on April 11, 2001
While it's difficult to add much to the other reviews of "The Cake Bible", I do have a couple of thoughts that might help resolve some of the conflicting reports. Like a few of the other reviewers, I have found this to be a frustrating book, even for someone with culinary training. Let me make one thing clear -- I really want to like it. The book is comprehensive and authoritative, and the author, Rose Levy Beranbaum, tries very hard to communicate. What isn't covered in the text is usually addressed in the extensive margin notes or footnotes. With strengths like that, it would seem impossible for any recipe to fail.
But, many recipes do fail, sometimes spectacularly. How is that possible? The reasons are many and varied. First, my sense is that the recipes themselves are fragile. While ingredient measures are expressed in precise units (you'd better own a scale), the instructions must be executed to the letter. No step can be compromised; no corner can be cut. Exact pan sizes and oven temperatures must be used. The ingredients are carefully balanced. If you're off by just a little, the cake will fail. Hence, I don't approach the recipes in this book with the sort of unhesitating confidence I would like. It often takes several tries to get a cake right.
Second, the recipes don't take kindly to substitutions. Once, I came up a little short on sour cream and tried to substitute some plain yogurt in the Sour Cream Coffee Cake. The recipe wasn't robust enough to accommodate the additional water provided by the yogurt, and the cake fell. To make these cakes, you need to triple-check the ingredients list before you start.
Third, only the highest quality ingredients can be used. The Mousseline Buttercream is a good example. Since it uses only egg whites instead of yolks or whole eggs, and since there isn't much sugar, the only flavor notes come from the butter. Anything less that the highest quality will result in a final product that is greasy and horrible. And the additional liquor flavoring in many recipes is not optional. It is often required to compensate for the relative lack sugar.
Finally, the author's encouragement notwithstanding, the Showcase Cakes are legitimately complicated. Each of them has a number of components, some with multiple sub-components, and each cake takes several days to construct. The Blueberry Swan Lake, for example, calls for 2 meringue swans with piped whipped cream feathers. The White Lilac Nostalgia cake requires dozens of crystallized lilac blossoms, each prepared carefully by hand. And I'd love to see anyone's first crack at the red chocolate roses and 20 chocolate rose leaves required for the Bittersweet Royale Torte.
In fairness, however, it should be noted that some of the fundamental recipes are real breakthroughs (or at least they were when the book was written in 1988). The Moist Chocolate Genoise, for example, uses bar chocolate instead of the cocoa. The cocoa butter in the chocolate replaces the clarified butter that would normally be added to a cake of this type. The result is a chocolate genoise unlike any other I've ever tasted. While many are stiff and dry, this cake is tender and moist. In addition, the Neo-Classic Buttercream offers a worthwhile shortcut to the preparation of the sugar syrup.
A special bonus is the wedding cake section. These pages thoroughly describe the construction of a 'standard' wedding cake, right down to the amount of buttercream required for each layer. Recipes are offered for yellow and chocolate butter cake, yellow and chocolate genoise, and cheesecake. Every step along the way is described in detail, and the designs, while challenging, are generally more accessible that those from, say, Colette Peters or Dede Wilson.
In sum, while it's easy to make a decent cake, it's a big step to the next level. What this book underscores is the amount of preparation, concentration, and effort it takes to make an exceptional cake. If that is your goal, then this book could well offer the road map you're looking for.
Note added 4/12/2012 -- I am suddenly receiving a fair number of private emails about this 11-year-old review, almost all critical of my comment that the recipes don't take kindly to substitutions. At the time this book was written, modifying basic cakes was standard practice. In fact, books were written on how to add this, that, and the other thing to a standard cake recipe to achieve new and interesting results. My review was intended to point out the the recipes in "The Cake Bible" are not those kind of recipes. If you'd like to make the cakes in this book, you'd better have the right pans, a stand mixer, a gram scale and a calibrated oven. In particular, the mixing procedure when executed correctly produces a cake that can be wonderfully light. But the structure is less robust than the standard procedure offered in most books. It's worth noting that that this procedure has not become the culinary standard in the decade since it was introduced.
