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BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes Hardcover – October 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
It's not surprising that James Beard Award-winner Corriher (CookWise) once worked as a chemist. Her no-nonsense approach to cakes, muffins, breads and cookies shows her deep knowledge and understanding that baking is, above all things, a science. This hefty collection of more than 200 recipes offers amateur and expert bakers alike clear, numbered steps and a plethora of information on ingredients, equipment and method. Invaluable troubleshooting sections solve pesky problems on everything from pale and crumbly cookies to fallen soufflés. With a sense of expertise and ease, the author showcases recipes from the basic (cherry pie, fudgy brownies, baguettes) to the more specialized Bordeaux Macadamia Crust and Bourbon Pecan Oatmeal Cookies, focusing on the reasons for each step (e.g., "using shortening limits the cookie's spread"). Astute references to a variety of chefs, cookbook authors and restaurants add a knowing punch to this solid collection that's sure to please bakers of all skill levels.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Shirley O. Corriher has a B.A. in chemistry from Vanderbilt University, where she was also a biochemist at the medical school. She has problem-solved for everyone from Julia Child to Procter & Gamble and Pillsbury. She has taught and lectured throughout the world. She has long been a writer-- authoring a regular syndicated column in The Los Angeles Times Syndicate's Great Chefs series as well as technical articles in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Her first book, Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking is a bestseller and won a James Beard Award for excellence. Shirley has received many awards, including the Best Cooking Teacher of the Year in Bon Appetit's "Best of the Best" Annual Food and Entertaining Awards in 2001. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Arch.
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Top customer reviews
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The entire book is divided into but five chapters, though large chapters, on cakes, puff pastry, pie, cookies and breads. Each chapter discusses the science behind the product and introduces several recipes demonstrating the science and techniques discussed.
As with Cookwise (which I also own and highly recommend), I got the book more for the science than the recipes, but the recipes are excellent, also. I feel bad that I've had the book for several weeks since receiving it through the Vine program and have not yet reviewed it, but I wanted to have a chance to read it through and try several recipes. So far, I've made the Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (Fabulous, but my wife thought the double coating of sugar made them too sweet), Roasted Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies, Improved Tunnel of Fudge Cake (shared with the family, and everyone raved about it), All-Time Favorite E-Z, Dee-licious Sour Cream Cornbread (neither my wife nor I were that thrilled with it) and Lava Cookies (yummy!).
I should mention that there is no avoidance of fat in these recipes! For those trying to reduce calorie intake, there are two-plus pages of discussion on artificial sweeteners, but only has one recipe for muffins making any use of them. In my opinion, Mrs. Corriher really likes nuts in her baking. Unfortunately, my wife does not.
I have found very few technical issues with this first edition of the book. In one place, you are told to refer to a topic on page 000. Apparently, a reference that was not filled in before the book went to press.
I did find myself, in several instances while reading through the book, asking, "Didn't I just read that?" Some topics are repeated in the same detail. Perhaps this is for the benefit of those looking up a particular topic rather than for those reading the book from cover to cover.
I also wished for some figures again and again. The center of the book has several pages of large, glossy, color photos of the food. I'm not one who needs a lot of big photos of food in a cookbook, but I wish more, smaller, photos of the recipes were given. The author assumes that you know what a particular item is supposed to look at. Perhaps I am not educated enough to use this book - I would like to know what it's supposed to look like. I also feel that procedures and hardware (e.g, diagrams of types of cake pans) could be better illustrated with figures.
Corriher writes in a conversational style, telling how she learned something or where she came across a recipe. The folksy discussions add a nice personal touch to the reading and make it more interesting. She is also very good about giving credit where credit is due for the techniques and recipes.
I would most closely compare this book to Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. I hate to say it, because I'm a big fan of Good Eats and Alton Brown, but I believe he is more gifted in the area of television production than writing books. There is no comparison - get Bakewise. Previously, I would have suggested Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread for someone interested in baking bread. I may now recommend Bakewise instead; and you get chapters on cake, cookies and puff pastry, too. Corriher does reference Reinhart's more specialized books.
I think the true indication of my opinion of this book is that I have already given it as a Christmas gift to my brother, who I had recently learned had taken up baking. I thought this book would get him off to a good start.
I would give it 4-1/2 stars instead of five if I could, just because I think there is room for a little improvement to this first edition as I suggested, but in the end, I highly recommend this book. It is invaluable in implementing correct baking procedures, understanding why we're often instructed in recipes to do something in a certain way, knowing what went wrong and how to fix it next time, and modifying, or creating, recipes to achieve your desired goals.
