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An Extraordinary Kind of Baking Cookbook
on December 8, 2001
Having used this book on a weekly basis for the past year, I recommend this book to bakers at all levels. The book is a multi-contributed book, with Julia Child at the helm and aptly unified by Dorie Greenspan's clear and engaging writing style.
I spent the greater part of this year working on breadmaking techniques from the artisanal bread section - while techniques take time to master, I received a remarkable education from this book. The basic white bread and focaccia recipes are simple and wonderful to make on your own.
If you're serious about baking, this book provides the basis for your advancement into any number of specialized areas: breads, pastries, cookies, cakes, even chocolate. Not only are the recipes very well selected, but the photographs are gorgeously photographed by Gentl & Hyers (who also photographed Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie & Pastry Bible), including some very nice candid shots (mise en scene/mise en place) in the kitchen. I haven't come across many other cookbooks of this calibre since.
The recipes range from the simplest Irish Soda Bread, to the most elaborate Glorious Wedding Cake. Not all recipes are as complex as the wedding cake recipe - this particular recipe contributed by Martha Stewart is one that seems oddly out of place in a cookbook. However - it is truly a great study on how tiered cakes are layered and put together, and decorated. (The wedding cake is essentially a dense almond pound cake, which can probably be scaled down to a much more manageable session)
The "soul" of this cookbook comes from the section at the beginning titled "Batters and Doughs - The Basics." If you never baked anything from the book, at least go through all 8 recipes once or twice. As the introduction notes, these are the building blocks upon which hundreds of pastry and cake recipes are based. If you can accomplish the following, you can call yourself an accomplished baker: flaky pie dough, choux paste, meringue, genoise (3 versions), brioche, puff pastry, danish pastry, croissant dough. I've recently accomplished the brioche dough, and it's become a favorite quickly, as a simple loaf or as the basis for Pecan Sticky Buns.
This book has a companion web site featuring the original television series "Baking with Julia" on PBS, complete with video clips of the bakers at work. If there was ever an opportunity to purchase all 39 episodes (with 27 bakers!) on DVD, I'd be the first on line... Bon Appetit