Most helpful critical review
67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
some recipes work; some don't; be prepared to make expensive mistakes
on March 23, 2009
This is a long review, in which I relate in detail my experience with one basic recipe which illustrates my overall impression of the book. Sometimes the method is unusual and produces fantastic results but ONLY AFTER you've made the first, experimental batch that might go to waste. I want to preface the review by saying that I have been baking for years, am familiar with all the basic techniques and have experience making complicated cakes and pastries that require multiple steps. And while some things I am better at (nut meringue anyone? the prefect choux paste?) than others (oh, not another curdled custard @@#%$), the one thing I am truly good at is following the instructions, to the letter. SO here goes:
This book is not for a beginner. If you don't have any other books on baking in your collection, don't make this the first one because some recipes need to be compared with those in other books.
Case in point: BUTTER CREAM
I bought special European butter and fresh eggs from the local farm. I followed instructions to the letter even though one part of the recipe really went against my instincts and previous experience with butter cream: the amount of sugar. The recipe calls for 3 CUPS OF SUGAR for 7 EGG Yolks and about a POUND OF BUTTER. Now, 3 cups sounded way too much for the amount of other ingredients but I went ahead anyway. Well it turned out that 7 yolks cannot absorb this much sugar syrup, and instead of acquiring the lovely marshmallow texture while being beaten and cooling with the syrup, they turn into dry powdery mixture. Even though they did not look right, I went ahead and added all the crazily expensive butter to it. In the end, the cream looked all right, but the texture was all wrong: it left a powdery trace on the tongue as if it was made with confectioner's sugar. And even aside from the texture imperfections, the cream was just TOO SWEET.
The cream could not be used. It was a waste of time and money.
I looked in Baking with Julia to check the proportions. And of course: 2 CUPS OF SUGAR for 16 yolks and 2 POUNDS of BUTTER - LESS SUGAR for TWICE the quantity of other ingredients.
In the end I made the butter cream with 1.5 cups of sugar (and water amount reduced accordingly) and then it was lovely. The technique - adding butter to the yolks and beating with a whisk instead of paddle attachment - produces a superbly light and satiny cream.
Another point about the butter cream. The temperature for the sugar syrup is given at 145F. Be ware, the syrup begins to caramelize at 140 F. At 145 it is almost at hard ball stage and cannot be incorporated into the yolks. Again, checking in Baking with Julia, you'll find that the syrup is ready at 139 F, which really is the perfect point.
Bottom line for this recipe: fantastic method but the proportions are definitely not right.
The lemon cream, on the other hand, is SUPREME. I've read the reviews where people complained about it being like lemon butter, but I suspect that they did not follow through with the crucial step of mixing it in a blender. Or maybe they did not follow the temperature instructions. If you do follow the instructions, the result is sublime. I could just eat the whole thing right out of the blender. It sets beautifully in the fridge.
Another great tip from the book: mixing several types of cream together to produce a divinely light filling. I mixed some of the lemon cream with the adjusted butter cream and then folded in some whipped heavy cream - TO DIE FOR.
But don't grow too confident. Try the coconut cake. Yes, it is fabulous. But the amount of milk did not work for me: too much. The cake had to bake for almost two hours ( I even bought an oven thermometer after this to make sure my oven is well calibrated; it is) and still did not bake through (although it still tasted delicious). I will make the recipe again, but will add less milk. Again, if you check similar recipes in other books, you will see that they use less liquid.
BOTTOM LINE: You need experience before attempting recipes from this book. Some of the recipes may not come out right on the first try, but if you tweak them, the result might be out of this world. But the learning experience might cost you a lot of time and money. Some recipes contain curious glitches. Do not follow all the recipes blindly. Use your common sense, previous experience and another trusty source. With these reservations in mind, I believe the book is worth the money. Even if not all the recipes work on first attempt, the innovative techniques and combinations of flavors are well worth the expense and time ( and the inevitable mistakes).
UPDATE: One of recipes I've used again and again from this book is The Perfect Tart Dough. It makes a large quantity, but you can freeze what you don't use; it is going to be as good 2 months later from the freezer as on the first day. This is absolutely the BEST tart dough i've ever tasted. It is tender; crumbly; takes any kind of filling without getting soggy; use it pre-baked or as is according to recipes.