The future of cookbooks? Here’s what happened when I tried Ruby Tandoh’s audio baking guide

Breaking Eggs is a novel idea with excellent results. The only weak ingredient was me

In Breaking Eggs, Ruby Tandoh forces you to slow down. She spends two minutes telling you how to put some butter and sugar in a bowl. Photograph: Andrew Testa/New York Times

In Breaking Eggs, Ruby Tandoh forces you to slow down. She spends two minutes telling you how to put some butter and sugar in a bowl. Photograph: Andrew Testa/New York Times

 

It must be difficult to deliver recipes in a pioneering way. This is because, in the cookbook, the form has already reached its apex. If you’ve never used a cookbook before, you’re really missing out. You open the book at the correct page, then all the information just stays exactly where it is until you don’t need it any more. It’s brilliant, maybe even unimprovable.

But trying telling that to Ruby Tandoh, the Great British Bake Off runner-up and, now, food writer, who has just released the future of cookbooks in Breaking Eggs. Imagine an audiobook that tells you how to bake things – that’s Breaking Eggs. And it claims to be the first of its kind.

Intrigued by the prospect of a cookbook you can’t see, I recently spent a morning attempting to follow it.

Remember those old Gordon Ramsay cookalong shows, where you ostensibly made a Christmas dinner in real time with him? Nobody actually did that. It was a stupid idea

Breaking Eggs consists of just four recipes: a butter cake, an apple galette, some vanilla custard buns and some brownies, each narrated in real time by Tandoh. I was highly sceptical of this as a concept, so I picked the butter cake on the basis that it seemed quite easy, and would therefore be over quickest.

I was sceptical because you should be allowed to cook things at your own pace. Some people like to scan the recipe once and plunge in; others like to read and reread, to make sure they’re going to get it right. And although the audio guide comes with a PDF listing the ingredients and equipment you’ll need, the thought of encountering each step for the first time, while you’re already in the middle of making the thing, seemed unnecessarily stressful. Remember those old Gordon Ramsay cookalong shows, where you ostensibly made a Christmas dinner in real time with him? Nobody actually did that. It was a stupid idea.

Breaking Eggs, by Ruby Tandoh, is available from Audible.
Breaking Eggs, by Ruby Tandoh, is available from Audible

Nevertheless, I assembled my ingredients and gave it my best shot.

No sooner has Tandoh talked you though the ingredients than she slows to a crawl, spending two minutes telling you how to put some butter and sugar in a bowl. Not how to mix it – that comes later – but just how to put them in a bowl. “While you get on with that, let me tell you a bit more about cake,” she says, before explaining the role of moisture in cake. Too little moisture will make the cake “stodgy and dry”, too much and “it’ll be gluey”.

This sort of meditative riffing is a nice touch but less appreciated when time is of the essence. For example, during this stage, my three-year-old wandered up and offered to help me bake, which largely involved him trying to smash an egg on the dining table while shouting “stop talking” at the phone on which I was playing the recipe. This meant I had to take my buttery hands and wipe them all over the phone to pause the recording.

This is roughly when I realised that the problem was less to do with Tandoh’s guide and more to do with my circumstances. Baking used to be something that I did to relax; taking long, leisurely mornings to assemble something beautiful with as much care as possible. But now I’ve taken to hammering through recipes, cutting corners and missing details because the kids are crying and work keeps emailing and there’s laundry to be folded and a million other things.

When Ruby Tandoh tells you to line a tin with baking paper, then spends two minutes discussing cake as a concept, you’re pretty much banned from moving on

This is how I entered my Breaking Eggs experiment: stressed, distracted and on three separate deadlines. If it had been a book, I would have glanced at the instructions once and chucked together a rough approximation from memory as quickly as possible.

But because it was an audio guide, and because Tandoh’s narration was so slow and measured, I had no option but to fall in behind her. When she tells you to line a tin with baking paper, and then spends the next two minutes discussing the various properties of cake as a concept, you’re pretty much banned from moving on. You’re much more likely to spend those two minutes concentrating on the lining.

This quickly becomes the tempo. When you cream the butter and eggs, Tandoh does such a thorough job of explaining its importance that you’ll invariably take more care over it than usual. Same with adding eggs. I may not have wanted to at first, but Breaking Eggs slowed me down. It forced me to concentrate on every step. Even licking the bowl. “Raw flour and raw eggs can contain nasty germs, so I wouldn’t recommend you do this,” she says. “Or would I? Look, you’re your own boss.”

The chapter ends with Tandoh telling us to put the cake in the oven, wash up and watch something nice on television. An hour later, I’m rewarded with a cake that is beautiful, dense and rich with vanilla. It was gone in about two hours. Whether that’s down to Tandoh’s recipe, or because the mode of delivery demands that the listener takes care, I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both.

As the cake went into the oven, my three-year-old grabbed the spatula, jammed it into his mouth and ran away into the living room. He poked his head back in a couple of moments later and asked if we could bake something together again soon. Maybe this is the future after all. – Guardian.

Breaking Eggs: An Audio Guide to Baking by Ruby Tandoh is available from Audible

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