A Very Special Review on "Rose's Heavenly Cakes"

I haven't heard from my old friend Cornelius O'Donnell for many years now but what a way to hear from him now! This was send by another dear old friend, Blake Swihart (whom I always think of as 'sweetheart'.

Neal's Meals, early May 2010 The Diva of Desserts does it Again

The Diva of Desserts does it Again

I often listen to a couple of classical music programs on FM radio. And both have hosts that are - to put name on it - gushy. And the delivery of one weekday announced is downright breathless.  These guys feel that way about Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach. I feel that way about great food and food writing. So humor me and let me gush it up in describing a new cook book.
 
The "Diva" in question is Rose Levy Beranbaum, and anyone who likes to bake, or would like to learn to bake, should run to the bookstore and order most all of Rose's nine books.  You may know her first book - The Cake Bible - published in 1988 and named the Cookbook of the Year by the International Association of Food Professionals, a group I once was part of. Then came Christmas Cookies (a James Beard Foundation Award Winner in '98). The indefatigable Rose also produced The Pie and Pastry Bible in 1998.
 
More recently, praise was heaped on her 2003 Bread Bible. (I'm pretty sure she was the instigator of all the "Bible" cookbooks that others have published, for better and worse, in the last several years.)
 
Rose's Heavenly Cakes
 
Not content to rest on her laurels, Heavenly Cakes was published last year just in time to qualify for the 2009 book awards. You guessed it; the new book again won the IACP "Book of the Year." And when you pick up a copy it's easy to see why. There is no question that "Heavenly" will join the "Bible" in that pantheon of books that become instant classics. Gush. Gush.
 
I was impressed with the almost four pages of "Acknowledgements," including a photo of her associate Woody Wolston who painstakingly tested and retested the recipes. You really get the sense of confidence in using the recipes. Baking is so rewarding when your creation comes out perfectly. But it's one aspect of cooking that requires precise measurements. A half teaspoon too much or too little and you might have a dud instead of a delight.
 
I like the way the recipes are written and the feeling that Rose is beside you guiding you to perfection.  Incidentally for you scientifically minded cooks, ingredients are listed by volume AND weight - in both grams AND ounces.
 
Add the valuable sections on the nuts and bolts of baking: special effects and techniques, ingredients and sources, equipment etc. Gush. But I caution that you'd best have ample counter space or one of those cookbook holders. This is a large format book, heavy enough to be a doorstop, and almost 500 pages long.
 
Restraint and Elegance 
Have you seen those cake-making competitions on the tube? Zany, improbable, and wobbly-fragile creations are (maybe) fascinating to watch, but get real. What home cooks want - unless I'm nuts - is to produce desserts that are simple, attractive, and most of all tasty. And this is the time of year when cakes can celebrate graduations, anniversaries, birthdays, reunions, and weddings. The book has some stunning and doable wedding cake ideas. None of the Styrofoam layers and plastic pillars for our Rose, eh Hyacinth?
 
Turn the pages of the book and start by reading "Rose's Rules of Cake Baking;" no long treatise, just succinct and practical advice. Then come the recipes divided into sections: Butter and Oil Cakes; Sponge Cakes; Mostly Flourless and Cheesecakes; adorable Baby Cakes; and those wedding cakes.
 
While I was sorely tempted to give you a sample of such delights as the Red Fruit Shortcake in anticipation of our fresh fruit season to come, it is too long for this space. Likewise the No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake, Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake (a precursor of the wedding cakes, perhaps?), Lemon Meringue Cake, Chocolate Streusel Coffee Cake, and even the two trifles so beautifully photographed.  And while I've made and loved Rose's signature Lemon Poppy Seed Sour-Cream Cake, let's try the Whipped Cream Cake. It's simple, suitable for many occasions, and a perfect foil for a few fresh berries to garnish the plate.