Customer Review

162 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost Perfect, October 8, 2006
This review is from: Baking: From My Home to Yours (Hardcover)
Now here's a baker after my own heart - Dorie Greenspan writes, "Some woman collect diamonds, I collect mixing bowls." After achieving a Doctorate in Gerontology some thirty years ago, Greenspan decided that she really wanted to bake - and bake, and bake, and bake - and bake she did - and still does, almost every day.

This is a marvelous book (I give it 4.5 stars) - cogently written with great style and clarity. Greenspan walks you through each step as if she were standing with you in the kitchen - and there's not a hint of pretense. So many cookbooks - pastry volumes in particular - have an almost punitive tone: "NEVER do this"; "ALWAYS do that". While the chemistry of baking must be respected, I have never seen the benefits of terrifying the reader or quashing one's creativity. You'll find none of that in this tome (save for the admonishments regarding the purity of butter). Greenspan is friendly, approachable, and forgiving. Her own fearlessness, mistakes, and inventiveness have inevitably led to better results. No knuckle-rapping here! You'll feel as if you're baking with an old friend. If you're a fan of the great Maida Heatter, you'll appreciate Dorie Greenspan.

The recipes are more comfort desserts than elegant showstoppers (although the "Peppermint Cream Puff Ring, based on the famous "Paris-Brest" pastry certainly has the glam factor) - but any of them would be welcome at almost any gathering - from a family picnic to a black-tie celebration. The text fonts are readable, the layout friendly and navigable, and the photographs gorgeous (although some are titled and others are not). The permanent hard cover is identical to the dust cover and can be wiped clean. Many of the recipes contain a handy sidebar entitled "Playing Around", giving alternative presentations and flavor variations, and serving and storing instructions are always included. The page on "Mastering Meringue" will help assure success every time. A "Glossary of Ingredients, Tools, and Techniques" appears at the end of the book that even seasoned bakers will find helpful.

There are a few inconsistencies. The "Table of Contents" is too broad (although the "Index" is easy on the eyes). A book on home baking ought to include at least some basic yeast bread recipes. Outside of "Brioche", "Raisin Bread", "Sticky Buns", and "Kugelhoph", there are none. This is really a "Dessert" book (including recipes for ice cream), not an all-purpose baking book, although there appears to be something for everyone in this collection of more than 300 recipes. No mention is made of the value of Magic-Cake strips, which eliminate the doming problem so often associated with layer cakes. In the instructions for "Lavender Madeleines", Greenspan does not specify whether the tablespoon of edible lavender should be dried or fresh. In her recipe for "Perfect Party Cake", the accompanying Buttercream frosting does not mention the need for the egg whites to reach 160 degrees. Although an explanation is given in the back of the book, redundancy is a plus when food safety is an issue. Overall, this is just nitpicking, however. This is really one nifty book written by a pro who loves to bake - and teach it as well.

With rare exception (edible gold dust, chestnut puree) recipe ingredients are easy-to-find items already in your pantry. Chestnuts and chestnut puree can be had in large metropolitan areas (Whole Foods, Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma, Trader Joe's, King Arthur Catalogue) at holiday time and edible gold dust (an optional component) can be mail-ordered through the Internet. One obvious miss: there's no "List of Sources" for equipment and ingredients - unusual for a volume of this heft and depth. Greenspan refers to "bakers' supply shops" but doesn't list them.

Whether you're a beginner or an old-hand in the kitchen, you'll love this volume of goodies. My own cookbook collection is substantial, but there are many books and authors I reject. This baby is a keeper and would make a wonderful and much appreciated shower, wedding, birthday, or Christmas gift.

One caveat: This is a big, heavy book. The trend these days is to manufacture books that can double as doorstops. Baby boomers who are developing arthritis don't seem to be a consideration with today's publishers. Gloss and semi-gloss enamel papers are heavy, too. Beautiful as they are, these Goliaths ought to be saved for the coffee table. I like to actually use my cookbooks - and lugging them around is getting to be a chore.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 18, 2007 6:17:59 PM PDT
Sososhero says:
Excellent review. Very helpful - thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 20, 2007 11:10:19 AM PDT
You're welcome!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2007 3:47:01 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 10, 2007 11:35:39 AM PST
zsuzsanna22 says:
I love that line too, about the mixing bowls! I have a question about one of the recipes in this book. I have posted this question as comments after a few reviews, so apologies to anyone who comes across it more than once. But Dorie does not seem to have a place for questions or comments, or a reader's forum, on her website, so this seems the next logical place.

