BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher

Book Review 2009

Shirley O. Corriher's first book, CookWise, graces many of our bookshelves and is a much-used resource for solving kitchen mysteries and avoiding cooking pitfalls. In BakeWise, Corriher puts the magnifying glass on cakes, cookies, bread, and anything else you might think of baking! If you've ever spent time wondering why cakes rise or what would happen if you substituted a different flour, this is the book for you.

Title & Publisher: BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking by Shirley O. Corriher. Published by Scribner, 2008.

First impressions: This is a hefty book (the word "tome" comes to mind!), but it's built to last. We have no fears about bringing this volume into the kitchen and propping it on the counter. It can survive a few drips and smears.

Number of recipes: Over 200 recipes are divided into five chapters: Cakes, Puff (including meringue, pâte à choux, and soufflé), Pies, Cookies, and Breads. As you might expect, the majority of the recipes are sweet, but there are a few savory ones sprinkled throughout. There is a 16-page insert in the middle of the book with full-color photographs of a few of the dishes.

The other stuff: Integrated into each chapter are lessons and explanations meant teach you baking fundamentals - and they do! She'll describe why soufflés puff, how to get your brownies fudgier, and why you should use cake flour in pastries instead of all-purpose. Everything is extensively indexed and cross-referenced within the text so it's easy to find what you're looking for. Each recipe also begins with a list of the baking principles the recipe will illustrate.

The angle: While the recipes would be enough to make us happy, the real gold of this book is in those extensive explanations for how, why, and what is going on in each recipe. And they really are extensive. The recipes are really secondary in many ways - they are there to illustrate the lessons and give you a practical application.

Strengths: We cannot emphasize enough what a great resource this book is. Corriher explains everything clearly and concisely. She never dumbs it down, and manages to keep it friendly and approachable. We also like how she draws in other bakers and cooks to give their point of views or explanations for doing something. We've only had the book for a few weeks and it's already become one of the first books we turn to when we have a baking question.

Weaknesses: We would have really liked to see more photos and illustrations in this book. Not only would it have been helpful to have a visual reference for the more complicated recipes, but we would have liked to see illustrations of some of the cooking techniques being described or what a recipe should look like at a certain stage.

Recipes for right now: Golden Moist Carrot Cake, Blueberries with Honey Marscapone Cream in Walnut-Oat Meringue, Lemon Tartlets, Cinnamon Walnut Oatmeal Cookies, Anadama Bread

Recommended? Yes! Definitely, yes. If you're a beginner baker, this book can teach you many of the fundamentals you're itching to learn. If you're a veteran, Bakewise is the place to go when you get stumped or need a refresher on a basic technique.

Buy the book: BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking by Shirley O. Corriher, $27 on Amazon.com

Have any of you been baking from this book? What do you think?

Related: Weekend Project: Introduction to Pâte à Choux

(Image: Amazon.com)

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