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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
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on February 22, 2004
This volume, subtitled the 'All Purpose Baking Cookbook' perfectly fits the criteria I typically apply to a book in order to decide if I want to give it five stars. A book gets three stars if it meets my expectations. A book gets four stars if it meets my expectations in a very successful way. Typically, that means that it has few or no detected mistakes. A book gets five stars if it exceeds my expectations. This book certainly exceeded my expectations.
What I anticipated when I opened this book was a dry, technical work steeped in discussions of the effects of gluten and altitude and humidity on bread making, similar to some of the more detailed parts of better books on bread baking. All of these discussions are here, plus others on the finer points of measuring flour and types of flour, but with a difference.
The biggest surprise in the book was the light, personal touch of the writing. It all has the tone you may expect in a very good book on regional cooking. And, lo and behold, there is a hint of regionality and local tradition in the selection of materials in the book. In spite of the fact that King Arthur products are available throughout the country (unlike White Lily, for example), the book retains a very New England tone to it's selection of recipes. One prominent example is in the recipe for biscuits, where it advises all experienced Southern biscuit makers to simply skip that page, as since 'we don't want to shock you with the way we make biscuits up north'.
That doesn't mean the book does not touch on every subject you may expect it to cover. As I said in my opening paragraph, it easily covers much more than what I expected. The very first chapter dealing with breakfast foods covers material not commonly covered in conventional baking surveys. Pancakes, waffles, crepes, French toast and their allies are not covered in either of my favorite general baking books (Julia Child's 'Baking With Julia' and Nick Malgieri's 'How to Bake'). If that were not enough, it presents recipes in such a way that you can prepare baking mixtures ahead to much the same effect as if you were laying in a supply of Bisquik. One of the secrets is in the use of dried buttermilk. I have seen this product in my local megamart, but have not until now had a clue as to how to use it.
The homey, comfortable feeling of the book extends to even that most difficult subject of breads made with wild yeasts (Sourdough, Pain au Levain). The book does not cover every different type of artisinal bread you may find in such books as Carol Field's 'The Italian Baker' for instance, and it does not cover such important French specialties as brioche as deeply as Rose Levy Beranbaum's 'The Bread Bible', but it does cover them, and so much else as well. Another contributor to the warm feel of the book is the layout. Pages are airy with well positioned sidebars, titles, and tables. Technical information is always at the same place, accessible, but unobstrusive to the browser.
In the long run, the greatest value of the book is in it's encyclopediac coverage of just about every kind of baking you can do, extending the definition of baking to things outside the oven to include the griddle (pancakes, crepes, etc) and the deep fryer (doughnuts, beignets, etc). In fact, just about the only product made with wheat flour which this book does not cover is pasta, although it comes very close in it's chapter on dumplings.
The more technical aspects of the book are quite up to snuff in spite of the warmth of the presentation. Where appropriate, all measurements are given by both weight and volume. The importance of measuring by weight is also discussed in detail at the beginning of the book. The book also includes a nutritional analysis of each and every recipe, giving portion size, calories, fat, protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium, vitamin A, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. I'm impressed. I confess that it is slightly easier for this book to provide this as they can make the very safe assumption that it is their brand of flour which is being used.
The sixty pages on ingredients at the end of the book are easily worth the price of admission all by itself. It is no surprise that it gives a deep discussion of wheat and flour. What is surprising is that it also gives fairly detailed discussions of other products used in baking such as milk products, eggs, fats, sugars, fat substitutes, and sugar substitutes.
The very nice section on baking tools is an equally valuable resource. In one page the book gives you everything you may see in a much larger three page article in 'Cooks Illustrated'. I am really amazed at the value you get for a list price of $35 for this book. Just consider a comparison to an Ina Garten book 1/3 as long with much less authoritative information for the same price. Amazing.
I am not at all surprised to see an endorsing blurb on the back cover from Alton Brown. I strongly suspect that he will be cribbing material from this book for one or more 'Good Eats' shows, if he has not already. The only thing I find missing in the whole book is a decent bibliography. This type of encyclopedic reference really deserves one.
This will easily be my new 'go to' book for baking. I will not give up the recipes I have come to love from other sources and I will probably still consult other sources for artisnal bread recipes, but I will definitely come to this book first for any new baking task I have in mind. I will not expect every single recipe to be perfect, but I will consider everything I find here with respect. Very highly recommended.
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on May 27, 2004
I've made about a handful of the recipes in this book and have thought that most of them were quite tasy. Some were okay - the Lemon Bread was too dry I thought and the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies were crisp and not chewy (it turns out this is because of a typo and the recipe needs two eggs instead of one as stated.) On the other hand, I made my husband a Boston Creme Pie for his birthday and it was *very* delicious. Most of the recipes have been good.
I also like the layout of this book. It's easy to find things, plus it's a cozy read. The book has a bit of a New England feel to it. I tend to like cook books that you can sit and thumb through and think of future baking projects and this book is definitely that way. There's a lot of interesting information about how to bake something better.
