Wow. Wow. And wow.
There aren't other words to describe this absolutely breathtaking book of cakes that please both the eyes and the palate, all from Ms. Karen Krasne, owner and chef at "Extraordinary Desserts" restaurant located in San Diego, California.
An incredibly accomplished chef (just look at her resume on the website), she has generously shared a goldmine of talent with us, through gorgeous, pristine photography of some of the most ethereal cakes you will see. To be more specific, these are not character cakes or object cakes; these are very fancy "wow" factor presentations that will give your guests a "gasp" moment.
That being said, this is not a book for baking weaklings, because as Ms. Krasne states in her Introduction, these cakes take time, as in a couple of days, to make. Yes, some can be done within a day, but for the majority of these fabulous cakes, you definitely will need time on your side. Also, you need some solid baking skills or possess much patience, as she has given the recipes in great detail, starting with the batter, then going on to the fillings and frosting, and ending with the assembly and decorations of each masterpiece. And to note, "decor" to her is not sugarpaste or fondant but rather fresh flowers, or ganache, or purees that dot the plate, which is all that is needed with many of these cakes because the dessert itself is so beautiful.
As I mentioned previously, the photography is of each finished cake and a slice within, though in the "Introduction" section, there are several photos of how to decorate. Her presentation of each recipe is very detailed with multiple steps; this also describes the way she presents cakes that have either subtle nuances to those with complex flavors that build on each other. Most of these are those she has created from her years of crafting and loving this vocation of her life.
The book is also broken into seasons so that you can get the best out of the offerings that each holds for you. I also enjoy mentioning that several recipes are gluten-free (GF), as she has noted it is becoming an important health issue for many of her clients.
Her book has so many beautiful cakes that it would take quite some time to describe each one, therefore just a handful will be given. I guarantee that you will be enchanted with these and will want to have the rest:
INTRODUCTION: This includes equipment, ingredients,and techniques. The end of this part has a listing of edible flowers and berries, etc that are safe to use, their availability, and in what recipes they were used.
Lemon Praline Torte
Toute Fraisies (strawberry cupcakes)
Ivoire Royale (beyond jaw-dropping; a vanilla infused sour cream pound cake w/ a white chocolate mousse, fresh berries, a whipped cream dress, and white chocolate curls on top!)
Passion Fruit Ricotta Cake
Beau Soleil (thinly sliced juicy peaches, rosette-style, resting atop a hazelnut vanilla jocande cake infused w/ simple orange syrup and mascapone mousse w/ hazelnut praline crunch on the sides)
Diamond Head (a bittersweet chocolate genoise infused w/ rum simple syrup w/ vanilla bean custard and macadamia brittle)
Citronesse (a lemon cheesecake w/ lemon curd and swiss meringue)
Banana Cream Torte (banana cake w/ vanilla simple syrup, cream cheese frosting, and pecan dacquoise)
Blackberry Cheesecakes (darling mini-cheesecakes w/a pecan crust, sour cream top and blackberries)
Blood Orange Ricotta Cake (a powerful burnt orange presentation of a ricotta pound cake w/ blood orange simple syrup and curd, plus cranberry orange preserves and whipped cream)
Versailles (the alternate cover cake where a almond jocande is infused w/ a rum simple syrup, salted caramel mousse, and pistachio almond praline; the cake is then decorated on the sides with macarons, w/ which a delicate thin ribbon ties them all together, and the cake is topped with a simple yet delicate bouquet of white ranunculus w/green & gold berries)
Holiday Yule Log (this is a definite departure from the " wooded branch" cake you normally think of; this is made in a rectangular shaped cake pan w/ a chocolate-raspberry ganache, topped w/ shards of chocolate-almond tuile and raspberries; very different but beautiful)
Love is Chocolate (this is a bread pudding of croissants and a vanilla creme brulee mixture)
I realize that this book might not be for everyone; it is intense and detailed. But for those who enjoy "beautiful baking", this would be a very wonderful companion for you or as a gift for someone who also enjoys "beautiful baking". Thank you so much Chef Krasne! Hope to visit your restaurant some day! Peace.
on December 20, 2011
I received my copy of Extraordinary Cakes almost 2 weeks ago, and fortunately had an excuse to try out a cake for my mother's birthday last weekend.
