on January 12, 2004
There are many cake cookbooks available, but I am not comfortable with recommending any of them. The Cake Bible by Beranbaum is the only one I can recommend without reservation, as the recipes and techniques all work. On the whole, I like this book quite a bit and use it fairly often as a reference.
The author has done wedding cakes professionally for many years, and this cookbook is a compendium of tried and true recipes that she has used. This is both good and bad. These are baking recipes that are battle tested and ones that you can rely upon, especially on special occassions. On the other hand, it is a very personal collection of production recipes, and you will not find several common cake types because she has not done them in her professional experience.
Several recipe types, such as butter cakes, genoise, and buttercreams, are very different from the usual ones that you will find in other baking books. This is because they are a record of the author's efforts, and not just a mechanical recapitulation of standard patissierie recipes. The procedures at first seemed to be unnecessarily finicky, and had a few extra steps that did not seem to be necessary. On the other hand, I had no problems with any of the ones I tried. The procedures are often unique; while the results were not better than standard recipes, they can, in some cases, be slightly easier to execute than standard recipes, which are more prone to failure by the home baker.
The arrangement of the cakes chapter is particularly useful. It assumes that you will work methodically through the chapter, baking each cake as you go, and not just pick out recipes at random. It lists pound cakes first, and ends up with genoise-type cakes, which makes more sense than the usual order, which is the other way around; foam-based cakes are the most difficult.
Interestingly, only the first 160 pages of this 550 page book relates to cakes. 60 pages go to showcase cakes, 200 pages to decoration, fillings and frostings, 50 pages to ingredients and equipment, and 70 pages for professionals (including extensive insturctions of wedding cakes; I cannot vouch for this section, since I have never made a wedding cake).
There are some criticisms, but they are mostly ones of omission. Many of the page references are wrong. I object to the suggestion of leaving eggs and chocolate in a warm oven overnight to get them to the proper temperature. Cornstarch is substituted for part of the flour in genoise, but this was not any better than just straight flour. The instructions for waffles are for an old-fashioned, stove top iron and not an electric one. The instructions for making the rose trellis are incomplete. The table of contents need to be more detailed. The chapter subheadings in Part III are used inconsistently. The flavor-cake-filling-frosting combinations the author suggests are not the classic ones; you will need another patissierie book if you need the traditional ones. On the positive side, all the wedding cakes described have pictures. There are several different recipes for chocolate genoise (including one without added butter), one of my favorites. There is also an old fashioned mayonnaise cake. The 2 pancake recipes are ones with whipped egg whites, but none with the plain old baking powder.
The only reservation I have is that this book is not all that friendly or instructive for beginners. For them, I would suggest that you bake some cakes from the first 150 page section and ignore the rest of the book until you become more advanced, making sure that you go through this section in order rather than skipping around.
on August 14, 2002
Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible" has justifiably become a classic in the many years since its original publication in 1988. Aside from bearing the seal of approval of the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals, which awarded the book its "Cookbook of the Year" prize in 1988), take a look at the fact that this book is still not only in print--it's in print in hardcover! That says a great deal about the value and information the book provides.
I can attest personally to the fact that the recipes WORK. This is the number one test for any cookbook, yet it's astonishing to me how many recipes DON'T work--either because of unclear or poorly worded directions, or because of lack of thorough testing on the part of the author. I have never yet made anything from this book with which I was disappointed, and have made a number of recipes which have entered the hallowed pantheon of family favorites. Beranbaum's White Velvet Butter Cake has become a de rigeur choice for birthday, confirmation, and other special occasion cakes--it's a fine-crumbed, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth cake that's like the best wedding cake or petit four you've ever put in your mouth. And the Neoclassic Buttercream gives you a meltingly delicious frosting that's the color of cheesecake--richly ivory and silken smooth.
Beranbaum is a companionable writer--her essay on "My Brother's Wedding Cake, or the Snowstorm of 1983" has become something of a Murphy's Law baking classic--and she's a learned and intelligent teacher. This book was the first to introduce me to the novel idea of weighing ingredients, rather than measuring them by volume. The result is much greater accuracy, which in turn gives you a much higher chance of turning out stellar baking results. I bought a scale shortly after receiving this book as a gift for my birthday in 1989, and have never looked back. In fact, when I wrote my own culinary newsletter from 1993 to 2000, I usually did all the recipes giving both weights AND measures, trying to encourage my readers to try the weighing method. Once you try it, you'll never go back.