I don't know if this the end all book on baking, but I do find that I'm reaching for this book more than most of the others I own. The only thing I don't like about it is the use of shortening for many of the recipes. I tend to prefer baking with butter. This is only a personal preference though. Overall it's a usefull book to own.
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on September 16, 2003
I just received my copy of this cookbook last night. It truely will be the definitive classic on all forms of baking. I have about 15 baking cookbooks (that is after I weeded out the ones that I didn't like). This single volume could replace most of the ones that I have on my shelf. There on sections on breads, cookies, quiches, brioche, on and on. The shear length of the book allows it to be comprehensive on all categories of baking. One strength of the book is that every recipe has nutritional information. There is also a lengthy section on different grains, how they are processed, and how they are used in baking. There is a lot of technical information in the book,(a big plus for me) but it is set up so that if you don't want to read all the technical information, you can just go straight to the recipe and follow it. You don't have to read a lot of technical information to get at the list of ingredients. This is a small thing, but most of the recipes are printed one to a page. I like this. This helps me keep track of what I am doing without having to search on the page. The color photographs are good, but there are not a lot of them. I'm sure more photos would have driven the cost way up and the thickness of the book would have been unmanageable. Hence, this is not a 'coffee table picture cookbook'. I did think that the black and white line drawings were quite good. Thanks King Arthur!!!!
P.S. The recipes themselves look delicious. I've only had time to try a couple and they were great!!!
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on September 30, 2003
I've been baking frequently for nearly thirty years, but my results took a Great Leap Forward more than a decade ago when I discovered the advice and products from the folks at King Arthur Flour. The Baker's Companion is a welcome addition to my kitchen. Though I own at least a hundred baking books, this one has all the advice, all the recipes, all the suggestions for substitutions, that a baker of any level of proficiency would need for sublime everyday cooking. (King Arthur also offers a wickedly tempting catalogue of staff-tested equipment and provisions--check it out!)
This book already lives on my kitchen counter, rather in the bookcases. There's no higher praise than that.
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on January 10, 2004
If you need a fantastic baking book on how to bake virtually everything, then this is the book for you!
Most cookbooks out there fail to mention little things that are extremely important in a recipe, such as sifting flour, using eggs that are at room temperature, which type of oil to use etc. Most cookbook authors either know this information and figure you do too, or the author does not know these techniques and those recipes in those books are not all they could be. And most cookbook buyers know how to read a recipe, yet do not understand it.
King Arthur Flour is a company that has been in business for over 200 years. It is their business to know flour, and to understand how to use it. It is also to their benefit to educate their flour buyers in how to bake better, so they will be happier with the end product, and thus buy more flour and even recommend their flour to their friends. In their latest book: The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook they explain why you need to sift your flour (it adds air to the mixtures which aids in leavening), why French Toast bread should be stale, why you only fry in certain oils and much more. They also offer recipes for virtually everything; from breakfast foods to quick breads, from doughnuts to yeast breads, from cobblers to cookies and cakes, as well as pies and quiches. This book even offers a section on which kitchen tools are the best for your baking projects: from type of chocolates to pie pans. This is a must-read section for any baker.
This cookbook is designed for 90% of the cookbook buying population. This cookbook is fantastic as now you can understand what you are doing rather than just following directions. When you decide to make modifications to your recipes, now you will know what parameters you must maintain if you want your recipe to turn out. For example, almond oil will not work when frying doughnuts, as it has a very low smoke point.
For the price of this book, you get more than what you are paying for. This is an excellent book and should be a standard in any home that has any baking!
For added interest, King Arthur Flour offers free baking seminars across the country, as well as online classes.
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on November 10, 2003
THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR BAKER'S COMPANION is a delight, both as a book to read and enjoy, and as a cookbook. The slightly oversized pages allow for plenty of room for the well-laid out text. Ink and paper colors make it easy to read. The handful of photos is attractive and inspiring. Line drawings are well rendered and do a great job of illustrating techniques. Each recipe includes a short or not-so-short comment on the recipe from the King Arthur team. The comments are chatty and interesting enough that you may find yourself paging through the book, reading it for pleasure.
As a guidebook and manual, THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR BAKER'S COMPANION is excellent. The book is designed to make it easy to scan and plan. Each recipe tells you how much you'll make. Quantities of ingredients are given in both cups/teaspoons and in ounces. When a dish is made in distinct stages (such as crust and filling), both the ingredients and the instructions are separately labeled. Each recipe also -- though you may not want to know! -- gives very complete nutritional information (calories; grams of fat, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, and fiber; mg of cholesterol and sodium; vitamins and minerals).
