The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book (Prais for the Cook's Illustrated) Hardcover – 1 Oct 2013
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About the Author
This book has been tested, written, and edited by the test cooks, editors, food scientists, tasters, and cookware specialists at America s Test Kitchen, a 2,500-square-foot kitchen located just outside Boston. It is the home ofCook s Illustratedmagazine andCook s Countrymagazine, the public television cooking showsAmerica s Test KitchenandCook s Country from America s Test Kitchen, America s Test Kitchen Radio, and the online America s Test Kitchen Cooking School."
Top Customer Reviews
I consider myself an experienced home baker. I own upwards of 50 baking books alone, along with an arsenal of professional bakeware that I use regularly, so I was very happy to review The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. It takes a noble stab at introducing the reader to most major categories of baking, including quick breads, yeast breads, cookies, brownies / bar cookies, cakes (chiffon, angel food, pound, Bundt, fruit, layer), fruit desserts, pies and tarts, quiches, pastry, and baked custards, puddings and soufflés.
Beginning with the basics, you'll find a great illustrated guide to baking ingredients, including how to measure and store sugar, butter temperatures (including what butter should "look like" at the various temperature points of chilled, softened, and melted and cooled), and chocolate. There's a good breakdown of the advantages / disadvantages of the major types of bakeware (tempered glass, dark finishes, insulated, cast iron, silicone), and ten tips for better baking.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book is well bound. It is obviously heavy--you'll be using both hands and probably your lap if you carry this to bed for a little late night studying. It also stays open well on its own if you cook without a cookbook stand. The recipes are written in the well-known Cook's Illustrated style which includes a handy few paragraphs preceding each recipe on what makes the recipe work so well for the home cook whether that be using room temperature butter or whipping egg whites in a copper bowl. It's the basic science of the recipe that is covered in these introductions without getting too technical if that turns off the home cook. Many of the recipes also have some cooking techniques illustrated in the simple but easy to understand black and white line drawings that many readers are accustomed to seeing in the magazine. The index seems to be well cross-referenced and easy to use. Some may find the font in this book on the small side although I had no problems with it.
I enjoyed the beginning chapter on Baking Basics. It educates beginning cooks or simply curious cooks on the virtues of ingredients and cookware using one and two page spreads. A total of four pages just on the particulars of the types of butter and chocolate and the most useful home techniques associated with using them better in your kitchen? Sure, count me in.
I must sing the praises of this book's recipe for No-Knead Brioche. It was a breeze to prepare although I tend to be a little ham-handed when making breads. My husband can eat a loaf per day when I make it, and I tell people that it's "almost a croissant in loaf form". I also particularly enjoy the Marbled Blueberry Bundt Cake. The lemon and blueberry compote that I made to swirl through the cake batter was well-balanced and rich and almost ingenious in it's use of pectin. Every single time I've ever made it, I've had friends looking at me with doe eyes begging for the recipe. The Chewy Brownies recipe has officially ended my search for a home recipe that tastes as moist and fudgy as a boxed brownie. My spouse says that he doesn't care if I ever make another kind of brownie again. The Cinnamon Babka dough was a bit more fragile than I would have liked it to be when I twisted it, but even with my overzealous handling, it turned out to be quite good. We also are now eschewing other cinnamon bun recipes in favor of this book's Quick Cinnamon Bun recipe. It was amazing how soon we were able to enjoy cinnamon buns without laboring for half a day in the kitchen. The buttermilk icing was slightly too tart so we will likely use whole milk for our next try.
The most frequent complaint I hear about Cook's Illustrated books is that they recycle recipes from one book to the next. This is definitely true of this book. While I do not own the 2004 Baking Illustrated by them, I do have a copy of their 2011 Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. In checking the index of both under "bananas", I see overlap for Ultimate Banana Bread, Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream Pie, Banana Walnut Muffins, Banana and Nutella Crepes, as well as German Chocolate Cake with Banana, Macademia, and Coconut filling. A quick comparison of "Bar" Desserts in the two books yields similar results and then again with a cross-comparison of "Blueberries". If you already own books by Cook's Illustrated, you may not want this book.
I would also like to point out that there are no color photographs in the book. I do not normally care about complaints or reviews regarding photographs in cookbooks, but in a book this large and well made (and knowing how beautiful my recipe results have been at home), I will concede that it is a shame to use big black and white photographs of the recipes. If you are curious if there are photos for each recipe, no there aren't. I think dessert is all about excess, and in a book like this, stark and dreary black and whites just seem like a cop out, a cost saving measure.
My bottom line? It's a good, dependable dessert book. Ere on the side of caution if you already own Cook's Illustrated books. If full color and decadent photographs are important to you, pass on this book. Otherwise, enjoy some remarkably great food at home because these recipes really do deliver.
