The most recent cookbook I’ve obtained is All Cakes Considered, a book about cakes and baking written by NPR producer Melissa Gray. While the book probably appeals more to NPR nerds like myself, it’s still a nice enough book for relative beginners like me. The book focuses primarily on cake recipes (as well as frequent anecdotes about the NPR staff), but also has a great introduction for the lay-baker.
The book starts with a cake named “The Man Catcher” (that would be a guarantee that the cake will catch the man, not necessarily that you will), giving the reader the recipe, directions, and then an explanation of each technique (how to cream butter and sugar, how to prepare your pans, how to get your cake out of the pan). After technique descriptions, the book then spends some time describing the ingredients that go into a cake and what their purposes are (your fats, sugars, and leaveners).
These tips and more detailed information and are what attracted me most to this book (NPR nerditude aside). Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but I like understanding the inner-workings of my cake; knowing the hows of a cake (or anything you do or cook, for that matter) makes you a more versatile baker.
The book has a great variety of cake recipes, ranging from simplest to most difficult and littered with stories, tips, and NPR gossip. I’ve baked a few cakes from this book so far: the Tunnel of Fudge, Chocolate Pound Cake, Fresh Apple Cake, and the Naughty Senator (and the story to go with it), each with relative success. Being a fan of chocolate both the Tunnel of Fudge and Naughty Senator (a chocolate/mint marble) appealed to me and were more than edible, and I heard the same about the Fresh Apple Cake from my father (I made it for his birthday). Suffice to say, I didn’t screw anything up (hooray!).
Overall I like the book. There’s a lot more I’d like to do with it, but it supplies great recipes as well as background on how your baking actually works.