354 of 374 people found the following review helpful
This volume, `Baking Illustrated' is a compilation of articles and recipes from `Cook's Illustrated' magazine. This is the same source as many other volumes presuming to provide the `best' recipe for various dishes. Overall, I find the recipes in this book very good, but with several reservations.
I am really happy to see the `America's Test Kitchen' crew turn their attention to baking. Unlike savory cooking, baking is highly dependent on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and temperature. Therefore, it is an area where a scientific approach of varying various quantities will have a more beneficial result than in the savory world.
This book is subtitled `The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker'. This means the book is directed at the amateur home baker. This facet does not really distinguish the book that much from dozens of other baking books I have reviewed. In fact, I would warn occasional bakers who simply want recipes that this book might just be a bit too wordy for you. You may be much better served by a general baking book by Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri, or even Martha Stewart. On the other hand, if you love `Cooks Illustrated' or simply reading about cooking and baking technique, then this is a book for you!
My biggest reservation with the whole `best recipe' approach by `Cooks Illustrated' is that a recipe is best only by a certain set of criteria. What may be the best FAST recipe may fall flat on its face for ENTERTAINING or for MOST HEALTHY. The `Cooks Illustrated' team generally goes for a good compromise between fast and tasty. A corollary to this reservation is the presumption that the `Cooks Illustrated' approach has a unique insight into baking truth. This is simply not true. I just finished reviewing professional baker Sherry Yard's new book `The Secrets of Baking' an I believe it is unequivocally the best book you can get for understanding baking technique. She spends no time on discussing failed approaches. Everything in the book is right to the point. With only slightly less enthusiasm I would recommend the `Bible' series of baking books by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
One clue to my preference for Yard and Beranbaum is the way they treat brioche and challah. Both deal with these two recipes as two variations on a common `master' recipe. Thus, when you understand how to make one, it is clear that you are very close to knowing how to do the other. This `Baking Illustrated' volume gives the two recipes side by side, but gives little other clue that the recipes are related.
Another symptom of where the `Cooks Illustrated' method may be less than satisfactory is in their carrot cake recipe. Carrot cake is a really interesting product, made even more interesting to me by Sherry Yard's explanation of why it is so good and so versatile. I have been making a three layer carrot cake for birthdays from a Nick Malgieri recipe for over a year now, and I am very happy with the results. `Baking Illustrated' gives a passle of advice on what works and what doesn't work and ends with a recipe for a single layer sheet cake. This simply does not have enough WOW quotient for an important birthday.
Yet another weakness in the `Cooks Ilustrated' method is illustrated by a recent Jim Villas book which has over a hundred recipes for biscuits, with over twenty for simple, unflavored biscuits. Each of these twenty recipes has their own charms. The current volume has only one `best recipe'.
After all these reservations, I must still say that for the person who treats baking as a hobby, this book is a rich resource for all sorts of recipes. Some few baking books such as those by Yard and Beranbaum do a lot of explaining and offering alternatives, but most books do not. If you really want the straight scoop on what is the best ingredient to use, this is your book. It is also a rare source of excellent pictorials on technique based on line drawings that focus on the important aspects of a technique and do not distract as many photographs may do. The explanation of differences in types and results with butter you may not find anywhere else. The discussion of variations in flour is good, almost as good as the one you will find in Beranbaum's books.
I give the book five stars but there may be many potential buyers who may not want the extensive why and what ifs and just want the recipes. For those people, I suggest Nick Malgieri's `How to Bake'.
346 of 372 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2006
I loved the Cooks Illustrated "The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition with 1,000 Recipes" so much I asked for this for Christmas based on the glowing reviews here. Big mistake- this book is just the baking chapters from that book with 1 or 2 recipes added in each chapter and a couple of pages of color photos. Buy "The New Best Recipe" instead. It is the same price and you get 90% of the recipes in this book, plus 600+ other recipes!
95 of 101 people found the following review helpful
For somebody who already spends a lot of time in the kitchen, this book is a revelation. I own several good baking titles, but Baking Illustrated just runs circles around them. The book is literally packed with tips and information. Even the areas I thought I knew something about were covered in such exquisite detail and straightforward instruction that I have all but stopped making the usual dumb mistakes which torpedoed my many attempts at pies, tarts, cakes, brownies, etc. And as always, the folks at Cook's Illustrated have filled the book with clear, simple illustrations that show exactly how to do it--a difference between this and other titles that makes ALL the difference.
