little Beatrix is my favourite bakery in all of Melbourne. The gorgeous cakes, the tarts, the scrolls, the ciabattas, the everything! It's been nine years of loyal, overly-enthusiastic custom! We had Beatrix cakes at our engagement party (red velvet, passionfruit chiffon, GF chocolate brownies) and our wedding day (red velvet), and even now we still excitedly read their daily cake list when it pops up on Instagram, and visit every couple of months for a total cake fest. Genius baker Natalie Paull has really created a little slice of happiness in North Melbourne!

When Nat released her cookbook last year, I couldn't have been more excited. Sandra pre-ordered it for me - hooray! Before receiving it, I was sure I'd love reading the book, but wasn't sure if it would be useful in my home kitchen - commercial baking and home baking are two entirely different beasts, and I've previously bought restaurant cookbooks that were gorgeous to look at and read (e.g. Spice Temple, Nopi), but utterly impractical for a home cook.

I'm pleased to say that this is not the case with Beatrix Bakes. It is an immensely practical, usable cookbook for a home cook, and I have learned so much baking from it this past year! I love the warm, chatty tone that Nat uses throughout the book, and the intense level of detail and precision. It's like she's holding your hand in the kitchen and guiding you along the process. 

An example...

"Cool in the tins on a wire rack for 2 minutes, then gently cut around the sides of the cakes, flip them out onto the rack and remove the paper. If they steam in the tin, they will toughen".

Many of the bakes are quite challenging and complex with many steps and components, but just follow the instructions and you'll be fine. (Like, read them carefully and actually follow them properly - don't be messing around with a twenty-three centimetre tin if she specifies a twenty centimetre tin). There are loads of tips and tricks woven into the recipes, plus fun variations and adaptations ("adaptrix" to use the Beatrix parlance), and even tips on what to do if the bake goes wrong.

Even if I hadn't ever heard of the cafe I would have loved the book - it really is a book for serious bakers, and there is so much knowledge contained within those pages. (Make sure you read the introduction chapters, and the detailed notes at the start of most recipe chapters to set yourself up for success!) I highly recommend you buy a copy and start baking immediately. And for those of you who don't live in Melbourne and can't get to Beatrix in real life - I can assure you that the recipes in the book really turn out like the cakes at the cafe.

I've bought the book as a gift for two friends, and have baked so much from it over the past year! There was literally a point last year when Sandra banned me from baking from it as there was just Too Much Damn Cake in the house. You know, between the cookbook and our semi-regular Beatrix visits, my Instagram account turned into a hardcore Beatrix-stan account so gradually, I didn't even notice. Hah!

Ok, let's take a look at everything I've baked!

A Smoky, Salty, White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookie

A smoky, salty chocolate chip cookie
A smoky, salty chocolate chip cookie

First recipe - chocolate chip cookies! I picked these because I wanted to start with a quick and achievable recipe. I did the pecan and white chocolate option, and skipped the addition of smoky Lapsang Souchong tea because I didn't want to buy a whole packet of tea just to use two grams. I did use smoked salt for the salty sprinkle though, to try and get a hint of smokiness. These were good but, controversially, my favourite is still the David Lebovitz chocolate chip cookie. However, I learned some good techniques from this - particularly Nat's tip to only roast nuts in the oven (and not in a frying pan) for the most even browning and aromatic nuttiness.


All-Purpose Sponge Cake ("Strawberries and Cream Sponge" adaptrix)

Sponge Layer Cake with Cream and Strawberries
Sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries, and strawberry sour cream glaze

The first time I made the All-Purpose Sponge Cake, I did the classic strawberries and cream sponge adaptrix - sponge layers sandwiched with whipped cream, fresh strawberries (I didn't bother trying the cooked "Strawberry Jewels" recipe) and topped with the Simple Sour Cream Glaze. The sour cream glaze is just sour cream and icing sugar (Nat offers many flavour adaptations as well), and it's so simple and so good! It's softly set, not too sweet and takes barely any effort to put together. I've made it so many times (see my Petite Passionfruit Loaf Cake) and it's really become part of my baking repertoire.

However, the sponge cake recipe itself was an absolute game changer for me! Prior to this recipe, I'd never really been able to get the hang of an old-fashioned sponge cake - you know the type that is super light and fluffy and gets most of its leavening quality from whipping the bejeesus out of eggs. Mine always ended up too eggy or dense. However, Nat's sponge cake recipe is just perfect! It starts from a base of whipped egg whites (egg yolks are folded in later) and is a bit more stable than a trad sponge recipe, but still incredibly light. I've made it a bunch of time and it always works.

I mean just look how even and perfect those sponge layers are. HEART! 

All-Purpose Sponge Cake
All-Purpose Sponge Cake

Apart from the double-layered classic you see above, I've also done the sponge in a single layer for a smaller treat; I've done the chocolate version (and I'll show you in a bit); and I've used it to make Erdbeerkuchen (German strawberry cake). It is the absolute greatest!

