Updates August '08: Just wanted to reiterate how successful these recipes are. Since my first review, I've baked several more cakes, a couple of tarts, and the brioche (of 3 versions I've tried, by far my favorite, better than the version in Baking with Julia). This book has a large section of bavarian style cakes, and I credit the authors for this becoming my very favorite type of cake. I've tried the passion fruit-lime cake and also the strawberry bavarian, and they came out so delicious, light, ethereal even. The lemon curd recipe is also delicious. This is my go-to baking book now, especially for cakes. The recipes really highlight quality, fresh ingredients, and they're never overly sweet or fussy. In addition to the weddings cakes (mentioned below), I've brought Tartine cakes to friends, family, and the office, and--assuming they are being honest--everyone says they are among the best they've had. I believe them because I agree, and I give full credit to the authors for that.
One note, however, is that the basic cake recipes produce more batter than needed to fill the pan. For me, this usually means a 6-inch cake for the freezer, which is a treat.
Usually I try not to review any book until I've cooked at least 3 recipes from it (which is often 3 more recipes than some of the highly-ranked cookbook reviewers around here try). Technically, I've only prepared 2 from this book: croissants and tres leches cake. However, that cake involved the recipe for a coconut chiffon cake, caramel, and vanilla pastry cream, in addition to the syrup and cream for assembling the final cake. That, coupled with the intricate nature of the croissant recipe, gives me enough evidence to say that this is an excellent baking book, a great addition to any baker's collection.
I've tried croissants before, struggled with the technique, and failed to approximate the taste of a good, buttery, proper croissant. I followed the detailed instructions here exactly, and I got exactly what I want. My French husband approved, and my mom and sister and I ate them up far too quickly. The dough wasn't easy, but it made a true croissant. I especially like Tartine's extra touch of baking them a little darker than most other recipes.
As for the tres leches cake, I'll say nothing as to its authenticity, since I wouldn't really know. As far as the recipe, though, it's utterly manageable: instructions and measurements are accurate and clear. The results: absolutely delicious, maybe the best non-chocolate cake I've made. The coconut chiffon is moist and tender, and the coconut syrup, caramel, and vanilla pastry cream make it so moist, flavorful, and satisfying. Another touch I liked was the small touch of lemon juice in the caramel. I haven't made it before, but I don't recall this as a standard addition in recipes I've seen. But it was definitely worth eating with a spoon. Probably a dozen or more people sampled this cake over the weekend, and they all loved it.
I look forward to trying the devil's food cake and the brioche, and I'm confident that they'll turn out as well as what I've made so far.
I also tried the devil's food cake recipe (Which includes recipes for the cake, caramel, ganache). It was a bit involved, but the directions were again very clear and spot on: I knew what to look for and even my first try came out great. I ended up making about 4 batches of the recipe and using it for my brother's grooms cake. Had raves from dozens of people.
Also, ended up using the tres leches chiffon cake for part of the brides cake, which also got tons of great feedback.
I look forward to working through this book even further.