Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes (review)

In my childhood I treasured the novels by Jules Verne. One of the stories I particularly enjoyed was his 1873 classic Around the World in 80 Days (I just had to google the image of the Australian cartoon that my brother and I watched many moons ago).

If you loved the novel, you will relish the concept of the book "Around the World in 80 Dishes".
This book reads like a novel too, it is a mix of mouthwatering recipes and photos of food intermixed with personal comments and stories. I love the vintage feel of the photos. There are retro stamps scattered among the pages, black and white cabinet photos and old posters.

This book is not a universal world cuisine encyclopedia, it covers the countries that feature in the novel and follows the route taken by Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout: from London to Europe, Egypt, Middle East, India, Asia, America and back in Great Britain.

The recipes range from well known Welsh rarebit and Caesar salad to exotic Sticky Orange, Kashmiri Chilli and Vodka cake.

Yet again I must mention the exceptionally artistic photos by David Loftus. Jamie Oliver wrote an introduction to the book: "It is also a real celebration of David's temperament, personality and commitment - overly nearly 25 years - to shooting food in a really honest, quick, no-nonsense way".

David Loftus is well known as one of the most talented photographers in the world. He was recently voted the 65th most influential photographer of all time.

The photo styling is inspired: dark wooden surfaces, torn vintage papers and tags, rusty knives, scattered spices, old linen - and the colours are vibrant and electrifying. A bunch of grapes, so full of pep, it almost falls in your hand out of the page. Freshly baked breadsticks with a scattering of salt flakes and thyme, you can almost taste the salt and herbs. A visual feast.

This book has a universal appeal, whether you are an amateur or a kitchen goddess, there are recipes for all levels of cooking skills.

I have tried several recipes from the book and was going to blog about them, when my laptop crashed. Sadly all the photos were gone too.

Yesterday morning my old friend was coming to see me. I had just over an hour before my friend arrived for a morning cup of tea. I didn't have time to bake anything complicated, and thankfully, the book offered just the right recipe. I loved the sound of the Date and Coffee Loaf, and it was very easy to make. Here is the recipe (reproduced with the kind permission of Atlantic Books).

DATE AND COFFEE LOAF (recipe by Debbie Loftus)

serves 8-10
250g pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml strong Arabica coffee
2 tbsp softened butter
2 tbsp white sugar
1 free-range egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract 150g plain flour
1 tsp salt (optional imo, or add just a pinch)
150g pecan nuts, chopped Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Grease a 20x10cm loaf tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
Put the chopped dates into a bowl and sprinkle with the bicarbonate of soda. Bring the coffeee to the boil in a small pan and pour over the dates, then set the bowl aside.
In another bowl, vigorously mix the butter, sugar and egg until well blended -either by hand or with a hand-held electric whisk. Using a metal spoon, blend in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt and gently blend, then finally fold in the chopped pecan nuts and the date and coffeee mixture. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake for appr. 1 hour, or until the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed. When the cake is ready, let it stand for a few minutes before emoving from the tin, peeling off the baking parchment and leaving to cool on a wire rack.
Try serving a slice with a weak Yemeni coffee, sweetened with a little sugar and preserved ginger.

My notes: the cake is lovely, but not exactly what I expected. It is almost savoury in taste. That's why I suggested adding just a pinch of salt rather than 1 tsp. I could definitely taste the salt in the cake, and though it didn't bother me, and my friend and son enjoyed it, I think my husband would probably find it not sweet enough. So, if you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add more sugar, or serve it warm with custard.
I baked it in a round springform rather than in a loaf tin, and used walnuts instead of pecans.
It was very easy to bake and it doesn't require too many ingredients, so this recipe is perfect for a quick baking session when you're expecting visitors but don't have a chance to spend the whole day in the kitchen.


  1. Oooh I hadn't heard of this book but it looks rather good, I shall have to keep my eyes open

  2. Oh, what a shame you lost your photos and the original blog post!

    The date and coffee loaf looks yummy, though. What is a Yemeni coffee?

  3. Lesley, I think Yemeni coffee is just a coffeee from Yemen, but I am not a specialist at all, I only repeated what the book said. I had it with a Costa Rican coffee with lots of sugar and milk.

  4. Oooh I love the concept and the recipes sound divine.