Introduction: includes a rundown on equipment, ingredients and techniques - I found pages 14-18 the most interesting as it included some step-by-step photos on specific techniques, I skimmed through the rest - though it looked clear and logically laid out.
Cake Recipes: divided by season - the cake recipes are comprehensive and clearly broken up into steps for cake/fillings/assembly/decor.
The photos are beautiful with pictures of finished cakes, along with a slice view of many of the cakes, but not all of them.
Recipes do not seem to be doubled up, if the base cake is the same as an earlier recipe, you will be referred back to that page - i.e. the ricotta pound cake used in the Tortamisu p.120, is found on p.57, similarly for recipes such as Chocolate Ganache. I don't mind this as these cakes are generally several day projects, and I am working on a specific section at a time anyway.
The bulk of recipes are layer cakes which are assembled in a cake tin with a removable bottom and then frozen overnight to allow for a solid, uniform cake structure and ease of construction/handling.
One con for me was the fact that the recipe ingredients are not listed in weight, which is my preferred option, but are instead given in volume. It wasn't a deal-breaker for me though, I would have bought the book regardless.
The format worked for me as, if you want to, you can easily use elements from various recipes to change things up - I just want to try a bit of everything!
My experience with the recipe/s & techniques:
For my mother's birthday I created a hybrid of two of the more basic layer cakes: Tortamisu p.120 & Chocolate Tiramisu p.105.
This cake was made/assembled/decorated over a 3 day period and included the following: Ricotta Pound Cake, Mascarpone Mousse, Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse, Espresso Simple Syrup, Toasted Cake Crumbs, Coffee Whipped Cream, Chocolate Ganache
My alterations: I used a 9" cake tin instead of a 10" tin. This just required a little more cooking time, I used fresh espresso instead of espresso powder, which I have never seen in Australia, though it is probably available somewhere.
For assembly, a cake tin with a removable bottom is recommended for many of the cakes - I do not have these & feel I can work around this. It worked fine for this cake, but I may have to be inventive for others where final topping is meant to be applied whilst in the tin.
The family verdict: fantastic, the ricotta pound cake is one I will make again, it had a great taste and remained moist & the mascarpone mousse recipes - yum! I was worried that freezing the assembled layers overnight would affect the flavour, but it didn't at all.
In summary -
Recipes: clear and easy to follow.
Recommend for: someone with baking experience who likes to be a bit adverturous in their baking and doesn't mind investing several days to make a cake, they will love it.
The cakes are truly special occasion - not something I could see myself making frequently due to the size, fat/sugar content, and expense. I wouldn't consider putting this much effort into making these cakes if I wasn't going to use top quality ingredients.
I already have my next "project" planned - the Raspberry White Chocolate Linzer Torte next as raspberries are in season here right now, and I have a birthday coming up in 2 weeks!
on January 5, 2013
I have been a home baker for many many years I find it to be such fun and a great challenge to create wonderful deserts for my family and friends. I own way to many cook books I love each and every one of them. I purchased Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne even though I had promised myself to hold off on more cook books due to lack of space in my kitchen bookcase. I was looking for inspiration for my baby brother Wedding cake I was in a rut so I ordered this book based on the photos and reviews I read on this site. Yes the photos are great and the combinations are inspiring it's what I needed as a treat right before Christmas. Extraordinary Cakes is not a book for a novice bakers; It takes an expert eye to know that some of the recipes are off and the directions are missing steps. So far I've make variations on the Ivoire Royale and the Strawberry Poppy Seed Cake I ended up double checking the cake recipes with the Cake Bible by Rose Levy, Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri and the Wedding Cake Book by Debe Wilson. I did not use the cake recipes from Extraordinary Cakes. I think that Extraordinary Cakes is very inspirational but proceed with caution when using the recipes double check the recipes against baking cook book essentials that I mentioned above or other classics. And keep on Baking
on October 5, 2011
This book is like being given the manual on fabulous! As an avid Extraordinary Desserts fan I have long been curious as to the "how is that done" I experience regularly there. Now I know! I have already made two of the recipes in this book with stellar results. Karen Krasne I thank you!
