When it comes to staple, family-friendly recipes that can be relied upon every single time, Mary Berry is queen.
The former Great British Bake Off judge and recipe writer extraordinaire is a legend of the cookbook world, and at 83, a culinary authority.
However, the Bath-born TV presenter’s latest cookbook, Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking, sees her take a slightly different direction, and delve into the world of speedy midweek suppers, 15-minute dinners and rapid puds.
It makes sense, we’re all time poor – but can Berry’s methodical, traditional style of food work in moments of haste? We thought we’d put some of her new dishes to the test.
Here’s what happened…
Lauren Taylor tested: King prawn and broccoli stir-fry
As someone who would prefer to spend as little time in the kitchen during the week as possible, I’m in need of a few more go-to quick recipes up my sleeve. Don’t get me wrong, I love an opportunity to cook for other people on the weekends, a glass of wine perched next to the oven, or learning how to make a new dish with all the time in the world on a Sunday, but weekdays? No, they are not for kitchen stress.
So will Mary Berry, who I, perhaps mistakenly, always associate with complicated baking fit for Sundays, have the answer for my time-poor, mid-week meals?
I tried out her king prawn and broccoli stir-fry with black bean sauce. It sounds like a student classic, with some added sophistication thanks to using raw prawns and oyster mushrooms, and who doesn’t like a stir-fry?
I was optimistically skeptical about the 10 minute prep time. Unless you have knife skills like Jamie Oliver and can devein two packs of prawns by magic, it’s likely to take much more (25 minutes for me, by the time I’d chopped, weighed and measured).
The cooking time of eight minutes was more realistic, but I found the order of the recipe a bit strange. Berry says to put the prawns in near the beginning and add the broccoli florets later. The result was a tasty dish (black bean sauce, soy sauce, and lemon is such a quick, simple and effective combination) but my prawns were slightly over and my broccoli a bit hard.
However, for something that took a mere eight minutes to cook, it was full of flavour and a recipe I’ll definitely throw together again when I want something fresh, healthy and quick – just ever so slightly tweaked.
Sam Priddy tested: Romano pepper and herb penne
As someone with a habit of getting stressed in the kitchen, I took on Mary Berry’s romano pepper and herb penne recipe with some trepidation.
To add to the panic, I had to make a couple of slight adjustments to the recipe due to food intolerances (spring onions) and widespread shop shortages (basil!). And I swapped penne for rigatoni, as it’s what I had in the cupboard.
I need not have worried however, this really is a very simple recipe that packs a real punch – even without a couple of ingredients.
The instructions were true to form and it only took about 10 minutes to prep. Deciding I had to get stressed about something though, I took it out on the Parma ham, in particular, how hard it is to remove each individual slice from the corresponding piece of plastic – this recipe is not one for fans of Blue Planet. Otherwise, it is pretty much a case of chucking everything in a frying pan, waiting for the Parma ham to sizzle and the crème fraîche to bubble.
Sure, it’s not as speedy to put together as a classic Italian pasta dish (my usual go-to, olio e peperoncino – spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, and chilli – takes seven minutes total), but once served it’s a really salty and creamy, with just enough fresh parsley sprinkled on top to give it a bit of bite.
If I were making it again (and I plan to), I’d add a few more roasted peppers – they felt a little lost amongst the other strong flavours.
Prudence Wade tested: Apple and lemon sandwich cake
Mary Berry is the undisputed queen of cakes so, obviously, I jumped at the opportunity to make her apple and lemon sponge. The combination is classic and the recipe looked speedy, plus I really just wanted an excuse to bake a cake.
The recipe itself is as easy as Berry suggests – all you need to do is beat the ingredients together, fold through grated apple and then pop two tins in the oven.
All the ingredients were easy and cheap to get, except perhaps for the odd-sounding ‘baking spread’. I’d never heard of it and Berry doesn’t give you much indication as to what it actually is, but a quick Google told me it was a soft spread you can use straight from the fridge. I have no idea how it differs to the butter you normally use in baking, but what I do know is, there will be half a tub of Stork languishing in my fridge for the near future.
The cake itself was definitely tasty – the lemon curd and cream mixture sandwiching the cake together gives it a much-needed zing. Berry doesn’t give you a recipe to make the curd, but I whipped up some of my own as my local supermarket doesn’t sell any.
However, what I would say is, you couldn’t taste any apple in the cake, and the sponge itself could have been much lighter and fluffier. If you’re new to baking, this is a good recipe to try as it is simple, speedy and hard to mess up. Although, I’m not sure I’ll be returning to it – maybe my expectations for the queen of baking doing her thing at pace were just too high.
Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking by Mary Berry is published by BBC Books. Photography by Georgia Glynn Smith. Available now.