on February 26, 2004
I am skeptical of most of the cookbooks that are based on PBS TV cooking shows, plus some of Julia Child's early cookbooks had many recipes that were involved and difficult for the casual home cook to do. This book, however, is a reliable resource that you can depend on for baked goods in your home oven.
The most important feature of this book is that all of the recipes are written by professional bakers (of whom there are some 2 dozen or so, some you will recognize, all are seasoned bakers from various commercial settings), and the recipes are scaled-down versions of reliable production recipes. The instructions are exemplary in their detail and completeness. All things considered, this is also an excellent learning tool for the beginner. When I need to learn something new (such as rugelach or naan), this is one of the first books I reach for.
The first chapter has an extensive section on basic techniques and words that you do not usually get in even a good baking book. It has some basic recipes that must be mastered before you go on to the recipes in the rest of the book, like genoise or meringue. It also has chapters on bread (Daily; Artisanal, Flatbreads), breakfast goods and quick breads, cakes (Everyday, Showstoppers, Wedding Cake, Cookies), and pastries (Pies, Grand, Savory). It has a good selection of all the major categories you are likely to want to do at home.
on November 7, 1997
I was just reading through the reviews of Baking with Julia, which I own and use, and I saw the person whose review appears above mine, who hates this book. But -- see, it didn't ring true to me, because I've made the cheesecake and I knew the recipe in this book isn't the one s/he quotes. So I double-checked it and I was right: there's no sweetened condensed milk in the cheesecake recipe in Baking with Julia. So I don't know what kind of axe this person has to grind. Because I really like this book. Innovation? Oh my god, there's this recipe for gingerbread that has espresso and black pepper in it. And there's a sage cake -- forget it, this isn't stuff I've found in any other baking book. My only complaint is that it's kind of hard -- like everything Julia does. You really challenge yourself every time you make anything in this book. But that's good. For me, anyway. I just wanted to add my two cents, as a member of Generation X (who can spell, I might add.
on November 7, 2003
As other reviewers have said, this volume is one of the most frequently consulted books in my library of over 250 cookbooks. I began baking from it just because it was my latest book on baking. Then, I began toing to it when the results of baking recipies found in other books did not pan out as well as I expected. It was also directly responsible for my acquiring a heavy duty KitchenAid stand mixer, although I was able to quite successfully do recipes involving some heavy duty dough even without the mixer. But, the mixer did make it easier.
One of the primary lessons I learned from my comparing recipes in this book to other books is that these recipes are fully up to professional bakers' standards. No dumbing down here. My best evidence is when I tried making cinnamon buns using two other recipies and the results were simply inferior to what one could buy from Entenmens at the supermarket I then made the same product using the Child recipe and I produced definitely superior results.
Please be aware that these recipes were not developed by Julia Child and Julia Child did not write the book. This does not detract from the quality of the book, just the quality of the credit. The writer, Dorrie Greenspan, has done several other books on baking, all with a very high quality. Julia's collaborators, all major talents in baking, include such stars as Nick Malgieri, do nothing but increase the value of the volume.
This book is at it's best as an introduction to all the different types of baking for a person who has time to deal with the finer points of baking things like artisnal breads and sticky buns. Yes, a stand mixer is recommended.
on August 4, 2003
I just want to say for the bad reviews in here, that I've made some things in here 2x, and one time they came out perfect, another not. Indeed, some of the techniques are so specific that if your oven temperature is 10 degrees off or the dough rises an extra 1/2 hour, it makes all the difference in the end result. Anyway, I love cookbooks where the chefs tell the truth and don't give bogus recipes -- this is one of them! I would make changes to suit my own taste of course, but this is a reliable book.
on February 10, 2002
This book goes far beyond recipes, it contains comprehensive lessons in baking. Within each recipe, many paragraphs are devoted to the techniques, and sometimes chemistry, that makes the recipe work. But as you'll find out from reading a few of the recipes, or just watching the PBS series, you won't get very far without a Kitchenaid stand mixer. You'll be hard pressed to find even a handful of recipes that don't contain the words "in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer..." That said, with a Kitchenaid, you'll be on your way to a world of delicious and often easy to make cakes, breads and pastries. I cannot even imagine attempting some of these without one.
on August 9, 1999
This is a wonderful book for impressing your guests with interesting recipes. However, I was hoping to find a good book with recipes for a variety of breads. This book has good explanations of techniques and ingredients. There are way too many "artisan" style breads like Bialys, Nan and Challah. Many recipes also use a starter. I prefer to grab ingredients off the shelf to make herb, wheat, foccacia, irish soda bread, etc. This book includes those also, but I'm afraid I paid too much for a book that didn't have many practical recipes. The sections other than breads were the same way... too time-consuming and complicated.