on May 1, 2012
I ordered this book after a trip to San Diego and the Extraordinary Desserts bakery. After trying about 6 different cakes there, I knew I wouldn't be able to go back home and live without those amazing flavors and textures. When the book arrived I spent literally 2 hours going through the pages and gorgeous photos, trying to figure out what I'd gotten myself into. I have never made a layer cake before, I have never used many of the tools specified in the instructions, and I was a little scared. Then I remembered something: I have never tasted a cake as good as the ones I sampled at the bakery before, so there must be something special that goes into creating them! The next day I was on Amazon shopping for all of the materials that were suggested in the book (removable bottom cake pans, candy thermometer, silpat, spatulas, cake leveler, etc), and I spent right around $200 (luckily I already had the KitchenAid!) As I was reading my first recipe the night before I started, my husband came in and asked me what I was studying (being a grad student I've always got my nose stuck in some sort of article), and I realized that you really do have to study each recipe before you attempt it, and create a "cake plan" like the author suggests before you start measuring anything! So far I have made two cakes from the book (Chocolat Amor and Lemon Ricotta Cake). They both took me three days to finish, and around 6-8 hours of work each (not counting all the time I spent cleaning up my kitchen between making the different components). Although each cake took longer than I had anticipated, the instructions were laid out perfectly, and were very easy to understand.
The one thing that can be a little frustrating about these recipes is that many of them call for exotic and expensive ingredients (e.g., frozen fruit purees that can only be purchased online, and have to be shipped overnight on dry ice, eeeek!). I don't blame the author for this at all, as these are the recipes she uses in her own bakery, and she has chosen not to sacrifice flavor by substituting lower quality ingredients. I'm just sad I'll have to wait until my next pay check to order some of these ingredients!
As other reviewers have commented on, this book is not for someone who wants to bake and eat a cake in the same day, but if you are willing to put in the time, effort, and money, you too will be able to make extraordinary cakes!
on June 4, 2012
This Cake Cookbook is a MUST HAVE for anyone who is seriously passionate about baking cakes for their loved ones to enjoy. I made the Viking for my Grammy's 87th Birthday and let's just say I got one of the best compliments EVER about my baking when she told me "it's a shame not more people got to eat that cake, it was so delicious!" (only my immediate family celebrated with her that day).
I LOVE the way, like other reviewers have said, the steps are really broken down step-by-step. Karen even gives you REASONS in some recipes too, for example, not under-whip a chocolate chantilly. I LOVE when chefs give me reasons as to why they're telling me to do something a certain way or for a certain amount of time!!!!
DO READ the beginning parts of the book before diving into any recipes, and give yourself about a month in advance before making your first cake from this book to line-up online orders or shop in-store for necessary cake pans, a good 14" serrated knife, parchment paper rounds, etc. These are NOT quick, easy, inexpensive cakes to make. The Viking cost me $20 worth of Valrhona chocolate to make 1 cake! I'm in NO WAY complaining though because the taste was out-of-this-world, but it isn't cheap. These recipes are for those who want to make GOURMET, like, super-gourmet, next-level cakes... they're not your run-of-the-mill Food Network cakes (many of those are good, too!)
BEST PART IS, you don't have to have trained with Jacques Torres in order to make them, because 1) Karen shares her genius recipes and 2) she shares them in such a way that, I'd argue avid(not beginner) home bakers can execute the components accurately.
The good news is, I can now bake almost EVERY cake in the book with just a few new essential baking tools. Cake pans with removable bottoms = AMAZING!!!
THANK YOU KAREN for giving me the chance to bake in my own, tiny, little apartment kitchen making NEXT-LEVEL cakes without having to have studied in France for years!! I WILL PURCHASE ANY FUTURE BOOKS YOU PUBLISH, just FYI :)Ok, enough said... I think one can get how highly I recommend this book!!!
on June 7, 2012
I just made the viking cake for my Mom's birthday and this cake alone makes this book deserve 5 stars and if I could give more stars I would! This book contains a lot of basic recipes that you could use for other cake recipes and I find that each component is very easy to make and doesn't even require you to turn on your oven! I can definitely use her chocolate ganache, chocolate chantilly, chocolate pound cake and chocolate almond praline for other desserts and the chocolate almond praline I certainly plan to make again to eat on its own. The author's cakes are very elaborate though so most cakes in the book would be impossible to make all in one day so there's a lot of planning involved before you can even start making one of her cakes...be prepared to set aside at least 2 days. Don't feel intimated though as everything is really quite simple and she even provides photos on how to accomplish certain steps....it's really just a time issue. One flaw is that some of her cakes make use of very rare ingredients with no suggestions for substitutions such as Marco Polo tea to make a Marco Polo cake, etc all of which are impossible to purchase where I live. I'm looking forward to more dessert books from this author!
