Top critical review
21 people found this helpful
All 5 stars?...Hardly.
on May 5, 2014
The author's presentations of various dessert tables are creative and she does them well, so this book has nice ideas, advice, and inspiration much like what you can see on Pinterest as well. I didn't find anything new or jaw-dropping for myself, but if you are a beginner or trying to organize a child's birthday party or similar for the first time, there are some useful tips there. I enjoyed perusing the book because my entertaining style is much the same as hers regarding aesthetics. However, I didn't know that Tori Spelling was any sort of authority on baking. I'm especially not impressed by celebrity name dropping when they are not any sort of authority in that field. It's definitely not a deal breaker for me, because I did buy Eric Lanlard's amazing cookbook. Lanlard is a Master Patissior, which is prestigious enough, and he stuck a quote from actress Elizabeth Hurley on the cover. Maybe that somehow sells more books, but I find actress endorsements useless on a cookbook. Now, if Rose Beranbaum or Lynne Rossetto Kasper recommends a dessert book, that cookbook would go on my shelf on that merit alone.
That aside, I specifically did not buy the book because I discovered this cookbook's recipes begin with boxed cake mix and instant puddings and that was my deal breaker. I'm a busy mom and even with several small children at my feet, I only bake and cook from scratch. I feel box mixes, especially with the typical additives and preservatives, are inferior to what you can make from just mixing your own ingredients, as well as a less rewarding achievement. The book's description initially made no mention of boxed cake mixes or instant puddings. Back to Tori Spelling, baking authority or not, her endorsement even contributed to my shock because I was definitely expecting a book with recipes made from scratch at the very least. I was glad to have seen the book before purchasing it. I'm also very pleased to see that the book's description has now been updated to disclose that boxed cake mixes are involved and you can now preview the contents as well because bakers like myself wouldn't typically bother with a book like this. I wouldn't have made the special trip to the bookstore that I did. Also, since the book's description has now been updated, I am bumping up my rating to align with how the book is now described. I feel it does deserve another star now that its more accurately presented and its audience has been more appropriately narrowed.
Regarding ingredients, I've seen most books like this be more general, but this even specifically indicates using Duncan Hines brand, Crisco, Jell-O brand pudding, Imperial brand margarine, and so on, which I thought odd. I would assume any brand would suffice. Did the recommended brands support the book's publication? My assumption would be that the recipes could have simply said white cake mix, devil's food cake mix, margarine, or puffed rice cereal (like Rice Krispies) without such specifics and I would want to substitute organic options and mixes if I were to bake in this manner, especially non-hydrogenated shortening.
The initial description also sounded like it was a more professional book and all the glowing 5-star reviews led me to think this was more advanced but, for example, there's a page devoted to a basic Rice Krispie treats recipe that you can find from a quick Google search if you're hankering for that nostalgic treat, with her explanation being they can be shaped into anything that coordinates with your theme. A beginner would likely appreciate that tip and recipe but all those 5 star reviews that make no mention of these details prior to the update and even stating it is for both beginner and experienced baker alike. I think that is a bold assumption when, as an experienced baker, I found nothing useful to me.
It would of course be nonsense for me to add this book to my collection, but if you like and typically use box mixes, commercial ingredients, and instant preparations and find that the easiest and that it saves you time, then you will likely be pleased with this book and find it helpful for easily throwing an attractive dessert table together for children and friends. The recipes appear to me well-suited for an amateur or someone starting to learn about baking and entertaining too. Although I am doubtful most of us would want to keep a clunky baby scale on hand to use as a cake stand, all in all, it is a cute book to get you thinking outside the box and looking around your house for props. No matter how creative your idea may be though, I do caution against using just any surface or item as a cake stand, cake topper, or serving piece to display food without a food safe plate, cloth, cardboard, parchment paper or otherwise between the food and that item's surface because some things can leech harmful, even poisonous chemicals into the food. Not everything creative is food safe. Some metals can contain lead or a varnished wooden box could off-gas and permeate the food depending on the varnish used. I have beautiful glass and wooden bowls that are not even safe for food.
Now, if you landed here like I did looking for a party book with incredible, from-scratch dessert recipes, I highly recommend "Trophy's Cupcakes and Parties", which focuses on cupcakes. I did enthusiastically give that 5 stars because the cupcake recipes are absolutely delicious and simple to make. As a cookbook should, their book stands on its recipes alone and the party planning tips are just a free gift with purchase. Trophy has clearly written instructions. The recipes are easy to follow and the results had my guests singing my praises yet again just this past Saturday. I have to restrain myself from whipping up a batch of the cream cheese buttercream frosting just to eat by the spoonfuls. For from scratch desserts beyond cupcakes, "Classic Home Desserts" by Richard Sax is amazing and won BOTH the James Beard and IACP awards. Also, consider giving Julie Richardson a go with her book "Vintage Cakes". She landed a goldmine when she bought an old bakery and discovered a forgotten box of stellar recipes, which she shares in her book. Happy baking!