on September 25, 1998
Baking basic batters and doughs is the subject that is given the combination of expert skill and knowledge acquired in the culinary arts over years of experience. If you are an individual who thrives on instant gratification and does not want to take the time to learn the basic foundation techniques of quality baking then this book may not be for you. The book covers breads, cakes, and sweet and savory pastries. The instructions have carefully been written with great detail so even the novice baker can increase his or her skill level. Recipes range from the simple galette,which by the way is excellent, to a labor intensive but glorious wedding cake.A variety of techniques ranging from beginner level to accomplished baker allows anyone interested in baking to improve their skills. I have been working on my culinary skills for 30 years and own over 100 different cookbooks. This book ranks within the top 5 of my collection. It has allowed me to fine tune many classic techniques. My Brioche, biscotti,, biscuits, danish pastry and pecan sticky buns have been elevated to rival any quality baker. Culinary professionals like Flo Braker, Nancy Silverton, Marcel Desaulniers, and Marion Cunningham are just a few of the many talented and giving individuals who contribute to make this the qulaity book that it is.Dorie Greenspan's writing skills set this book apart from others in that it is the standard from which all quality instructional cookbooks should be compared. If you want to learn how the experts bake and not have to leave your own kitchen to do it, this is the book.
on April 30, 1998
I've been baking as a hobby for a number of years, and this book is one of the best, clearest guides to *technique* I've ever used. That's technique -- not recipes. When this book first came out, some reviewers noted that certain of the recipes didn't work out quite right when tested, and I must say I've found the same thing. The pages of my copy of this book are covered with scribbled notes about changes I've made in the recipes -- though I must say that most of the recipes I've had to change are the bread recipes, not the dessert ones. My notes for her "Country Bread" (the version of Pain de Campagne that *doesn't* require air-borne yeast) say things like "weird color, floury, boring flavor" and recommend adding a tablespoon of cider vinegar among other things. But when it comes to TECHNIQUE, nothing and nobody beats Julia! If you've ever wanted to know the real way to make croissants and brioche, or you're insane enough to want to make your own puff pastry, this book is indispensible. And even if you have to test and play around with the recipes before you are confident with them, that's how you learn, and that's what inspires you to come up with variations and ideas of your own. I recommend this book highly to bakers of intermediate skill and above. It wouldn't be perfect for beginners simply because you have to do so much experimentation on your own.
on October 28, 2002
Baking is much more unforgiving than cooking when it comes to the quality of the recipe and the editing. There is nothing more frustrating than to read about an exciting bread or dessert only to discover that the recipe wasn't carefully tested or has typos. Not a problem here. I have yet to find a miss in this book. Every recipe comes out well, the instructions are clear but concise, and the recipes cover the range of classic baking. The use of multiple bakers from the TV series ensures that all recipes were created by experts, but it's Greenspan who should really be commended for translating what are probably large-scale, commercial recipes to those sized for the home cook and to do so in a manner that balances giving sufficient but not overdone direction. I find myself unwilling to bake out of any other cookbook these days.
on December 8, 2001
Having used this book on a weekly basis for the past year, I recommend this book to bakers at all levels. The book is a multi-contributed book, with Julia Child at the helm and aptly unified by Dorie Greenspan's clear and engaging writing style.
I spent the greater part of this year working on breadmaking techniques from the artisanal bread section - while techniques take time to master, I received a remarkable education from this book. The basic white bread and focaccia recipes are simple and wonderful to make on your own.
If you're serious about baking, this book provides the basis for your advancement into any number of specialized areas: breads, pastries, cookies, cakes, even chocolate. Not only are the recipes very well selected, but the photographs are gorgeously photographed by Gentl & Hyers (who also photographed Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie & Pastry Bible), including some very nice candid shots (mise en scene/mise en place) in the kitchen. I haven't come across many other cookbooks of this calibre since.
The recipes range from the simplest Irish Soda Bread, to the most elaborate Glorious Wedding Cake. Not all recipes are as complex as the wedding cake recipe - this particular recipe contributed by Martha Stewart is one that seems oddly out of place in a cookbook. However - it is truly a great study on how tiered cakes are layered and put together, and decorated. (The wedding cake is essentially a dense almond pound cake, which can probably be scaled down to a much more manageable session)
The "soul" of this cookbook comes from the section at the beginning titled "Batters and Doughs - The Basics." If you never baked anything from the book, at least go through all 8 recipes once or twice. As the introduction notes, these are the building blocks upon which hundreds of pastry and cake recipes are based. If you can accomplish the following, you can call yourself an accomplished baker: flaky pie dough, choux paste, meringue, genoise (3 versions), brioche, puff pastry, danish pastry, croissant dough. I've recently accomplished the brioche dough, and it's become a favorite quickly, as a simple loaf or as the basis for Pecan Sticky Buns.
This book has a companion web site featuring the original television series "Baking with Julia" on PBS, complete with video clips of the bakers at work. If there was ever an opportunity to purchase all 39 episodes (with 27 bakers!) on DVD, I'd be the first on line... Bon Appetit