on August 11, 2000
I'm not an experienced baker and although I don't mind baking, I will admit that I like eating cake more than I do baking it. However the recipes from The Cake Bible have brought me so many rave reviews that I look forward to making them. For a special occasion several years ago I made a three-tiered Golden Genoise with a raspberry buttercream and marzipan roses, and there are people who still marvel about it. I've also made the Black Forest cake, the Triple Chocolate cake, and the Cordon Rose Cream cheesecake with great success. The coffeecake and the blueberry buttermilk pancakes are now family classics, and for my own birthday I always make the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter cake with a Milk Chocolate buttercream. These are real cakes, similar to great ones I've had in Vienna, London, and New York, that rely on the flavor of the ingredients rather than the overwhelming sweetness prevalent in the typical American cakes. Most of them do use a lot of butter and eggs, and there's no margarine, powdered icing sugar, or artificial flavourings in these, so be forewarned. I find them no more difficult than recipes from any other book, but the end result is light-years ahead. The fancier versions of the decorated cakes can be intimidating since my manual dexterity is somewhere below that of a dyslexic orangutan's, but even if my decorations aren't picture perfect they have a kind of funky charm, and still taste good. In any case, unless it's for a special event, it's not necessary to make them fancy. The recipes have been constructed from scratch so that the ingredients and techniques make perfect sense chemically, rather than having been recopied from existing ones. It's difficult to look at other cake recipes now.
on May 8, 2005
I've own an original 1988 copy since 1988. This is the only cake recipe book I use. I am not a professional cook, but I am experienced. My Mom also baked. Everyone is correct on their reviews. Recipes are not for the inexperienced or the cook that wants to learn how to bake. Not all, but many recipes require precise ingredient selection and measurement; you can't substitute. Rose explains in detail why she choses an ingredient instead of another; she tells you what one does that the other does not; she tells you why use Dutch Processed Cocoa instead of Chocolate and viceversa; she tells you why use sour cream instead of butter and viceversa; she tells you why use unsalted butter instead of regular butter; she tells you about baking powder types and quantities depending on your pan size. After near 15 years reading this book, I am able to substitute. I succesfully used semisweet chocolate chips in place of Dutch Processed Cocoa for her marvelous chocalte butter cake recipe. My 200 guests were happy.
I've learned many good and impresive things the average cook admires when they come to my dining table. The best is the caramel cage; I make caramel cages for many uses; to hold fresh fruits, as a stand for a ball of cheese or freshly whipped flavored butter, as a garnish for a main entre, etc. I've made star shaped caramel cages, squares, buckets, cilinders, you name it. All it needs is sugar and water and aluminum foil, and those are present in any kitchen.
The triple chocolate cake is the best chocolate cake you can desire. Rose is correct when she says, this is a triple orgasm, or a triple pressence of chocolate in its best representation; You bite into a moist-airy-grainy-spongy chocolate genoise cake that is layered with silky creamy chocolate ganache and then all covered with hard chocolate praline sheets. She chosed with exactitude the addition of Frangelico liquor and hazelnut praline. Let me tell you, making chocolate genoise cake is delicate and requires a large mixing bowls, this is a chocolate cake without baking powder so the resulting flavor is pure chocolate without the chemical disflavors that baking powder adds when it reacts against chocolate. You can't show off how you make your chocolate genoise, you can't have your dog or distracting family members in the kitchen when you are folding the yolk mixture into the egg white mixture. Yes, indeed out of 10 times making it, 3 times the genoise cake became flat, my fault.
The mouseline butter cream is a master thesis on its own. I am glad somebody mentioned it in the reviews. It is an act of acrobatics and chemistry, plus a touch of magic. It is hard to believe and explain that a mix of egg whites, water, and sugar can blend with soft butter. It is hard to believe Rose when she says to not be alarmed that the mix will initially look like a puddle of unmixable butter floating like oil on water, and that your end result is the best bodied butter cream you can have (if you follow all her rules, yes RULES and not RECOMENDATIONS). You end up with a silky buttercream, that is light, not so sweet, not so greasy, and not so heavy, that will stand at room temperature for days or that will not loose its shape or body even after abusing it with food coloring or making extravagant cake pipings. And absolutelly, the addition of 3 oz of sweet liquor of your choice is a MUST. 3 oz is 3 shots of liquor, quite a lot. Before adding the sweet liquor, the mouseline butter cream tastes not so good (buttery and not so sweet) and in fact, the body is even better and silkier after adding the 3 oz of liquor. I am sure, if you choose not to add liquor, try find out how much sugar are in 3 oz of sweet liquor and how much water (less the alcohol evaporation), and you might be able to substitute by increasing the amount of sugar and water in the egg white mix. I do have one recomendation: if you are using the recipe Rose wrote with the liquor, make your butter cream 3 to 5 days before you use the buttercream, or frost your cake 12 to 24 hours. This will allow time for the alcohol to dissapear. Hey, and what is wrong to not use egg yolks in buttercream? It is healthier and you end up with the purest white possible butter cream.
