I was delighted to find this book since, a few weeks ago, I looked through all my many books on baking for a simple cupcake recipe and I could find but one true cupcake recipe. And this was with a cake recipe on which I was not keen. I was doubly surprised to find not a single decent cupcake recipe at the Food Network web side at the time.
Upon reading this book, the first thing which struck me was that it was as much or more a craft book than it was a book on baking. The first clue is that the publisher specializes in craft books. It is not one of those major cookbook houses like Knopf, Clarkson Potter, Wiley, or even Ten Speed Press. The next clue is that the author's previous books are all on craft topics such as decorating with lights, gel candles, silk flowers, and scarecrows. The story becomes clearer when it is evident that the name on the front cover, Ms. Marcianne Miller, is probably much more a collector and editor of ideas than an author, let alone a baker. Among the fourteen (14) `Contributing Designers' names at the end of the book, her name appears last. A minority of the thirteen other individuals named and profiled here are professional bakers. Most are amateurs whose main vocation is in the arts, crafts, or non-baking part of the food service industry.
All this is to make the impression on you, dear reader, that this book is less about baking cupcakes than it is about baking AND DECORATING cupcakes. This is not to say this is a poor book. Just the opposite is true. This is a very good little book on baking AND DECORATING cupcakes.
The book begins, as expected, with basic baking. On this matter, the book is brief, but flawless in giving you the essentials of cupcake baking. As part of this introduction, it describes silicone muffin pans and mini-bundt pans, neither of which have I taken much notice until I saw them here. The section on basics includes an extremely useful instruction on how to convert all but sponge cake recipes into a cupcake recipe, based on the size of cake pan for which the recipe is scaled. The introduction continues with basic instructions on frosting and icing and how to use piping bags and other decorating equipment. The most important information in the intro is the three basic cupcake recipes for Classic White, Easy Yellow, and Chocolate Buttermilk cupcakes. This is followed by three basic recipes for classic buttercream, ivory buttercream, and cream cheese frostings.
Each of the remaining thirty-six main sections are a pairing of a cake recipe with a topping or decorating technique. Most of the cake recipes are familiar, but some such as the key lime tarts and the chocolate truffle cupcakes are quite a pleasant surprise. Not every section introduces a new cake, but every section does introduce a new decorating style, technique, or topping. Some of the toppings are borrowed from well-known standards such as a Maple Walnut Streusel and white chocolate roses. Many other toppings are elaborate. Some are elaborate in the extreme such as the chocolate domes which are worthy of a major pastry talent such as Jaques Torres or Pierre Herme.
The cupcake styling chapters are interspersed with sidebar sections on special techniques and ingredients such as baking with nuts, baking with fruit, fruit glazes, baking with spices, small decorative touches, and decorative sugars. I found no deep insights, or even any new facts in these sidebars, but they were often assuring me that my experience was not taking me off in the wrong direction.
If, like me, your primary interest is in baking and not in crafting, you will probably get your money's worth from the cake, frosting, and icing recipes. If you are primarily a craft person, you will get the straight scoop on the baking and lots of ideas for show-off decorations.
As a sturdy hard cover book for less than twenty dollars list, this book is a worthy addition to your library, as long as you have the need to make cupcakes, especially for kids, at least three or four times a year. The only thing the authors overlooked was to provide at least one cupcake suggestion for each major holiday where a cupcake might be an appropriate dessert such as New Years Eve, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Halloween, Christmas, and a child's birthday. I guess you will have to rely on Martha Stewart for this.
Highly recommended if you have the time and inclination to do fancy cupcakes.