Erdbeerkuchen
Erdbeerkuchen


Chocolate Crème Fraîche Mousse

Chocolate Creme Fraiche Mousse
Chocolate Crème Fraîche Mousse

Chocolate mousse isn't normally the type of recipe that would speak to me, but eh, we were in lockdown last year, and I was really intrigued by the notes that the mousse "freezes and then thaws like a dream". (Spoiler alert: it does!) The crème fraîche gives it a lovely mild tang, and I used honey instead of light corn syrup, which I already had on hand, and it gave it a nice flavour. (If you read the "shopping list" section of the introductory chapters, you'll know that honey "will do a similar job" to light corn syrup). We ate it as dessert with fresh berries, in fancy cocktail glasses with the tops smoothed off and dusted with cocoa powder (the "fancy pants" adaptrix) and it was gorgeous! Leftovers were frozen carefully in a snap-lock freezer bag and brought out again for the Notorious BFC (Black Forest Cake).

Easter Hot Cross Buns

Easter Hot Cross Buns
Easter Hot Cross Buns

Judging by Beatrix' Instagram stories, the hot cross buns are one of the more popular recipes for home bakers to try. And with good reason! They look great and taste amazing. They've got a whole puréed orange in them for super moistness and citrussy zing. The recipe includes a "Beatrix secret spice mix", and whilst I'm sure they would be absolutely next level if you ground your own whole spices, I used a dusty old packet of powdered Lebkuchen spice from Germany and they still tasted fabulous.

The Notorious BFC (Black Forest Cake)

The Notorious BFC
The Notorious BFC

I love a classic German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, and Nat is the only non-German baker I'd trust to make a good version. Nat's version is intense and a lot of work - four layers of chocolate All-Purpose Sponge Cake filled with kirsch (I used my father-in-law's homemade kirsch), Chocolate Crème Fraîche Mousse, sour cherry compote, sour cherry jelly, and whipped cream, topped with a cocoa glaze and Chocolate Bark. Phew! I made it for my birthday last year (lockdown birthday, my friends watched me eat it on a Zoom call but couldn't share - oh no!) and it was glorious! I used sweet cherries because sour ones are hard to get (but premium sweet cherries that were gifted to me from the farm) and it still tasted deeeelicious.

Nat's cake / mousse / cream layering technique is so clever and achievable - look how neat and tidy the sides are! The Chocolate Bark (a recipe in the "Finishing Touches" chapter) is an easy cheat's method for tempering, another technique I'd never been able to do previously. Deliciousness AND improving my baking skills.

I've actually never tried the BFC at Beatrix - when she makes it during the short sour cherry season, it sells out pretty much instantly, and the stars have never aligned. But I suppose I don't need to try it at the cafe any more now that I can make it at home!

Ricotta Crostata with Spiced Quince

Ricotta Crostata with Spiced Quince
Ricotta Crostata with Spiced Quince

One of my favourites from the cafe! You've got the crunchy Polenta Crust, encasing a rich and creamy buffalo ricotta and cream cheese filling, studded with soft yet gritty and aromatic Four-Hour Spiced Quinces. All the elements are pleasingly grainy and meld so well together. It took me a good four days to make this tart, fitting in all the elements around Mum Life - phew! Totally worth it thought as it was absolutely wonderful! Quinces are back in season so I'd love to bake it again!

Four-Hour Spiced Quinces
Four-Hour Spiced Quinces

Bonus sweet treat! Strawberry Ricotta Tartlets - my simple adaptrix of the Blackberry Ricotta Tartlets recipe adaptrix adjoining the Sweet Whipped Ricotta Cream recipe. I had leftover Polenta Crust and lots of ricotta leftover, so baked the crust in mini muffin tins, whipped up the Sweet Whipped Ricotta Cream, and topped them with fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Ricotta Tartlets
Strawberry Ricotta Tartlets


Pink Grapefruit Cloud Chiffon Cake with Sour Cream Glaze

Pink Grapefruit Chiffon Cake
Pink grapefruit chiffon with sour cream glaze

Similar to whipped sponge cake, I'd never been super-confident with chiffon cakes, but you can see the excellent results I got with this recipe - check out the impressive height and the fluffy fluffy fluffiness! I need more practice de-moulding chiffons (you can see the messy edges, whoops), but overall I was super proud of myself. We often get chiffons at Beatrix and the home version tastes just like the ones at the shop.

