Reviewer says
Cake Love, Warren Brown | 2008 | US

reviewed by Sarah

Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch
by Warren Brown
Publisher: Stewart Tabori & Chang, Country: US
ISBN: 9782584796626, Year: 2008
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch, provides a wide range of recipes from Warren Brown’s famous Cake Love bakery. Brown takes a scientific approach to cake baking, being a self-taught baker who learned through trial and error. The recipes range from basics to unusual. For beginners, all the standard recipes are included, from frostings to pound cakes to fillings, as well as comprehensive instructions and information on basic baking techniques and equipment. The level of detail in his instructions tends to be excessive in parts, which is useful for beginners, but can be convoluted and distracting for experienced bakers. However, more advanced bakers will appreciate his original creations, such as Triple Lime-Chocolate Crunchy Feet, Cranberry-Lemon Pound Cake Loaded with Chocolate or Hazelnut Sponge Cake.

Full review

Warren Brown is not very well known outside the USA, where he commands a loyal following with his wildly successful Cake Love bakeries in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. Brown’s story is a compelling one – he left a high-flying career in law to pursue his passion of baking cakes. Since opening the first Cake Love in 2002, his bakeries have gone from strength to strength – due in part, to some opportune endorsements – in addition to a feature on Tyler’s Ultimate, Cake Love has been featured on Oprah, The Today Show and People Magazine.

Cake Love: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch is true to its title. The chapters are set out in the following logical order.

Introduction
Pound Cakes
Butter Cakes
Foam Cakes (i.e. whipped sponge cakes)
Frostings and Glazes
Fillings
Meringues
Cake Assembly
Conversion Charts
References and Resources
Acknowledgements
Index

It is 224 pages long and the size of a typical coffee-table book, making it comprehensive, but not at all intimidating for beginner bakers. Most recipes are accompanied by a picture and caption, with some smaller pictures to illustrate certain steps in detail. The bright colours and clear, simply styled pictures would make this an attractive gift.

Recipes for many of Cake Love’s popular and original frosted layer cakes are included – Sassy (orange, mango and cayenne-pepper), Mojito, Mr Banana Legs and so on. Interestingly flavoured cupcakes and crunchy feet (un-iced mini bundt cakes) also feature strongly. However, for the most part, Brown is not too prescriptive about flavour combinations. The book includes a wide range of basic recipes, such as vanilla pound cake, ganache and chocolate sponge cake. These basic cake and frosting recipes are presented as stand-alone recipes, with suggestions of what goes well together, and the reader is encouraged to mix and match. Brown’s passion and enthusiasm are contagious, and you can’t help but want to don an apron and start baking.

Interspersed throughout the recipes are short, helpful paragraphs explaining certain methods and ingredients in more detail, such as “Melting Chocolate” and “Cinnamon”. In addition to these are little random paragraphs, including “When Do I Eat Cake Love?” and “Curb Unnecessary Fat”, which explain how cake can be incorporated into a balanced diet. These paragraphs seem out of place in the book, almost apologising for the decadence of Cake Love cakes. I don’t need to be told when I should eat cake, or how often. It is a clearly a baking book, not a diet book.

Being a completely self-taught baker, Brown’s methods and recipe conventions differ from most classic baking books. For example, in the ingredients list of each recipe he groups the ingredients by function – e.g. dry, liquid, creaming. This makes sense, as Brown encourages the reader to organise all ingredients before beginning to cook. However, for intermediate to experienced bakers who are used to ingredients being listed in order of usage, this convention can be quite distracting.

Ingredients are all listed in US measurements, and although he stresses that measuring by weight is far more accurate than measuring by volume, cup measures are also included in brackets. Brown also includes variations in quantity required for high-altitude baking. Whilst I’m sure this distinction is helpful for bakers in high-altitude conditions, the way in which the ingredients and amounts are listed out is quite convoluted, and scanning through the ingredients while baking is difficult.

For example:

extra-fine granulated sugar, 18 ounces (2 ¼ cups), or 16 ounces (2 cups) at high altitude

egg whites, ¾ cup, or ¾ cup + 1 ½ tablespoons at high altitude

Each cake recipe is 2-3 pages long, with steps explained in great, almost excessive detail. Take, for instance, the final step of the majority of the Foam Cakes, which stipulates how long it should take for a cake to get to room temperature, which utensil should be used to loosen the cakes from the tin, and even the surface upon which the cake should be inverted:

Cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before removing from the pans. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan. Place a cardboard cake circle or a flat plate over the pan and invert. Remove the parchment from the bottom. Assemble immediately or wrap the cakes tightly in plastic and store.

Similar is the almost redundant suggestion that cake be served “frosted with your choice of buttercream”, which follows almost every single cake recipe. These instructions seem unnecessary, especially considering that the introductory chapter and introduction to each chapter include very comprehensive information on ingredients, equipment and baking methods. The pound cake chapter itself has eight pages of explanations before you even get to a single recipe!

I am not sure if this excessive detail reflects cultural differences between US and other audiences, or if it is simply Brown’s way of explaining cake-baking to an audience who he assumes are inexperienced with baking, as he once was. Either way, the level of detail included in each recipe is meant to be helpful, but can make the actual baking process difficult – flipping back and forth between the pages and searching for the relevant points is no easy task with butter and sugar-coated hands.

Brown’s recipe style is difficult to navigate for experienced bakers, but becomes very useful when you are learning to make something for the very first time. Shortly after receiving Cake Love, I tried making his yellow butter cake with hazelnut crunch buttercream. The butter cake (something I have made many times before) turned out very badly, but the hazelnut buttercream, which involved many new techniques, was a resounding success.

Brown obviously has a sweet tooth – his pound cake recipes uses one and a half times more sugar than is standard. As a rule, American cake recipes are too sweet for my taste, so I pulled back on the sugar when baking the butter cake. I’m not sure if it was the reduced sugar content, or if I missed a step or an ingredient in amongst all those paragraphs, but the end result was poor.

When making the hazelnut crunch buttercream, however, I found the detailed step-by-step instructions were incredibly helpful. There are a lot of steps, and it is a complicated procedure. The buttercream is a German buttercream – i.e. pastry cream, whisked until cool, with butter added one tablespoon at a time. The milk used to make the pastry cream is heated with whole hazelnuts and left to steep, to infuse the hazelnut flavour. Particularly useful was Brown’s tip to cook the pastry cream “over medium heat until lava bubbles appear”, which gave me a cue as to the length of time the cream needed to be cooked.

Cake Love would make a fantastic gift for beginner bakers – Brown’s enthusiasm is inspiring, and his instructions provide a great starting point for those learning how to bake. His structured, almost scientific approach enables the motivated reader to mentally conceptualise the process of cake baking. For more experienced bakers, the format may well prove too detailed, but the wide variety of interesting, original recipes and flavour combinations make it well worth the investment.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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