Like THE JOY OF COOKING, THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR BAKER'S COMPANION includes long sections that talk about the basics, in addition to great specific recipes. I am comfortable with the basics of making piecrust. I read their section on basic piecrusts and it was very solid information. I was so inspired that I decided to step out and try a variation, the Long Flake Method. The instructions were very clear and easy to understand and follow. It was like having a master baker there to give you great bits of advice like "Give your chilled dough 10-15 minutes to warm since you made it with all butter." My biggest challenge was believing that my dough should look as it did, as this method calls for visible pieces of fat in the dough. I gave in, followed the directions, and got a wonderfully flaky piecrust. To fill the crust, I used their recipe for The Best Apple Pie. It was delicious. They suggested a bit of rum, which gave this old favorite an exciting new twist. Things were going so well that I also tried their recipe for a streusel topping, and ended up with a fabulous, beautiful apple pie. I got an enthusiastic thumbs up (and clean plate) from my husband and positive reviews from a baker friend that tried it.
To address a possible concern you may have: While the King Arthur company sells excellent baking ingredients and tools, you would never know that from reading this book. There are no dicussions of the best ingredients and gadgets and how you can get them from King Arthur. There are no references to brand names, and no ingredients that you can only get from a specialty supplier. The King Arthur team is a class act. (And by the way, I have bought some of their spices. mixes and tools, and all have been excellent.)
THE KING ARTHUR FLOUR BAKER'S COMPANION is a book that you can read and enjoy. I recommend taking it into the kitchen and using it. The results will be delicious!
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on October 19, 2003
I identify with this innovative title: "Baker's Companion."
And it truly is, organized into thirteen chapters: breakfasts; fried doughs; quick breads; buckles, cobblers and crisps; crackers and flatbreads; yeast breads; sourdough; cookies and bars; cakes; pies, tarts and quiches; pastry and viennoiseries; ingredients; and tools. In addition, there are essential notes on measuring, and high-altitude baking.
This being a renown ingredients supplier, one is especially pleased at the outstanding "ingredients" chapter, filled with great history and practical hints on not only flours, but fats and leavens and spices, et al.
There is just a plethora of fine recipes here for exploration: especially am I attracted to such as "Croissants de Boulanger"; Strawberry-Lemon Chess Pie; Panzanella; Apple and Walnut-Maple Cobbler; besides all the wonderful breads.
Should be invaluable aid to all who enjoy baking, either the serious baker as well as the gourmet chef who dabble in baking once in a while as well.
Truly well done and worthy on cooks shelves.
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on September 19, 2003
Having loved the original King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, I anxiously awaited my copy of the new Baker's Companion. And a wonderful 'companion' it is! Novice and expert bakers will enjoy the many tips, descriptions, discussions and suggestions for producing baked goods. At 640 pages, there are a LOT of them too! As a New Englander, I loved the chapter on Buckles, Cobblers and Crisps. I can attest that a warm piece of Blueberry Buckle is just the perfect start to the day.
I was pleased to see that nutritional information is provided for each recipe. Surprisingly, there are lots of recipes that don't fall in the category of 'diet buster'. To be sure, there are plenty that do, but a little hedonism once in awhile makes weight watching a little less stressful.
The recipes are simple and straightforward. These are creations that many of us grew up with or have sampled. The ingredients are easy to find and the directions are so straightforward that you may want to get the kids to help. Each chapter begins with some background on the topic and may include special tools or techniques and how to use them. This is a great gift idea for newlyweds or for the kids who have left the nest. It answers most, if not all of the questions that arise when you venture into the kitchen to prepare what many people consider the best part of the meal: dessert. But it is not merely a dessert book. Breakfast fare, yeast and quick breads, flatbreads and crackers are thoroughly discussed as well as the requisite chapters on cookies, cakes, pies and pastries.
I really appreciate cookbooks that not only provide recipes but instruct, explain and in general, broaden your knowledge of the subject. The Baker's Companion succeeds on all is a great reference. I like it a will too!
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on October 1, 2003
I grew up with Joy of Cooking and still have my first copy. There are many books to choose from, but as a broad range pick, this volume has surpassed the Joy. It is enjoyable to read as well as being informative in a way a true beginner can use to start baking right away. I found the format to be quite user friendly and it passed my "fiasco" test..what happens when preparing a recipe without making sure all ingredients are at hand. Every time I pick it up for some armchair baking, I learn something new and I've been baking for over 40 years. I appreciate this in a cookbook. I will definitely be giving this as a gift to my mother and my daughter-in-law [when my son ever decides to settle down!] I feel this book shows a lot of time and effort on the part of King Arthur/PJ Hamel and their employee-owners and that they have succeeded in creating an excellent book for the beginner as well as the experienced baker.
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on October 14, 2003
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is an "all-purpose baking cookbook" collecting over 450 recipes showcasing some of the most delicious creations time, energy, flour, and a "will to bake" can make. Each individual recipe, ranging from Gingerbread Pancakes, to Brioche (a rich yeast bread), to Almond Stollen, and more, comes prefaced with a brief aside concerning the history and tradition of the baked good. Highly recommended for personal and community library cookbook collections, The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is far more than merely just another recipe book; it also offers a wealth of information about the history and usage of wheats, malts, herbs, spices, and more.
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