Pros: Variety, variety… did I mention variety?
Cons: Photos, index
Rating: 3 out of 5
First published 12/15/2000
Anyone who’s followed my reviews so far will know already of my love for good muffins. So how could I possibly resist a book like Greg Gillespie’s “1001 Muffins”?
You’ll find quite the variety of muffins in here, as you might have guessed. There’s typically one or two recipes per page, ranging from Banana-and-Chocolate-Bit Muffins to Carrot-and-Pineapple Muffins(?!), Cocoa Muffins with Bananas, Lebanese Lamb Muffins, Lemon, Chive and Pepper Muffins, Prune-and-Bran Muffins, Southeast Asia Muffins, and much more. The Avocado Muffins were good, but not fantastic, and unlike most muffins they didn’t freeze and reheat well. The Buttermilk Muffins are incredible – they have both the taste and texture of buttermilk pancakes! They only sort-of freeze and reheat well, though.
One unusual thing you’ll find in here, however, is the sauce recipes to go with the muffins: Rhubarb Sauce, Cottage Cheese Dip, Lemon Syrup, Hot Curry Spread, Apple-Cinnamon Syrup, Strawberry Sauce, Shrimp Spread, and so on. The Fresh Blueberry Sauce is a little overly sweet, but you can fix that by just adding extra blueberries or cutting the sugar a little.
What, you thought this really had 1001 muffin recipes? Nope. It also has waffles, biscuits, popovers, coffee cakes, scones, donuts, pancakes, cobblers, and quickbreads. It also has some nice pages on how quickbreads work, and a handy ingredient substitution guide.
Obviously we haven’t tried everything in this cookbook…that would take years. I can tell you about a few things, however. For instance, the Banana Waffles are the best waffles we’ve ever made, with a wonderful sweet strong banana flavor. And unlike many of Gillespie’s muffins, they freeze and reheat perfectly, even regaining that spiffy crispiness in the toaster. There’s a blueberry quickbread in here that’s absolutely scrumptious (particularly with the blueberry sauce). The molasses spice donuts are fantastic. The mustard cheese biscuits with mustard butter are pretty darned good.
In fact, most of the “other” things in this cookbook freeze and reheat much better than the muffins. And many of them taste better too.
Index and photos
The index is only partially useful. Look up “blueberries,” for instance, and you’ll find a whole long list of page numbers with no indication of what’s on those pages. I know that detailing them out would have made it one huge index, but at least then I’d be able to find the blueberry recipe I’m looking for without having to flip through every one of them.
The concept behind the photos is worthwhile and interesting, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. It’s obvious that Mr. Gillespie wanted to make sure that the cook who had this cookbook in her hands would know exactly what each product would look like when it came out. The photos have no fancy backgrounds. They’re just plain photos of the finished product, with no fancy food photography tricks to make them look fabulous. Unfortunately this backfires, for a few reasons.
One, food photography tricks aren’t just used to make food look better than normal – it’s to make the photos come out looking like the actual food. Anyone who’s played around with a camera and food knows that photos of food almost never look like the real thing. So, some of these photos just don’t look like the real thing. (The butter on the waffles looks particularly disturbing.) It’s like stage makeup: it looks hideously fake up-close, but when done well it’s what makes actors look like normal people under stage lights or on a television screen.
Two, we’re used to looking at doctored photos with fancy backgrounds. We’ve learned to adjust our expectations accordingly. So when we see a bunch of not-so-great-looking photos, we automatically expect the finished product to look even worse. It makes some recipes seem unappetizing that would probably be quite good.
Three, the photos are small. They have to be to fit so many in. This means that a lot of very different foods look pretty much identical, particularly when you get into larger foods like coffee cakes, where the photos have to be reduced more. So having a photo of each individual recipe isn’t really all that useful.
The one thing this cookbook has to recommend it is the insane variety–there are certainly good recipes in here, and with this many recipes there are bound to be quite a few of them. However, the index isn’t very helpful, the photos are similarly unhelpful, and not all of the recipes are that great. This book is certainly better than Gillespie’s 1001 Cookie Recipes, but there are better muffin cookbooks out there.