The photography is gorgeous (although I have always wished there were more of it!). The cakes fairly gleam with rich color--you can practically taste them just looking at the photographs (check out especially the handsome Strawberry Maria, named for editor Maria Guarnaschelli, and the dramatically decorated Art Deco cake).
In addition to the cake and icing recipes, there is worthy advice on everything from tempering chocolate to creating three-dimensional cake decorations to unusual sources for cake and cake-decorating supplies. The bottom line is that any home cook can create gorgeous, sumptuous, outstandingly delicious cakes from Beranbaum's book--and isn't that what a cake bible should be all about?
on May 9, 2011
I absolutely love this book. I have tried several recipes in this book and all have tasted wonderful and come out moist. I have had tons of requests for the recipes and I praise this book every chance I get.
The golden almond butter cake is fabulous (and it can be made with margarine instead of butter if you want). The Domingo chocolate cake is a dark chocolate cake and was really good. The Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Cake is to die for....it's like eating a cake made out of lindt chocolate truffles (just make sure you use a good quality dark chocolate (I use Morden's Chocolate - an independent chocolatier in Winnipeg, MB)). This cake is absolutely beautiful when decorated with whipped cream.
For fillings, I've only tried the Stabilized whipped cream (with gelatin) and it stood up wonderfully. I mixed in fresh fruit and berries and had it as the filling on my cakes.
My favorite frostings are the Mousseline buttercream (I use apricot brandy for mine). It is wonderful to work with and will hold up to just about anything. The only catch with it is that it must be at room temperature for it to work. If it is not at room temperature, it will separate. If this happens, you just warm it up a bit (2-3 seconds in the microwave at a time) and mix it till it comes back together. Once it's together, it won't separate again while you work with it. I've done wilton roses with this icing - the trick is to make the centers and stick them in the fridge to harden and then pipe the petals - refrigerating again to harden. This also makes it easier to transfer them to the cake.
For all of you saying the cakes are dried out, I've not had this happen to any that I've made - I weigh all my ingredients rather than measuring them and I use the cake flour, though when I did the substitution of All purpose flour and corn starch that she provides, it worked out just as well. The only cake I had come out a little dry was the one I overcooked.
I love working with this book and because all of the recipes have weights provided, it is easy to proportion the batter you're mixing to custom sized pans. The Wilton website provides the number of cups of batter their pans take - so I just use this ratio to get the ingredient amounts - has worked like a charm every time.
I love that this book gives the science behind the baking as well as a large number of decorating techniques and definitions of ingredients. She tells you what makes up chocolate and what to look for when buying it. There is also a section on equipment which has come in handy too.
All in all, this is my favorite book and I have since purchased the Bread Bible, and the Pie and Pastry Bible.
Also...Another great source for information and recipes is her website.
If, after all this, you are still unsure, borrow it from your library first - that's how I got hooked on this set of books.
on January 27, 2003
If you only bake a cake occasionally, this book might seem complicated. But if you really want to learn how to make cakes, this book will teach you. I have used it almost exclusively since it came out 15 years ago and have become reknowned for my cakes.
There is a set of beautiful color photographs at the beginning and each entry has an introduction to help you choose if this the right cake for the occasion. (Other books list 3 different chocolate cakes with no comments: why pick one over another?) The layout of the book makes it easy to refer to while baking - unlike the unfriendly Martha Stewart baking book I recently received as a gift. Information is placed logically and consistently on the page; oven temperature, pan size, recommended adornments, storage time, etc. The instructions are precise, thorough and consistent; she'll often even describe how to correct if something goes wrong. Years ago, I would simply sit and read this book.
I have given this book to at least a half a dozen people over the years and am buying two more copies now. Even when I (rarely)use a recipe from somewhere else, I benefit from I've learned from Rose about ingredients and methods.
Not to pick on Martha Stewart, but I baked a cake recently from her book which included the cake, a filling and an icing: The information was hard to find on the page, the cake pans (recommended size) overflowed, I had at least 2 cups of extra filling and a cup and half of extra icing! The cake was tasty but the contrast between that sloppy experience and the incredible professionalism of The Cake Bible was striking.
If you want to learn how to make cakes, buy this book.