What's remarkable about it is how much has changed about what's fashionable in cooking trends in only nine years. The old book came before Jim Lahey's bread, something that radically changed home bread baking; accordingly, ATK's almost no-knead bread appears here. Their vodka-mediated pie dough appears here as well as their laminated blueberry scones. In other words, this book basically includes all the best work that they've done since the original book came out. It's a beautiful book, too; although the black-and-white photographs might be a bit off-putting to some people, there's plenty of how-to diagrams, sidebars, and callouts to get information across effectively.
But... there's that four-star rating, you ask. Well... first off, Baking Illustrated contained a lot of information on how the recipes were developed, as you would expect from a Best Recipe book. This is not a Best Recipe book, so all you have are the basic descriptions of the science involved. Also, there's a few rather odd omissions. For one thing, no recipe for almond macarons -- coconut macaroons, sure, but the almond cookies are sufficiently popular that their absence is strange. And there's no sign of their cream cheese-based open-faced pie crust, or (as far as I can tell) grilled pizza. Not doing this as part of the Best Recipe series where it properly belongs was probably a big mistake from an editorial standpoint.
So... this is a very good book, but it screams "missed opportunity" so much that it can't possibly be a great one. You will probably love it, but if you already have Baking Illustrated and some of their more recent general recipe collections, you don't really need it, which is kind of a damn shame. (If you're into food photography, however, this is a must-buy no matter how many other ATK books you have -- you will never see a better example of black and white food photography anywhere, ever.)
I was surprised that I didn't find anything new or unusual in the way of recipes in the pages of The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book. These are the sort of recipes that have appeared in every baking book published in the US for the last 50 years or more - Blueberry Muffins, Oatmeal Cookies, Chocolate Sheet Cake, Cherry Pie - and there are some prominent omissions. There is, for example, no section at all on holiday baking. No recipe for Pavlova, which has become a classic here in the US. No recipe for the beautifully colored and filled French-style Macarons that have become so popular, a recipe everyone is dying to learn.
Reading a recipe from Cook's or America's Test Kitchen can be a bit of a chore. They tend to go on and on and on blathering about what they changed in the classic recipe to make things "better" and the "science" (sometimes highly inaccurate) behind it all, but I persevered. . . and way too many things looked familiar from other Cook's/ATK books in my collection. I began to notice clues in the way the recipes were written that in a cheap Kindle "cookbook" would send me out trawling the internet for the source of the recipes. At that point, I ordered a used copy of Baking Illustrated, the 2004 Cook's baking book. To my surprise, all of the pen & ink drawings that appear in The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book were previously published in Baking Illustrated. Most of the tips and even most of the recipes are the same, though the ingredients list in the newer "versions" of the recipes has sometimes been re-ordered from the way it appears in the 2004 version. There is so much duplicative material in The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book that it really should be named "Baking Illustrated, Revised" rather than given an entirely new name, leading to the impression that it is an entirely new book. Sadly, the color illustrations that appear in 2004's Baking Illustrated, as well as the 16 page (135-150) color section of Common Baking Problems and How To Avoid Them have been entirely omitted from this new version.
It has become my habit to test & report on three recipes from each major cookbook that I review unless a number of them are recipes that I have previously tried and The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book, with their tendency to "improve" things, is no exception. Having just returned from the farm with a big bag of fresh local cranberries and recently acquired a gorgeous, heavy popover pan, I've spent the last couple of days having a bake-a-thon featuring Cranberry Nut Bread (pg. 22), Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake (pg. 309) and Popovers (pg. 63) Here's what I found.
TEST RECIPE 1 - CRANBERRY NUT BREAD
Cranberry Bread has been a fall favorite of mine since I was quite a little girl, something I've been turning out every Thanksgiving for more than fifty years, so I was interested to see how Cook's recipe compared to mine. Using more orange zest and buttermilk as part of the liquid instead of the all orange juice than I use, as well as markedly fewer cranberries and nuts, this version of Cranberry Nut Bread had a much more pronounced orange flavor than my standard recipe does, almost to the point that it should be called Orange Bread with Cranberries and Nuts rather than Cranberry Nut Bread. While I won't be substituting this recipe for mine anytime soon, the bread turned out well, the directions were easy to follow and I certainly wouldn't be ashamed to feature this on my Thanksgiving table.
