on December 27, 2000
I wanted to love this book. Really, I did. I was willing to follow the instructions to a "T", and even take decorating lessons so I could stun my friends speechless with the wonder of my cakes. But I can't. Let me explain here that I am regarded (sorry to be immodest) as a fabulous home baker. That I'm a well-travelled European (from the Land o'Cakes--Scotland--no less), and know what good cakes should taste like. And that I was willing to invest the time, energy and money to make these cakes work. And they did. I just didn't like them. The reviewers who don't rave about this book are in the minority, but (for the most part), I think we're right. The buttercream tastes like...butter. The ganache frosting ( made with Lindt chocolate, no less) is heavy and off-putting. The cakes I have made are heavy and buttery without that wonderful buttery taste of good cakes (and I used a wonderful butter from Pennsylvania that's virtually indistiguishable from the fine Danish kind). Most recently, I tried the Chocolate Cloud roll cake, and it came out perfectly. But nobody wanted seconds. In short, it doesn't surprise me that Ms. Berenbaum is fascinated by the chemistry of baking. These are cakes made to icy physical perfection, but lacking the art that makes genuinely delicious confections. If you're into elaborately-decorated cakes that will amaze your friends, buy this book. If you're looking for cakes that dance on the tastebuds, this isn't it. One last comment, and a more positive one, is that the general advice she gives on measuring, mixing and baking is very good, and this (plus the gorgeous pictures) make the book a good buy, especially if you like to read cookbooks.
on September 29, 2003
The cakes are very good. The All American Chocolate cake recipe turned out great first time. I like the use of weights as well as volumetric measurements in the recipes. Now for the not-so-good: the buttercream frosting recipes are just awful.
This weekend we made five batches of buttercream frosting following the recipe instructions exactly and each time the frosting came out tasting like whipped butter; greasy and overpowering and ruining the taste of the cake. We used unsalted Land-O-Lakes brand butter.
While the cake recipes are worthwhile, the frosting section is so wanting that I would consider looking further if you need a book that has good cake AND frosting recipes.
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 June 20, 2004
I have had mixed results with this book. The cakes that turned out well (downy yellow butter and golden almond, for example) were among the best cakes I've ever tasted. The ones that didn't, however (including the white spice pound cake and chocolate genoise) were dry and tasteless. I recommend this book for the intrepid experimenter: you will probably not like all the recipes in this book, but the ones that you like, you will love. The directions are extremely clear and detailed; I am an intermediate baker and I learned a lot from this book. Two words of advice: 1. Start checking your cakes a good 5-10 minutes before the suggested baking time; many of these cakes dry out in a heartbeat and are best just a touch underdone (and my oven temperature is perfect). 2. Berenbaum's buttercream is not for the faint of heart (4 sticks to frost one cake)! You might want to look elsewhere for buttercream recipes.
on April 12, 2004
This book is the source of the single-most-baked-cake in my household: the white chocolate whisper cake. Rose Levy Berenbaum shows her genious in this one simple recipe. Not only does the white chocolate add wonderful flavor, but because it melts at a different temperature than butter, it stands up better to icing and cutting while still melting in your mouth! This cookbook is full of such wonderful gems--recipes that produce not good cakes, but *amazing* cakes.
This book is aimed at someone with a bit of experience in the kitchen. Pretty much everything is measured by weight, as is normal with professional pastry chefs since it's much more accurate than measuring dry ingredients by volume or eggs by number of eggs. Some of the more complex creations will require experience, an artistic hand, and/or specialized equipment, but even if you don't want to make those, the basic recipes are stupendous. The fruit sauces meant to go with the cakes, for example, make us swoon! Try serving that white chocolate whisper cake, for example, with a raspberry sauce.
My one complaint about this cookbook is the icings. Buttercream icings, in my experience, come in three varieties: lots of shortening (blech!), lots of butter, or lots of sugar. I'm really not fond of the lots-of-butter variety, as I find that it unpleasantly masks the flavor of the cake beneath. Unfortunately the buttercream frostings in this cookbook are of the lots-of-butter variety.
Do keep in mind that many of the recipes in this cookbook are *not* aimed at beginners. It's a great primer, though, for anyone who wants to make a true exploration into the world of cake-baking!
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 April 29, 2003
This book has been hailed by professionals and amateurs alike in the realm of baking. It was even awarded The International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year.
The recipes are organized into Cakes, Complementary Adornments for all Cakes, Ingredients and Equipment, and a Special Section for Professionals and Passionate Amateurs. There is a Special Categories Index which lists recipes organized by special dietary needs, such as no cholesterol recipes, quick cakes, and even cakes for Passover. With the hundreds of cakes listed in this book, there are only pictures for 50 of the recipes.
I baked the Chocolate Bread Pound Cake recipe on page 28. All of the ingredients were readily on hand: cocoa powder, water, vanilla, eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. The recipe listed the number of servings, ingredients by both measure and weight, an illustration of suggested pans, finished height, storage guidelines, adornment suggestion, serving temperature, and even pointers for success. This finished cake came out very dry. So dry, in fact, that I just threw it away. In the understanding section of this recipe, they suggest using a syrup for extra moistness. If I needed this recipe in the future, I would be sure to use the syrup with it.
I also used the Chocolate Ganache recipe on page 269. Her directions on using the food processor to prepare the ganache really saved time, and produced a perfectly smooth finished product. The recipe produces enough ganache to fill and frost two 8x1.5" layers or two 9x1" layers. The ganache is a delicious finish to a cake, and I use it often with dense chocolate cakes.