Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cake, my first love

My guides in the world of baking for the next 12 months
I've rounded up and purchased a shortlist of what some consider to be the best baking books of all time: Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake BibleDorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours; Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America; and The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook, by King Arthur Flour.

In narrowing down what books to get, I looked for clarity (I want thorough explanations of what, how, and why) and content (I'm less after sheer volume of recipes, and more interested in ones that are accessible to bakers of all levels).  Tone is important to me, too: I want authors that are approachable and engaging; after all, I'll be spending a lot of time with them in the kitchen, following their instructions.  I've thumbed through these four books, and it seems I've got a lot to learn.

I decide to start My Year of Baking by baking cakes.  The decision requires no real thinking.  Cakes are, after all, my first love.

My love affair with cakes began at the tender age of one.  I have a picture that captures that joyful day: there is a table, draped with a delicate eyelet lace cloth, and atop the table sits a cake, beautifully frosted in pink and white.  My sister and I are both seated at the table.  We are a picture in contrast. She poses serenely for the camera. There is nothing serene about me.  I am a ball of excitement: eyes wide, mouth agape, small hands gripping the table.  It's almost as if, about to take my first bite of cake, I foresee the pure joy that this baked delight will bring me from that day forward.

So, back to baking cakes.  To learn all there is to know about cakes, I turn to Rose Levy Beranbaum and The Cake Bible.  Rose seems to me the perfect person to demystify cake baking.  For one, she wrote her masters dissertation on whether sifting affects the quality of a yellow cake (!).  She seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of baking techniques and tips.  Her passion for baking and teaching shine brilliantly through her writing, which is incredibly clear and straight-forward.  And if all that weren't enough, for each recipe that she shares in her book, she provides lengthy discussions about the ingredients and what they contribute to the cake.  (There is even a separate section for passionate amateurs (me!) on the chemistry of baking.)

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to learn as much as I can about cakes, all the while baking a variety of them: butter cakes, fruit cakes, custard cakes, breakfast cakes, sponge-type cakes.  Sitting here, looking ahead, I'm feeling equal parts apprehension and excitement.  First up: pound cakes.  More on that next!

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