- Hardcover: 515 pages
- Publisher: Cook's Illustrated; 1st edition (March 1 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0936184752
- ISBN-13: 978-0936184753
- Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 5.1 x 28.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 Kg
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #300,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker Hardcover – Mar 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
With refreshing wit and patience for the home cook, the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine present their collective wisdom in an easy-to-use format. Whether readers are baking Brownies or Peanut Butter Cookies, or want to try the more advanced Crescent-Shaped Rugelach with Raisin-Walnut Filling or Fallen Chocolate Cake, or if they're in the mood for something savory, such as Soft Pretzels or Buttermilk Biscuits, they'll find everything (and possibly more) here. The criteria are stringent: a brownie "must not be so sweet as to make your teeth ache, and it must certainly have a thin, shiny, papery crust... offering a contrast with the brownie's moist center." Lengthy prologues explain the tests the editors conducted to arrive at each recipe, with humorous characterizations of what not to do (for example, readers learn to avoid the "lean, mean, whole-wheat-flour oatmeal scone"). The testers often start with professional chef recipes, tinkering as they go. Blueberry muffins get an overhaul in the "Blueberry Muffin Hall of Shame," with mug shots of the guilty muffins' characteristics (e.g., mashed, sticky surface, flat top). Even casual readers will appreciate the editors' narrative flair and baking science (e.g., quiche gets cooled on a rack to prevent condensation), and there's a refreshing absence of diet-conscious recipes here. With step-by-step illustrations on everything from how to remove bar cookies so they don't crumble to chopping nuts, and a section on ingredients that goes as far as to recommend specific brands, this is an indispensable, comprehensive baking reference.
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"'An indispensable, comprehensive baking reference...An essential tome' Publishers Weekly"See all Product description
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I am really happy to see the 'America's Test Kitchen' crew turn their attention to baking. Unlike savory cooking, baking is highly dependent on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and temperature. Therefore, it is an area where a scientific approach of varying various quantities will have a more beneficial result than in the savory world.
This book is subtitled 'The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker'. This means the book is directed at the amateur home baker. This facet does not really distinguish the book that much from dozens of other baking books I have reviewed. In fact, I would warn occasional bakers who simply want recipes that this book might just be a bit too wordy for you. You may be much better served by a general baking book by Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri, or even Martha Stewart. On the other hand, if you love 'Cooks Illustrated' or simply reading about cooking and baking technique, then this is a book for you!
My biggest reservation with the whole 'best recipe' approach by 'Cooks Illustrated' is that a recipe is best only by a certain set of criteria. What may be the best FAST recipe may fall flat on its face for ENTERTAINING or for MOST HEALTHY. The 'Cooks Illustrated' team generally goes for a good compromise between fast and tasty. A corollary to this reservation is the presumption that the 'Cooks Illustrated' approach has a unique insight into baking truth. This is simply not true. I just finished reviewing professional baker Sherry Yard's new book 'The Secrets of Baking' an I believe it is unequivocally the best book you can get for understanding baking technique. She spends no time on discussing failed approaches. Everything in the book is right to the point. With only slightly less enthusiasm I would recommend the 'Bible' series of baking books by Rose Levy Beranbaum.
One clue to my preference for Yard and Beranbaum is the way they treat brioche and challah. Both deal with these two recipes as two variations on a common 'master' recipe. Thus, when you understand how to make one, it is clear that you are very close to knowing how to do the other. This 'Baking Illustrated' volume gives the two recipes side by side, but gives little other clue that the recipes are related.
Another symptom of where the 'Cooks Illustrated' method may be less than satisfactory is in their carrot cake recipe. Carrot cake is a really interesting product, made even more interesting to me by Sherry Yard's explanation of why it is so good and so versatile. I have been making a three layer carrot cake for birthdays from a Nick Malgieri recipe for over a year now, and I am very happy with the results. 'Baking Illustrated' gives a passle of advice on what works and what doesn't work and ends with a recipe for a single layer sheet cake. This simply does not have enough WOW quotient for an important birthday.
Yet another weakness in the 'Cooks Ilustrated' method is illustrated by a recent Jim Villas book which has over a hundred recipes for biscuits, with over twenty for simple, unflavored biscuits. Each of these twenty recipes has their own charms. The current volume has only one 'best recipe'.
After all these reservations, I must still say that for the person who treats baking as a hobby, this book is a rich resource for all sorts of recipes. Some few baking books such as those by Yard and Beranbaum do a lot of explaining and offering alternatives, but most books do not. If you really want the straight scoop on what is the best ingredient to use, this is your book. It is also a rare source of excellent pictorials on technique based on line drawings that focus on the important aspects of a technique and do not distract as many photographs may do. The explanation of differences in types and results with butter you may not find anywhere else. The discussion of variations in flour is good, almost as good as the one you will find in Beranbaum's books.
I give the book five stars but there may be many potential buyers who may not want the extensive why and what ifs and just want the recipes. For those people, I suggest Nick Malgieri's 'How to Bake'.
There are a lot of recipes here and they are all well-written. Please note, there is an error in their Basic Pie Crust recipe. It should be 1/2 cup of shortening rather than one cup. This was sent to me in an email from the America's Test Kitchen website.
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