WILLIAMS - SONOMA ESSENTIALS OF BAKING ( REVISED EDITION ) Hardcover – Nov 14 2008
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About the Author
A treasured American icon, Chuck Williams opened the first Williams-Sonoma store in the town of Sonoma in 1956, later moving it to San Francisco. His humble shop has now grown to more than 260 stores across the country. Under his watchful eye, more than 300 branded cookbooks have been published to date. America's best-loved brand of cookbooks have sold over 32 million copies.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If you are a frustrated baker who can't make your bread turn out right this is an excellent starting point for that purpose. The book contains all the bakery standards that you would expect and some that might be a new experience for you.
The Lavender-Polenta Coffee Cake is a very nice recipe. The Carrot Cake Recipe is also very good. Try adding a little maple syrup to the cream cheese frosting on the carrot cake. To quote my husband, Yum Yum.
The book does a nice job of outlining the various stages of the baking process in good detail with pictures. I think it would be very easy for a beginner to follow and make a nice loaf of bread the first time out.
I have shared the French Baquette recipe with a few novice bakers and they claim to have had good results.
If you are looking for a decent baking primer this is a good place to begin. The directions and the pictures are well done for those that need the guidance.
Like most beginning cookbooks, this one has very nice sections at the beginning covering equipment and ingredients as well as basic techniques for things like measuring and preparing pans. But the real test of a cookbook is the recipes themselves.
There's a wonderful selection of classic as well as specialty recipes in all the basic categories, and the book included some of my favorites like Challah and Pumpernickel bread. And although delicious when successfully baked, the book suffers terribly from what appears to be errors in quantity. In the dozen or so recipes that I have attempted so far, about three quarters had significant trouble caused by issues that could only be attributed to the quantity of goods. Being new to baking, I assumed at first that this was just something to do with me or the way that I measured things. But after a while, and with the purchase of a very nice cooking scale, I had to admit that I was indeed measuring correctly. I am a guy and all, which makes me anal about such things to begin with. But I'm also a graphic designer who was raised by a mechanical engineer. Attention to detail, was my personal mantra growing up. It wasn't me.
After a few frustrating attempts with breads, I thought that much of the problem had to do with their tendency to simply be vague about certain key things. They called for 2-3 `extra' cups of flour in their Sourdough bread to get a "soft dough", and "the juice from one lemon" in their Apple Pie filling. Have they been to the store lately? You can get lemons any size from "golf ball" to "softball." And yes, it makes a very big difference.
I suspect that many of these errors are based on publishing, and not with the original recipes themselves. It would be very easy to introduce problems into things if you needed to have weight measurements tagged onto all the ingredients in every recipe throughout the book. If the original baker used only volume measurements, then they would have to find equivalents someplace. Stuff like sugar is pretty consistent whether it's by volume or weight, but not things like flour.
But if these mistakes weren't problem enough, I have already encountered instances of out and out errors to the basic recipe itself. For Apple Turnovers for example, they started with four large Granny Smith apples for eight small turnovers. That's half an apple per! No way. Somebody goofed.
So, does it mean the book is a flop? No. I have been able to adjust the recipes in most cases to produce an acceptable end product, and certain sections do not seem as prone to the measurement trouble (such as Cookies). But given that this IS a book for beginners (thus, `essentials of baking'), this is pretty unacceptable. A more experienced cook might see a problem coming and correct before it's too late, but not someone just starting into the art. It's also pretty appalling given that this is William-Sonoma as well as an expensive high-class publication and not some rough, first-time published baker trying to break into the market.
They work. And not only that: they work well.
For example, I made the Classic Pumpkin Pie recipe for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago and people actually asked me where they could buy one (the pie, not the book). If I hadn't already proven myself to be a *fantastic* baker, no one would have believed I had made it. Yes, it was that good.
The Brioche is unbelievable (and believe them when they say you will be Huffing and Puffing if you do it by hand).
The Chocolate Meringues melt in your mouth. As does the Chocolate Shortbread.
As if that wasn't enough, the photographs (a must in my opinion; who wants a cookbook without photos) are sublime. The only thing better than this book is the WS website (where they have tons of free recipes).
But for me, what does it is the information. How much does a cookbook tell about the recipes? ingredients? equipment? WS starts every chapter with a brief backstory, including photographs of techniques and "This Is How It Looks When You've Done It Wrong". I love the way they give you instructions for hand-mixing, mixer-mixing (hand or stand) and/or food processor (where appropriate). The recipes are in volume and weight (if this matters to you) and the ingredients are neither wildly expensive (like Barefoot Contessa) nor WS "exclusives" (like sometimes happens with King Arthur Flour).
The only book on my shelf that ranks above this one is: The Easy-To-Use Beginner's First Cook Book: The Cook's Guide to Frying, Baking, Poaching, Casseroling, Steaming and Roasting a Fabulous Range of 140 T
**I accidentally submitted the same review below as a Kid's review**