Baking Illustrated is a gem; it will find a prime spot on my bookshelf.
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2004
I like the way Cook's presents recipes. They tell you how they experiment which give you, the home baker, the skills to experiment on your own! This is great.
There are a lot of recipes here and they are all well-written. Please note, there is an error in their Basic Pie Crust recipe. It should be 1/2 cup of shortening rather than one cup. This was sent to me in an email from the America's Test Kitchen website.
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2005
On the whole, I like this collection of baking and pastry recipes. When I have never baked something before and need a failsafe recipe, this is the first book I pick up. It is a good source of reliable, if fussy, recipes. Although I have serious reservations about much in this book, I do recommend it, but not for the kitchen neophyte. It is disturbing how many best-selling baking and pastry books published in the last few years with a famous chef on the cover are chock full of recipes that simply do not work; Baking Illustrated is a happy exception.
One myth about this book (produced by the same people who publish Cooks Illustrated magazine) should be dispelled from the beginning. It is not a collection of the best recipes of a particular baking or pastry item, nor is it an effort to take a classic, old fashioned recipe and do it correctly. Most of the recipes start out with a goal with a specific combination of texture, flavor, and appearance in mind (cf. brownies). The result very often is something that lacks the character you would normally expect from that dish. So, before you forge ahead with one of the recipes in this book assuming that it is the best of it's type, read the introductory material carefully to see the end result the authors were shooting for (as prime examples of a failure in this vein, I cite the recipes for Corn Muffins and Sacher Torte). In particular, I object to the dampness of many of the chemically leavened baked goods. I also find the flavors generally to be bland. Not enough spice is fixed by adding more, but other problems like not enough richness or not sweet enough, is not easily fixed unless you are willing to re-engineer the recipe.
This book has many shortcomings, but none of them fatal. The most vexing is side-bar mania: putting valuable information about ingredients, equipment or techniques in random places scattered throughout the book. Much of this information is generally applicable to many recipes and other books. This information is disorganized, making this potentially valuable book useless as a reference. It also suffers overlap from another ATK publication: The Dessert Bible. Both books plough similar ground, although the actual recipe overlap is not that substantial; however, you do not need both to them. The main difference being that the Baking Illustrated has breads (both quick and yeast), and the book other does not. Given a choice, pick Baking Illustrated. Note carefully that the recipes are generally more involved with more steps than a typical baking and pastry book. The emphasis here is on correct result, not easy and simplified recipe procedures and steps that will save you time. Some of the recipes are risible: expecting you to blind-bake a pie crust and make the filling, and have both recipes finish at exactly the same time (maybe after doing the recipe a half dozen times you can accomplish this); expecting you to have room in your refrigerator overnight for a sheet pan of dough. You should also read the recipes carefully, as some take several days to finish.
On the other hand, this book has many strengths. It is a team effort from a commercially viable test kitchen, meaning that it does not suffer from the prejudices or idiosyncrasies of one chef, famous or not. The authors are careful to point out which mixing method is best: standing mixer, food processor, or wooden spoon and strong arm. They are not wedded to one particular mixing method, nor do they blithely claim that all mixing methods will work with all recipes. They are also careful not to accept conventional wisdom or tradition for a recipe without thorough testing. This book has reliable versions of many recipes that are hard for the beginner to do correctly (cf. macaroons and meringue cookies). Many current baking and pastry books will quietly ignore those items that are staples but troublesome to do correctly (viz. pate a choux, angel food cake); this book merrily ploughs through each subject systematically, including those hard to do recipes. So, if you need a basic recipe, you will probably find it here done correctly.
The most valuable aspect of this book is as a learning tool. If you are ready to move beyond the recipes in the newspaper or the back of the chocolate chip bag, this book is for you. I found the chapter on yeast breads to be particularly interesting: they discover dough folding, yeast preferments, cold proofing, and autolyse. Note that all recipes are preceded by a rather detailed and long-winded narrative of how they came to the final version of each recipe. These narratives are interesting and valuable learning tools you will not find anywhere else, even in culinary school.
It has chapters on: quick breads, yeast breads, pizza, pies and tarts, pastry, fruit, cakes, and cookies.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The best general book on baked goods out there.
