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Customer Review

357 of 378 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource for Baking Enthusiast, April 28, 2004
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This review is from: Baking Illustrated: A Best Recipe Classic (Hardcover)
This volume, `Baking Illustrated' is a compilation of articles and recipes from `Cook's Illustrated' magazine. This is the same source as many other volumes presuming to provide the `best' recipe for various dishes. Overall, I find the recipes in this book very good, but with several reservations.
I am really happy to see the `America's Test Kitchen' crew turn their attention to baking. Unlike savory cooking, baking is highly dependent on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and temperature. Therefore, it is an area where a scientific approach of varying various quantities will have a more beneficial result than in the savory world.
This book is subtitled `The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker'. This means the book is directed at the amateur home baker. This facet does not really distinguish the book that much from dozens of other baking books I have reviewed. In fact, I would warn occasional bakers who simply want recipes that this book might just be a bit too wordy for you. You may be much better served by a general baking book by Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri, or even Martha Stewart. On the other hand, if you love `Cooks Illustrated' or simply reading about cooking and baking technique, then this is a book for you!
My biggest reservation with the whole `best recipe' approach by `Cooks Illustrated' is that a recipe is best only by a certain set of criteria. What may be the best FAST recipe may fall flat on its face for ENTERTAINING or for MOST HEALTHY. The `Cooks Illustrated' team generally goes for a good compromise between fast and tasty. A corollary to this reservation is the presumption that the `Cooks Illustrated' approach has a unique insight into baking truth. This is simply not true. I just finished reviewing professional baker Sherry Yard's new book `The Secrets of Baking' an I believe it is unequivocally the best book you can get for understanding baking technique. She spends no time on discussing failed approaches. Everything in the book is right to the point. With only slightly less enthusiasm I would recommend the `Bible' series of baking books by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
One clue to my preference for Yard and Beranbaum is the way they treat brioche and challah. Both deal with these two recipes as two variations on a common `master' recipe. Thus, when you understand how to make one, it is clear that you are very close to knowing how to do the other. This `Baking Illustrated' volume gives the two recipes side by side, but gives little other clue that the recipes are related.
Another symptom of where the `Cooks Illustrated' method may be less than satisfactory is in their carrot cake recipe. Carrot cake is a really interesting product, made even more interesting to me by Sherry Yard's explanation of why it is so good and so versatile. I have been making a three layer carrot cake for birthdays from a Nick Malgieri recipe for over a year now, and I am very happy with the results. `Baking Illustrated' gives a passle of advice on what works and what doesn't work and ends with a recipe for a single layer sheet cake. This simply does not have enough WOW quotient for an important birthday.
Yet another weakness in the `Cooks Ilustrated' method is illustrated by a recent Jim Villas book which has over a hundred recipes for biscuits, with over twenty for simple, unflavored biscuits. Each of these twenty recipes has their own charms. The current volume has only one `best recipe'.
After all these reservations, I must still say that for the person who treats baking as a hobby, this book is a rich resource for all sorts of recipes. Some few baking books such as those by Yard and Beranbaum do a lot of explaining and offering alternatives, but most books do not. If you really want the straight scoop on what is the best ingredient to use, this is your book. It is also a rare source of excellent pictorials on technique based on line drawings that focus on the important aspects of a technique and do not distract as many photographs may do. The explanation of differences in types and results with butter you may not find anywhere else. The discussion of variations in flour is good, almost as good as the one you will find in Beranbaum's books.
I give the book five stars but there may be many potential buyers who may not want the extensive why and what ifs and just want the recipes. For those people, I suggest Nick Malgieri's `How to Bake'.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 18, 2010 11:18:21 AM PST
M. Mease says:
Does this book have a red velvet cake recipe and is it worth it?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2010 2:08:05 PM PST
B. Marold says:
Dear M. Mease,
Take a look at All-American Desserts by Judith Fertig, pp 184 - 185 and The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, pp. 466 - 468.
Best Regards,
B. Marold

Posted on Nov 19, 2010 7:59:35 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Nov 19, 2010 8:01:06 PM PST]

Posted on Sep 27, 2011 7:59:10 PM PDT
With all of your reservations about this book, I don't understand why you gave it five stars.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 10:57:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 28, 2011 10:58:31 AM PDT
B. Marold says:
Dear Mr. Kruse,

I have gotten this comment before. My best answer is that no cookbook will ever satisfy all audiences, so a large part of my approach is to characterize the audience for which each book will best serve. So, there is a bit more than usual of winnowing out different audience needs, especially in explaining what the Cooks Illustrated approach means by "Best", which may not be best for everyone. For people who like to read about cooking and baking technique, the whys and wherefores, this does deserve five stars. If you are a baker for Chez Pannise, maybe only two or three stars.

Kindest regards,
Bruce W. Marold

Posted on May 18, 2013 10:18:48 AM PDT
This was a great review. I am looking for a book to teach me more about baking, I want to know the whys and what ifs and I was able to discern that from this review.

Posted on Jun 27, 2014 3:19:35 PM PDT
pmarie says:
Now I am torn, having read your review. I, too, have a few quibbles with ATK. For example, having found the One, Best Way, they inflexibly stick to their guns--I'd prefer for them to explore further with their marvelous technique of deconstructing and explaining recipes. And their specificity can prevent them from being able to teach or illuminate wider principles of the science of baking. But I do love their detective-like elucidative approach. Maybe I'll just buy Ms. Yard as well!
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