The same goes with all her recipes that call for adding syrup with liquor. She makes it a rule if you are baking before than 1 day in advance, then add liquor.
In conclusion this is NOT a book for beginners or cooks that want to start baking. This is a book for the baker or for the cook the loves to read cookbooks. I indeed have ALL of Rose's books, and all share my same reviews: The Pastry Bible, The Bread Bible, Rose's Celebrations, etc.
Rose is unique and her writing style is product of her own research.
on August 8, 1999
This book was recommended by the instructor of a cake baking class I took at a local culinary academy. If the instructor, a professional baker for more than 35 years, could learn from this book, I figured I could too. And I have learned from the exacting directions, thorough explanations, and personal anecdotes provided with each recipe. She provides instructions to make basic cakes in any size from 6" layers to 18" layers by multiplying a base recipe to produce any size cake you need. I've never seen this in any other cookbook, and is by itself worth the price of the book. I have had perfect results from the butter cake recipes (even chocolate cakes which I had never had much success with before), and the method of mixing is so much easier than the standard way that most cookbooks describe. Weights are provided for all recipes, adding convenience and much easier clean-up. Since I bought this book, I haven't even looked at any of the other cake books I have. There just isn't any need for them.
on August 14, 2002
Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible" has justifiably become a classic in the many years since its original publication in 1988. Aside from bearing the seal of approval of the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals, which awarded the book its "Cookbook of the Year" prize in 1988), take a look at the fact that this book is still not only in print--it's in print in hardcover! That says a great deal about the value and information the book provides.
I can attest personally to the fact that the recipes WORK. This is the number one test for any cookbook, yet it's astonishing to me how many recipes DON'T work--either because of unclear or poorly worded directions, or because of lack of thorough testing on the part of the author. I have never yet made anything from this book with which I was disappointed, and have made a number of recipes which have entered the hallowed pantheon of family favorites. Beranbaum's White Velvet Butter Cake has become a de rigeur choice for birthday, confirmation, and other special occasion cakes--it's a fine-crumbed, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth cake that's like the best wedding cake or petit four you've ever put in your mouth. And the Neoclassic Buttercream gives you a meltingly delicious frosting that's the color of cheesecake--richly ivory and silken smooth.
Beranbaum is a companionable writer--her essay on "My Brother's Wedding Cake, or the Snowstorm of 1983" has become something of a Murphy's Law baking classic--and she's a learned and intelligent teacher. This book was the first to introduce me to the novel idea of weighing ingredients, rather than measuring them by volume. The result is much greater accuracy, which in turn gives you a much higher chance of turning out stellar baking results. I bought a scale shortly after receiving this book as a gift for my birthday in 1989, and have never looked back. In fact, when I wrote my own culinary newsletter from 1993 to 2000, I usually did all the recipes giving both weights AND measures, trying to encourage my readers to try the weighing method. Once you try it, you'll never go back.
The photography is gorgeous (although I have always wished there were more of it!). The cakes fairly gleam with rich color--you can practically taste them just looking at the photographs (check out especially the handsome Strawberry Maria, named for editor Maria Guarnaschelli, and the dramatically decorated Art Deco cake).
In addition to the cake and icing recipes, there is worthy advice on everything from tempering chocolate to creating three-dimensional cake decorations to unusual sources for cake and cake-decorating supplies. The bottom line is that any home cook can create gorgeous, sumptuous, outstandingly delicious cakes from Beranbaum's book--and isn't that what a cake bible should be all about?
on December 1, 1999
i made hundreds of wedding cakes for a living. i slaved on thousands of cheesecakes, millions of layer cakes, and boatloads of brownies. If only i had been able to escape to the island of sanity and reason that is Rose Levy Berenbaum! I have had this book since the very day it was first published, and voraciously read every word, as if it were a novel, before baking a single cupcake. The extensive use of scientific knowledge and experimentation is a stroke of genius, since anyone who has done any baking to speak of knows quite well that it is science, not an art. Thank you to Rose for making the building of a wedding cake so darn simple. Thank you also for using weights AND measures in your recipes. Weight is so much more exact (don't forget, it's a SCIENCE!)Her innovative straw technique has saved my posterior many, many times. Her buttercream recipes are flawless. this is a real baker's book. This book may confuse the run of the mill idiot, but I just ordered my second copy. I need to have it everywhere I go!
on January 12, 2004
There are many cake cookbooks available, but I am not comfortable with recommending any of them. The Cake Bible by Beranbaum is the only one I can recommend without reservation, as the recipes and techniques all work. On the whole, I like this book quite a bit and use it fairly often as a reference.
