A review of How to Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

If you have any pretensions at all towards baking, for family, for friends, for the school, or just for yourself, you couldn’t find a more seductive, more appealing, and more inspiring book. It is pure pleasure to read, and just as pleasurable to use as a guide in the kitchen. My family is very grateful. My chickens aren’t.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

How to Be A Domestic Goddess
By Nigella Lawson
Photographs by Petrina Tinslay
Chatto & Windus (Random House)
ISBN 0701171081, trade paper, October 2003, $A49.95

Who could resist the title? Actually I did for some time, after all, I have 3 children and domestic is not a word I’d apply to myself in a million years. But Nigella Lawson is no literary lightweight, nor is she a kind of English Martha Graham, wooden spoon in hand, stirring risotto all day. She reads, and not only cookbooks – she has even been a Booker judge, has 2 young children, and even as a professional cookery writer, has a rich life outside of her kitchen. Plus I really do care about food, and enjoy reading cookbooks as much as I enjoy putting a fresh loaf of bread in front of my family, and Lawson’s television shows present the kind of food you just have to try – easy, nourishing, and beautiful without being at all fiddly. As Lawson herself stresses, her notion of a domestic goddess is not a Stepford Wife styled brainless woman, chained to the kitchen sink, but rather someone who provides her family with the most intense kind of comfort. It is about maternal warmth, about keeping your family nourished, about the moment when you bring out a home made cake from the oven – its metaphor of “I’m here to care for you” in the most fundamental way.

So it’s ok for my oven to be pretty, uh, dirty (those oven cleaner fumes are so unhealthy). It’s also okay for my cooking to be quick, easy, and frill-less, and I can still “trail nutmeggy fumes in my wake.” How to Be a Domestic Godess is full of baked goods – mainly desserts – the kind of sweet comforting things which will make your family and friends swoon. The recipes are also, almost without exception, really easy. If you can read this book and not bookmark a large number of recipes to try out instantly, you’re less domestic than I am. These are the kind of no fuss, delicious treats you want to add to your regular secret repertoire. They work – even while holding a baby, breaking up sibling fights, and typing up a book review. I imagine that Lawson developed or tested them under similar circumstances.

The book is broken up into chapters on cakes, biscuits, pies (sweet and savoury), puddings, chocolate, recipes for children, Christmas, Bread and Yeast, and stocking the larder. Every recipe contains the relaxed and very readable prose for which Lawson has become famous. Some of the recipes are delightfully frivolous – the kitschy Easter Nests in the children’s section, the Gooey Chocolate Stack, the Gin and Tonic Jelly, or the Boston Cream Pie. Others are the sort of perfectly practical type of baking you can do every day, from a simple Madeira cake you can make for any guest or occasion to the very healthy Spinish, Ricotta and Bulgar Wheat Pie, or loads of different ways to decorate and make use of cupcakes.

There are also gems which I haven’t seen anywhere else like the wonderfully easy Processor Puff Pastry, or the sourdough starter for which I will always be grateful – again, it works, and you can do the sourdough with much less yeast than Nigella suggests and it still works – the starter is very active.

There are often variations suggested, and it is really enjoyable to read Lawson’s information which often verges on the humorous: “Ever since I read that brazil uts are inordinately good for you, containing essential selenium, and that you should probably have three a day, I have chosen to regard these {Rocky Road] as health food.” (224). There is also a chapter on cooking for school fetes, with tips on what sells and what doesn’t. This is really the most perfect book for the would be maternal or paternal (despite the title) baker. There is a lot of information between the chapters, and Lawson is always a pleasure to read. Perhaps neck in neck with Tamasin Day Lewis, she is one of the most literary of cookbook authors, although Lawson’s recipes tend towards the simpler, the more accessible, and the homier. She even leaves in her mistakes – eg Flora’s Famous Courgette Cake:

One warning: don’t do what I did for the picture (p17), which was to colour the lime-curd filling green. I don’t know whatgot into me, but I got out my colour paste and my probe…and proved in one characteristically rash act that food is better left to its own devices. I decided we could just about live with the menacing green: things do go wrong in cooking and, generally, you can live with them…” (18)

If you have any pretensions at all towards baking, for family, for friends, for the school, or just for yourself, you couldn’t find a more seductive, more appealing, and more inspiring book. It is pure pleasure to read, and just as pleasurable to use as a guide in the kitchen. My family is very grateful. My chickens aren’t. For more information visit:How to Be a Domestic Goddess

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