The recipes -- as with all Cooks Illustrated books, the people at America's Test Kitchens have tried every variation reasonably possible to come up with baked goods that taste the best to a majority of people and don't contain any wasted steps (such as macerating apples in sugar before baking them in a pie). For instance, for their cranberry nut bread, which is one of the most delicious baked goods I've ever tried, they experimented with different sweeteners (sugar, brown sugar, orange juice, etc.), different liquids (milk, buttermilk, yoghurt) and various leveners, all to come up with a moist, not-too-sweet, flavorful treat.
The organization -- the book is organized into types of baked goods: quick breads, yeast breads, cakes, pies and tarts, cookies, etc. Each section has an index that lists the recipes in that section plus the variations on each main recipe. For example, under apple pie, there are varations for apple-cranberry, apple-bluberry, apple-ginger and so on.
The pictures -- there aren't a lot of pictures, but the ones ther e are are gorgeous and inspiring.
The illustrations -- there are myriad illustrations showing how to do such things as line a baking pan to make removal of bar cookies clean and easy, how to roll out pie dough, how to toast nuts, etc. These illustrations help make the instructions particularly easy to follow and show how to simplify complicated baking steps. Easily the best thing about this book.
The instructions -- amounts are given in both volume (cups) and weight (ounces) so that bakers with scales can use the most precise measurements but that bakers without scales can use the recipes, too. Everything is crystal clear, including decriptions for how to tell when something is done by how the dessert looks and behaves, so that you don't have to worry so much about whether your oven is exactly the same as the ones the authors used. Instructions run from purchasing items all the way through to slicing.
The tips -- plenty of useful tips on ingredients, which equipment works the best for each task (down to brand names) and which is the best value, to how to prepare, shop, store and work with different pieces of equipment and ingredients.
The summaries -- some people don't care about all the things the authors tried, but there is a summary for each recipe if you're interested, and it helps to explain why to use certain ingredients and when you can substitute, which helps one to become a better baker all around and eventually lets you personalize the recipes to suit your taste, not to mention helping you learn to create your own. This eliminates a slew of baking errors as they tell you what not to do as well as what works. But you can just as easily ignore the summaries and follow the recipes alone.
It would have been nice had they included some non-baked desserts , such as ice cream. The ice cream recipes in The New Best Recipe are fantastic, but they would make sense in a book that has so many desserts that go well with ice cream. Also, you won't find anything fancy here -- the recipes are for pretty basic items, although anything basic you want is probably in here, with the possible exception of an all-butter pie crust, which is inexplicably left out. You only get items that the authors think are the easiest and best all-around for the category. In any event, since other bakers aren't always as thorough in trying out recipes, when I want to make something fancy, I find it helpful to consult Baking Illustrated for techniques and ingredients so that I can intelligently change recipes from other cookbooks that don't quite work.
This book has a shocking number of significant typos and inconsistencies. Two examples: The recipe for basic pie dough calls for twice as much shortening as is correct. After making a gooey mess, I double-checked the recipe in The New Best Recipe and in Cooks Illustrated online, and found that Baking Illustrated indeed contains a typo -- the amount of shortening should be 1/2 cup, not 1 cup. In the recipe for Pecan Bars, the crust calls for 1/4 cup of pecans, and the filling for 2 cups, but in the instructions for the filling it says to add the remaing 1 3/4 cups. Thankfully I have a subscription to Cooks Illustrated online (a fantastic website), so I could confirm that the 1 3/4 cups was correct. (As an aside, the recipe online calls for the same ingredients as in the book, but with an entirely different technique).
In short, this is a great book other than the sloppy editing job and is highly recommended for both beginning and experienced bakers.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2004
If you already own The New Best Recipe, this book isn't required. What I mean by that is that at least 80% of the recipes in Baking Illustrated is already in The New Best Recipe, if not more. I didn't do a thorough count-through but a lot of the recipes are repeats. Of course, I give 5 stars because I love the explanations and the layout of the book.
If you absolutely don't need the few extra recipes Baking Illustrated offers extra from The New Best Recipe (and you already have The New Best Recipe) then go for another cookbook.
Onto the cooking aspect, the explanations are a plus. The instructions are clear and I've made a couple of the recipes so far and they came out great (even with a mess up on my part)!
