Pros: Delicious recipes, and lots of them!
Cons: The title seems slightly misleading
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
First published 9/25/2000
Previously published on Epinions.com
Looking at this book, I cannot help but draw comparisons with the “King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.” Both books are large, expansive baking books, covering all sorts of aspects of baking, with lots of yummy recipes, and the intention of conveying some knowledge about the fine art of baking.
In Malgieri’s book you’ll find Quick Breads, Scones, and Muffins; Breads & Rolls; Savory Pastries; Pies; Tarts; Cookies & Small Pastries; Cakes; Puff Pastry & Cream Puff Pastry; Sweet Yeast-Risen Breads & Pastries. I’d say that it concentrates more on the dessert and pastry end of the scale than the KAF book, which pays probably equal attention to the savory, the straight bread product, and the breakfast treat. If baking to you means mostly-desserts and you like to play with pastry, then this is the right book for you. If you prefer to play with simpler, more homey fare, then the KAF book is probably better.
The KAF book fits more recipes in per page, and has more than a hundred additional pages. This book has 434 pages before the index.
How to bake
As many other cookbook authors have done before him, Mr. Malgieri provides us with information on the ingredients and tools he tends to keep around for baking.
At the beginning of each chapter, Mr. Malgieri gives us a brief discussion on the different items found within. For instance, at the beginning of the Quick Breads, Scones, and Muffins chapter he briefly defines soda breads, loaves, corn breads, baking powder biscuits, scones, and muffins. He then talks about what distinguishes a quick bread from other baked items. Sometimes he also touches on the history of a recipe at the beginning of that recipe.
Honestly, the KAF book is better on the “how to bake” end of things, even though this is the book with that title. The KAF book spends more time going into the little details of how the recipes work, what role various ingredients play in each type of dish, etc. than this one does.
This book does offer some suggestions for variations at the end of many recipes. Again not as many as the KAF book usually provides, but they are there. For some reason I find the layout in this book harder to make quick work of in the middle of a recipe, but I’d be hard-put to say why. Maybe it’s the two-narrow-columns format. I just find that my eyes don’t follow it as easily in the middle of a recipe.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad layout. It’s actually pretty good. Most recipes fit on a single page, so you don’t have to worry about flipping pages back and forth during cooking (one of my pet peeves). And recipe steps are brief and broken up frequently, also numbered for easy reference.
There aren’t many pictures (a few handfuls here and there), but the ones you’ll find are beautiful. Some of them are used to demonstrate things like different styles of meringue and top pie crust – very useful!
Each chapter also starts off with an index of its contents – I wish more cookbooks did this.
I have to admit, Mr. Malgieri makes some fantastic food – although not as consistently amazing as that in the KAF book. Sandy Leonard’s Banana Raisin Bread rated a big star; it was very sweet and almost dessert-like. (Note: you may need to cover with foil after about 30 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning.) The Buttermilk Corn Bread is good although not amazing, but the Cheddar Muffins – those are amazing! The White Pan Bread is very very bland, but good if served with a bit of garlic olive oil. The Whole Wheat Walnut Bread is pretty good, but not great, as is the Bacon and Custard Quiche.
The Cheddar Shortbreads may be very messy, but they’re also one of the best-tasting little morsels on earth and will disappear in two minutes flat. The Butterscotch Cream Pie is absolutely wonderful, although the crust recommended by Mr. Malgieri tends to overwhelm the flavor of the filling a bit; I’d recommend a more bland crust. The Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Pie is fantastic if slightly bland; add a little diced crystallized ginger to the crust before filling for additional flavor, and a few extra spices to the filling.
The Easiest Chocolate Raspberry Tart – a layer of chocolate fudginess with fresh raspberries arranged on top – is decadent and divine. You’ll want extremely good raspberries for this recipe. We’ve made the Pumpkin Cheese Tarts (although as one large 11″ tart) for several Thanksgiving feasts.
The Caramel Hazelnut Diamonds could make you swoon, and are well worth the work of skinning some hazelnuts if you can’t find them pre-skinned. The Apple Dumplings (apples wrapped in flaky pastry) are soft, wonderful, and divine. If you can’t find small apples, though, you may need a full recipe of puff pastry rather than a half-recipe.
You’ll find Lemon Cornmeal Scones with Dried Cherries, an entire section on sourdough, Parmesan Cheese Bread, Old-Fashioned Chicken Pie, Sicilian Swordfish Pie, Prosciutto and Ricotta Calzone, Deep Dish Blackberry Pie, Old Fashioned Strawberry Tart, Milanese Pear and Chocolate Tart, Caramel Apple Tarts, Cinnamon Stars, Blueberry Crumb Cake Squares, Strawberry Sunburst Cake, Swiss Chocolate Truffle Cake, Tiramisu Cheesecake, and Strawberry Savarin.
This book is well worth the cost if you love to bake – there are lots of great recipes, and some good information. If you’re really and truly trying to find out “how to bake,” however, I’d recommend the KAF cookbook instead. It has more recipes, the recipes are more consistently excellent, and it has a lot more basic information on baking.