on May 8, 2012
This book is by far the best cookbook I ever bought! I have already made Chocolate Nirvana for my birthday and Love is Chocolate (twice). This book is refreshing! The recipes are complex but very well explained, step by step. Some cakes are easier than others, some take 2 days to be assembled, but even a beginner do not get afraid of trying it because of the very clear instructions. And the pictures! simply gorgeous!
on November 13, 2012
I wish I could give this book many, many more stars! When it arrived, I read it cover to cover, and I was totally intimidated. But as I read more closely, it began to make sense, and finally, these cakes seemed perfectly doable.
Each cake has several components, which makes it seem more complicated than it actually is. But by following the directions exactly, the cakes come together beautifully. I am not a novice baker, but many of the techniques were unfamiliar to me. Yet because the instructions were so easy to follow, I had no problem.
Most of the cakes on this book follow a basic pattern: cake beled in pan with removable bottom (ingenious!) and sliced into three layers, flavored simple syrup to moisten and add flavor to the cake, fillings that usually include whipped cream, and lovely, impressive decoration. The cakes are assembled in the pan and frozen, which makes the final decor much easier.
Cakes combine lots of unique flavor combinations, and thus far, the ones I have made have been beyond delicious! I started with the Ivoire Royale -- sour cream pound cake, berries, and white chocolate. Mine didn't look as nice as the picture, but was absolutely scrumptious. Next I tried the Blood Oramge Ricotta cake, which combined the flavors of blood oranges, raspberries, cranberries, and apricot. This one looked a bit better, and again, the taste was out of this world. Finally, I worked my way up to the Viking, which uses every combination of chocolate imaginable. And this one looked just like the picture! As I don't like chocolate, I had to take my friends' word on the taste. One friend commented on Facebook: "As good as it looks, it tastes even better! My condolences to anyone who did not get a slice!"
As noted in previous reviews, these are not cakes you can whip up in a afternoon. Some take three days, and all require careful planning. This isn't a problem for me -- in fact, I love this aspect. The only drawback for me is that many of the cakes require unusual and expensive ingredients not available in rural Kentucky. For instance, the blood orange purée, which had to be shipped overnight, cost $41. Each cake I have made has cast around $50 to make. Yes, that's excessive for a dessert to take to a pot-luck. But here's how I approach it: This is, as much as making an extraordinary cake, a hobby. Looking at it this way, the cost is in line with other hobbies that give me the same amount of pleasure, recreation, etc. I know......this is rationalization to the max. But it works for me! I have had hours of enjoyment, and my friends have been most grateful!
I hope that Ms. Krasne (who is a goddess in my book!) will follow up with another book with more cakes. Soon! I will be first in line to buy it!
on July 22, 2012
I received my Extraordinary Dessert Book last week.. I looked and looked thru this book for hours.. Oh Ms. Krasne, One word..WOW!!!!! I am not a novice baker but am not in the world of pastry chefs either. Although with the amount of baking/pastry books I have acquired and studied for at least 30 years, I should be! I do have a cottage bakery, and do more high end baking so this was a wonderful addition to my menu... Let me tell you, the cakes are exactly as named, EXTRAORDINARY!!! I have made so far three. The Banana Cream torte, Versailles,and the Strawberry Shortcakes.. All performed beautifully.. This book is exceptional, it actually gives you what it claims it will, delicious beautiful cakes..tThe recipes work well,and the instructions will help even an inexperienced or experienced cake maker... This book has to be read before trying... Not complicated recipes, but time consuming.. Do them step-by-step and it will be alot easier...Oh I do hope Ms.Krasne does another book for cakes and pastries.. I will be the first in line to buy... I hope I can master the Dulce de Leche she has in her shop. I amm trying to replicate it now.. Good luck to me!! Thank You again for such a great book.. For anyone that is a baker and knows the ins and outs of cake making, mousses,how to play with chocolate, buy it!!