I spent a while trying to decide which book I was going to review for the Delicious slot on my Bingo card. I knew I wanted to do a cookbook, because I have a lot of them and I love reading and rereading them cover to cover. I thought about doing one of my newer acquisitions, but the truth is that while I love them and have read them I haven’t really cooked from them. I think that if you’re going to do a cookbook review you ought to have at least attempted one of the recipes in it. Instead, my mind kept going back to this book, which I think may be my favorite cookbook in my collection, if not in the top five. I pull it out constantly, and there are recipes in here that I make over and over. So, over the past weekend I pulled it out and reread it cover to cover, including the tips and notes which I probably haven’t read since I got the book over ten years ago. And I still love it, there are flaws to be sure but it’s just a great, simple book on baking.
I unabashedly love Martha, though I didn’t always, I love that she’s a snob who doesn’t apologize for the ingredients and tools that she uses. I also love that despite being a snob, she genuinely wants to teach people how to do what she does. It’s this amazing balance, and she treads it so well. This book, like her magazine (in fact, some of these recipes come directly from the magazine-I know ’cause I saw them there first), is instructive with beautiful photographs that make you want to pull out the flour and just go to town. I find the instructions to be easy to follow, and because things are laid out in explicit detail I’m not frightened by a more ‘difficult’ project.
This book has given me the courage to try making eclairs, flaky biscuits (I used to be a drop biscuit only kind of person cause those didn’t intimidate me), all kinds of cakes, french macarons and so many other things. There are some things I haven’t attempted, but not because I’m afraid more because they just seem like they’d take forever (see puff pastry). There are recipes I return to again and again. Most notably the ginger snap recipe, which gets compliments every time I make them. Seriously, I can’t even look at store bought ginger snaps anymore. (the secret is fresh, not ground, ginger and a wee bit of freshly ground pepper). I loved re-reading the book cover to cover because it made me remember some of the delicious things that have come out of it; like the apple cake with goat cheese frosting (it’s happening again this fall, oh yes). It also make me remember some of the things I’ve long wanted to try but never got around to; like the onion and potato tarts.
Of course there are flaws to the book. Like I said, Martha is a snob and that’s reflected in some of the tools she uses. She makes no apologies for stating that a recipe must be cooked in a specific pan, a pan that isn’t really used for anything else and that the average cook isn’t going to have on hand. What this means though is that there aren’t any notes about how to bake it in more readily available containers. For example, I’m 100% sure that financiers would be delicious in a muffin tin instead of the mini tins she suggests, but there’s no note about it. This may prevent some people, especially those who aren’t accustomed to baking, from trying these recipes and I find that a shame. Ironically, I found another flaw in one of the recipes that has to do with leaving a traditional element out and I’m curious to know if it happened in other recipes. This particular change was for the caneles, which I have learned very recently get their texture from lining the pan with a thin layer of pure beeswax. Martha leaves this step out, and I’m not sure why. In double irony caneles are one of the recipes where Martha requires a very specific pan, but the chef from whom I learned the beeswax trick says they work fine in muffin tins, they just won’t have the signature shape.
Like I said, this is one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s well laid out, the instructions are clear, and the photographs are gorgeous. If you’re a baker and you enjoy collecting cookbooks, this is definitely one to have in your collections.