The best general book on baked goods out there. THE GOOD: The recipes -- as with all Cooks Illustrated books, the people at America''s Test Kitchens have tried every variation reasonably possible to come up with baked goods that taste the best to a...
The best general book on baked goods out there.
The recipes -- as with all Cooks Illustrated books, the people at America''s Test Kitchens have tried every variation reasonably possible to come up with baked goods that taste the best to a majority of people and don''t contain any wasted steps (such as macerating apples in sugar before baking them in a pie). For instance, for their cranberry nut bread, which is one of the most delicious baked goods I''ve ever tried, they experimented with different sweeteners (sugar, brown sugar, orange juice, etc.), different liquids (milk, buttermilk, yoghurt) and various leveners, all to come up with a moist, not-too-sweet, flavorful treat.
The organization -- the book is organized into types of baked goods: quick breads, yeast breads, cakes, pies and tarts, cookies, etc. Each section has an index that lists the recipes in that section plus the variations on each main recipe. For example, under apple pie, there are varations for apple-cranberry, apple-bluberry, apple-ginger and so on.
The pictures -- there aren''t a lot of pictures, but the ones ther e are are gorgeous and inspiring.
The illustrations -- there are myriad illustrations showing how to do such things as line a baking pan to make removal of bar cookies clean and easy, how to roll out pie dough, how to toast nuts, etc. These illustrations help make the instructions particularly easy to follow and show how to simplify complicated baking steps. Easily the best thing about this book.
The instructions -- amounts are given in both volume (cups) and weight (ounces) so that bakers with scales can use the most precise measurements but that bakers without scales can use the recipes, too. Everything is crystal clear, including decriptions for how to tell when something is done by how the dessert looks and behaves, so that you don''t have to worry so much about whether your oven is exactly the same as the ones the authors used. Instructions run from purchasing items all the way through to slicing.
The tips -- plenty of useful tips on ingredients, which equipment works the best for each task (down to brand names) and which is the best value, to how to prepare, shop, store and work with different pieces of equipment and ingredients.
The summaries -- some people don''t care about all the things the authors tried, but there is a summary for each recipe if you''re interested, and it helps to explain why to use certain ingredients and when you can substitute, which helps one to become a better baker all around and eventually lets you personalize the recipes to suit your taste, not to mention helping you learn to create your own. This eliminates a slew of baking errors as they tell you what not to do as well as what works. But you can just as easily ignore the summaries and follow the recipes alone.
It would have been nice had they included some non-baked desserts , such as ice cream. The ice cream recipes in The New Best Recipe are fantastic, but they would make sense in a book that has so many desserts that go well with ice cream. Also, you won''t find anything fancy here -- the recipes are for pretty basic items, although anything basic you want is probably in here, with the possible exception of an all-butter pie crust, which is inexplicably left out. You only get items that the authors think are the easiest and best all-around for the category. In any event, since other bakers aren''t always as thorough in trying out recipes, when I want to make something fancy, I find it helpful to consult Baking Illustrated for techniques and ingredients so that I can intelligently change recipes from other cookbooks that don''t quite work.
This book has a shocking number of significant typos and inconsistencies. Two examples: The recipe for basic pie dough calls for twice as much shortening as is correct. After making a gooey mess, I double-checked the recipe in The New Best Recipe and in Cooks Illustrated online, and found that Baking Illustrated indeed contains a typo -- the amount of shortening should be 1/2 cup, not 1 cup. In the recipe for Pecan Bars, the crust calls for 1/4 cup of pecans, and the filling for 2 cups, but in the instructions for the filling it says to add the remaing 1 3/4 cups. Thankfully I have a subscription to Cooks Illustrated online (a fantastic website), so I could confirm that the 1 3/4 cups was correct. (As an aside, the recipe online calls for the same ingredients as in the book, but with an entirely different technique).
In short, this is a great book other than the sloppy editing job and is highly recommended for both beginning and experienced bakers.