on October 21, 2002
I love this book. I discovered it in my local library, checked it out, and made several of the recipes before deciding I'd like to have a copy. That was in 1992, and my copy is now falling apart from hard use. I have occasionally had recipes fail when I became distracted from following the directions meticulously, however. This is not a cookbook for those who like everything too sweet -- but my husband, whom I kid about having the tastebuds of an 8-year-old, loves these cakes. So do my children, my dinner guests -- you name it. Just last night, I served the Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte with Raspberry Sauce to rave reviews and demands for the recipes. I haven't made all the recipes yet, but I hope to someday.
A word of caution: if you don't have uninterrupted time to read the directions thoroughly and follow them carefully, don't bother -- buy a boxed mix. These are recipes sensitive to ingredient quality, technique, temperature, and even weather. (Boxed mixes, I've learned, contain stabilizing ingredients that make them taste okay even when you screw up.) Another word of caution: Many of the ingredients (the "finest" chocolate, walnut oil, unsalted pistachios, for example) are difficult to find and/or quite expensive if you do not live in a large urban area. Word of caution #3: I have also occasionally had trouble with a recipe from this book when specialized equipment (I don't have a food processor) is involved. However, even my failures have tasted good. I've read some of the other reviews commenting on the dryness and heaviness of some of the cakes, and am surprised since I haven't had problems in this regard. I may never learn how to make an icing rose, but there are plenty of other decorating options for those of us not so creatively gifted.
I am yet again giving a copy of this book to a dear friend interested in baking delicious cakes, and also considering replacing my own copy, which is stained and losing pages.
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 April 11, 2001
While it's difficult to add much to the other reviews of "The Cake Bible", I do have a couple of thoughts that might help resolve some of the conflicting reports. Like a few of the other reviewers, I have found this to be a frustrating book, even for someone with culinary training. Let me make one thing clear -- I really want to like it. The book is comprehensive and authoritative, and the author, Rose Levy Beranbaum, tries very hard to communicate. What isn't covered in the text is usually addressed in the extensive margin notes or footnotes. With strengths like that, it would seem impossible for any recipe to fail.
But, many recipes do fail, sometimes spectacularly. How is that possible? The reasons are many and varied. First, my sense is that the recipes themselves are fragile. While ingredient measures are expressed in precise units (you'd better own a scale), the instructions must be executed to the letter. No step can be compromised; no corner can be cut. Exact pan sizes and oven temperatures must be used. The ingredients are carefully balanced. If you're off by just a little, the cake will fail. Hence, I don't approach the recipes in this book with the sort of unhesitating confidence I would like. It often takes several tries to get a cake right.
Second, the recipes don't take kindly to substitutions. Once, I came up a little short on sour cream and tried to substitute some plain yogurt in the Sour Cream Coffee Cake. The recipe wasn't robust enough to accommodate the additional water provided by the yogurt, and the cake fell. To make these cakes, you need to triple-check the ingredients list before you start.
Third, only the highest quality ingredients can be used. The Mousseline Buttercream is a good example. Since it uses only egg whites instead of yolks or whole eggs, and since there isn't much sugar, the only flavor notes come from the butter. Anything less that the highest quality will result in a final product that is greasy and horrible. And the additional liquor flavoring in many recipes is not optional. It is often required to compensate for the relative lack sugar.
Finally, the author's encouragement notwithstanding, the Showcase Cakes are legitimately complicated. Each of them has a number of components, some with multiple sub-components, and each cake takes several days to construct. The Blueberry Swan Lake, for example, calls for 2 meringue swans with piped whipped cream feathers. The White Lilac Nostalgia cake requires dozens of crystallized lilac blossoms, each prepared carefully by hand. And I'd love to see anyone's first crack at the red chocolate roses and 20 chocolate rose leaves required for the Bittersweet Royale Torte.
In fairness, however, it should be noted that some of the fundamental recipes are real breakthroughs (or at least they were when the book was written in 1988). The Moist Chocolate Genoise, for example, uses bar chocolate instead of the cocoa. The cocoa butter in the chocolate replaces the clarified butter that would normally be added to a cake of this type. The result is a chocolate genoise unlike any other I've ever tasted. While many are stiff and dry, this cake is tender and moist. In addition, the Neo-Classic Buttercream offers a worthwhile shortcut to the preparation of the sugar syrup.