I made the My Favorite Pecan Pie recipe twice, two weekends in a row. The first time, the liquids in the filling never set during cooking. I followed the recipe EXACTLY, yet when I cut into the pie, the center oozed with uncooked ingredients. I am relatively new to baking, and have come to rely on Dorie's book since every recipe I've tried (about a dozen so far) has come out perfect. I became obsessed with this disaster, wondering if it was me or something wrong with the recipe. I found another Pecan Pie recipe online at Cook's Illustrated and tried that one the next day. Perfect! Delicious! As was Dorie's Lemon Cream Tart (Amazing!)

So this weekend, still obsessed, I had to try Dorie's Pecan again. I went through the steps, very carefully, paying attention and making sure to do everything as suggested. The only thing I changed is that I coarsely chopped the pecan halves so they would settle more evenly. And I was careful to move the chocolate bits around in the crust since they want to bunch up in one area (a tip she should add to the instructions). The pie looked great and the top was solid, but once again, I had liquid oozing out - the ingredients never congealed and solidified.

I have been baking a lot since I got Dorie's book, and have so far met with success. I'm getting the hang of this and get raves for everything I make (I always consider it compliments to the author of the book!) but I am completely baffled by this particular experience. And while before, I felt I could rely on the recipes in this book, now I am nervous, and I feel less confident about making something for an important event without trying the recipe out first.

I plan to make the Caramel Pumpkin for Thanksgiving but, even though my husband and I don't particularly like pumpkin, so the pie will be wasted on us, I feel I should do a sample run first. Anyone have any similar experience or can explain what might have gone wrong?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2007 7:08:22 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 15, 2007 7:09:06 PM PST
Hmmm. This is a mystery. As your other desserts have turned out so well, it can't be your oven (mine died last week in the middle of baking. Everything had to be discarded. A new range and oven now grace my kitchen!). The amount of corn syrup and number of eggs is the same in both recipes. I suspect the Greenspan recipe may be short on the brown sugar by a half-cup. It may be a misprint. Keep checking her website for corrections. I have also tried the Pecan Pie recipe from Cook's Illustrated and it is indeed perfect. Even the professionals have errors in their books. The great Maida Heatter tells a story about a lemon cake recipe that she swore worked for years - and then suddenly didn't. She never did figure out the mystery, but reconfigured the recipe. I doubt you've lost your mind or edge - it's probably not you. At least you know the CI recipe is good.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2007 11:31:23 AM PST
zsuzsanna22 says:
Thanks for the reply. The Caramel Pumpkin was perfect both times, and I got rave reviews for the CI Pecan and Dorie's Pumpkin at Thanksgiving. BTW, if you haven't tried it yet, CI has a brand new pie crust recipe that they call "Foolproof Pie Dough" and it really is. On that Greenspan Pecan Pie though, if you compare the recipe to the CI Pecan, the big difference is cooking times and oven temperature. I've come to the conclusion that is the culprit; that it all cooks too fast for the wet ingredients to have a chance to set. The other mistake in that recipe is the quantity of espresso powder, or maybe that is just personal taste or the fact that it never has a chance to cook. As to Greenspan's book overall, it is still my Baking bible because the recipes are just so delicious! But I do check her methods and ingredients lists against the Cook's and Joy just to be safe!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2007 6:27:30 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jun 15, 2008 1:17:46 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 1, 2008 8:59:26 AM PDT
Hi I saw your problem with the pecan pie and was wondering,2 things:
Were your eggs fresh enough? They lose their ability to set if they've been sitting the fridge for several weeks. Also the other thing, when mixing the syrup, brown sugar, and eggs together, be careful not to overmix, as this can cause the eggs to be runny and not set. The ratio looks ok to me, based on the pecan pies I've made. My problem has been with them not turning as golden brown as I like. Hope this helps!
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