It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

Considering Cake

All Cakes Considered, Melissa Gray, 2009

This book made me want to buy a Bundt pan.

It forced me to consider (briefly) which kitchen tool would be replaced to make room for the Bundt pan, until I realized the "broiler" drawer on the electric range was half empty. Now the drawer stores all my oddly shaped pans.

The book came from a project by the author to teach herself to bake. Deciding to learn by doing, Melissa Gray baked a cake every weekend. Wanting to spread the love (and calories) around, she took her cakes into the office, in this case NPR Washington.

Gray takes her reader through the same journey of slight skills (knowing how to measure) through understanding baking jargon to building multi-layered masterpieces, with a detour for fried pies. The first recipe, for a sour cream pound cake, breaks down those short-cut directions like "creaming" and "preparing a pan" that experienced bakers naturally do. The recipes that follow build on the base of knowledge, adding new skills. As a producer for NPR's All Things Considered, Gray could easily ask questions of experts you or I might be too intimidated to ask, like Dorie Greenspan. She could find out why her meringue buttercream didn't work, and get a simpler, more reliable recipe.

The book might be limited to cakes (and fried pies), but there is a lot of variety in cake, and Gray touches on most of it. She also catalogs her co-workers' reactions to the cakes she brings in: the pro- and (adamantly) anti-coconut factions; those who love sweet, American-style icing; those who prefer a plain cake. Most of her recipes are American, and she gives as much history as she can of how they developed. It is a good read.

But are the recipes any good? Yes, hence the need for a Bundt pan. I've made a couple of pound cakes, a rum-vanilla cake and a spice cake. All worked, although I'd add more cocoa to the chocolate pound cake. I'm intrigued by the many spice cakes (and the fried pies).

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