PS. If I could bake only one cake for the rest of my life it would probably be Bert Greene's Special Sponge Cake.
on February 14, 2004
I spent the first three days I had the book just reading it from cover to cover. My sister owns the cake bible also. We have both made many of the recipes, such as the Downy yellow butter cake and the white cake, domingo chocolate cake and the wedding cakes, and must not forget the delicious cheese cake. The lemon curd is to die for. We both loved all of those. I did not like the egg based butter cream at all. It tasted like I frosted the cake with a stick of butter, and had a nasty after taste. My sister and I have made three special occasion cakes that served 100-150. We received rave reviews by our friends. The cakes all disappeared which did not happen before we started using the cake bible.
I have incorporated some of her methods in my other baking as well with improved results. I like the fact that she explains the why's and what for's of baking. She has an excellent trouble shooting guide on page 476. One thing I found was that you need to use the size and depth pans that she recommends. I started with three inch deep pans, since then I have purchased the 2" deep pans that all most all her recipes call for. Make sure you have a good oven thermometer and that you use the exact temperature she recommends. If you don't have a 5 quart stand mixer you will be frustrated with these recipes. I started out with a kitchenaid 5 speed hand mixer. My first cakes tasted great but all fell in the middle. It was rather frustrating. My sister bought me a kitchenaid stand mixer and since then my cakes have been beautiful. (With Rose's help)
I have ordered the Bread Bible and the Pie and Pastry Bible as well. I hope my results with those Books will be as good as I have experienced with the Cake Bible.
on July 12, 2002
I got a copy of this book way back in 1989, and have sworn by the cakes featured in it since. My other books just sit around collecting dust, while the cover for this is now stained with metled chocolate, butter and batter; and it's falling apart at the seams.
This book has so me inspired that I now run a small home-baked cakes business, making extensive use of the recipes from the book.
I've baked the Sour Cream Coffee Cake countless times for parties and gatherings and have never failed to win raves. This is the only cake I've seen ladies going back for second helpings! Another must try is the Bittersweet Cocoa Genoise.
Rose's approach to baking is exactly how it should be, a science and not an art. Each and every ingredient used has a reason. Then you use your creativity after the cakes is baked to creat beautiful cakes. This is the only book I've come across that delves into the whys of doing things and how different ingredients interact with one another.
With every cake, on the sidebar, you will find information of how the cake will appear after baking--how tall the cake will be; whether it'll be flat, taller in the center; whether the sides move will move away from the sides of the pan after removing it from the oven. So just by visual inspection of the cake after it comes out from the oven, you'll know if you got it right. I've not had any disaster baking from this book.
Even after more than 10 years using the book, I still find new information everytime I read it.
The book is not for someone who wants to look at pictures of cakes; but HOW to bake the best cakes.
Just one comment, can you make future prints of this and your other books with stronger string bindings instead of perfect binding?
Rose, if you are reading this. Thank you!
on April 15, 2001
I simply adore this book. I could not, for the life of me, bake a cake from scratch until I bought this book. Now I make, what are to me, flawless cakes every time. I find the layout and the directions fabulous. Just follow them exactly and you will have perfect results.
Reagrding those who have complained in the reviews about not being able to make substitutions successfully, I can't imagine substituting in a cake recipe. The basics of cake baking are more like a science than an art. You can't fiddle with the ingredients or the pan size or the temperature, etc., or the cake will fail, for sure. But you can get creative when you're decorating. That's what I love about this book: Rose Levy Beranbaum treats the cake baking itself like the science it is, and then takes the decorating possibilities to great artistic heights, beyond that. But she also lets you know that a simple dusting of powdered sugar is a fine adornment for many of the cakes. So the decorating part can be elaborate, or next to nothing, and the results are fantastic either way.
The other fabulous thing about this book is that the author has an engaging, conversational style in the introductions to many recipes. I just love the stories that she relates about her life as a baker, an aunt, a student, etc. She comes across as warm and smart, and I just love that about all of her books.