TEST RECIPE 2 - SIMPLE CHOCOLATE SHEETCAKE
Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake is exactly what it says - a chocolate cake baked in a 9x13 pan, then frosted with a Milk Chocolate Buttercream frosting. The finished cake is good, though not spectacular, and more than a bit crumby due to the use of baking soda rather than baking powder as the sole rising agent. It is more than a bit expensive to make, requiring 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate (two bars these days) as well as Dutch Process cocoa for the cake plus another 10 ounces of milk chocolate for the frosting. The frosting was a real hit with my daughter and son-in-law, though too sweet and not chocolate-y enough for my tastes. Were I to make that frosting again (and I might) I would use a semi-sweet rather than milk chocolate.
This is a recipe that also appears in the older Baking Illustrated, where you will find it on pages 342-343 as just "Chocolate Sheet Cake" and a separately titled "Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting." The recipes themselves are identical. It was in the rather lengthy blurb to the 2004 version of this recipe that the game was given away. On page 342 editors write
"The recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter, 4 eggs, 1 1/2 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Our first change was to add buttermilk, baking powder and baking soda to lighten the batter, as the cake had been dense and chewy in its original form."
Well THAT is hardly a surprise! As you may know, cocoa can be substituted for part or even all of the flour in cake recipes. A closer examination of the recipe that they give as the "original" shows this to be nothing other than my old standby 1234 Cake with cocoa substituted for part of the flour - and the baking powder required for the cake to rise entirely omitted! When you omit the rising agent you get a dense, chewy cake!
Points on a scale of 10? 4 for the cake itself - I have had far better chocolate cakes - and 7 tops for the frosting. (My daughter and son-in-law would probably give the frosting a 9.)
TEST RECIPE 3 - THE GREAT POPOVER WAR!
Popovers are dear to my heart. In my late teen years my dear Grandma would often produce a "little lunch" for us to share on her porch when I came to visit. Frequently, the "little lunch" was a pan of popovers that we would eat hot from the oven, dripping with butter and her homemade strawberry jam. As it happens, not a week before The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book arrived I found a gorgeous popover pan while out shopping. Popovers are much more do-able now that I cook for 3 or 4 at the most, rather than the multitudes, so the pan came home with me and Popovers went onto my Test list.
I found the recipe for Popovers included in The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book drastically different than any other Popover recipe I had seen - or for that matter any of the Dutch Baby Pancakes and Yorkshire Pudding recipes that are so closely related that I've come across. This one calls for bread flour instead of all-purpose, then a waiting time to allow the gluten to relax. It calls for low fat milk "for a higher rise". Unlike most, it includes sugar and the baking times have been dramatically fiddled with. Curious as to whether those changes would really make a substantial difference, I decided that I would have a Popover War and headed off to the Food Network to fetch Alton Brown's 5-Star Popover recipe.
Alton's recipe calls for whole milk, 1 tablespoon butter and all purpose flour. No sugar. He uses room temperature ingredients, half-fills the popover cups and bakes his popovers at 400F for 40 minutes.
The recipe included in The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book calls for bread flour, low fat milk, 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of sugar to promote browning. Cook's fills their popover pan cups nearly to the top, then bakes their Popovers at 400F for 20 minutes, then they reduce the heat to 300F for a further 35-40 minutes, after which they remove the popovers long enough to poke a hole in each one and then continue to bake for a further 10 minutes for a total oven time of 65-70 minutes.
Both recipes call for eggs and both make six popovers.
In Round 1 of my Popover War, I filled three of the six cups of my popover pan with Alton's batter (halfway, as directed) and three with Cook's batter (nearly to the top as specified) and then I baked them straight up at 400F for 40 minutes per Alton's instructions. The Cook's popovers were twice the size of Alton's - but they started with twice as much batter. I also noted that the top edge was just very slightly over brown, probably due to the sugar.
In Round 2, I filled the popover pan exactly as before and then baked them off according to the Cook's instructions - 20 minutes at 400F, 35 minutes at 300F, then a further 10 after you poke a hole in them.
RESULTS - The popovers were nearly indistinguishable other than by size, no matter which way I baked them. While it is good to know that I can substitute the more expensive bread flour for all-purpose by resting the batter and that if low-fat milk is all I have in the house I can still turn out a good popover by increasing the amount of butter, I much preferred the straight-forward method and much lower energy cost of Alton's recipe.
A COUPLE OF FINAL NOTES -
You might have noticed that I mentioned Dutch Baby Pancakes in connection with Popovers up above. If you're not familiar with a Dutch Baby, it is a giant, eggy "pancake", usually with a fruit filling, that is baked in a skillet - gorgeous in cast iron! The beautifully puffed and browned bowl is then brought to the table straight from the oven. These are dead simple to make, ridiculously inexpensive to produce (one pancake will easily serve 6) and spectacular to look at - a real show stopper. I was absolutely flabbergasted to see that Cook's flips their version, German Apple Pancake (pg.90-92), out of the pan onto a serving dish! What a waste! Its like turning the stunning soufflé out onto a platter! Just criminal.
