Pros: Hilarious, incredibly useful, and soooooooooo delicious
Rating: 6 out of 5
Review book (published 2009) courtesy of Chronicle Books.
Actual quotes uttered during the testing of this cookbook by me, my husband, and friends:
“Is it legal for cakes to taste this good?”
“She’s a natural storyteller.”
“We don’t have to stop making cakes from this book just because you’re ready to review it, do we?”
(With pen in hand) “What’s the name of that cookbook?”
I’ve been reviewing books since roughly 1998. In that time, I’ve reviewed almost 200 cookbooks. I can say without a doubt—and I noticed this well before I started getting any review copies from them—that overall, Chronicle puts out the best cookbooks. Don’t get me wrong; cookbooks from other publishers can, individually, be equally as good. But for the most consistent high quality and production value, I look to Chronicle. I’ve only once, I think, been “meh” about one of their cookbooks, and I’ve never given really low marks to any of them. That’s a surprising track record.
Melissa Gray’s All Cakes Considered is the best of the Chronicle cookbooks I’ve tried. And yes, I say that despite having Peggy Cullen’s Caramel in my collection, which has equally good recipes in it, but isn’t as knock-you-on-your-ass funny.
Normally, if a cookbook includes entertaining tales and stories, then that’s its focus and the recipes are secondary. If the recipes are the focus, then the stories are secondary and you’ll probably skim over them. This is the first cookbook I’ve seen that seems to ride the perfect balance line between both. Melissa’s stories of taking cakes in to work, wheedling cake recipes from family members, and experimenting to make cakes come out right are drop-dead hilarious. They’re quotable. As my regular readers will no doubt remember, anything I can’t stop quoting to my husband is beautifully done.
The cakes, however, even without the text, would be worthy of any Chronicle cookbook! They’re SO GOOD. The drunken monkey banana bread has the coolest tip for plumping dried fruit that makes more of a difference than you’d imagine. And the finished product produced a room full of orgasmic noises… with plenty of leftovers for breakfasts. (It’s full of fruit, right? Then it can be eaten for breakfast!)
The ATF ginger bread gave me nostalgic shivers—it’s a dark, not-very-sweet, molasses-laden gingerbread with bits of crystallized ginger in it, as well as dark beer. It reminded me of the traditional gingerbread one of my mom’s aunts would send us at St. Nicholas Day each year in care packages from Holland when I was a child. It was also to-die-for deeeelicious, particularly with one of the best cream cheese frostings ever!
It was incredibly difficult to choose what to make from this cookbook to take to our Dungeons & Dragons game yesterday—we figured that large crowd would be the quickest, best way to truly put these recipes to the test. We ended up making two cakes: the sour cream pound cake and the brown sugar pound cake with cream cheese frosting. They were both a HUGE hit, disappeared in vast quantities, and prompted many questions about the cookbook.
All of that would be worth a perfect score, but Melissa goes above and beyond. She also turns this into a lesson plan for learning to make perfect cakes. She starts with the basic information you’ll need to get started, then presents the recipes in an order that allows you to learn one technique at a time, starting with proper basic creaming and mixing techniques. If you’re a more experienced cook, you can take the recipes in any order you want. But if you want to learn how to make great cakes from the basics, you just follow the recipes more or less in order!
Best of all, the techniques, like the recipes, are listed in the table of contents, so you’ll always be able to find them when you need them.
How much more can I say? Well, there are quite a few gorgeous photographs. The layout of the recipes is very easy to read, and while the stories occasionally push sets of directions onto separate pages from their accompanying ingredient listings, the recipes are simple enough that I didn’t find this to be a problem. And if you need an example of Melissa Gray’s snarky sense of humor to give you a sense of how much fun this book is, I’ll just say that the subtitle of All Cakes Considered is How to keep your co-workers happy, friendly, and fatter than you! Can’t go wrong with that, now can you?