Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking should be required reading for those who truly want to learn how to become great bakers. In his own off-beat style Alton explains the science behind the process simply and in a manner you will not only remember, but subconsciously apply to all your baking endeavors. What is salt's role in the baking process? Why use eggs? Why is the way you mix important to overall success? Stylized and presented like his first book and popular Food Network show Good Eats, Baking is more like a goofy textbook rather then a pretty, photographed book with a bunch of recipes. If you are looking for a couple of quick, simple recipes to make cookies or bread, keep looking. If it's an education about the "Whats," "Whys," and "Hows" of baking with the intent to lift your skills to a new level: welcome!
Baking is a precise science that needs to be followed to the letter if you want success. It is highly recommended to read the introduction and "The Parts Department" section before attempting any of the recipes in this book. The essence of Alton Brown's book is not to simply follow recipes, but to get a deep understanding of what is going on during the baking process. The introduction goes over the layout of the book and how it should be used (the ingenious "method flaps" for instance), the low down on how to read recipes, the importance of measuring by weight vs. volume, and baking's five core steps. The "Parts" section explains just that: ingredients. What is the chemical make up of proteins, carbs, and fats? Why is their interrelationship so important to success? How well do you know flour, eggs, sugar, and baking soda? Once you have the basics down and your parts measured it's time to get mixing. The rest of the book is smartly broken up by the six major mixing methods (Muffin, Biscuit, Creaming, Straight Dough, Egg Foam, and Custards). Each technique is explored in detail with recipes to follow. You won't find any ultra fancy recipes in Baking. The focus here is on the basics and getting the basics down right. Rediscover some old favorites like chocolate cookies and muffins, buttermilk pancakes, biscuits, shortcake, multigrain loaf bread, and good old fashioned cheesecake. There is no denying it, follow Alton's advice and you will be a better baker. Guaranteed. --Rob Bracco
From Publishers Weekly
Less a cookbook than a course book on baking, this entertaining and certainly educational follow-up to Browns Im Just Here for the Food offers up formulas for basic cakes, muffins, pies, custards and breads, as well as information on the components of each. Like a quirky, affable professor with a mad scientists flare for facts and figures, Brown takes readers through the "Molecular Pantry," examining the properties and functions of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Those familiar with his Food Network show, Good Eats, will be well-versed on these building blocks, and those who arent will find his explanations and diagrams easy to comprehend. Unlike other baking books, this one is organized by "mixing method" rather than by food type, which means that recipes like Banana Bread, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Buttermilk Pancakes are clustered together under the same umbrellathe Muffin Method of mixing. According to Brown, this is because "mixing is more important than ingredients and even cooking method." While some bakers would be quick to counter this claim, Brown supports it well, using diagrams to illustrate how mixing and over-mixing the same ingredients can yield different results (i.e., by over-mixing muffin ingredients, one can end up with cupcakes). As Brown states early on, this isnt a recipe book. Rather, its an instruction manual for people who want to be better bakers. Those looking for appetizing photos of sumptuous dishes wont find any here, but they will find plenty of practical tips (use a food processor instead of a traditional flour sifter) and sidebars that can be both informational and anecdotal (Browns story of his struggle with a 50-pound blob of dough bent on expansion is particularly amusing). Anyone who has a yen to learn the science and methodology behind good food will find this a fascinating read.
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