A special bonus is the wedding cake section. These pages thoroughly describe the construction of a 'standard' wedding cake, right down to the amount of buttercream required for each layer. Recipes are offered for yellow and chocolate butter cake, yellow and chocolate genoise, and cheesecake. Every step along the way is described in detail, and the designs, while challenging, are generally more accessible that those from, say, Colette Peters or Dede Wilson.
In sum, while it's easy to make a decent cake, it's a big step to the next level. What this book underscores is the amount of preparation, concentration, and effort it takes to make an exceptional cake. If that is your goal, then this book could well offer the road map you're looking for.
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).
on August 11, 2000
I'm not an experienced baker and although I don't mind baking, I will admit that I like eating cake more than I do baking it. However the recipes from The Cake Bible have brought me so many rave reviews that I look forward to making them. For a special occasion several years ago I made a three-tiered Golden Genoise with a raspberry buttercream and marzipan roses, and there are people who still marvel about it. I've also made the Black Forest cake, the Triple Chocolate cake, and the Cordon Rose Cream cheesecake with great success. The coffeecake and the blueberry buttermilk pancakes are now family classics, and for my own birthday I always make the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter cake with a Milk Chocolate buttercream. These are real cakes, similar to great ones I've had in Vienna, London, and New York, that rely on the flavor of the ingredients rather than the overwhelming sweetness prevalent in the typical American cakes. Most of them do use a lot of butter and eggs, and there's no margarine, powdered icing sugar, or artificial flavourings in these, so be forewarned. I find them no more difficult than recipes from any other book, but the end result is light-years ahead. The fancier versions of the decorated cakes can be intimidating since my manual dexterity is somewhere below that of a dyslexic orangutan's, but even if my decorations aren't picture perfect they have a kind of funky charm, and still taste good. In any case, unless it's for a special event, it's not necessary to make them fancy. The recipes have been constructed from scratch so that the ingredients and techniques make perfect sense chemically, rather than having been recopied from existing ones. It's difficult to look at other cake recipes now.
on August 9, 2000
Three years ago, I could burn water. Today, my co-workers line up and wait on Monday to see what I've come up with over the weekend. If I can follow these recipes, anyone can.
Have there been disasters? Sure (even some of the disasters have been hits). All of them have been because I missed something about how the recipe was supposed to be made, made a silly error (not pre-heating the oven once is particularly memorable), or cut corners preparing the ingredients ("oh, that's close enough to room temperature..."; wrong!). This isn't an add-water-mix-and-bake book, it's about how cakes made from scratch work.
There are a few really easy, really delicious recipes that I can knock out now in a half an hour with the extra egg whites left from a larger project (okay, that's because I do have a good stand mixer), and I've successfully made three "major production" cakes in the last few months, including a three tier cake (caution, steep learning curve ahead, but I did it).
Pay attention, follow the directions, practice and adjust to your taste if the recipe doesn't suit you. But be careful, this can be habit forming.
on July 25, 2000
I received this book as a gift and was so excited - because I'm what Beranbaum calls a 'passionate amateur.' As I read through different recipes, I was sure they would all be excellent because of the painstaking way she describes how to bake them. The section on showcase cakes is especially good; it's so impressive when you see what's possible through the illustrations. I made the Christmas Log and it looked perfect because she gives such thorough instructions.
BUT... As many of these reviews have said, quite a few of the recipes seem to be too "gourmet" for most people - including myself. Many seem to be acquired tastes - even that Christmas Log I was so proud of tasted rather bitter to me and most of my guests. I do think, however, if you're confident in your baking skills, you can mix and match different recipes or substitute some ingredients for others in order to get the same aesthetic effect, but with a more "generally appealing" taste.
The book has great instructions for decorating and is really easy (though time-consuming) to follow. Also, I've heard famous things about THE CHEESECAKE and look forward to trying that. On the whole, it really just depends on what you like. I have made these cakes for different events and while they look great, they just don't always deliver.