Tiramisu Layer Cake

Tiramisu Layer Cake
Tiramisu Layer Cake

The tiramisu cake was an adaptrix of my own (basically it's just the Tart-a-misu but not in the tart shell - turtle power). Specifically, it was half a batch of the chocolate adaptrix of the All-Purpose Sponge Cake, sliced into three layers, and a single batch of the Mascarpone Zabaglione, layered in a twenty centimetre springform tin as per the instructions Notorious BFC. I think I could have cooked the zabaglione a bit more and whipped it more to get it to be thicker and more stable, but it still looked tempting and tasted great! I loved that the cream was a lot lighter in texture than the usual tiramisus I make at home.

Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle

Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle
Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle

Around Christmas last year, Nat posted a bunch of Christmassy ideas on the Beatrix Instagram using recipes from the book, and the Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle really caught my eye. It's basically a trifle version of the Alabama Cake in the book, containing layers of: whipped cream, pink champagne-roasted peaches, pink champagne & peach jelly, All-Purpose Sponge Cake dabbed with Marsala wine, amaretti biscuits (I subbed homemade spekulatius because I can't deal with amaretti), and Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream. It was EPIC.

Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle
Roasted Peach and Custard Trifle

Carrot, Toasted Hazelnut Cake

Carrot and toasted hazelnut cake with cream cheese mascarpone frosting
Carrot and toasted hazelnut cake with cream cheese mascarpone frosting

Sandra always thought she hated carrot cake, until one day she ordered the carrot cake at Beatrix (because all the other cakes she wanted were sold out) and thought it was just amazing! It isn't a typical carrot cake though - rather, it's a super light and fluffy whipped sponge, with some grated carrot folded through, a hint of cinnamon, and toasted hazelnuts. It's gorgeous!

The full version of this cake has two twenty centimetre rounds of carrot sponge, a layer of cheesecake (honest to God, cheesecake) in the middle, and is topped with a cream cheese mascarpone white chocolate frosting. Woah. Nat often sells it without the cheesecake layer, and stipulates in the recipe that it's worth making even without the cheesecake layer. When I made it, I did half-quantities of the cake, skipped the cheesecake, and did a double quantity of the frosting. Superb!

Key features of the recipe for me - the oven-roasted, evenly browned hazelnuts, and the frosting! The frosting is super easy - just whip together mascarpone, cream cheese, vanilla, soft butter and melted white chocolate. You can imagine how good it tastes, but also because there's no granulated sugar added it stays lusciously soft and smooth. Clever Nat using melted white chocolate to bring the sugar without the graininess. I've used the frosting again for other cakes - so good!

Cocoa Meringue Roulade with Mascarpone and Berries

Cocoa meringue roulade with mascarpone and berries
Cocoa meringue roulade with mascarpone and berries

Last recipe for this post, I promise! I made the cocoa meringue roulade for an afternoon tea with some friends, one of whom is coeliac, and rather than making the toffeed figs specified in the recipe, I took it easy with plain fresh berries. A meringue roulade is the type of recipe I wouldn't previously have had confidence with (meringue roulade, Swiss rolls, way too much room for error!), but I knew that with Nat's recipes I'd be able to do it. (And incidentally this recipe has a really long paragraph explaining what to do if it goes wrong, so I can't be the only one who struggles with roulades!) Anyhoo, it worked out fine, and was super delicious and impressive, even if I wasn't able to get as tight a roll as the picture in the book.

Phew, that's it, that's the post! If you haven't already got the book, I do hope this inspires you to go and buy it and start some epic baking of your own.

So what's next for me? (I mean, apart from a long nap!) I have my eye on the espresso marshmallows, the blood plum galette with cream cheese pastry, the rugelach, the rum baba, the pecan maple cinnamon scrolls... and upon reflection I realise I've only made one pastry recipe so far, so I'll definitely have to try some of the others. I also have it on good authority that a second Beatrix cookbook is in the works! So exciting! I can't wait - I am totally ready to level up my baking yet again!

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9 comments

  1. I completely agree that a belated cookbook review that includes repeat reading and recipe trials has extra value! I've so enjoyed seeing you make these through instagram in the past year.

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  2. Hey Sarah would I be able to ask, what size tin did you use for the hot cross buns? We made some at Easter and used a 30x40cm tin as specified in the recipe and they ended up far too flat (maybe 2cm high?) and wide.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jon,

      I just double checked, mine is 30 x 22 cm.

      Cheers,
      Sarah

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    2. Thanks! Must be a mistake in the book. I guess I should have thought that 10x10cm was a bit big for a HCB ;)

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  3. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Great review Sarah. Your passion shines through in your writing. After reading your post, I'm definitely going to purchase this book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I absolutely adore this book and actually bought it after I saw some of your beautiful bakes. I haven't baked quite as much as you but I've attempted: the caramel slice, the sponge, the BFC (mine looked ugly but tasted delicious), the banoffee and the cocoa roulade. Such a joy to bake from and the recipes are challenging but Nat gently guides you through them

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    Replies
    1. Oh yay, glad to hear you love it too!! Totally agree that it's a joy to bake from. :)

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