The author has done wedding cakes professionally for many years, and this cookbook is a compendium of tried and true recipes that she has used. This is both good and bad. These are baking recipes that are battle tested and ones that you can rely upon, especially on special occassions. On the other hand, it is a very personal collection of production recipes, and you will not find several common cake types because she has not done them in her professional experience.
Several recipe types, such as butter cakes, genoise, and buttercreams, are very different from the usual ones that you will find in other baking books. This is because they are a record of the author's efforts, and not just a mechanical recapitulation of standard patissierie recipes. The procedures at first seemed to be unnecessarily finicky, and had a few extra steps that did not seem to be necessary. On the other hand, I had no problems with any of the ones I tried. The procedures are often unique; while the results were not better than standard recipes, they can, in some cases, be slightly easier to execute than standard recipes, which are more prone to failure by the home baker.
The arrangement of the cakes chapter is particularly useful. It assumes that you will work methodically through the chapter, baking each cake as you go, and not just pick out recipes at random. It lists pound cakes first, and ends up with genoise-type cakes, which makes more sense than the usual order, which is the other way around; foam-based cakes are the most difficult.
Interestingly, only the first 160 pages of this 550 page book relates to cakes. 60 pages go to showcase cakes, 200 pages to decoration, fillings and frostings, 50 pages to ingredients and equipment, and 70 pages for professionals (including extensive insturctions of wedding cakes; I cannot vouch for this section, since I have never made a wedding cake).
There are some criticisms, but they are mostly ones of omission. Many of the page references are wrong. I object to the suggestion of leaving eggs and chocolate in a warm oven overnight to get them to the proper temperature. Cornstarch is substituted for part of the flour in genoise, but this was not any better than just straight flour. The instructions for waffles are for an old-fashioned, stove top iron and not an electric one. The instructions for making the rose trellis are incomplete. The table of contents need to be more detailed. The chapter subheadings in Part III are used inconsistently. The flavor-cake-filling-frosting combinations the author suggests are not the classic ones; you will need another patissierie book if you need the traditional ones. On the positive side, all the wedding cakes described have pictures. There are several different recipes for chocolate genoise (including one without added butter), one of my favorites. There is also an old fashioned mayonnaise cake. The 2 pancake recipes are ones with whipped egg whites, but none with the plain old baking powder.
The only reservation I have is that this book is not all that friendly or instructive for beginners. For them, I would suggest that you bake some cakes from the first 150 page section and ignore the rest of the book until you become more advanced, making sure that you go through this section in order rather than skipping around.
on March 10, 2006
I have not had any problems with any of the recipes in this book that I've tried, and was surprised to read so many negative reviews and bad experiences. I've had this book for over ten years and it has become my go-to book for cheesecake, birthday cakes, etc. I'm not a chef by any measure, but I am a fairly experienced home baker and confectioner.
I've cooked Rose's cakes in two fussy ovens--one that tended to run hot and another that tends to run a little cooler than indicated on the temperature dial. Still, I've not had any of the problems with falling, dryness, and poor flavor that have been cited here. Nor have I always followed the recipes to the letter. I have, on a few occasions, used salted butter when unsalted was not available. I don't have a kitchen scale. I don't keep superfine sugar on hand. Yet the cakes I've made from this book have been superb. (Sorry if that sounds like bragging. I'm praising the recipes, not my cooking skills.)
The Domingo Cake and the cheesecake recipes alone make this book worth its price. I like Rose's buttercake mixing method. It is very similar to the "quick mix" method some people may have learned in home economics class and that also appeared in cookbooks from a few decades ago. Many traditional buttercake recipes start with creaming the butter and sugar together, then adding eggs and flavoring, then adding the remaining liquid alternately with flour(usually with the leavening agents mixed into the flour). Rose's method for buttercakes has you mix the cake flour and leavening with the sugar, then adding the butter, then the liquids--including the eggs--in stages. The entire mixing takes less time than it usually does to cream butter and sugar together in other buttercake recipes. The batters from Rose's recipes are smooth and luscious. The cakes are tender and not cloyingly sweet. I've made cupcakes out of her White Chocolate Whisper batter. They needed no frosting or further embellishment.