AFTER TWO YEARS AND A MOVE TO NEW MEXICO....
My wife had a bunch of blueberries left from another recipe and asked if I could make blueberry muffins. I went straight for Bakewise. Over the following week, some additional criticisms developed.
My wife expressed one of my thoughts when she looked at the book and asked, "Doesn't she have any simpler recipes?" I don't keep heavy whipping cream and buttermilk around the house, and hate to have to make a special trip to the store for these items. And then the leftovers go bad. Since Corriher provides different versions of some recipes, a simpler version would be nice. The procedures can be complex, but the whole point of the book is to improve your baking, and these procedures are there for a reason. I don't really mind the procedures so much as making a special trip to the store for perishable, little-used ingredients when I have a whim to bake something.
Second, and this is related to the next problem, the science discussions are interspersed with the recipes, and do not clearly stand out. I don't know that it's the best approach, but I'd like to see all of the science in each chapter all grouped together in a single section followed by the recipes.
But this is what really encouraged me to add to this review - the muffins fell flat. And this led to a two additional criticisms.
In my time getting serious about baking, I've repeatedly heard that it's preferable for recipes to give weights of ingredients instead of volumes, especially when it comes to flour. I recall that Corriher discusses the variations of weight one can get measuring flour by volume depending on how you scoop it. I thought she'd then recommend measuring by weight, but fails to do so. However, the recipes contains the weights as well as volume, so I baked the Blueberries and Cream Muffins using the weights. These fell flat, and were so gooey, they would not come out of the pan in one piece. I measured the flour and sugar by the volumes, and weighed them. The flour was close on, but the weight given in the recipe for the sugar, of all things, was about 50% more than I had obtained.
I still had some blueberries left, so tried again. This time, I used the volumes. Pretty much the same thing happened. Note that I had no problem with other recipes in the past, and I do not have much problem with commercial mixes.
Blueberries and a carton of whipping cream wasted.
I was very frustrated. My wife didn't get her blueberry muffins and brought home a commercial mix the next day which worked quite well. I did some research, rereading Bakewise and doing some searches on the internet. I suspect my problem is my altitude, which is 4430'. When I first wrote the review, I was on the coast of Florida. The results were consistent with altitude problems, despite commercial mixes working well without modification. I read elsewhere that commercial mixes are well-balanced to achieve this. So my last disappointment is how little the author addresses altitude issues in Bakewise. There is one half-page box on page 50. She recommends Pie in the Sky Successful Baking at High Altitudes: 100 Cakes, Pies, Cookies, Breads, and Pastries Home-tested for Baking at Sea Level, 3,000, 5,000, 7,000, and 10,000 feet (and Anywhere in Between). I get a baking book from one the most eminent names in food science, and altitude is hardly addressed, and it is suggested that I buy yet another book to learn about it. Disappointing.
Today, I tried the Magnificent Moist Golden Cake. In case altitude was NOT the problem, I gave the recipe as-written a chance. It fell in the middle and was dry. I am going to try again, but with modifications for altitude from the New Mexico extension service and other references I found on the web. Of course, I do not know how many times I will have to remake the cake to get it right.
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the author's quest for moist and sweet is pushing the recipes on the teetering edge of failing as soon as you get higher than Atlanta.
Things to love:
*) the organization. Lesson, recap, demonstrative recipe(s), debriefing.
*) explanation. You won't find better. In so far as baking is an art and science, you need to know how it works to be good at it. How the ingredients interact, how they do what they do. Then you can call yourself a baker.
*) the recipes. Third in importance, and OK, I haven't even tried half of them. But I've bowled people over with a few I've tried. Not your average, "hey, this is good" bowling over, either. I'm talking eye-popping reactions.
Someone was complaining in a review that this isn't really a traditional cookbook, by which they mean a recipe book. No, it's not. This is a manual, a schoolbook. You sit down with this book, and read, and underline, and memorize, and reread, and reread. Because it's here to teach you. This book is offering you secrets, not paint by number. But if you're teetering about buying, think about what kind of baker you are: alchemist or follow-the-instructions? This book is for the former.
ONE word of caveat: when Shirley refers to her "severe sweet tooth" she is NOT KIDDING. That is, to me, the one big flaw in this book. The sugar amounts are not for mortal men. I cut the sugar in almost every recipe. But, thankfully, because of what I've learned in this book, I'm not afraid to do that.