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A Good Dependable Baking Book
on October 1, 2013
The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book is a 518 page tome that compiles 450 recipes of delicious baked goods that most cooks can pull off in a home kitchen. It is divided as follows: baking basics; quick breads, muffins, and scones; sweet rolls, doughnuts, and coffee cakes; griddle cakes, waffles, and granola; yeasted rolls and loaves; pizza and focaccia; cookies; brownies and bars; snack cakes and fruit cakes; chiffon cakes, angel food cakes, pound cakes, and bundt cakes; layer cakes; fruit desserts and crepes; pies and tarts; savory tarts and quiches; pastry; baked custards, puddings, and soufflés; shopping guide; conversion notes; and index. As you can see, the editors at Cook's Illustrated were serious about giving the reader an encyclopedic array of baked goods to choose from and just in time for the fall and holiday baking frenzy.
The book is well bound. It is obviously heavy--you'll be using both hands and probably your lap if you carry this to bed for a little late night studying. It also stays open well on its own if you cook without a cookbook stand. The recipes are written in the well-known Cook's Illustrated style which includes a handy few paragraphs preceding each recipe on what makes the recipe work so well for the home cook whether that be using room temperature butter or whipping egg whites in a copper bowl. It's the basic science of the recipe that is covered in these introductions without getting too technical if that turns off the home cook. Many of the recipes also have some cooking techniques illustrated in the simple but easy to understand black and white line drawings that many readers are accustomed to seeing in the magazine. The index seems to be well cross-referenced and easy to use. Some may find the font in this book on the small side although I had no problems with it.
I enjoyed the beginning chapter on Baking Basics. It educates beginning cooks or simply curious cooks on the virtues of ingredients and cookware using one and two page spreads. A total of four pages just on the particulars of the types of butter and chocolate and the most useful home techniques associated with using them better in your kitchen? Sure, count me in.
I must sing the praises of this book's recipe for No-Knead Brioche. It was a breeze to prepare although I tend to be a little ham-handed when making breads. My husband can eat a loaf per day when I make it, and I tell people that it's "almost a croissant in loaf form". I also particularly enjoy the Marbled Blueberry Bundt Cake. The lemon and blueberry compote that I made to swirl through the cake batter was well-balanced and rich and almost ingenious in it's use of pectin. Every single time I've ever made it, I've had friends looking at me with doe eyes begging for the recipe. The Chewy Brownies recipe has officially ended my search for a home recipe that tastes as moist and fudgy as a boxed brownie. My spouse says that he doesn't care if I ever make another kind of brownie again. The Cinnamon Babka dough was a bit more fragile than I would have liked it to be when I twisted it, but even with my overzealous handling, it turned out to be quite good. We also are now eschewing other cinnamon bun recipes in favor of this book's Quick Cinnamon Bun recipe. It was amazing how soon we were able to enjoy cinnamon buns without laboring for half a day in the kitchen. The buttermilk icing was slightly too tart so we will likely use whole milk for our next try.
The most frequent complaint I hear about Cook's Illustrated books is that they recycle recipes from one book to the next. This is definitely true of this book. While I do not own the 2004 Baking Illustrated by them, I do have a copy of their 2011 Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. In checking the index of both under "bananas", I see overlap for Ultimate Banana Bread, Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream Pie, Banana Walnut Muffins, Banana and Nutella Crepes, as well as German Chocolate Cake with Banana, Macademia, and Coconut filling. A quick comparison of "Bar" Desserts in the two books yields similar results and then again with a cross-comparison of "Blueberries". If you already own books by Cook's Illustrated, you may not want this book.
I would also like to point out that there are no color photographs in the book. I do not normally care about complaints or reviews regarding photographs in cookbooks, but in a book this large and well made (and knowing how beautiful my recipe results have been at home), I will concede that it is a shame to use big black and white photographs of the recipes. If you are curious if there are photos for each recipe, no there aren't. I think dessert is all about excess, and in a book like this, stark and dreary black and whites just seem like a cop out, a cost saving measure.
My bottom line? It's a good, dependable dessert book. Ere on the side of caution if you already own Cook's Illustrated books. If full color and decadent photographs are important to you, pass on this book. Otherwise, enjoy some remarkably great food at home because these recipes really do deliver.