Of my 200+ cookbooks this is my favorite on baking and among my top three faves of all. To me, this is completely a must-have book.
on February 27, 2001
In the 10 years that I have owned this book, it has become a standard reference tool on the bookshelf of my small catering company. I find it interesting that the negative reviews offered here (of which there are few), concentrate on criticizing what I personally consider to be the book's strengths. The finished products, when following the recipes precisely, are, in my estimation, prime examples of classic American baking. They are cakes that you likely would have found cooling on the window sill of your grandmother's (or grandfather's, for that matter) old kitchen. I found that the book's "pointers for success" were the key element that helped up the ante from a merely great cake, to one of artistic and culinary perfection; specifically, the use of superfine sugar (or regular fine cane sugar processed for a few minutes in a common food processor) towards creating a texture of unequaled lightness and heft. These recipes work, and until someone comes up with a better text that, like this one, answers every cake baking question you were afraid to ask...it will continue to be the standard by which all cake baking reference tools will continue to be measured.
on February 16, 2001
This is a great cookbook. One of the all-time greats.
If you never make an item out of this book it is money well spent. The information is great. The lessons learned will improve all your subsequent baking efforts. The format Ms. Beranbaum uses should be the industry standard. THE RECIPES WORK.
I have read many of the other reviews and in the negative reviews the criticisms can be categorized among the following: "Did not like the taste, the recipes don't work, the information is incorrect, the book is too difficult to use--too dense, There are only a few recipes in this book I would use--the recipes are too intricate."
I would categorically disagree with all these complaints.
I can only respond to the criticisms by stating that I have owned a copy since this book was published. I have never had a "kitchen disaster" and yes I made something someone specifically had problems with--it was evident from their comments that they did not follow the recipe closely enough.
I have never had complaints only compliments from my tasters. By the way the same thing goes for Ms. Beranbaum''s Pie and Pastry Book-as well as the Christmas Cookie book.
There is no accounting for taste and baking is subjective. Some find the book too buttery another too sugary. This has not been my experience.
As for the criticism that you will only use several of the recipes--I do not know of any cookbook that anyone has actually made every recipe--I am sure you are out there. In a good cookbook it is not necessary that you make all the recipes, it merely requires that there are a sufficient number of recipes that you will make and that all the recipes in the book will work. I have made plenty out of this book and they work on all levels. I will probably never make the fruitcake but I would bet it works and if someone asked me for a fruitcake recipe I would point to this one.
To some extent, baking is a science. To be successful you should have an understanding of what is going on. This book provides that understanding. For those not willing to put in the minimal effort to learn, do not buy this book and stick to Sara Lee or your shortening/sugar laden grocery store junk. Don't fault Ms. Beranbaum for being comprehensive, fault yourselves for being lazy or thick.
Three years ago I made a wedding cake for about 220. The pressure was on. I re-read the Bible religiously in preparation. There were four tiers--all differerent. People did not know who made the cake. I heard very positive comments at the reception--"Did you try the lemon?--Take a bite of this one". The bride was called--people wanted to know where she got the cake it was the best wedding cake they had ever tasted. Some people have found out I made the cake and today I occasionally get compliments. As an amateur baker I have fired up the oven a number of times over the past fifteen years but this may have been my finest hour. Thanks Ms. Beranbaum--can I call you Rose? WARNING- taking on a project like this can temporarily seriously impact mental health.
The Cake Bible--- Hallelujah
on September 14, 2000
Let's face it. I like cookbooks. I don't buy many cookbooks anymore unless I run into one that is fantastic. This book explains the WHYs of cake and frosting chemistry while allowing the reader to turn out fantastic product. There aren't many cookbooks that I will curl up with on the sofa to read, however the Cake Bible has found itself being read on the sofa.
The photography is good and the recipes are clearly written. I like the fact that she includes "normal" sized cakes that most home bakers would make and then goes on to the showy wedding cakes.
Frankly the book was well thought out and executed. My only gripe is that in the recipe sections, the editors did not reference the page that the picture is on (all of the pictures are in the front of the book).
I made a wedding cake for my brother and sister-in-laws wedding based on recipes from the book. The white cake in the wedding cake section is fantastic. Even better is the Cream Cheese White Chocolate Buttercream--so marvelous that I wax poetically thinking about it. I made all of the rolled fondant from scatch using her recipe (better tasting than the packaged product and much more cost effective). And the crowning achievement were the marzipan roses--I even amazed myself with those (although it did take me two or three roses to get the hang of it).
I highly recommend this book (like you couldn't tell already). It ranks right up there with David Page Coffin's book SHIRTMAKING and Elizabeth Zimmerman's KNITTER'S ALMANAC (both are curl up with them on the sofa books).