Rose’s Heavenly Cakes
by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Publisher: Wiley, Country: US
ISBN: 9780471781738, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is Rose Levy Beranbaum’s follow-up to the acclaimed The Cake Bible, with almost 100 cakes that aim to please a wide variety of tastes. Beranbaum’s meticulous style may please some well-equipped home bakers in a temperate climate, but others might find them too fastidious, controlling, limiting, and overly complicated for what are really supposed to be simple cakes. Frustratingly, even following the recipe to the letter can give results that still leave something to be desired.

Full review

Structure of the book

There are 101 main recipes in five chapters:
Butter and oil cakes (39 cakes)
Sponge cakes (19 cakes)
Mostly flourless cakes and cheesecakes (13 cakes)
Baby cakes (5 cupcakes, 4 financiers, 14 other mini or individual versions of cakes, brioche, and 3 frosting recipes)
Wedding cakes (6 cakes)
The remaining chapters include Special effects and techniques, Ingredients and Basic Recipes, Ingredients Sources, Equipment, Equipment Sources, and the index, with sections on which recipes use only either egg whites or yolks, and simple recipes.

About the author

Rose Levy Beranbaum is the award-winning author of nine cookbooks, including The Cake Bible, the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook of the Year for 1998. She is a contributing editor to Food Arts magazine. She also has a popular blog, realbakingwithrose.com.

Main Review

In this lavishly produced volume, Rose Levy Beranbaum once again asserts her position as queen of simple, American-style cakes. She shies away from exotic flavors and gives recipes for updated versions of old classics such as coconut cake (which has two versions, Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake and Southern Coconut Cake), Rose Red Velvet Cake, Devil’s Food Cake with Midnight Ganache, Banana Refrigerator Cake, and German Chocolate Cake. She also introduces her versions of classic European cakes such as Gateau Breton, Catalan Salt Pinch Cake, Hungarian Jancsi Torta, and English Gingerbread Cake. There is a particular abundance of chocolate cakes despite her admission of being weary of them (11 butter or oil cakes, including San Francisco pastry shop Miette’s “Tomboy”, 5 sponge cakes, 4 flourless cakes, 10 baby cakes, and 3 wedding cakes). Most of the cakes are familiar crowd-pleasers, and their presentations are simple and inviting. However, for fans of spring and summer flavors, this book may be a disappointment, with only around 9 cakes with fruits and flavors reflecting those seasons.

Rose’s Heavenly Cakes itself is very heavy, made of bright thick matte paper and stitch bound. Many recipes have full-page photographs that rely on the simple beauty of the cakes (though some pictures had me wondering what the point was of showing a giant unadorned slice of cake that looks the same as any other slice of cake). Many bakers will be pleased to find that, just like The Cake Bible, this book has quantities listed in volume, US customary and metric weight units.

Amidst the recipes, Beranbaum gives plenty of techniques with explanations, such as her adopted mixing method that involves mixing the dry ingredients with the butter first (it coats the particles and prevents the development of gluten), what to expect when using all-purpose flour or cake flour, using Wondra flour for angel food cakes, and the proper temperatures to encourage blending of mousseline.

The recipes are thorough and leave little room for uncertainty. She has a distinct voice that meticulous home bakers would appreciate. Every single detail, from the way the pans are prepped, the temperatures of the ingredients, the order of mixing, to the cooling time, is covered. Unfortunately, this attention to detail can also be a source of frustration for many readers. Experienced home bakers might find her recipes unnecessarily fastidious. For example, whenever hot liquids are mixed and set aside, she advises putting cling film over the container to prevent evaporation. For round cakes, she specifies that the bottom of the pan must be coated with shortening, topped with a round of parchment, and then coated with baking spray with flour. Her modified method for mixing butter cakes has no discernable advantage over the creaming method for this reviewer, though she notes it obviates sifting (is sifting with a sieve that difficult?). She has a perfect quantity for cream of tartar per egg yolk to beat to a stable foam, though I have a problem sourcing a spoon that could measure 1/16th of a teaspoon (0.3125 ml, though she cites a brand that offers spoons down to 1/64th of a teaspoon).

Another group of bakers who might be frustrated are those who live in a different climate (or even just weather) from where she tested. There are instructions like “cool for 7 minutes” that are not really meaningful to many readers. I attempted a recipe for vanilla mousseline in an air-conditioned room at 70°F (21°C), which still managed to fail spectacularly. No amount of chilling made the flourless chocolate cake layers for the Chocolate Feather Bed firm enough to lift, but creative deviation from her instructions finally allowed me to assemble the fragile cake. The Whipped Cream Cake was fine until I added the eggs to the whipped cream, then instead of thickening as the recipe indicated, it turned more liquid, which baked into a very short cake. It was unfortunately such a unique cake that I couldn’t even troubleshoot it and, more frustratingly, the end result tasted like a pancake. There is enough variation between ovens to make baking the Pumpkin Cheesecake, which calls for switching off the oven and letting the cheesecake bake in the residual heat for an hour, a risky proposition. If it has not set after chilling the next day, her suggestion is to bake it some more.

