A bit about my recent baking obsession... or... ugh, baking cookbooks

A coincidence of things has enabled a bit more baking than usual. First, I’m riding a few more miles to work, so suddenly I’m able to eat a bit more carbohydrates. Second, I’m not working at a place with catered lunch. Which pretty much puts me back into the same sort of state of annoyance I was the last time I was doing a bunch of baking… all of the cookbook suck.

Cooking and baking are totally different. To me, cooking is full of unlimited flexibility and creativity. It’s got plenty of opportunities to recover from screw ups so, as long as you don’t burn the food, you are generally going to have edible food out of most experiments. But baking is very much constrained, by comparison. Baking is full of opportunities where you can make a small error that renders your dish completely inedible… but there’s no way out. If you realize after you put the dish in the oven that you put too much baking powder, you can either throw it out right away or you can wait till it comes out wrong.

From my vague understanding, there’s a set of basic recipes at play with baking. Proportional arrangements of protein, liquid, leavening, etc. that will will produce viable outputs. Too much liquid, it won’t work. Not enough leavening you get crackers. Too much leavening, either it falls or it asplodes. And so on.

There’s also considerable amounts of evidence that volumetric-based measurement is totally wrong. It’s great if you are dumping a bunch of stuff in a pot because it’s not as fiddly. It’s also great in times past where an accurate scale was a very heavy and fiddly sort of thing for the American Frontier in the days of yore. But if you tell a bunch of people to measure a cup of flour, even people who ought to know how to do it, the measurements are usually off enough to really screw up the recipe.

I think we’re at the point where there’s sufficient stock in boxed cakes that if I want to concentrate on a decorated cake, I’ll pick up some mixes, make sufficient cakes, and then do my thing. Or if I wanted to make yellow-cake with some additions, that’s totally OK off of a box. And then you get all of the benefits of modern organic chemistry making it a bit harder to screw things up.

And there’s plenty of really good cake shops out there, if you just want something foofy.

So, I’d like to think that anyone who is going to pick up a cookbook dedicated to baking, as opposed to a celebrity cookbook or a general-purpose beginner cookbook, is going to be actually serious enough to deal with weight-based measurements, a bit more required equipment, and will probably appreciate a bit of theory.

Therefore, what I really want is a cookbook that goes through the various forms of cakes and frostings and pies and whatnot from that angle. Butter, Pound, Sponge, Génoise, Chiffon, Buttercream, et al. And then gets into the specifics for each type. Obviously not everybody is content with math. I remind people that my degree says Math and Computer Science when I display an inability to do any sort of math correctly in my head. And it should use weights as measurements, even if there’s still a column that explains the volumetric measurements.

I went through the library and read through a bunch of baking cookbooks.

I noticed that the UK-audience cookbooks are done up with weights. Except all of the weights are in metric and they assume that I’ve got access to metric cooking gear and generally require UK-specific cooking ingredients that I can’t get as easily over here.

And then there’s a bunch of cookbooks that are volumetric measurements. Even the cookbooks from folks who ought to know better are done up with volumetric measurements. I read a thread and it sounds like there’s an attitude from those people who write cookbooks that your average non-professional American just can’t deal with weights.

In the cookbooks, I found pretty much one cookbook that was at the right level:

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It’s missing some stuff, like a bit more guidance on how to scale recipes up and down, but at least it breaks things down into their basic recipe categories and uses weights.

But then I read the two follow-on cake books and they were a lot less impressive. Just a bunch more recipes, most of them a bit more complicated than before.

This is probably going to end up with me buying some expensive baking-school textbooks, I know it.