The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies & Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own
by Karen DeMasco, Mindy Fox
Publisher: Clarkson Potter, Country: US
ISBN: 9780307408105, Year: 2009
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking aims to inspire the home baker to try new variations of homely desserts and sweets, and is successful at encouraging creativity to some degree. There is a wide range of recipes and some modest but interesting suggestions. However, it is lacking in helpful explanations and is too narrow in its selection of ingredients and special brands, and the use of US-centric measures and terminology may be frustrating to international readers.

Full review

It can be hard to find the balance between encouraging creativity and giving sufficient guidance. Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking (written with Mindy Fox) takes the pastry chef’s enthusiasm for seasonal ingredients and homely sweet snacks and desserts, and tries to show home cooks how to broaden their “craft”. Although the book has many interesting recipes, it isn’t groundbreaking, instead feeling quite safe and reassuring in its appeal to familiarity and memories of good food.

DeMasco, formerly of restaurants such as Craft and the Gramercy Tavern, and now at New York’s Locanda Verde, is perhaps unusual in being an acclaimed pastry chef whose first book is about distinctly “comfort” baking. DeMasco’s approach is about keeping it simple and doing it well.

The book isn’t just about baked goods, but also covers many other types of desserts and sweets. After chapters describing ingredients (The Craft of Baking Pantry) and techniques, there are chapters for muffins and a range of quickbreads and breakfast items, small baked goods, tarts/pies/cobblers, cakes and cupcakes, custards and puddings, frozen dishes including ice cream and, lastly, a range of fruit dishes.

The pantry and technique sections are reasonably good, but with some omissions of explanation. There’s little mention of substitutes (e.g., for cake flour), some definitional problems (marcona almonds aren’t really a Spanish fried and salted almond; Saigon Cinnamon is a type of cassia), and the explanation of tempering chocolate needed some simpler explanation or wrap-up summary. DeMasco’s focus on brand-name recommendations has the potential to frustrate readers with limited shopping options, and it’s disappointing that, yet again, a good dessert book from the USA only provides US volume measures.

Each chapter opens with a recipe (e.g. Chocolate Chip Scones, Almond Pound Cake) and then explains some basic ideas and potential for modification of that first dish. This recipe-then-explanation approach is unusual, but probably a relief for those home cooks who don’t like wading through rules before getting their hands dirty. Following the explanation page(s) are other recipes that don’t get this special treatment. Many recipes have “varying your craft” and/or “combining your craft” sections, adding suggestions or linking recipes for new ideas. These are often fairly lightweight, but may nonetheless help readers think outside the page. Some add-ons at the end are also where more classic forms of some dishes might be found (e.g., the main tarte tatin is a banana version).

The range of recipes is considerable, from Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Chocolate Crackle Glaze to Ricotta Beignets, Banana Malt Ice Cream to Apple Butter to Rum Raisin Scones. Variation on a theme is a noticeable characteristic of the book at times (beyond the “craft” suggestions mentioned above), particularly in the early chapters – six of the dishes in the first recipe chapter build on a brioche dough. There are few, if any, explanations of what is actually happening in a recipe or dough to achieve a result, so the effect of acidic ingredients in scones is unmentioned, and the reasoning behind using a water bath for custards is no more advanced than describing stove-top custard making as being “rough and tumble on the custard”. On the other hand, there are occasional endearing tips, including the definition of different stages of cooking sugar in terms of the colours of dogs (golden retriever, Irish setter, etc.).

As a non-US reviewer, I was very irritated by the limited range of ingredients (don’t expect tropical fruit or adventurous flavours), the specific brands, and the narrow US-specific terminology and measures. This is a very parochial book, written exclusively for a USAmerican audience. International readers would need to keep their wits about them to avoid slipping up on ingredients like US “apple cider” and the author’s use of active dry yeast and kosher salt. Despite that, I enjoyed browsing through the recipes and increasingly felt inspired to try many of them, or to use them as inspiration for something new, so the book is a success in at least one of its objectives.

The personal mix of recipes and the quest to create a resonance of familiarity (whilst innovating homely sweet dishes and extending the reader’s repertoire) are what make The Craft of Baking a book worth having. It doesn’t challenge and the innovations are modest, which are perhaps what many home bakers would actually welcome. At the same time, the level of explanation is a little uneven and the potential for the book was greater than the final product. It will probably suit cooks who want to feel modern-but-homely in their sweet cooking, but not challenged or too adventurous.

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
Rate this review
OkayQuite helpfulVery helpful/interesting (none)
-
Loading ... Loading ...
VN:F [1.9.7_1111]
Rate this book
Rating: 2.0/5 (1 vote cast)
The Craft of Baking, Karen DeMasco | 2009 | US, 2.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

More reviews and announcements that might be interesting:


 

Click for all book news

New release: White Bread

cover

How did white bread, once an icon of American progress, become “white trash”? In this lively history of bakers, dietary crusaders, and social reformers, Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows us that what we think about the humble, puffy loaf says a lot about who we are and what we want our society to look like.

[read more...]

New release: Making Soy Milk and Tofu at Home

cover

Why make tofu yourself? Because experiencing tofu’s flavors and textures at its peak–freshly made, creamy, and subtly sweet–is the best way to explore this treasured staple. With minimal equipment required and Nguyen’s clear, encouraging step-by-step instructions, making soy milk and tofu from scratch is a snap for cooks of all levels.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Limoncello and Lemon Water

cover

Much-loved author Tessa Kiros celebrates the heritage of Italy. This whimsically feminine book is a tribute to the women in our lives – mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers – and the important lessons we learn from them.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales

cover

Discover the flavors of Mexican street food in your own kitchen. Americans are having a love affair with the taco. What began as affection for the fast-food version—that hard yellow shell filled with ground beef and mysterious yellow cheese—has blossomed into an all-out obsession for the real thing

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site

Worth a look: The Aesthetics of Wine

cover

The Aesthetics of Wine shows that discussing wine within the framework of aesthetics both benefits our understanding of wine as a phenomenon, while also challenging some of the basic assumptions of the tradition of aesthetics.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee

cover

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson struck a deal with one of his slaves, 19-year-old James Hemings. The founding Father was traveling to Paris and wanted to bring James along “for a particular purpose” – to master the art of French cooking. In exchange for James’s cooperation, Jefferson would grant his freedom.

[read more...]

Worth a look: Turkey

cover

Turkey’s culinary customs are as rich and varied as its landscape, and award-winning food writer Leanne Kitchen does justice to them both with more than 170 glorious photographs of the country’s foods and people that make readers want to drop everything and board the next plane.

[read more...]

New release: I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

cover

This is the perfect holiday baking guide, packed with 72 seductive and decadent chocolate recipes. Offering perfect inspiration for chocolate lovers and holiday do-it-yourselfers, the book includes tips and advice on ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as on packaging and shipping holiday food gifts.

[read more...]

New release: The Complete Nose to Tail

cover

Now Fergus Henderson’s books are joined together in a compendious volume. With a dozen new recipes on top of 250 existing ones, more than 100 quirky photos and exceptional production values, The Complete Nose to Tail is not only comprehensive but extremely desirable.

[read more...]

New release: The Country Cooking of Greece

cover

The Country Cooking of Greece captures all the glory and diversity of Greek cuisine in one magnum opus from Greece’s greatest culinary authority, Diane Kochilas. More than 250 recipes were drawn from every corner of Greece, from rustic tavernas, Kochilas’ renowned cooking school, and local artisans and village cooperatives.

[read more...]

Visit our Buying Books page to find out how to support this site
Click for all book news

website uptimeNEWSITE