Without an excellently-equipped kitchen, readers will encounter several bumps in the road. The modified mixing technique works ideally with a stand mixer fitted with a bowl that has an arc greater than 180° (she does recommend very deep bowls for mixing). A regular bowl and a hand mixer will start to create streusel that will jump out of the bowl. Her recipes that call for ganache routinely start with processing chocolate in a food processor. Some frosting and cake recipes (such as banana cake) also call for a food processor without any notes for variation. Making the instructions as meticulous as possible improves the accuracy of the recipe for those who have ideal conditions and equipment, but it also increases the potential failure rate. It doesn’t feel like Beranbaum is guiding you through the recipe, but rather controlling your every move as you bake.

Many recipes produce excellent results. The Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting will now be my gold standard for homemade cream cheese frosting. However, many of the cakes did not seem especially heavenly to me, at least beyond what other good cake cookbooks have provided. The English Gingerbread Cake called for Lyle’s Golden Syrup (unavailable in many countries) and suggested corn syrup as an alternative, which didn’t make for a pleasant, satisfying cake. Substituting molasses instead saved the recipe. The Hungarian Jancsi Torta may have been from a Hungarian grandmother but was nowhere near what a Rigo Jancsi (the pronunciation of which she erroneously guides us is YAHNsee when it should be YAHNchi) should be — it was a different cake entirely, the only similarity being it had eggs, sugar, and chocolate. A beautiful picture of the She Loves Me Cake showed royal icing, but to my disappointment there is no recipe for this and she notes in the appendix that royal icing is better off made from a package. My thoughts after completing a convoluted recipe for a cake were usually that they were too complicated for what was, in the end, a very simple cake, when I could have diverted my effort in walking around eggshells to creating more spectacular, show-stopping cakes.

Rose’s Heavenly Cakes is certainly worth its hefty price tag in the production value and effort placed into producing these deceptively fussy cakes, but without the exact equipment, ingredients, and climate she wrote the recipes for, each project becomes an undertaking fraught with dangers. However, when all the elements come together, you will be able to recreate cakes that are likely to please a variety of tastes.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Well-equipped meticulous home bakers who wish to create crowd-pleasing cakes will most likely enjoy baking from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 3. Recommended – some flaws
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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Rating: 3.8/5 (5 votes cast)
Rose's Heavenly Cakes, Rose Levy Beranbaum | 2009 | US, 3.8 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

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6 Comments

  1. Posted 10 Dec 2009 at 10:31 | Permalink

    Great review! I’ve heard so much about RLB but never heard about her books in detail. In my personal experience, American baking books tend to be too detailed for my baking style, but that’s just me!

    xox Sarah

  2. Posted 26 Jan 2010 at 19:08 | Permalink

    what a nice review!
    I’ve been thinking if I will buy this book however I was having second thoughts. Before I have the Cake Bible and I actually wasn’t able to use it though because I found the recipe there a bit too fussy for my taste. Or probably it was because it didn’t have lots of pictures so I had a hard time picturing what the outcome should look like.

    Does this book have pictures in most recipes? I’m a very visual person so I tend to bake those that looks good to me.

  3. admin
    Posted 27 Jan 2010 at 02:13 | Permalink

    Hi Nicole, I’d say between 70-80% of the recipes have pictures, so that’s not going to be a problem.

  4. Posted 26 Feb 2010 at 15:38 | Permalink

    Gee thanks!
    Can’t wait to try that Ginger Cheesecake with Gingerbread Crust. It sure is a cutie!

  5. Shawna
    Posted 11 Jul 2010 at 09:32 | Permalink

    I want to comment on Rose’s method of mixing butter cakes. You made a great point about the “streusel” jumping out of a hand-mixer; I’d never thought about that! But I will say that, in my experience, mixing the butter and flour first 1) shortens the time you are making the cake (so lighting fast), 2) greatly decreases the risk of overmixing the batter (so you have a taller cake), and 3) creates a velvety, dense batter that will stay moist in the oven.

    I was skeptical but one day, due to a shortage in egg yolks (long story!), I made two simple cakes, one right after the other, the first one being Rose’s way, the second not being Rose’s way, and that’s when I noticed all those differences.

    Other than that, I think I am *absolutely* the baker who is meticulous but wants crowd-pleasers, so you hit the nail of the head when you said that kind of baker would like it.

  6. admin
    Posted 11 Jul 2010 at 15:11 | Permalink

    Oh, I completely understand. As I noted above, though, there wasn’t any difference in my own experience. I’m sure it’s different for others. I only use my hand mixer for creaming butter and making meringue; all other times I hand-mix (the joys of having a meager kitchen), so I never have any problems with overmixing.

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