Rose's recipes are exacting, but not so much that they are difficult to master and have no room for flexibility. I have not found the recipes to be so fragile as to be unworkable if you don't have a scale or if you make *minor* substitutions. I'm sorry that others have had problems, especially since so many of you are chefs or experienced home bakers. I have to say that I have not tried making any of the wedding cakes, so cannot comment on how well Rose's methods work when multiplied to a large-scale cake project. But after having baked my way through most of the buttercakes several times,the genoise and biscuit, and several of the cheesecake variations I can say that Rose's recipes do work very well for smaller scale, everyday cake baking.
My only complaint with this book is the binding. Several of the slick picture pages have started to fall out of my copy. For some reason they have not adhered to the binding as well as the recipe pages.
on February 16, 2001
This is a great cookbook. One of the all-time greats.
If you never make an item out of this book it is money well spent. The information is great. The lessons learned will improve all your subsequent baking efforts. The format Ms. Beranbaum uses should be the industry standard. THE RECIPES WORK.
I have read many of the other reviews and in the negative reviews the criticisms can be categorized among the following: "Did not like the taste, the recipes don't work, the information is incorrect, the book is too difficult to use--too dense, There are only a few recipes in this book I would use--the recipes are too intricate."
I would categorically disagree with all these complaints.
I can only respond to the criticisms by stating that I have owned a copy since this book was published. I have never had a "kitchen disaster" and yes I made something someone specifically had problems with--it was evident from their comments that they did not follow the recipe closely enough.
I have never had complaints only compliments from my tasters. By the way the same thing goes for Ms. Beranbaum''s Pie and Pastry Book-as well as the Christmas Cookie book.
There is no accounting for taste and baking is subjective. Some find the book too buttery another too sugary. This has not been my experience.
As for the criticism that you will only use several of the recipes--I do not know of any cookbook that anyone has actually made every recipe--I am sure you are out there. In a good cookbook it is not necessary that you make all the recipes, it merely requires that there are a sufficient number of recipes that you will make and that all the recipes in the book will work. I have made plenty out of this book and they work on all levels. I will probably never make the fruitcake but I would bet it works and if someone asked me for a fruitcake recipe I would point to this one.
To some extent, baking is a science. To be successful you should have an understanding of what is going on. This book provides that understanding. For those not willing to put in the minimal effort to learn, do not buy this book and stick to Sara Lee or your shortening/sugar laden grocery store junk. Don't fault Ms. Beranbaum for being comprehensive, fault yourselves for being lazy or thick.
Three years ago I made a wedding cake for about 220. The pressure was on. I re-read the Bible religiously in preparation. There were four tiers--all differerent. People did not know who made the cake. I heard very positive comments at the reception--"Did you try the lemon?--Take a bite of this one". The bride was called--people wanted to know where she got the cake it was the best wedding cake they had ever tasted. Some people have found out I made the cake and today I occasionally get compliments. As an amateur baker I have fired up the oven a number of times over the past fifteen years but this may have been my finest hour. Thanks Ms. Beranbaum--can I call you Rose? WARNING- taking on a project like this can temporarily seriously impact mental health.
The Cake Bible--- Hallelujah
on January 22, 2000
Great book. Covers: pound cakes, butter cakes, fruitcakes, cheesecakes, genoise+buscuit, sponge, and chiffon cakes, plus some breakfast stuff like waffles and zucchini muffins. Overview of the ingredients and how they are used, overview of scaling up the cakes to wedding or party proportions, and overview of how to decorate the cakes. I haven't actually tried any recipes out yet, but the Genoise recipe is very similar to the one used for the chocolate ruffle cake in "baking with Julia" (I've tried that recipe, it's good) and the Cheesecake recipe is similar to another one (I forget the source) that I've made before, except that Rose uses sour cream. The format of the cake section is Rose basically goes through and starts with a basic cake (say the Genoise) and modifies the recipe, telling you why. For instance, to make it chocolate, add cocoa powder, and remove butter (because of the cocoa butter) and remove some flour. I think it's an excellent book, a good resource for beginners and intermediates alike. As a beginner you learn all about terminology and whys and hows. As an intermediate, you learn some neat tricks with how to decorate a cake, and learn some of the reasons behind the actions that you probably knew. It's also good to get different ideas on cake assembly. I think once you learn the things in this book you are fully armed to go and create your own cake - after all cake is just a cake, frosting/custard, maybe fruit or nuts or something, plus some optional decoration. This book gives you the foundation to do all of these things.