Joe Pastry
February 10, 2010 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Joe Pastry doesn't do cake porn, but he's very fond of cake history and baking science. Recently, Joe wrote a heavily critical review of home-baking folk hero Rose Levy Beranbaum's latest book. Her response was to call him up and smooth things over herself. Also, Rose on cookbook photography/publishing and on writing technical, encyclopedic books for an amateur niche audience.

The man is gradually writing a very personal, and very comprehensive all-around guide to home pastry and bread-baking, and even as a professional baker I've found the site a great resource.
Check out his posts on flour basics for a summary of flour types, their uses and their interactions with other ingredients.
If you're a tentative baker, his Five Simple Rules for No-Fail Baking might be what you need.
Oh, and he has kind of a beef with Michael Pollan.
Happy baking.
posted by Evstar (15 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Two cake posts in one morning? My cream peaks are stiff!
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:01 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the 5 simple rules: or a little real vanilla bean in place of extract, great ingredients make run-of-the-mill recipes shine.

The last part's certainly true, but the bit about the vanilla bean is funny. The New Best Recipe (which has never steered me wrong, at least) tested this and claims that shockingly, most people ("including pastry chefs") can't tell the difference between real vanilla and extract in recipes like cake and cookies. If you were making something simple like a custard it'd be different, but according to them one might as well save the money.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:10 AM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay metafilter, i get it. It's snowing and you want me to make pancakes. Where the hell is the heavy cream....
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cake fight!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:36 AM on February 10, 2010

"From the syrup spooned over her Apple Upside-Down Cake to the oozing passion fruit curd in her White Gold Passion Génoise to the near two inches of whipped cream plopped on top of her Heavenly Coconut Seduction Cake, excess abounds."

And this is bad because...?
posted by longsleeves at 9:45 AM on February 10, 2010

I don't want to become the focus for some kind of nerd-reference-singularity, but CAKE FTW!
posted by Jofus at 10:00 AM on February 10, 2010

I like this guy's writing, but his critique of Pollan is rambling and nonsensical. Pollan wants to change the American food system radically and fundamentally. This guy finds that distasteful and thinks that the current system of catering to the most short-term and short-sighted human desires is just peachy, from the farm system on down to the Food Network.

OK, that's fine, but there's a bit of pot-calling-kettle-black here when he jumps all over Pollan for being on a liberal soapbox. This guy isn't addressing Pollan's concerns, he's just getting on a libertarian soapbox of his own.
posted by gurple at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

most people [...] can't tell the difference between real vanilla and extract in recipes like cake and cookies

Cook's Illustrated came to the same conclusion.
posted by Zed at 10:13 AM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

And this is bad because...?

Because it contravenes the aesthetic RLB seemed to champion in her earlier books, and to which Joe Pastry subscribes. Reference to what you like was not part of the article's point.
posted by kenko at 11:00 AM on February 10, 2010

I'm with gurple that most of his anti-Pollan rant was the kind of meaningless griping you see about Pollan everywhere. Except for this, which was wonderful:

It’s this fundamental lack of empathy for the constraints of ordinary people's lives that betrays Pollan’s elitism, even more than his fondness for local, organically raised greens.
posted by ErikaB at 11:08 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't have a stake for or against Pollan. I like his writing, particularly about non-polital topics. The botany of desire was very interesting to me. However, I will suggest that you don't write off because you disagree with the author on that narrow matter. The writing on baking and pastry is very thorough and worth reading if this is the kind of thing that interests you.
posted by Evstar at 11:30 AM on February 10, 2010

Solon and Thanks: The New Best Recipe [...] tested this [...], most people [...] can't tell the difference between real vanilla and extract in recipes like cake and cookies.

Zed: Cook's Illustrated came to the same conclusion.

Probably the same experiment. The New Best Recipe is a cookbook put out by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. For what it's worth, it's one of my favored cookbooks. Lots of detail and information about how and why their recipes are what they are, and the well-tested and experimented with recipes have rarely steered me wrong.
posted by JiBB at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2010

I thought they compared real vanilla extract vs. fake extract, not real bean vs. extract?
posted by rainy at 12:13 PM on February 10, 2010

On verification, you're correct rainy.

I'd guess that if you can't tell the difference in a recipe between something made from actual vanilla and a totally fake imitation, real beans probably won't be more noticeable. But they haven't actually tested that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have Rose's new book and have baked 4 cakes out of it so far, with another scheduled for later today. The recipes are superb and photographs aside, the fillings, syrups, glazes, and ganaches are all paired very carefully so as to not overwhelm the cake. Anybody can opt to just bake a cake and opt out of making the toppings, but it's much harder to make the appropriately flavored toppings without guidelines. It's easy to make a frosting that tastes great when sampled but ends up cloying when eating a whole slice. Or a chocolate ganache that is so strong you can't taste the white velvet cake underneath.

One of the stated goals for this recipe book was to have pictures of almost all the cakes and pictures for the creation process. It's an incredibly tempting book to flip through and I can't fault her for having them plated to be visually appealing and stunning. I may not make the spun sugar topping for the Saint Honore Trifle, but I appreciate its inclusion nonetheless. Already I have found myself trying more complex cake decorating techniques after mastering more simple ones, and it's good to have something to aspire to.
posted by hindmost at 1:31 PM on February 10, 2010

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