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2006
This is, by far, the best cookbook purchase I have ever made. Not only does it have delicious, foolproof recipes, but it contains a wealth of baking knowledge that any amateur baker could ever need. In the year that I have owned the book, I have grown from an enthusiastic (but scared) beginner baker to a much more accomplished, knowledgable and skilled baker. Each recipe in the book is accompanied by a detailed explanation of their testing and how and why they arrived at a particular method and recipe. So not only do you have a foolproof recipe, but you also know WHY a recipe works. This is an invaluable tool for home bakers because these lessons can be applied to all aspects of baking--boosting expertise, knowledge and confidence in the kitchen. There are also many other general hints and illustrations scattered throughout the tome that are very useful, like how to properly frost a layer cake or the correct way to whip egg whites. Just about any information you need can be found in this book. It's like a baking course in book form. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who is serious (or wants to be serious) about baking.
Update: I disagree with the above reviewer. It is true that many of the baking recipes in this book can also be found in the New Best recipe, but in my opinion there are much too many great recipes found in Baking Illustrated that are left out of The New Best. Like the Sour Cream Fudge Layer Cake, Coconut Cream Pie, Classic White Layer Cake with Raspberry Almond Filling, Chocolate Truffle Tart, Black and White Cookies, Rugelach, etc, plus the entire chapter on Pastries. Not to mention the countless illustrations and helpful tips that can only be found in Baking Illustrated. (However The New Best does have a chapter on Custards and Puddings that BI sadly does not include). While I think the New Best is a wonderful book, I still think that if you are an avid baker (or aspire to be one) then Baking Illustrated should be on your cookbook shelf.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2005
I've been baking for a few years and there's nothing worse than working hard to assemble a recipe and have it turn out with too much of this and not enough of that. Unlike cooking, where you can adjust the water, salt or spices during the process, in baking you throw it together, put it in the oven and hope for the best. If a recipe falls apart, never comes together, proves too dry, too wet, too salty or too bland, it can seem like a real waste of time and ingredients.
That's where the America's Test Kitchen comes in: they make a bunch of recipes for the same dish, and they test and tweak until they have the product they want. The same kind of trial and error would take the weekend home baker months or longer.
In my short experience of baking bread (two years), I've been able to experiment with a bunch of different recipes and techniques, but the ATK team were able to test different flours, rising times, baking temperatures, and much more esoteric tricks like pre-ferments, autolyse rests while mixing, and turning the dough. By offering all the different options to their tasters, they were able to make improvements to the look, texture and taste of their Italian Rustic Bread, for example, which came out excellent my first try.
I've found some pretty good brownie recipes in the past, but the "Triple Chocolate" brownies from this book leave the others in the dust! I've made them 3 or 4 times now, and they're just the right balance between fudgy and cakey. For the reviewer who complained about the recipes not being healthy, this recipe called for much less butter and eggs than Nigella Lawson's brownies.
One reviewer mentioned that the book might be too wordy for somebody just looking for a recipe. If that's you, then skip the introductory remarks and just go straight for the recipe (they're pretty clearly marked). No need to read their sidebars, background info or equipment recommendations if you don't want to. Personally, I loved reading the team's comments and rationale behind their choices.
So, if you're interested in finding some well-tested recipes (and would rather somebody else have to throw out their rejects), check this book out.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2005
I'm a huge fan of Cook's Illustrated magazine. This book is by the same creator. I read one other review that mentioned if you already own The New Best Recipe then this book will be mostly repeat recipes. That is true but I bought it anyways because I specifically collect baking cookbooks. It's a very good read and quite interesting how they experiment with different ingredients, oven temps, baking pans, order of ingredients, mixing methods....etc... it goes on and on how they fine tune each recipe to get the exact result they are looking for. One other reviewer also mentioned that the end result is what the book's writers are assuming it should taste like. I agree with that. I for one like certain cookies or cakes that are really dense where as the book may be trying to achieve a lighter fluffier result. But the point is, all the recipes that I've baked seem to result in delicious and appealing desserts. I've tried dozens of recipes and they have all been wonderful. There is a huge variety of recipes and also variations of many of those. They also have sections where they review different ingredients rating them from "highly recommended" to "not recommended". You'd be surprised at some of the findings. Many of the more expensive ingredients are not necessarily better and many of the cheaper products are rated very highly! I steer clear of certain brands just because Cook's Illustrated rates them poorly. They also rate baking pans and that is very interesting. The recipes styles are everything from fancy restaurant type of desserts to good ole home cooking. Although this book may appear complicated for beginner bakers - it is probably the best book for beginners because it explains everything so thoroughly! I guess my big complaint is the lack of photos. I'm a sucker for those big glossy photos of the end result. I do recommend this book for beginners and for the more experienced baker- it has just about everything.