I have very few pet peeves when it comes to cookbooks, but forcing me to do unnecessary kitchen math by using non-standard units of measurement is top of the list! For some odd reason, despite the long standing convention of expressing tablespoons of butter in excess of 3 as fractions of a cup, Cook's persists in noting their butter measurements in tablespoons, no matter how many there are. I do not appreciate having to stop and consider just how many sticks of butter I need to take out of the fridge.
Grandma's $0.02 - Recipes included in The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book are the sort that you will find in most general baking books, not particularly unique. Further, so very many of them have been previously published, both in other books from the same company and in their 2004 Baking Illustrated that this really should be considered a revision rather than a new publication and clearly labeled as such. I would be mad enough to spit if I already owned Baking Illustrated and got The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book only to find it mostly a duplicate. There is very little that is new here.
Not All That. Your call.
If you're curious about which recipes the Baking Book has that the Cookbook doesn't have, they include:
several granola recipes
Ultimate cinnamon buns
Peanut butter sandwich cookies
French apple cake
Chocolate pound cake
Ultimate carrot layer cake (though the Cookbook has a carrot cake recipe)
Chocolate espresso dacquoise
Lemon chiffon pie
Mushroom and leek galette with gorgonzola
Butternut squash galette with gruyere
So, for me, it's a no-brainer that the Cookbook is the one to buy. That doesn't mean the Baking Book isn't good, though, and that's all down to the America's Test Kitchen approach.
I was visiting family recently and showed my brother-in-law, a computer hardware guy, how to make an upside-down apple pie. It was an easy-to-make recipe that I thought he'd enjoy. (No, it's not from this book, but there is a point to this story, I promise.) After we'd made the pie twice over the course of a couple of weeks, he rewrote the recipe in a way that made more sense to his way of thinking about things. He made sure everything was in chronological order and he was much more detailed than the recipe I had; he specified which level the oven rack should be on, exactly how thin to slice the apples, and so on.
When I got home, I realized that an America's Test Kitchen cookbook was exactly the approach that would appeal to my brother-in-law. Recipes explain small differences in technique and how they affect results, illustrations help clarify exactly how certain steps should be tackled, and a recipe's steps are given in a thorough level of detail. So I got him the Cookbook as a thank-you gift. He called last week to tell me how much he's been enjoying it.
But back to the Baking Book. Baking doesn't mean just sweets in this case. There are also savory recipes, like pizza, quiche and other savories. But the sweet stuff predominates and that means hundreds of great recipes for cookies, pies, cakes, custards, pastries, breads, rolls, and on and on. And the book begins with 17 pages of tips and information about ingredients, equipment and techniques.
As is the norm with ATK cookbooks, the Baking Book's recipes are very detailed, as is its indexing, and there are numerous illustrations. If you're familiar with the ATK approach, you know that there are never color photographs. I don't feel the lack of color when I use an ATK cookbook, but some may.
What this book is good for is gathering the recipes that are baked and putting all the information for instructions in one book.
It is surprising, that the whole book including the cover is in black and white. It is a heavy book with about 450 recipes and many line drawings for instructional purposes. There are the usual thorough hints and tips.
It is a bit off putting in my opinion, for both experienced and inexperienced cooks to have baking compared to the Apollo space missions and here they are trying to convince the reader than anyone can bake? Information is given on the selection, and care of ingredients and equipment, although surprisingly there are no hints for storing and keeping yeast.
We are told why the recipe works and there are some alternatives to some of the recipes.
The book contains recipes for: quick breads, muffins, biscuits and scones, sweet rolls, doughnuts and coffee cakes, yeasted rolls and loaves, pizza and focaccia, cookies, brownies and bars, snack cakes and fruit cakes, chiffon cakes, angel food, pound cakes, and bundt cakes, layer cakes, fruit desserts and crepes, pies and tarts, savory tarts and quiches, pastry and baked custards, puddings and soufflés.
The recipes are very good. Our family really enjoyed the New York style crumb cake and the rosemary focaccia.
As long as I have cooked I still found some tips that I could use, including a new method to season cast iron pans. I hesitate to use their method of keeping maple syrup warm, by serving it in a coffee carafe. If it has been used, even if cleaned it would probably still impart a coffee taste. Some tasks that really needed illustrating are not, such as Parker House rolls, there are probably many, especially new cooks who have no idea what they look like and then there are some confusing directions for using your oven as a proof box. It left me uncertain if you just used boiling water for heat and moisture or did you turn on the oven.
This is a good baking book. It could have been better and more of what I expect and want from America's Test Kitchen.