Jean B. MacLeod has written a number of handy reference books for cooks and gardeners, and BAKING SUBSTITUTIONS: The A-Z of Common, Unique, and Hard-to-Find Ingredients, is possibly her most useful resource yet, in a world full of odd ingredients, dietary restrictions, and border-crossing recipes. The book is simply arranged, with an A-Z list of ingredients and the possible substitutions (with measurements) that can be used in their place. The list of ingredients is reasonably wide-ranging, from common ingredients like butter, sugar, flour and milk to more specialized ingredients which can sometimes be difficult to find outside of their native country, like Bakewell cream, zereshk berries, or Norwegian spruce-tip syrup.
MacLeod often includes ways to make a recipe conform to dietary restrictions – offering nonalcoholic alternatives to fruit liqueurs, for example, or alternatives to meat, dairy products, sugars, and common allergens like peanuts, for those who must or wish to avoid those items. She also offers guidance on translation issues – for example, what an American baker should do when confronted with a British recipe calling for “strong flour”. For some items, she also offers tips on how to make it yourself at home. Another very useful aspect of this book are the appendices, the first of which offers a chart giving equivalents for weight and volume measurements for common ingredients. This table, however, could be made far more useful, especially for Americans translating European recipes and vice versa, if it included metric weight measurements as well as pounds and ounces.
Another chart lists various recipe sources (such as Joy of Cooking or America’s Test Kitchen) by how they measure flour, and what weight of flour to use when working with recipes from these sources – whether it is “spooned” or “scooped” makes a surprisingly substantial difference in terms of the resulting weight of flour used, and that in turn can make a major difference to a recipe. The third appendix lists baking pan equivalents by volume, and offering guidance on how full to fill each type, and the final appendix gives equivalent oven temperatures in Fahrenheit, Celsius, the oven mark on gas ovens, and the general temperature level expected for each number. Novice bakers and those with a hit-or-miss approach (and generally hit-or-miss results) will find the clarity and precision of the information provided here to be priceless.
BAKING SUBSTITUTIONS is an invaluable resource, providing helpful information for novices and experienced bakers alike.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader