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For Serious Bakers Only
on May 13, 2003
One hates to throw stones at something that will become beloved by many people, but this is one of those cases. The author has spent a lot of time (years in fact) testing and developing recipes for this book. All of the results are contained in this baking cookbook, in glorious and extensive detail. There is so much information, in fact, that it is difficult even for the experienced baker to wade through so much information and detail. It contains everything you could possibly want to know, and a whole lot more.
If you like the Cake Bible, you will love this one about pies and pastries. It is just as complete and thorough. If you a serious home baker, you will find this cookbook indispensable. If you are a professional baker, it is an excellent resource; for example, she describes half a dozen very saleable Danish pastries from the same dough. For the rest of us, however, I must cast a disapproving eye. I doubt that the average home cook will be able to successfully pick his/her way through the material in this cookbook.
Like its predecessor (for which, see) on cakes, it is extremely finicky. It contains an astonishing 75 pages just on pie and tart crusts. The procedures for the former involve an unusual process that makes the dough in a zip lock plastic bag. The recipes are so long and complete, that it is easy to get lost while following the recipes, since this involves quite a bit of jumping around in the text. Also, the layout of the ingredient table is not always clear: some recipes have multiple components, and the division between them in the ingredients' table is not always clear just by looking at them (often, you have to read the recipes to see where the divisions are). The pictures have page numbers for the matching recipes, but the recipes do not have page numbers for the matching pictures.
It does have some nice touches. The ingredient lists both volume and weight, leaving not doubt as to the correct amounts. There is a brief but enlightening exposition on the similarities of puff pastry, croissant, Danish, brioche, strudel, and fillo. The chapter on Equipment has many useful tools and insights not found elsewhere.
On the down side, there are a few editing mistakes: on page 204 there is a reference to page 627 (the correct page is 672), the Creamy and Spicy Crab Tartlets does not list a substitute for tobanjan, the ancho chile powder for Baked Empanadas can be bought premade, the directions for roasting bell peppers for Roasted Red Pepper and Poblano Quiche could be better, Love for Three Oranges says not to use Seville orange zest but a subsidiary recipe she calls for this exact ingredient, the instructions for slicing salmon for Coulibiac needs a diagram, the duxelle mixture for Beef Wellington probably does not require the listed 60 minutes, a proof box for Whole Wheat Croissants can be made easier by simply inverting a large cardboard box over the dough, and the chapter on Ingredients needs to be re-edited and re-organized with more titles (for example, vanilla is in the Thickeners section, but does not appear in the index, gold leaf appears under the Gelatin section and is not listed in the index either). Also, a more detailed Table of Contents would make this book a much more valuable reference. For these reasons, I recommend waiting for a second edition of this book that (hopefully) will have these mistakes corrected.
Like the real Bible, it contains a mountain of information of which only a tiny portion will ever be used, but will be used extensively. If you are developing recipes for publication, or one of those people who supplies all of the pies to the county fair, then this book is for you: an extensive and reliable manual for the assembly line production of baked goods. For the average home cook, I suspect that this book is a little too much. It is, however, a welcome reference to the troublesome task of baking and pastries. They say that one can never have too much information, but in this case, I am not so sure. On the other hand, your chances of success following these recipes are very high.